After the Portland Trail Blazers face the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow, they will have their toughest stretch of games thus far this season. In five nights on the road they will play, in order, the San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, with a day of rest between the Rockets and the Mavericks. Talk about running the gauntlet.
There are two primary trains of thought coursing through my mind regarding this road trip. The first is that, as a fan deeply invested in the team, these four games will be rough. Playing on the road in the NBA is hard. Playing on the road four times in five nights is extremely hard. And finally, playing on the road, four times in five nights, against four teams with winning records in the Western Conference seems roughly equivalent to a suicide mission.
Objectively, it’s going to be important to reel in expectations. In theory, the team will be well rested for the Spurs game, but after that it’s going to be a grind. I’ve harped on it before, but that fourth game of the trip against the Thunder is going to be difficult, as the fourth game in five nights always is. The team will most likely be exhausted by then, and the Thunder’s home court advantage is one of the fiercest in the league (they are currently 16-3 at home).
I always hate limits on a team’s expectations, so I truly hope the team goes 4-0. Although, taking an objective step back means that I would be ecstatic with a 3-1 record during the four-game swing, and even satisfied with 2-2. Fatigue is a tough obstacle to overcome.
I mentioned another train of thought, though, and it is this: I’m excited. I’m happy. I’m ready to see what this Trail Blazers team can really do on the road. The team and its fans have heard all of the criticisms leveled against the Trail Blazers this season – haven’t beat anyone on the road, easy schedule, not a playoff team, favorable injuries to opponents. Blah blah blah.
This is the Portland’s chance to unequivocally prove where they belong. If they own this road trip, there can’t be any more questions about the difficulty of their schedule. This is their chance to absolutely force their way into the conversation about the NBA’s elite. This is their opportunity to bolster their fledgling resume with an indisputable statement.
To be the best, you need to beat the best. But you don’t always have those opportunities – a team can only play the opponents on their schedule. So when these challenges arise, it’s now up to the Trail Blazers to embrace them. If they want to prove they belong in the upper echelon, now is the time.
A four game road trip does not make or break a season. There will still be half a season left when the trip is finished, but it could well be a turning point. During this mini rough patch (4-4 in their last eight games), a 4-0 romp through Texas and OKC could really set the tone for the final half of the season, and allow the team to set their personal bar even higher. Similarly, an almost unimaginable 0-4 record would cause doubts to rise to the surface, among both the team internally and outside observers.
Before all of that, the Trail Blazers must face the Cavaliers tomorrow night, who will luckily be on the second game of a back-to-back themselves. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. PST.