The Portland Trail Blazers (30-9) actually lead the Northwest Division, but the next-best Oklahoma City Thunder (30-10) will stand in for this purpose. In the Deluxe Jenga of stacked conferences, Portland remains undefeated against the toughest competitors in the game—at home and on the road. Their 109-100 triumph over the conference leading San Antonio Spurs and their healthy Duncan-Parker-Ginobili triad last night should be enough to dispel doubts among fans and pundits alike.
In five meetings, the Trail Blazers have bested the Spurs twice, the Thunder twice, and the Clippers once; each opponent destined for playoff contention. This bodes well for a Trail Blazer team that seems more than likely to meet them there. The Trail Blazers have guaranteed no worse than a 2-2 regular season series draw with both the Thunder and the Spurs, and the season isn’t even half over yet. I am growing more confident in this team as a legitimate contender.
November 2nd: Portland 115, San Antonio 105 (W)
December 4th: Portland 111, Oklahoma City 104 (W)
December 26th: Portland 116, Los Angeles 112 (W)
December 31st: Portland 98, Oklahoma City 94 (W)
January 17th: Portland 109, San Antonio 100 (W)
However; I’m honestly not sure what to make of their losses. Sacramento? Philadelphia? Phoenix? Portland has proven that they can beat the best, but they seem to struggle with subduing the rest. These are games that elite teams are supposed to win. But, then again, even the best drop unexpected games here and there (see Miami’s recent three game skid) and the Trail Blazers can surely be counted among the best. We’re so quick to point fingers when expectations greedily rise to perfection.
I digress. We seem to have a playoff caliber team on our hands. Barring significant injury (knock on wood), I don’t see the Trail Blazers letting the post-season slip through their fingers. Not with two players on the MVP ladder, a potential Most Improved Player, and a frontrunner for Coach of the Year. The question is no longer “Can the Trail Blazers make the playoffs?” but instead, “Are the Trail Blazers a playoff team?”
They’ve excelled against division leaders in the conference that matters, but that won’t ultimately matter. A 4-0 season sweep looks great until you get swept 4-0 when it counts. This is unlikely to be Portland’s fate, but it’s important to keep in mind. The Trail Blazers, on the whole, are rather inexperienced, and the playoffs are almost more about cunning than capability (almost). The fact that this is even a discussion says that Portland possesses the latter.
Yet, it may be enough. It certainly has been these past few months. I’m sure no one is complaining about a 5-0 record against the strongest competition in the world. Although the post-season is a different kind of basketball, it is still basketball, and Portland knows how to play it. They have proven that their potential is real and their talent is realer by devastating key opposition. Regardless of future playoff success or failure, the Trail Blazers mean business right now.