Forty games into the 2013-2014 season, the Portland Trail Blazers (31-9) are on pace for the best regular season record in franchise history. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers have reached a win percentage of .775; winning more than three of every four games. The last Portland team to finish with a regular season record above 75 percent was the 1990-1991 squad (.768) that made it to the conference finals.
The ’91 Blazers included some of the most memorable names in Trail Blazer lore: Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey, Cliff Robinson, Buck Williams, and Danny Ainge. This year’s Portland team is similarly filled with more than the increasingly popular “Big 3” players. LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, and Mo Willams have potential to be remembered just as fondly—but they have to earn it first.
If the Trail Blazers defeat the Houston Rockets tonight, they will be halfway through the season and halfway to history. I’ll be honest, I expected the Trail Blazers to walk away from their current four-game road trip with only a win in Dallas to show for it. It’s a tough schedule: Spurs, Mavericks, day off, Rockets, Thunder. Given that Portland is playing on the road with limited rest against the strongest competitors, it seemed only reasonable. But reasonable teams don’t make it as far as the Trail Blazers have.
We’re looking back at a nimbly accomplished 2-0 start and a potential 4-0 finish. The Trail Blazers managed the Spurs 109-100 and routed the Mavericks 127-111 (despite an embarrassing bench meltdown). These are the challenging games that great teams win. If they are able to jump the highest hurdles with relative ease, who’s to say a franchise record regular season is not within their reach?
I’ve been patiently waiting for the Trail Blazers to come down since their 11-win streak in November—not because I want them to, but because that level of success didn’t feel real. Since then, they’ve faltered here and there, but their current 31-9 record far exceeded my expectations still. Boasting a 5-0 record against Western Conference division leaders, no one can justifiably say it’s a fluke anymore. Winning is the norm, not the outlier.
The Trail Blazers are just two wins behind their overall record from last year (33-49) and this season is one game shy of halfway through. It’s the most remarkable season-to-season turnaround I have witnessed in Portland basketball. Even the ’91 team’s 63 wins were preceded by 59 wins the year before. That is a big part of why this ever-sustaining joy ride has felt so unsustainable. Portland missed the 2013 playoffs entirely, and now they are ranked number one in the Western Conference with a large sample size to support their right to be there.
So we’ve got one more tidbit to track for the Portland Trail Blazers. While they began the year hoping to just make the playoffs, they’ve got a shot at recording their best regular season ever. The team won’t focus explicitly on chasing history, but they’ll certainly try to win every game. There may be some historical overlap whether they focus on it or not. Do you think this team can match the 63-19 regular season record of the 1990-1991 Trail Blazers?