The Trail Blazers Have The West Right Where They Want Them

It’s the end of March. And though I send my humblest apologies to folks in Minnesota, Utah, Cleveland, Washington, Toronto, New Jersey, and Detroit – it’s just about time for us upper-crust NBA fans to leave your humble franchises behind and get ready for the big show. And while I absolutely empathize with any and all struggling franchises (I have watched the Knicks play for the last decade), I hereby render your 2011 season over. Enjoy your summer. We’ll see you in late June.

For the rest of us (booyah), it’s playoff time, and that means it’s time to get excited. The only lucid thing that LeBron has said in the last year or so was a few weeks back, when he reminded us all that the point of the regular season is to make the tournament. From there on out, anything can happen. At this point, I will neither confirm nor deny whether or not I have removed my old-school NYK Starter pull-over jacket from storage. I also have no comment on whether or not the size is a child’s medium.

With all this excitement (and despite the musty smell), I’ve decided to spend a little bit of time highlighting a few playoff-bound teams – more specifically ones that folks aren’t talking about – that are looking scarier and scarier to matchup with in a seven-game series. In our first installment, let’s go out to the left coast for a visit to what’s been described as the Beer Capital, the Skateboard Capital, and of course, the Roof Moss Capital of the World. That’s right, you guessed it: Rip City, home of the Portland Trail Blazers. The number one team in the Western Conference (aside from those Lakers), that right now, I just would not want to play.

Now I’m not sure if it’s because I caught three of their games this weekend, or if it’s because Gerald Wallace and Snoop Dogg just might be the same person, but I am officially placing myself on the Blazer bandwagon. I love the Wallace trade where they gave up nobody, and I love Brandon Roy off the bench. I love the new lower-your-sholder-and-act-like-an-animal-in-the-paint LaMarcus Aldridge. I just love them. And we haven’t even been dating for that long.

What I like about them:

1. They have five guys that can break out for a big game on any given night.
With Gerald Wallace’s recent 40-piece, we reaffirmed that this team has dudes that can play. Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge round out that Big Five. And what’s so great about sending out five guys that can simply get buckets? The team isn’t crapped out if one of them has a LeBron-esque Game 5 kind of night. Throw in Nicolas Batum and everyone’s favorite Spaniard that fairly recently had frosted tips (Rudy Fernandez), and you’ve got yourself a really solid rotation.

2. I really like Brandon Roy at the back-up point.
Now it’s not as much as I like Brandon Roy at the starting two-guard, but it does add an unexpected depth to a team that had previously run out only Patty Mills. It will be heart-breaking for all hoops fans collectively if Roy doesn’t end up being that guy in 2009 that deserved a max extension, but at least now he’s serviceable. And maybe showing some flashes.

To be honest, Roy kind of reminds me of 2011 T-Mac. When Detroit moved McGrady to the point, he – like Roy – replaced his reliance on athleticism with a reliance on savvy and court vision. While it doesn’t always work in finding shots for themselves, it does combine with their excellent “dime-abilty” to get shots for teammates. When Tracy has been good with Detroit, it’s been when he ran the offense and took points as they came to him. When you have Brandon Roy doing that same thing, it’s an asset. Then again, I am comparing Roy to a 32-year-old almost-washed-up McGrady in his 14th season as a pro. And with that, every Portland native just purchased a bottle of tequila. I apologize.

What I don’t like about them:

1. With Aldridge at the five, their interior defense can sometimes be, well, soft.
It’s not encouraging when a Tim Duncan-less San Antonio appears to be ripping through your interior. In other words, it’s not encouraging when Tiago Splitter appears to be ripping through your interior. Splitter should be good eventually. Aldridge is good now. And while it looks like their offense flows better when he’s playing center, you can’t go a whole half with just one defensive rebound. A healthy Marcus Camby remedies that situation defensively, but how often are we able to say “healthy” and “Marcus Camby” together without throwing a “not” in front of it? When/if the Lakers come ’round for the postseason, they’ll need Camby on the floor.

(I will now allow all Portland fans one moment to daydream about a healthy Greg Oden. That is all.)

2. Most importantly, they’re not the Lakers.
Just to keep this all in perspective: I like the Blazers, and think they might have the best shot at taking down L.A., but I probably wouldn’t bet on it. In the month of March, the Blazers have beaten Orlando, Miami, Dallas, Philly and San Antonio twice. The team they have yet to beat in 2011: the Los Angeles Lakers. But right now, if anyone’s going to beat the Lakers in the West, I think it just might be Rip City.

How far do you see the Blazers going?

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