Last season the Trail Blazers missed the playoffs by a long shot with a record of (33-49), but after a huge turnaround they just might be the biggest surprise this year in the NBA.
Can they legitimately keep up the momentum and challenge the Thunder for the Northwest Division crown? Or will they come back to reality and wind up finishing the season as a mid-level seed?
Everyone loves a Cinderella story, and I hear that LaMarcus Aldridge was spotted the other day at Foot Locker being fitted for size 17 glass slippers. The big man is having the best statistical season of his career, putting up career highs in points, rebounds, and assists. He’s a one man wrecking crew that’s leading the top offense in the NBA.
At 23.8 points per game, Aldridge is scoring a full two points more than his previous career high. But what is even more telling of his newfound dominance in the middle is that his production on the boards has also ticked up by more than a deuce per contest over his previous best (11.2 from 9.1).
He’s a double-double machine, having already recorded 22 on the season, and we haven’t even reached the All-Star break.
The other night at Moda Center, Blazer fans were chanting “MVP! MVP!” for their budding Superstar. And while it won’t be easy to surpass top MVP candidates like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Paul George, there’s certainly an argument to be made that Aldridge’s name belongs in the running.
And it’s not just that they’re getting it done in the paint.
Aldridge is the centerpiece that is anchoring Portland’s recent success, but the additions of Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson, and Robin Lopez also contribute greatly to the Blazers’ immaculate reversal of last season’s fate.
Additionally, Damian Lillard is a year better and like Aldridge, Wes Matthews is putting up his all-time high in points. The more well-rounded play of Nicolas Batum is certainly more than just a contributing factor to Portland’s success as well.
If it’s three it’s for me.
Portland is 2nd in the league with 26.0 3-point attempts per game (Phoenix 26.3) and second-year coach Terry Stotts was recently under fire for employing a game strategy that relied so heavily on taking shots from beyond the arc.
Unwavering, this was his response to the criticism: “I think we’re shooting the appropriate amount of threes for the type of team we have….I don’t want to apologize for having good shooters.”
And good shooters is right. The Blazers are shooting an incredible .397 from downtown, second only to the Spurs (.399).
Speaking of San Antonio, as of two days back, Portland has beaten the #1 seed in the Western Conference four straight times. The Blazers 109-100 victory over the Spurs and their 127-111 win over the Mavericks bumps their record to 31-9, which gives them the best record in the West.
It’s been a long, long time coming.
Blazer enthusiasts will be quick to point out their back-to-back Conference Final appearances against the Spurs and then Lakers in the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons, but for all intents and purposes the Trail Blazers have not been this good since this game was available for purchase for the Super Nintendo:
That’s right. Believe it or not there used to be a Portland Trail Blazers video game. (Although even for 1992, the players moved so excruciatingly slow that the game was nearly unplayable…but seriously, who was playing 5-on-5 back in the day of NBA Jam…“Ugly shot! Yes! He’s on fire!!!”)
I’ve actually been trying to figure out a way to go fully Old School and sneak in a Double Dribble reference, but I’ll have to settle for the NBA Jam injection.
But back to my point. Check out these hideously depressing statistics:
- Out of the past 21 seasons since falling to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the NBA Finals, the Blazers have made the playoffs 14 times. But in 12 of those appearances, Portland was eliminated in the first round.
- Out of the past 10 seasons, the Blazers have only made the playoffs 3 times, dropping their first series (2-4) on each occasion.
But in 2013-14, the Trail Blazers are so good that even the Portlandia (Google it) hipsters and granola set are getting involved <blatant lie> as basketball has quickly surpassed recycling as the city’s favorite pastime <another blatant lie>.
But…what about Kevin Durant and the Thunder.
As of today, Portland’s 5 game win streak has the team sitting a full game ahead of Oklahoma City (30-10) in the Northwest Division. The Thunder, of course, easily won the Division title last season with an always-impressive 60-win season (60-22).
While it seems unlikely that Portland will be able to keep up their torrid pace for the entire season, if they do then they´ll hit 60 wins with 4 games left to play.
At this point it’s hard to argue against the Trail Blazers who are (2-0) against the Thunder on the season, but Durant and company get their next shot at reclaiming the top spot in the division when Portland visits OKC on January 21st (January 22 in Australia). This will be a game that you won’t want to miss.