Half way there
At the beginning of the 2012-13 season, there wern’t many who had much hope for the Portland Trail Blazers. Considering the outcome of the previous year, and the changes in personnel both on and off the court, it was safe to assume that the season would be a wash.
However, thanks to an All-Star campaign from LaMarcus Aldridge, a near All-Star showing by Nic Batum and a Rookie Of The Year performance from Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers have found themselves on the verge of a playoff spot since day one.
Currently sitting in ninth spot in the West and a game out of the final playoff spot, the first half of the season has given fans reasons why the club may or may not be justified in its final outcome.
5 Key Victories
Oct. 31 vs LA Lakers (116 – 106)
With three starters hitting for more than 20 points apiece, and one just missing the mark by a single point, the Blazers outscored the heavily favored visitors in all but the final quarter. Led by Nicolas Batum‘s 26 points and a double-double debut from Damian Lillard (23 PTS, 11 AST), the Rose Garden was rocking from the opening tip.
Unfortunately for Laker fans, their team lost more than just the game that night, as Steve Nash would end up missing the next 24 games after a collision with Lillard.
Nov. 3 @ Houston 95-85 / Nov. 16 vs. Houston 119-117
The Rockets, as with the Blazers, were not expected to do much this season despite acquiring James Harden right before the start of the campaign. Like the Blazers, the Rockets have done their best to squash that notion (with a little more success).
In a home-and-home set that spanned almost two weeks, the Blazers came away victorious in both meetings, winning the battle of the two similarly rebuilding, yet proud franchises.
Dec 10 vs. Toronto 92-74, Dec 13 vs. San Antonio 98-90, Dec 16 vs. New Orleans 95-94; Dec 20 vs. Denver 101-93, Dec 22 vs. Phoenix 96-93
A five-game home winning streak, their longest of the season, put the Blazers smack dab in the middle of the playoff ranks of the Western Conference.
Throughout this run, the Blazers highlighted their present and their future as LaMarcus Aldridge, Batum and Lillard all came up big, taking turns leading the club statistically.
In the middle of the run, Aldridge would find himself in the trainers room late in the fourth quarter against the soon to be Pelicans. With ice water running through his veins, Lillard nailed a three-point dagger with 0.3 seconds on the clock to snag the one-point victory.
Jan 4 @ Memphis 86-84
Trailing at the end of the first half and surviving a low-scoring final quarter, the Blazers successfully knocked off a potential playoff opponent on the Grizzlies home court.
Proving that their roster has a little more than three-man depth, Wesley Matthews and JJ Hickson paced the team numerically, but it was a combined defensive effort in the final stanza that led to the Blazers grabbing the “W’ and showcasing a possible playoff series.
Jan 10 @ Miami 92-90
Playing host to the defending champs, the Blazers and the Rose Garden were not as hospitable as King James and crew may have hoped. Holding LeBron to just 15 points, which snapped his 54-game streak of dropping 20 or more, the Blazers were able to mount a serious second-half comeback after trailing 52-39 at the half.
While a postseason matchup is nothing but a pipe dream, showing that they can hang with the best of the best is a peg that the Blazers can proudly hang their hat on.
5 Key Losses (well actually it ends up being 11)
Nov 5 vs. Dallas 114-91, Nov 8 vs. LA Clippers 103-90, Nov 10 vs. San Antonio 112-109, Nov 12 vs. Atlanta 95-87
After startin 2-1, a four-game slide early in the syear was not helpful to the Blazers. They were looking to prove to the league that their victory over the Lakers wasn’t just a fluke, but a quick stretch of losses made it apparent that they were still rebuilding.
Considering that the Clippers and Spurs could be potential playoff opponents, and the Mavericks are battling along with the Blazers for that final spot in the top eight, this early slump did not give promise to the Rose Garden faithful.
Jan 2 @ Toronto 102-79
Their most lopsided loss of the season, the Blazers struggled to hit for over 20 points a quarter (they did manage to scrape 22 points in each the second and third quarters). After giving the Raptors an 18-point beat down in December, the tables were turned and sweet revenge was achieved.
Although this loss came in the midst of a successful 3-1 road trip, the lopsided loss certainly stung.
Jan 11 @ Golden State 103-97, Jan 13 vs. OKC 87-83, Jan 15 @ Denver 115-111, Jan 16 vs. Cleveland 93-88, Jan 19 vs. Milwaukee 110-104, Jan 21 vs. Washington 98-95
Ok, to be fair to the Blazers, the Warriors, Thunder and Nuggets are a notch or three above them; however, losses to the Cavs, Bucks and Wizards went a long way toward putting Portland in the bottom ranks of the Western Conference.
If the Trail Blazers want to prove to fans and the league that they are not in rebuilding mode, slides like this cannot become common.
While the team has managed to keep themselves treading water over the first half of the year, their upcoming six-game road trip against the Timberwolves, Mavericks, Rockets, Magic, Heat and Hornets could make or break the Blazers’ season.
If the team can come out of it 5-1, which includes victories over Dallas and Houston, the Blazers have a good chance to jump into the top eight of the Western Conference.