We are now 53 games into the season and the Blazers (25-28) are sitting in the 9th spot in the West. That puts them 3 games behind Houston for the coveted 8th seed. At a glance, it’s easy to look at their current 5-game losing streak and sub .500 winning percentage and conclude that the Blazers are a bad team. Then you might find yourself tossing and turning at night with nightmares of Luke Babbitt air balling 30 footers or Wesley Matthews dribbling the ball off of his leg again. Or maybe you choose not to be followed around by a rain cloud.
Perhaps you are the person who, instead of working during the day, has flashbacks of Rip City at its best. You know what I’m talking about. That's when LA refuses to be denied by anyone. When he shows up every power forward in the league and actually decides to rebound. That's when Nicolas Batum gets 2 triple doubles in 3 games. That's when JJ gets after every single rebound in the game. He never quits. That's when Wesley rips the net from 3. That's when Damian Lillard lights it up from way beyond or slashes in with a circus shot as if he’s in the backyard playing horse. Did I mention his game winner against New Orleans at home? There is no question as to whether he is NBA ready or not. In case you're still wondering, he is.
When it comes to reviewing to this season thus far, it really depends on what your preseason expectations were. Where did you see this team? Were you of the mindset that they would win between 20-30 games, 30-40 games, or perhaps feeling ridiculously optimistic and expecting 40+ wins? From the small sample of my friends and family people were expecting a range of between 35-40 wins. I myself predicted a whopping 38 games in the “W” column for the 2012-2013 season. That means of the last 29 games, they only have to win 13 out of 30 to save face with me.
That said, unless you were forecasting a 50-game winning season, I’d say you would have to be happy with their output thus far. Especially when you factor in not only the recent 5-game skid, but also the 6-game losing streak we had earlier on. In order to reach the less than stellar finishing record of below .500, Portland has to finish the season playing relatively poorly, making the feat of meeting expectations not only conceivable, but down right easy.
We all know that many of the games the Blazers have lost this year could have easily gone the other way. When you factor in the almost brand new roster, complete with 5 rookies, those close games tell a story of where they are headed next year. 2013 is the year of the snake in China. For the Blazers, this has been the year of the close game, but I think they will be able to snake their way to a more than satisfactory ending, all things considered.
The fans are clued in to what they are getting with this team this year. Portland has one of the toughest starting five players in the league. Those guys can play with anyone, period, end of discussion. There are just two things missing: defense and a bench. In the literal sense we do have a bench. This bench has been called not only the worst in the NBA, but possibly the worst ever in terms of output. As far as defense goes, well they allow the third highest field goal percentage in the league at 46.7%. When you add it all up with a new coach, five rookies, an almost nonexistent bench, and a poor defense, the team is actually doing well.
So, what did you expect? I expected them to struggle and hoped they wouldn’t get blown out a lot. I figured they would lose to the good teams and beat the bad ones. I also figured that winning around 38 games was optimistic. I remember thinking I just wanted them to play hard and the rest would take care of itself. In my view, they are gaining experience that will pay off in time. Hopefully, the issues we’ve seen time and time again this year will work themselves out as we close in on the second half of the season. They have exceeded expectations thus far, that much is true. The question that remains: what will they do next?