We are nearing the halfway point of the NBA season — in terms of games played — and the Portland Trail Blazers have proven that they are going to be a force this season. Point to their lack of experience, their “live by the 3, die by the 3″ mentality or their lack of a bench production if you like, but this team is going to be one of the top four seeds out West.
With that said they still feel like they are proving themselves to the rest of the league as Damian Lillard stated here when talking with Joe Freeman of Oregon Live: “I think it’s an opportunity for us to prove ourselves … a little bit more.” Lillard was referring to their demanding four game road trip that started with the San Antonio Spurs Friday night
One Down, Three To Go
Friday night’s test was the San Antonio Spurs and Portland passed with an A. LaMarcus Aldridge posted his usual 26 points and 13 rebounds; Lillard had 21 points and eight assists and Wesley Matthews was huge from 3-point land, going 6-for-7 and finishing with 24 points on the night. Wes was huge in the fourth quarter hitting three straight 3-pointers to really put the nail in the coffin.
Tim Duncan finished with a pedestrian 13 points and seven rebounds, Tony Parker had 12 points and Manu Ginobili really kept things interesting dropping 29 points off the bench for the Spurs. Coach Gregg Popovich was ejected almost midway through the third quarter after becoming irate that Aldridge wasn’t called for what he believed to be an offensive foul against Boris Diaw.
It doesn’t get any easier as Portland now travels to Dallas to take on the Mavericks Saturday at 8:30 p.m. EST. The Mavs are 24-17 on the season and come into this matchup winning four of their last five games.
The Blazers will play four games in five nights battling the likes of the Spurs, Mavericks, Rockets and finishing with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. Talking about this matchup prompted Wes Matthews to say this:
“A royal rumble. That’s what it is. It’s a royal rumble.”
Let the Texas #royalrumble begin
— Wesley Matthews (@wessywes2) January 17, 2014
I think the four games in five nights will do the Blazers in for at least one loss on this trip. The last time they made a trip like this, they went 3-1 with an embarrassing loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves where they were just gassed and went into halftime down 69-43 — their tired legs definitely showing.
This time could be different but the foes are much more formidable as well. The Spurs, Mavs, Rockets and Thunder have a combined record of 61-20 at home this season. Before you freak out and think to yourself, “Man the Blazers could go 0-4 on this trip!”, just remember that the Blazers are 4-2 against these same teams this season — however, only one of those four wins has come on the road. That win was certainly memorable as the Blazers closed out 2013 with a big comeback win versus the Oklahoma City Thunder, winning 98-94.
The mindset of the players and more importantly the coach seem to be in the right place however. Here’s what coach Terry Stotts told Freeman of Oregon Live:
“If you’re going to read a 3,000-page book, you can’t look at the whole book … you’ve got to start with the first chapter.”
That’s the age-old cliché “take it one game at a time,” but I’ve never heard it explained this way and I like it. Stotts has certainly been impressive leading this team of unproven individuals, as an unproven head coach. This road trip could go a long way in slowing the national skepticism that seems to constantly surround this team like a cloud (picture Pig Pen from Peanuts). Wes tweeted the following out after the big road win Friday night; his patented hashtag…
— Wesley Matthews (@wessywes2) January 18, 2014
One down, three to go. Will the Blazers be the last man standing, or will they be tossed over the ropes in this battle of supremacy?
**You can contact Chris regarding this article or anything basketball related on Twitter: @Chris_Reichert