Posted by Neil Paine on April 17, 2009
Regular Season: Armed with Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez, people expected Portland to be better than their 41-41 finish in '08, but probably not this much better. Some people consider Oden a disappointment, but he actually played pretty well aside from the rampant 6.5 fouls/36 (116 ORtg, 20 %Poss, 104.8 DRtg, +2.07 adjusted +/-), and Fernandez was a revelation (117 ORtg on 17 %Poss). Add that to the maturation of Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, & Travis Outlaw, and you've got the recipe for an upper-half Western Conference team.
Prime-Time Players: 1. Brandon Roy. What can you say about this guy? He's only 24, he posted an ORtg of 123 on 27% of Portland's possessions, and he regularly made buzzer-beaters and various other crunch-time shots. If he plays like that in the playoffs, they might actually have an outside shot at beating L.A. Seriously.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge. The other young Blazer to have a huge breakout season, Aldridge jumped to a 115 ORtg on 23 %Poss this season and provided Portland with a legit (if still somewhat soft) big man. He's vital to their playoff chances.
3. Steve Blake. Who would have thought Blake could be the steady veteran hand at the point for a solid playoff team? Not me. But Blake proved the doubters wrong, posting a 118 ORtg on nearly 18 %Poss while shooting the lights out and facilitating the flow of the offense well. He's got his defensive problems, but there's no denying the cold hard facts: Portland is a much better offensive team when he's in the game vs. when he isn't.
But don't count on... Team playoff experience. Because there really isn't any yet -- they're building it right now. Blake is the veteran of the team at 28, and all he has to call back on is the National Championship run he had with Maryland back in 2002. The rest of these guys are very young and very new to the atmosphere of the NBA playoffs. Conventional wisdom holds that the first time can be a difficult adjustment for teams like this.
Why they can win: The #1 offense in basketball, for starters. And then there's a deep stable of young, talented players, and the presence of Roy, who seems like a guy who relishes the moment. There's a lot of potential here.
Why they can't win: Inexperience and an unimpressive defense, two factors that can be the kiss of death in the playoffs. And top-to-bottom, the West is a monster, so every series is going to be a battle.
X-Factor: Age before beauty? Much has been made of Portland's youth, mostly as a disadvantage, and there's a reason for that: San Antonio is the only veteran playoff team they were able to beat on a consistent basis during the regular season.
|Blazers vs.||Off.||Def.||Reb.||Coach||Exp.||The Skinny||Prediction|
|Dallas||X||X||X||X||Dallas swept season series, but Portland wins in playoffs||Blazers in 6|
|Denver||X||X||X||Will take series if they can win on road||Blazers in 6|
|Houston||X||X||Very close series. Portland needs to use HCA||Blazers in 7|
|Los Angeles||X||X||Could be the West team most equipped to unseat L.A.||Lakers in 6|
|New Orleans||X||X||X||Portland's better, but Hornets hold the CP3 Trump Card||Blazers in 6|
|San Antonio||X||X||Blazers had San Antonio's number during regular season||Blazers in 6|
|Utah||X||X||Each team won both games at home in RS, so HCA is key||Blazers in 7|
(Key: "X" = Advantage; blank = disadvantage)