Sunday, August 30, 2009

Trail Blazers Position Breakdown: Point Guard

With only about 6 weeks until the Trail Blazers kick off the 2009-2010 pre-season, I will be going through the Blazers roster and breaking down each position by depth. First up are the point guards. In one fell swoop, Kevin Pritchard turned a weakness into a strength by acquiring former Sixer guard Andre Miller with a 3 year deal back in late July. I know I don't speak for all of Blazer Nation, but I cringed and prayed every single time Steve Blake would exit the game, and no, it's not because I am his #1 fan, far from it in fact. Our backup point guard situation was easily the biggest weakness in 2009 and bottom 5 in the league. Sergio Rodriguez would come in and dribble the ball until divots were made in the hardwood. Once or twice a month he would have his 3 point shot going, but mostly, if he did anything worthwhile, it was his knack for getting fellow Spaniard Rudy Fernandez the ball in optimal scoring situations as seen here. Jerryd Bayless showed flashes of brilliance and why he was considered a top 5 lock in the 2008 draft, such as his 23 point outburst at New Jersey, but he never really got consistent minutes which made it hard for him to perform when called upon sporadically throughout the season. So, back to when Blake came out for a breather, Blazer fans were left with two options, looking away or praying. If by chance Bayless got the early call, he would press too much, play overly aggressive and commit unnecessary fouls, and end up looking like a rookie. El Chacho would dazzle the crowd at times with his uncanny ability to ready Rudy's mind, but he'd throw it all away on the other side of the court by playing his notorious matador defense. On draft day 2009, the Trail Blazers sent Rodriguez packing south to Sacramento for nothing more than a salary dump and to move up 2 spots in the 2nd round. Basically, the Blazers essentially traded Sergio for Andre Miller, which now gives Portland one of the best point guard depths in the league. By signing Miller outright, Portland is able to move 2 year starter Steve Blake to run the 2nd unit. Not only will Andre take pressure off of Roy in regards to play making, but he will become a much better starting point guard for the Blazers than they had in years previous. What is even more satisfying and comforting is knowing that once Dre heads for the bench, the Blazers are in good hands with the even keel Blake running the show. Blake goes from being one of the top 5 worst starting point guards in the game to being a top 5 backup. If for any reason Blake or Miller are in deep foul trouble or miss a game, Bayless has a year of experience under his belt and should be able to man the ship for a short period of time. The only issue I could foresee would be Bayless being grumpy and eventually putting out negative vibes since he is now relegated to 3rd string for a 2nd consecutive year while he sees his former AAU buddies and 2008 draftees soak up the playing time, not even mentioning how ultra-competitive he is. I don't think this will in fact happen, but if something goes wrong with this unit, it's my best guess. Hopefully, he is getting words of encouragement from KP and Coach McMillan on being patient, Blake is pushing 30 and Miller is 33, and keeps his promise that he would never become a team cancer. Last season, the point guard group would have been lucky to obtain a grade of C, but everything has seemingly moved upside down. Blake's unwillingness to take risks and steady play, once upsetting with the 1st unit, will be welcome with open arms running with the 2nd unit and keeping or increasing the lead. Instead of having our starting point guard not be a threat to score on offense, with Miller, Portland can go after the CP3's and Tony Parker's by making them play defense as well know Dre loves to work down low on the blocks. Finally, Bayless is amazing insurance. I feel like USC when it comes to quarterback depth, having a star in waiting as our 3rd stringer is a luxury.
2009-2010 Trail Blazer Point Guard Grade: B+

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's In a Rival?

I often wonder if you were to ask a Lakers fan who their biggest rivalry was with, would they say Portland? If you ask a Blazers fan, it's not even a question. More likely you will get a down trodden look and a shake of the head as many painful memories come flooding into our mind. We're taking a look at some of the teams that we like to call rivals: The now defunct Seattle/OKC, Utah, Denver, and of course the Lakers. Seattle/Oklahoma City The I-5 rivalry had little intrigue during my life time. The only time that the Blazers and Sonics met in the playoffs since I was born was in 1991 when the 8th seeded Sonics pushed the Blazers to 5 games in their 1st round win. Before that, the teams faced each other 3 times, all in the first round. It's really a pity that the two teams never matched up in the Western Conference Finals, with everything on the line. Had they ever met for a high stakes match, the close proximity could have made for a truly electric rivalry. Instead, we can look back on some good regular season competition, including a famous trip to the Tacoma dome, and hope that some day basketball will return to the city of Seattle and this time, a true rivalry can be formed.
For myself, it was damn near impossible to hate the Sonics for a couple of reasons. First, I have a lot of family in the Seattle area whom I visit frequently and saw a couple of Sonics games. While the Blazers will always be #1, try telling a teenager to hate The Glove and The Reignman, it's not going to happen. How can you not watch Kemp's Top 10 Dunks and detest him with the intensity as if he were Kobe Bryant or Karl Malone?
The tables have turned quite a bit since the mid 90's in regards to my feelings towards that franchise, purely because of Clay Bennett and his stealing of the Sonics and moving them to become the Thunder. Although their trio of young gunz, Westbrook, Durant, and Green are extremely likable players, I don't like them or root for them simply because of their jersey they don each game. If the Thunder ever lean to play better with Durant on the floor than off it, they could become a legit foe for the Trail Blazers in a few short years. Now, that would jump start an electric rivalry. Finally, I am tired of this whole Oden v. Durant debate and how much better Durant would have made us and that Oden is nothing more than Sam Bowie 2.0.
Denver The Denver Nuggets too are really only rivals because of their close proximity and presence in our division. They make the list only because recently the regular season games have been hotly contested. Coupled with a personal dislike for CaMarshmallow Anthony, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and everyone's favorite Bird Man, Chris Anderson, this makes them also a minor rivalry. This clip pretty much sums up my disdain for the current Denver Nuggets squad. Utah The Utah Jazz are the only team outside of the Lakers that could be truly considered at least a minor rivalry. With five playoff matchups since 1990 and some great battles between Karl Malone and Buck Williams and Brian Grant, there seems to be at least a little something extra that comes out between the Blazers and Jazz. If there were two teams that could be blamed for Utah never earning a championship banner during the Stockton and Malone era, it was the Bulls and Blazers. In 1991 the Blazers took on the Jazz in the second round after their tough 5 game series with the Sonics. After 2 close games at home in which the Blazers won, the Jazz took game 3 in Utah. Some of the worry that the team was vulnerable crept back in, but was dissipated when the Blazers won game 4 and would go on to take the series in 5. The two teams would meet again the following year, this time in the Western Conference Finals, but again the Blazers dispensed of the Jazz, this time 4-2. In 1995-96 the Blazers would struggle just to get to the playoffs, going 18-5 to storm into the playoffs. The Jazz would take the first two in Utah, but Portland bounced back with two wins at the new Rose Garden arena. The Jazz then proceeded to stomp out the Blazers in game 5 64-102 in route to their finals appearance against the Bulls. In both 1999 and 2000 the Blazers and Jazz met in the Western Conference semi finals. In 1999, the Jazz were confident going in to the series and took the first game at home, but Portland stole game two in Utah and proceeded to win the series in 6 games. In 2000, The Blazers would go up 3 games to none before Utah would snag one in Utah. When the Blazers completed the series with the win in Portland it would set expectations sky high for the next round against the Lakers and continue the trend of Blazer dominance over the Jazz in the playoffs. These two series epitomized Brian Grant as he muscled, scrapped and battled with Karl Malone each night, holding Malone below his seasonal average in both series. Since the divisional realignment in 2004, Utah also joined the Blazers conference adding slightly to the rivalry. Regular season matchups have been close as of late and this is another rivalry that could gain momentum as the two teams struggle with Denver for superiority in the Northwest Division. Lakers A great rivalry is one in which both teams genuinely have a nasty dislike for one another as well as the teams' fan bases. Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, hating the Los Angeles Lakers is the equivalent of Notre Dame or the New York Yankees being your #1 rival, because, seemingly, every fan base hates the Lakers and every team gets that extra boost when the Lakers come rolling into town. The Blazer/Laker rivalry is more of little brother (Portland) trying to compete with and take down big brother (Los Angeles). There have only been a handful of occasions where Portland and LA have been a true rivalry, where the Laker players and fans have taken Portland seriously as a threat to their crown. There was 1977 where Portland swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals en route to the NBA Championship, but the Blazers, being only a 7 year old franchise, probably were seen as a fluke and not a threat year in and year out. 1991 was probably the first time the rivalry intensified, as experts predicted either team to represent the West in the NBA Finals. Portland was the team on the rise, ready for stardom after their surprise run to the 1990 NBA Finals and the Magic-led Lakers were viewed as having one last hurrah left in them. We all know how that story ends. Interestingly enough, that series was my first experience with the heated battles and started my Laker hatred. Being 5 at the time, I remember coming home after going to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II in theaters (I swear I have never put TMNT ahead of the Blazers again!) only to find out the Lakers defeated my beloved Blazers in Game 1. To a 5 year old, my world had collapsed and was in complete dissaray and since then, there has been no franchise I have despised more so. Portland got their revenge the following year in a 3-1 series win in the Western Conference Quarters over LA, but with the tragic news of Magic Johnson being infected with the HIV virus, beating up on the Lakers just wasn't as satisfying. LA whooped up on us in the 97 and 98 playoffs, both 4 game affairs in the 1st round, but again, they were our #1 targets but the Lakers had loftier goals than bullying little brother some more. Finally, the rivalry seemed like it would be engaged in full on hate mode for the next 5-7 years when the 1999 season rolled around. The year before, Portland made a run to the WCF out of no where to become relevant again, and each franchise made 1 move which brought fuel to the fire. Portland traded 6 players in the fall of 99 to Houston for Scottie Pippen and the Lakers hired prior Blazer nemesis Phil Jackson to coach another dynamic duo, Shaq and Kobe. Now it wasn't just a race to see which team would come out of the West, but what team would win it all; The WCF was dubbed "The Real Finals". There is no doubt, even in peak times for both teams, that Portland hated LA more than the other way around. Hell, the Blazers would even make special Beat LA shirts for regular season games and the fans would buy them up. I wasn't sure if I could hate the Lakers any more than I did that spring 91 day, but Game 7 takes the cake. I was already lobbying my dad mid-way through the 4th quarter if we could get Finals tickets and really thought little, ole Portland was finally going to do it. We were finally going to shock the world, come back from a 1-3 deficit and win a Game 7 in Los Angeles, only to see my hopes and dreams of an NBA Championship shatter with that choke job. To make matters worse, LA went on to 3 peat and Portland became the "Jail Blazers" and falling back into the abyss of mediocrity, until now. It has taken many years, but the Blazers are back, with even the Lakers taking notice. Throughout our downfalls, we have still been able to baffle the Lakers at the Rose Garden, to the tune of 8 straight victories for the home team. Kobe has gone so far as circling the games in Portland on his calender and there are now those famous scuffles taking place on the court, most notable the hard foul on Rudy last year and Lamar Odom trying to break into Portland's huddle. Make no mistake about it, losing to a team as much as Portland has to LA (2-9 in the playoffs) makes you shutter just hearing the name, but that is not the only reason why LA is undoubtedly Portland's biggest rival. There is the whole city of Portland vs. city of Los Angeles viewpoint. Most Portlanders don't like the lifestyle of LA, the phoniness, and how so many Californians are coming into Portland. There is also the bandwagon affect. The Lakers have the most bandwagon and fickle fans of any franchise in the NBA. You know the fan, we see them at the RG two times a year; Kobe jersey, fitted cap titled to the side, thin mustache, fake diamond earrings, and can always be seen leaving the game early in the 4th. More than anything mentioned above, it is the unlikable players LA puts out on the court and the arrogance of Phil Jackson. Kobe is the arrogant player who cheats on his wife. Shaq still to this day belittles Portland and is on Pryzbilla's hit list for falling on him and throwing the ball in his face. Then there is Derrick Fisher who you want to smack for no good reason, maybe it's the way he wore his headband? Rick Fox is the greasy haired douche who tries to get under the skin of his opponents. And Sasha Vujacic who whines mercilessly and has never committed a foul in his life are only a few of the jackasses put on display by the Los Angeles franchise. Even if the Lakers and their fans don't take Portland seriously as a threat to them, they will always been enemy #1 in all of sports for me. "My two favorite teams are Portland...and whoever is kicking LA's ass."(And yes, I proudly wear this shirt)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Trail Blazers Unveil Two Alternate Jerseys: Rate 'Em

For the first time since 2002-2003, the Trail Blazers will be donned in, not one, but two new alternate jerseys. The red uniform with blazers written vertically down the side are the throwbacks that will be used throughout the season and seemingly for the retro night at the Memorial Coliseum vs. the Suns. The jerseys were originally worn by the Blazers from 1974 through the championship season of 1977. The only comparable alternate jersey to the new, white Rip City one would be "The City" throwbacks the Golden State Warriors appeared in a couple of years ago, but were originally worn from 1962-1971. Like "The City", Rip City is a phrase synonymously known with each respective franchise. No one knows, yet, just where and when these duds will be sported by the team. Purely speculation, but maybe they could be worn on Sunday home games, just as the Lakers wear their home whites exclusively on Sunday.
In terms of throwbacks, the 75's are much better than the 1970 originals the Blazers wore in 2003 vs. the Cavaliers, but not in the same league as the 1978-1991 jerseys made famous by the early 90's, Drexler-led Blazer squad. It does get points for creativity and originality with the vertical script down the chest, which is unheard of for uniforms. Also, bonus points for the upright pinwheel logo on the shorts. The only flaw I can dock them for are the hideous white and black strips down the side of the top and shorts. Overall Grade: 8.5/10.
I have a few problems with the Rip City alternate. First, there shouldn't be that much silver involved, if any. Rip City was a saying by the Schonz long before any thought of silver being an accent color on the color scheme for the Blazers, especially when Rip City is written in the original font the team adopted back in 1970. I love that Rip City is in orginal font, but then make the pinwheel upright to match the era. The side paneling is very plain as well, not bad for NBA standards, but when the Blazers have the best jerseys in the NBA, my expectations for new alternates are high. Overall Grade. 6/10. All photos courtesy of the Portland Trail Blazers Twitter page.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Running Down a Dream: Game 6 WCF & 1,2,3 Go Rip City

Portland had two great chances to win Game 6, but a turnover on a 3 on 1 fast break and a wide open missed jump shot caused the Trail Blazers to fall 90-91 and cut their dream season short. There is no doubt in my mind Portland would have gone on to defeat LA in a Game 7 in the Rose City, but it wasn't meant to be.
1,2,3 Go Rip City is another classic early 90's Blazers hit. Although, it doesn't have the notoriety of 2 Hot 2 Stop It or Bust a Bucket, it still was another chance for Jerome to show off his vocal skills!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Running Down a Dream: Western Conference Finals

The match-up everyone anticipated in the pre-season had come to fruition. Portland had taken 3 of 5 from the Lakers in the regular season, including 2 of 3 at the Forum, but the home court advantage the Blazers worked so hard to obtain was taken away after a 13-0 run to start the 4th by LA in Game 1, eventually outscoring Portland by 17 to win 111-106. It was the turning point of the series; Portland got back on track during Games 2 and 5 back at home but failed to show up in LA, getting waxed by double figures in both contests. Facing Elimination, the Blazers had to win a Game 6 in LA to force a Game 7 back in the Coliseum.

Monday, August 10, 2009

LaMarcus Aldridge: What's the Limit?

With a long-term contract extension seemingly on the horizon, LaMarcus would form one of the better duos in the league with Brandon Roy for, at least, the next 5 seasons, assuming he gets a 5 year extension as well. Greg Oden was supposed to be the last musketeer, but a devastating knee injury, which forced doctors to perform the micro-fracture procedure has left some doubt as to whether he can live up to pre-draft expectations. Is Aldridge a good enough Robin to Roy's Batman to win at least one NBA championship if the majority of the same role players are in place, placing himself into elite player status? Or will he only slightly progress into a 1 or 2 time All-Star throughout his career? Coming out of Texas, LaMarcus was an early entry candidate, leaving after his Sophomore year. He picked up the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year honors and led his team to the Final Four, but was drastically outshined by fellow 06 draft hopeful Tyrus Thomas, who was a good three inches shorter than LaMarcus. All of a sudden it was mock drafts placing Thomas ahead of Aldridge. Critics of his game said he was too soft and loved to stay out on the perimeter and not bang inside. The negatives of his game rang too close to home for fellow Blazer fans as memories of Rasheed Wallace slowly, yet surely, migrating further and further away from the hoop hit home. Going into the draft, he was compared to Channing Frye and Jermaine O'Neal was seen as his best case scenario. Both players had their moments; Jermaine was a 6-time NBA All-Star, and Channing Frye was actually really good, but neither is a player that Portland hoped to get after going 21-61 the prior year. After 3 full seasons, I think it is safe to say Portland made the right move by trading away Viktor Khryapa and the right to Tyrus Thomas for Aldridge, he has surpassed the comparisons to Channing Frye's rookie season averages of 12 ppg and 6 rpg, yet he is not quite on the level of a walking 20-10 player like O'Neal was during his prime. Aldridge has shown is the ability to get better and stronger as the season goes on and it was no more apparent than during the 1st round of the playoffs vs. Houston. Aldridge was the only other option, outside of Roy, who was scoring consistently. He added 1.5 more ppg to his playoff total and was even blocking an additional shot per game. Two things that could prevent LaMarcus from becoming the creme of the crop, in regards to power forwards, are his slow season starts and his rebounding. All of the great 4's this league has seen, Malone, Barkley, and Garnett to name a few, have their games set on automatic all year long and rebound the basketball at will. I know LA plays with Joel and Greg who are threats to go off for 13 boards each night, but Zach Randolph played with Joel too and had no problems cleaning up the glass to the tune of 10+ a night. I don't expect Aldridge to become a double digit rebounding monster, mostly due to playing with our two bigs, but for being nearly being 7 feet tall, a career high of 7.6 rebounds a game isn't going to cut it. With Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett looking like they are on their last hurrah and Dirk Nowitzki already peaking at age 31, being recognized as the league's premier power forward could be had for the taking in a couple short years for the L-Train. At first, he did shy away from the paint and physical contact too much, but Coach Nate got through to him and fans have seen a new, more physical Aldridge show a bevy of unstoppable post moves, nearly unblockable with his high release. Another thing to consider, LaMarcus has never played with a great point guard, let alone a good one(sorry, Steve). The addition of Andre Miller should make his life easier. The team has said to want to run more and that benefits no one more so than L-Train who runs like a Gazelle on the court, seemingly faster than any big from end line to end line. Andre led the league in alley-oop lob passes this past NBA season and the crown should stay in Portland, as LaMarcus can catch anything within the vicinity of his 89 inch wingspan. The real best-case scenario is Rasheed Wallace, minus the attitude, the temper, the lack of motivation to get better, and shying away from taking shots, which ends up being one spectacular player. Many Trail Blazer fans, including myself, thought Sheed had the talent to be the best power forward of his era if he would only assert himself in the post and work as hard as the KG's, Duncan's, and Webber's in the off-season. Even Rasheed with all of those flaws has been a multi-time All-Star and was unquestionably the best player on a team that was 10 minutes away from going to the NBA Finals. LA has already shown he is a high character person who won't battle the referees during games and has one of the top work ethics on the team. By now he has passed the first test by taking McMillan's advice and being more assertive down low. If he can eventually turn out to be the defender Rasheed was, ostensibly, the only thing he took pride in, it will be inevitable for him to become the NBA's premier power forward in 2 years. L-Train will get pushed by Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and maybe Blake Griffin for 1st team All-NBA status, but Aldridge has all the tools mentally, physically, and maybe most importantly, team talent surrounding him to be the best. Think about it, he should never have to face a double team with Miller, Roy, Rudy, and Miller playing alongside him, and facing LaMarcus one on one means the way way for defenders to stop him is by hoping and praying. He is easily worth whatever money the front office signs him for.

Monday, August 3, 2009

2009-2010 Trail Blazers Schedule Breakdown

The Portland Trail Blazers 2009-2010 NBA schedule was released today. Portland will be featured 24 times on national television (including NBA TV), with 10 on ESPN, 7 on NBA TV, 6 on TNT,and 1 on ABC, which is the first time I believe Portland has been on a Sunday afternoon game since the NBA switched over from NBC to ABC. Like clockwork, the Trail Blazers will play their fair share of back to backs, 19 total. October/November The opening week of the season provides Portland with a shot at revenge early and often. Portland finally gets the home opener and, for the 3rd straight year, gets a game on the first day of the season, this time against Houston. The two teams get quickly acquainted with one another, as just4 days later, Portland travels down to Houston, on Halloween night, for their home opener. Between the two months has the Blazers playing 19 total games, with 10 home and 9 away, so there will be no 16 of the first 24 games being played outside of the friendly confines of the Rose Garden this season. There is a 5 game eastern road trip in the middle of November, but at least it is sandwiched around a 3 and 4 game home stand. Highlights these months include two national televised games, one vs. Denver on October 29th and vs. San Antonio on November 6th. December December has Portland hitting the road and hitting the road hard. Although there are only 8 away games, they are divided into two 4 game road trips, including the toughest road trip all season; 4 games in 5 nights vs. Orlando, Miami, Dallas, and San Antonio. Playing Denver on Christmas night is the highlight of the 7 home affairs. Is it me, or is playing at home on Christmas becoming a Trail Blazer tradition? Other home games of note include seeing Houston again for the 3rd time in the first 21 games, a visit from Sergio Rodriguez and the Kings on December 15th, Phoenix for a TNT Thursday night game just two days later, and #1 overall pick Blake Griffin and the Clippers for the last game of 2009. January January could prove to be a make or break month for the Trail Blazers if they want to have hopes of becoming North West Division champions. 10 of the month's 15 games are against playoff opponents the previous year. The seasons most memorable home stand also takes place this month as Portland welcomes 5 teams to the Rose Garden, including the Lakers, Cavaliers, and Magic. The 7 roadies don't offer Portland any breaks either as there is a 4 game trip out east vs. Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, and Detroit. If that wasn't brutal enough, Portland ends the month, on a back to back, taking on the Rockets and Mavericks. Due to the amount of higher prestige opponents, there are two games that will be slept on. It is a small tow game home stand vs. the Hornets on the 25th and the Jazz the 27th. February While January could be feast or famine, February offers the Blazers a chance to either catch up to conference leaders if needed or run away from the pack. There is only 13 games this month, due to the All-Star break, with 7 being against teams who missed the playoffs in 2009. Also, February provides Portland with their easiest Road Trip of the season, a 5 game in 7 nights date against the Nets, Raptors, Bulls, Timber Wolves, and Grizzlies. As usual, the main event for the month is a Saturday night matchup vs. the heated Lakers on the 6th. Other high points involve another TNT Thursday night battle, this time against the Spurs on the 4th and the Celtics only appearance at the Garden this year, on the 19h, which will be nationally broadcast on ESPN. March If Portland can make it through January, either in the division lead or nipping at the heals of the leader, the next two months offer up huge potential advantages for our boys in scarlet and black. For the second straight month, Portland plays the majority of their games against teams who did not participate in the 2009 NBA playoffs. Instead of it only being a 1 game advantage, in March, the Blazers will play 9 of the 13 games against those non qualifiers. Also, there is no road trip longer than 2 games and Memphis, TN is the furthest east Portland has to travel in the month. The focal point of the month comes in a 3 game spanning from the 21st - 27th where Portland dukes it out at Phoenix, comes home to finally try to beat Dallas in the Garden, and finishes up at New Orleans. But make no mistake about it, the marquee game of the month is a Sunday night game against Hedo Turkoglu and the Toronto Raptors. I wonder if he will be booed more or less mercifully than Darius Miles last year? April For the third straight month, the Blazers are playing the majority of their games against non-playoff teams last season. The shortened month of April offers up only 7 games, 3 home and 4 away. Portland makes their one and only trip to visit the Lakers this season on Sunday April 11th, which is a nationally televised game picked up by ABC. The Blazers lucked out only having to make one trip to Staples this year and maybe LA has a comfortable lead or is mathematically eliminated from best overall record and rests some players. The last of 4 meetings against Denver occurs on April Fool's Day, in Denver which could seal the division for either team or just make the race for home court that much tighter. I was a little disappointed to see Fan Appreciation Night, the final home game of the season, was against the lowly Golden State Warriors, but it could be a positive for the Trail Blazers, if in case, playoff seeding is on the line just like last year. Three's Company Ever since the NBA expanded in 2004, moving the Bobcats to Charlotte and the New Orleans Hornets to the Western Conference, there are 4 teams each year Portland gets to play only 3 times, instead of the regular 2 home/2 away against other conference foes. The Trail Blazers really lucked out in regards to this scheduling quirk, as 3 of the 4 teams Portland plays are Western Conference powers and the other has been a thorn in the Blazers' side the past 5 years. The four teams are as follows:
  1. Los Angeles Lakers Portland plays LA twice at the Rose Garden, looking to extend their home winning streak from 8 to 10, and only once down in Los Angeles.
  2. San Antonio Spurs The Blazers finally broke through the curse of the Spurs last year, even winning in San Antonio, this time around we only get one shot to win in the Alamo city. The other two games will be at the raucous Rose Garden.
  3. New Orleans Hornets Our boys usually play very well at home vs. the Hornets, unfortunately, we only get them one time at the RG. On the other hand, New Orleans is almost like the new house of horrors. I can even remember the game from January, in 2005, where Damon Stoudamire dropped 54 points and we still lost to a Dan Dickau led Hornets squad, where a huge 20+ point lead was lost.
  4. Phoenix Suns With Shaq gone, Phoenix will still give Portland fits. With a healthy Amare Stoudemire, they still push the tempo and have the talent to run you out of the building on any given night. Even though they aren't the Phoenix of a few years ago, even winning one in Phoenix would be a miracle, considering we haven't won there since February 4th, 2004 and lost our last 10 of 11.

Overall Analysis There is great balance to the 2009-2010 schedule for the Trail Blazers. Each month there is only a difference of 1 game between home and away games. Also, being the outlier geographically, the team travels further than nearly any other franchise, but a break does come with the schedule as the Blazers don't have to travel east past a February 26th encounter with the Bulls. The days of 6-8 game road trips are over, as this year, Portland's longest venture away from home is only 5 games, which occurs twice. After last year's first 16 of 24 away from home, the NBA gave Portland some huge breaks. As mentioned, the 4 teams we only play 3 times are all very, very lethal and, in the last 3 months of the season, we play against more teams who didn't make the playoffs last year than those who did on average. If we can attack the front end of the schedule and be in contention for home-court advantage, the back end could allow us to only enhance our playoff position.
Top 10 Home Games I'm Looking Forward To As a season ticket holder, there are always those games that catch the eye as soon as the schedule is released. Here is my top 10 and why:
  1. Los Angeles Lakers - January 8 The first home game vs. LA is always the creme of the crop. There is nothing better than seeing 1,000+ people clad in purple and gold popping off before the game only to be seen on the jumbo-tron walking with their tail between their legs with 3 minutes to go in the game.
  2. Houston Rockets - October 27 There is just something special about home openers. Everything from the player introductions to seeing how the new guy, in this case Andre Miller, performs are aspects of opening night I look forward too.
  3. Los Angeles Lakers - February 6 It is the Lakers, my most hated team in all of sports. I love seeing how the rivalry has progressed from us hating their guts and always playing up for the game to now LA taking us seriously and watching Kobe get angry as he can't break the RG curse.
  4. Denver Nuggets - December 25 For me, personally, the Christmas games are a chance for my family to all go to the game together. It has become a Christmas tradition for my family and I to have Christmas dinner a little early and make our way up for the game. This year should be the best of all, a nice divisional clash on the happiest day of the year.
  5. Boston Celtics - February 19 Not only are the 2008 champs in the city, but they are bringing back former Blazer Rasheed Wallace with them, who usually gets a mixed reaction when he is introduced into the game. I'm sure Boston has not forgotten their loss in the Rose City last year against a Roy-less Blazer team.
  6. Orlando Magic - January 15 The NBA runner ups come to town, and lately, they don't have too much of a problem beating us here. We had them on the ropes last year in the Garden but choked it away. Although they lost 3 starters, they gained Brandon Bass and Vince Carter which could make for a shootout for the ages.
  7. Toronto Raptors - March 14 Hedo Turkoglu returns to the Rose City after spurning the Trail Blazers in free agency after verbally agreeing to a 5 year/$50 million deal. Nuff Said.
  8. Utah Jazz - February 21 Hopefully Carlos Boozer is still with the Jazz so we can see Thrilla v. Boozer Part II. It brings a smile on my face every time the Jazz come to town. Seeing Jerry Sloan go crazy mad on the side lines, watching our bigs dominate softy Okur down low, and seeing Brandon Roy outshine Deron Williams are all things I'm looking forward to seeing.
  9. Denver Nuggets - October 29 Second game of the year and the potential to gain an early lead on the Nuggets. Outside of LA, Denver is my most hated team and I love beating hated foes. This will also be Andre Miller's second game with the team and with that comes a duel between he and Mr. Billups which is worth the price of admission alone.
  10. Golden State Warriors - April 14 Fan Appreciation Night. I love the free posters the team gives out and with a sure-fire playoff team, it could mean playoff seeding position on the last night of the year like last season vs. Denver.