Monday, March 15, 2010

Projecting The Playoff Opponents: Uprise '10

With their ninth win in 11 games, Portland has earned themselves a 41-28 record, good enough to firmly entrench them in the playoff race. Barring anything out of the ordinary, it does seem like the Trail Blazers will be once again back in the NBA playoffs as they have a commanding five-game lead over 9th place Memphis (4 up in the loss column) and only two games back of the fifth place Thunder (4 back in the loss column). Realistically, I can only see Portland finishing as high as 5th and low as 8th, meaning there are only four teams we could end up seeing in the 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals: Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, and Utah Jazz. An argument could be made about the possibility of playing Oklahoma City in the 4/5 matchup since they are only a half game out of 4th, but it would require us to leap-frog a Jazz team that is four games up on us already in the loss column and owns the tie-breaker, essentially meaning we are five behind Utah, an unlikely scenario. Los Angeles Lakers If the playoffs started today, it would once again be Blazers vs. Lakers, a clash of the bitterest of rivals which would certainly gain a lot of media attention. L.A. is a full three games ahead of 2nd place Denver and I don't see them handing over the #1 seed, meaning Portland would have to stay right where they are in order for this matchup to occur. Due to the unbalanced schedule, these two only duke it out three times, two of which already took place in the Rose Garden with Portland winning 107-98 and L.A. breaking their nine-game losing streak in the Rose City with their 99-82 victory. I see a lot of Trail Blazer fans calling for this series, wanting it more than anything. Maybe it's a sense of having nothing to lose, so why not dethrone Goliath? Whatever the reasoning, it is a grave mistake hoping this series takes place. I understand the sense of security Blazer fans have in winning all the home games against L.A., due to their 22-7 record over the Lakers since the Rose Garden opened their doors, but the Lakers are a totally different beast come playoff time. In fact, a Phil Jackson coached team has never lost a first round series, which is why I'd rather see them past Round 1. If we had a healthy Oden, I'd give us a much higher chance of defeating them, but currently, they have too much firepower. All of us saw just how physical Artest was able to play Roy in last year's playoffs and now that he's on the Lakers, he can focus 100% on his energy on defense and let others take on the scoring load. Don't get me wrong, the Rose Garden would be as hostile as ever for this series and Portland could play their guts out, but L.A. is too good to not get at least one win in Portland. Chance of Series Happening: 25% || Series Prediction: Lakers in 6 Denver Nuggets The most likest scenario to occur, because I see Denver holding off the Mavericks for 2nd place while I only see the Spurs falling enough for us to catch. To date, three of the four games have already been played and recorded with the Nuggets holding a 2-1 season series lead with their 97-94 win in Portland in late October due to many missed Trail Blazer free throws and last week's 118-106 massacre in the Mile High City. Portland enacted a little revenge with a sweet, 107-96, Christmas night win aided by Roy's 41. Unlike most out there, I would embrace this series as Denver is a little banged up right now, with both Ty Lawson and Kenyon Martin out indefinitely and the fact Denver hasn't faced not only a Blazer team clicking on all cylinders but this current team in general. Batum missed the two earlier games and Camby was out of the lineup in Denver. If he can stay out of foul trouble, there's not many other wing defenders I'd want checking Melo than Nico and I absolutely love the Miller/Billups head to head matchup. Also remember the Nuggets held Roy and Aldridge to a combined 28 points in the last meeting where Roy looked like his body was taken over by a 37 year old, overweight couch potato. Since, he has been awoken by teammate Martell Webster and averaged 29 points on over 60% shooting. Unfortunately, if there is one arena I hate playing in more than any other, it is the damn Pepsi Center. Of all of our "House of Horrors", it's the altitude of Denver which gives me the least amount of confidence in winning at. On the other hand, I don't think Denver would be able to win here either. It took missed free throws down the stretch for them to get their only win here since acquiring Chauncey. If Martin is indeed out for the playoffs, one has to increase Portland's chances of pulling up the upset, especially considering how Aldridge likes to pour it on to end seasons. I believe this would be a home dominated series with each team protecting their home courts. Chance of Series Happening: 35% || Series Prediction: Nuggets in 7 Dallas Mavericks Quite possibly the most unpredictable pairing of all realistic playoff opponents would be the Dallas Mavericks, because not only have they drastically changed since we saw them last, but the Blazers have as well. Dallas swung and hit a home run in their deal which sent Josh Howard to Washington for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood which was vindicated by their recent 13 game winning streak, propelling them to a half game out of 2nd in the West. After being swept 4-0 last year, Portland turned the tide and is currently up 2-0 in the series by winning two straight in Big D. A bittersweet W came in late December, 85-81, after losing Joel to a torn patella and then Andre's out of nowhere 52 point heroic performance leading Portland to a 114-112 victory. The next two matches between these two squads on March 25th and April 9th will tell a lot about how both these teams truly measure up to one another. Portland sweeps, fans should expect a first round advance. Dallas splits and more than likely Portland scares the living daylights out of them before gallantly bowing out similar to the 2003 series. What should give BlazerManiacs hope in a potential series with Dallas is their lack of a 2nd star to compliment Dirk Nowitzki. Terry is one of the best 6th men in the NBA but is on the slight decline this year in comparison to his 6th man award winning 08-09 season, Kidd is no better than Andre Miller in my eyes, and like Terry, Caron Butler has regressed in all categories across the board from his back to back All-Star seasons the previous two years. I expect Dallas to win at least one of the next two this season, still giving Portland the 3-1 season win. They have absolutely no answer for Brandon while Batum has proven he can affect Dirk's shots down the stretch. It would be a back and forth series, neither team seemingly able to take control until the final Game 7. In the end, Roy and Nowitzki would likely cancel each other out, leaving the series in the hands of Portland's young, yet talented supporting cast versus the playoff tested Maverick core. A slight nod goes to the Mavericks due to their veteran-laden team, having played in such situations before, and having the Game 7 played in their home arena. Chance of Series Happening: 30% || Series Prediction: Mavericks in 7 Utah Jazz I know a lot of Blazer fans have been dreading a playoff series against a Jazz squad which destroyed, dominated, and devastated us during their four-game sweep this season (108-92,106-95,118-105,93-89) but have no fear as this scenario has the least probability of happening. Utah is two games out of 3rd and three out of 2nd, but a notoriously sub-par road team will thwart any hope of them moving up. Although, a relatively easy 16 games remaining on the schedule including 10 of those teams being up .500 gives Utah a puncher's chance at moving up the Western Conference Totem poll. Call me crazy, but I would welcome this playoff series with open arms. Like Denver, Utah has not played us when we were gelling and playing up to our potential. The one game they played us with Camby we had a 25 point lead in the 3rd quarter. I realize we choked the lead away but give me that scenario any day of the week and twice on Sunday's and I'll take Portland all day. Dealing Ronnie Brewer and Eric Maynor really weakened their back court. As promising as undrafted rookie Wes Matthews has looked, he hasn't tasted playoff type basketball yet. Also, Utah is at a disadvantage by having two of their top three players playing the same position, power forward. I could seen Aldridge feasting off of either Boozer or Millsap and if they want to play both together, the Camby-Man would do some damage blocking shots and keeping possessions alive with offensive rebounds. Deron Williams would be the X-Factor. Throughout the four-game season series against Portland, D-Will put up some nasty numbers: 19.8 points, 11.8 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. As good as Williams has played against us, I'd like to see how he would handle a seven-game series with Nic Batum hounding him for 40+ minutes. If Batum could disrupt Williams at all, it would stall the potent Utah offense which has absolutely carved us up this year, shooting an absurd 54.9% combined over the span of four games. While we could at least throw out Batum to fluster D-Will, who exactly is going to step up on challenge Brandon? For Portland to shock the basketball world with this series upset, Roy would have to play like his 2nd Team All-NBA self of 09. I like the Blazers to steal one of the first two games in Utah and hold serve at home court like the Rockets did last year to get out of the first round! Chance of Series Happening: 15% || Series Prediction: Trail Blazers in 6


  1. Interesting analysis Dustin. Quite honestly, I want to see either a Jazz or a Maverick meeting in the first round but I realize catching the Jazz is probably more likely than catching the Mavs. I think it'd be good for this team and the Jazz are hurting right now and I think if this team really played the caliber basketball they are capable of and have played in the last couple games I think we could do it! So, I don't think you're crazy, or maybe we're both crazy. Who knows? :)

  2. For whatever reason, when I see the Jazz, they don't strike fear into me. I don't see elite team in them. Hopefully, if we play them, we learn to box out Mr. Boozer.

  3. The only reason I'd be hesitant to play Dallas is all the phantom 3's the officials would grant them ala 2003.