With the quarter of the regular season over, it is quite a surprise that the Portland Trail Blazers are on top of the tough Western Conference. Sporting an 18-4 record, the Trail Blazers have finally built a team that can contend.
It was not too long ago that the Blazers were considered a dysfunctional franchise with highly paid players and nothing to show for it. The team has also had a string of bad luck. Three-time All-Star Brandon Roy announced his retirement in 2011 because of chronic knee problems while former No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden was unable to live up to his potential after years of injuries. Since 2003-2004 season, the team has only made the playoffs 3 times, in which they bowed out in the 1st round. Last year, the team even failed to make the playoffs.
Nobody expected the Blazers to make waves this season but they are off to one of their hottest starts in team history. The Blazers lead the in offensive efficiency and rank 2nd in scoring (106.2 points per game). They are likewise one of the best shooting teams in the league in terms of percentages (e.g.3-point shooting at 41.5%).
Beyond these impressive statistics, the Blazers are loaded with shooters, passers, and penetrators running the “flow offense” easily. They are fun to watch and this group seems to really like to play with each other. They have a “we-over-me” mentality present in many championship teams. Their chemistry is just superb.
All this is anchored on a well-constructed roster that can stay atop for many years to come. Power-forward LaMarcus Alridge is having an MVP season averaging 23.2 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists. His mid-range jumper keeps defenses honest and he can dominate games with pure athleticism. Rookie of the Year Damien Lillard continues his fantastic play with 20 points, 6 assists to go with 4 rebounds. Small forward Nicolas Batum, meanwhile, can do it all and quietly fills up the stat sheet day every game day. He is like a mini-LeBron minus the hype.
One of the most revered coaches in history Jack Ramsay—the man who led the franchise to its only NBA championship in 1977—has even lauded this team. He said that this team has “similar components” of the 1977 championship team. He added, “they can match up with anybody, they defend well and they can score when they need to.”
Slowly but surely there are now a lot of believers, believing that this Portland team is the real deal, ready to win a 2nd championship.
Honestly, only time will tell since you don’t build a contender overnight but the Blazers are surely on the right path.
SIDELINES. Together with coach Jack Ramsay, legendary center Bill Walton led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA championship in 1977. Walton led the team to a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals and beat the highly favored Philadelphia 76ers despite losing the first 2 games.