The excitement around the last crisp days of October in Portland aren’t always just about Halloween and candy.
The 2013-14 NBA season is a fresh start for the Portland Trail Blazers, who come into the season with plenty of fresh faces and more optimism than ever before. The last couple years haven’t been the greatest that Trail Blazers’ fans have dealt with, so we are eager to ring in the new season with a clean slate.
It doesn’t mean that the new campaign will be easy and time will no doubt fly by as it does every year. With that in mind, there are some games that Portland will circle as highly anticipated. Whether they are home or away, each match will be a major difference factor if the Trail Blazers can make their first playoff appearance in two years.
Wednesday, October 30 vs. Phoenix Suns
It doesn’t matter that the Blazers begin their journey on the road in Phoenix, but the very first official game is like Christmas Day for Blazers fans. The last matchups against the Suns haven’t been kind, point guard Goran Dragic and center Marcin Gortat have given Portland fits at both ends of the court regardless of home court.
The big thing to watch is the matchup of Dragic against Damian Lillard who comes off a stellar rookie season to face Dragic, who himself had a great season (14.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG). The Suns also pack the Morris twins; two big forwards who killed the Blazers in Summer League play and added Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler and Gerald Green who will want nothing to start their rebuilding season on a high note with a win over Portland.
Saturday, November 2 vs. San Antonio Spurs
A few days later the Blazers return to an animated Rose Gar….excuse me, Moda Center, to face the reigning Western Conference champions San Antonio Spurs for Portland’s home opener.
Every year the Spurs get older but their talent and playmaking on the court is a work of art. Least we forget that they were literally 50 seconds away from defeating the Miami Heat and raising a fifth championship banner until Ray Allen brought the Heat back from certain death in the 2012 NBA Finals.
Much of the Spurs remain the same, their veteran big three- Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker- are the core of their battle-tested roster.
This will be LaMarcus Aldridge’s time to shine and go head-to-head with one of the greatest power forwards in history in Duncan. Aldridge is younger, more athletic and will look to score more, but Duncan can still average double-doubles on any given night. Portland will also need to lock down the perimeter, because if San Antonio gets hot from downtown, it’ll sting quickly.
Sunday, December 1 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The first matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers can’t be left off, no matter if Portland visits them first down at the Staples Center.
The Lakers had one awful summer and are more than eager to forget and move on. They lost Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, scrapped together some mediocre secondary players and are praying that Kobe Bryant’s torn Achilles’ tendon heals in time.
Keep in mind that Bryant might not suit up for the first matchup against Portland and will likely coach from the sidelines. That doesn’t mean it’s an automatic “W”, Steve Nash can still contribute as can Pau Gasol in the paint. It’s another matchup for Aldridge but for the other big men-Meyers Leonard, Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson- who won’t have to worry about trying to contain Howard down low.
Portland is a ghastly 20-5 all-time at the Staples Center and with an improved bench and younger team, the Blazers can quite possibly pull an upset and earn their first win in Los Angeles in quite some time…Beat LA.
Saturday, January 25 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Our friendly division rivals in frigid Minnesota are on track to be a sleeper team this season and sneak their way into the playoffs. Aside from them grabbing any former ex-Blazer and trying to be just like Portland, last season they succeeded in getting the injury bug that derailed their year. Their front line, Kevin Love (18.3 PPG, 14 RPG), Ricky Rubio (10.7 PPG, 7.3 APG, 2.4 SPG) and sharpshooter Chase Budinger all saw time off the court and their production suffered. For Minnesota, 2013 is a new start and after acquiring Kevin Martin from OKC, the T’Wolves can be a very dangerous team.
Basketball forecasters predict that the top five and six spots in the Western Conference are already placed with the likes of OKC, San Antonio, Memphis and the Clippers. Portland could very well be fighting for the seventh or eighth spot and so will Minnesota. Division wins will be crucial for the Blazers to make sure they have the record-breaker in case the last seeds come down to that scenario.
Plus the big matchup with two of the top power forwards in the West is always an entertaining one: Aldridge vs. Love. Minnesota also got back center Nikola Pekovic and drafted Shabazz Muhammad who could easily average 18 points a night if it wasn’t for his behavior problems. Combined with Martin and a healthy Budinger, Minnesota shouldn’t be taken lightly and every game will count down the road.
Tuesday, February 11 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Just like with the Timberwolves, victories against the Thunder will be huge. They’re next in line after Miami to win some hardware and after the injury to Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City were beat down by Memphis in the second-round in a “lost season”.
Blazers fans know these games are big, not just for division standings but because of recent history (the Scott Foster incident), we don’t need to go into too much detail.
Surprisingly the Thunder managed to have a quiet summer break, losing Kevin Martin but re-signing Derek Fisher and getting Ryan Gomes to the bench. The Thunder have an equally productive bench lead by Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb.
By this time in February, teams ready to contend will start to stand out by the All-Star break, and Portland hasn’t had any luck against Kevin Durant and Co. for the last few meetings. Getting wins against this team who still might not have Westbrook running wild will be key come seeding time.
Sunday, March 16 vs. Golden State Warriors
Remember the Warriors a few years ago? No defense, just run n’ gun shooting sprees that scores ended up in the mid 100s. Not anymore. The Warriors are a scary team and with their new admiration for playing defense, Golden State is looking more like a title contender every year.
The 2013 playoffs showed the world you’re digging your own grave if you leave their endless amounts of shooters with just a tiny bit of space. Stephen Curry (22.9 PPG, 6.9 APG, .45 3P%), Klay Thompson (16.6 PPG, .40 3P%) and Harrison Barnes are automatic when given the room. Put in a rejuvenated Andrew Bogut and David Lee down in the post and good luck trying to contain everybody.
In the offseason they bolstered their perimeter defense by snagging Andre Iguodala from Denver, sliding Barnes to come off the bench with a guy named Kent Bazemore who got plenty of positive attention in Summer League for being hyper athletic.
The month of March for the Blazers won’t be an easy one as it never is: games along with Golden State include meetings with Houston, Memphis, San Antonio, Miami and Chicago with two five-game road trips sandwiched between the home match with the Warriors. It’ll be make or break time, but Damian Lillard has played phenomenal against his hometown team, here’s to him scorching them on his home court.
Wednesday, April 16 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
April seems like light years away but before we know it it’ll creep up in no time. The last game for the Trail Blazers to conclude the 2013-14 season will be at be at home against the rising Los Angeles Clippers.
The newest star in LA, the Clippers have become the hip, cool ticket in town, thanks to “Lob City” with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and new head coach Doc Rivers. These aren’t your father’s Clippers.
Keeping Chris Paul and adding more shooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudly with Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Darren Collison and boom, the Clippers have a very deep and talented pool of players to make a run to the Western Conference Finals.
Lillard/Aldridge against Paul/Griffin is a supreme matchup considering both Paul (16.9 PPG, 9.7 APG) and Griffin put up nice numbers (18.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG). If this was last year the Clippers’ bench would have laughed and ran circles around Portland’s but this season will be different. Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright can go toe-to-toe and keep the starters fresh.
As for being the last home game, Portland will want to conclude this season on a high note and hopefully be making a game plan for their matchup in the postseason, rather than hanging up the towel and making plans for vacation.