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Trail Blazers’ Success Can Only Be Gauged by the Playoffs

Thursday, October 23, 2014

 

Photo Credit: nikk_la via Compfight cc

The Portland Trail Blazers’ 82-game regular season starting Oct. 29 against Oklahoma City will be a relatively meaningless gauge of this team’s success.

Cheer all you want for the Trail Blazers to win as many regular-season games as possible in 2014-15. But unlike last season’s dramatic 21-game swing to a 54-28 record vaulting Portland into the playoffs for the first time since 2011, there’s not much difference if the team’s win total increases this season to 60 or decreases to 48 – as long as they make the playoffs.

And then the ultimate measure of the Trail Blazers’ success will be if the team improves on its post-season performance from last season when Portland made it to the second round for the first time since 2000. This season, success will only be defined as continued progress into the Western Conference Finals.

So why watch 82 games starting next week and running through April? Think of them as rehearsals for what really matters – the playoffs – and keep an eye out for the answers to these three questions.

  • Is the bench stronger? The returning starting five of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews proved itself as cohesive and effective a squad as any in the league. But last season’s bench, though better than the historically inept reserves of the 2012-13 season, remained a weakness against deeper teams like San Antonio when the Spurs easily eliminated Portland in five second-round games. Much of the Trail Blazers’ playoff success against opponents with solid reserves will depend on whether returning young players like guards C.J. McCollum and Will Barton and forward Thomas Robinson can become dependable backups and whether veterans like newly acquired pieces -- center Chris Kaman and guard Steve Blake -- show in the regular season they can be consistent role players come playoff time.

 

  • Can the team defend the pick-and-roll, the basic offensive set employed by so many NBA teams, especially in the playoffs when the pace slows to more of a halfcourt grind? The Trail Blazers stubbornly stuck to their bend-but-don’t-break defensive philosophy of giving up the mid-range jumper even when good-shooting opponents like San Antonio’s Tony Parker and Golden State’s Stephen Curry made shot after shot. That simply must change if Portland hopes to advance. 

 

  • In the back half of the season when teams begin rounding into playoff shape, can the Trail Blazers do better than the 3-7 record they compiled last season after Jan. 1 against the four teams most likely to be roadblocks to Portland reaching the Western Conference Finals – Golden State, San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City? Past may not always be prologue when it comes to the playoffs but it sure is more confidence-inspiring when the Trail Blazers have demonstrated in gut-check regular season games that they actually can consistently beat likely playoff opponents such as the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers and Thunder.

 

So in the end, does it matter whether the Trail Blazers win enough regular-season games to be a #4 or a #5 seed, or get home-court advantage? Not much, because the Western Conference is tough from seeds 1-8. 

What does matter more is if the Trail Blazers use their 82 regular-season games to answer the three questions above in the affirmative and build upon last year to achieve true success -- taking the next step forward in the post-season.

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.

Banner Photo Credit: nikk_la via Compfight cc

 

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