Blazers can wake up feeling good
Sunday was one of those pivotal days in a season for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Winners of two straight to end what had been a horrendous road trip (that loss in Orlando may have been the season's rock bottom), the Trail Blazers came home to the Moda Center to face a nemesis team, the Memphis Grizzlies, in a game both teams needed to win. Meanwhile, a couple of other bottom-of-the-bracket Western Conference playoff teams faced games that appeared to be easy wins.
And things couldn't have worked out better as Portland took care of its own business and sat back and watched Phoenix and Golden State implode against lesser teams. Oh sure, nothing was clinched and the Trail Blazers aren't clear of trouble by any means. But the Blazers made a statement Sunday night.
Memphis is a tough matchup for Portland, as the teams' previous games this season had reflected. The Grizzlies defend well and run the clock on offense, not settling for many threes and relying on physical inside play. Just the opposite of the Trail Blazers. But Portland stood up to the challenge, thanks to terrific play off the bench from Mo Williams and Thomas Robinson. Portland's reserves hit 13 of 19 shots and provided a big second-quarter spark.
And make no mistake, wins over other Western Conference playoff contenders are huge. In a way, they count double. Memphis came into the game with 29 losses and Portland had 27. If the Blazers had lost, they would have had 28 losses, Memphis still would have had 29 -- just one different in the critical loss column. But instead of one loss difference, the Portland win left it three losses fewer than the Grizz, a big difference at this point of the season. I realize to most people, this is elementary but it's been a while since we've talked playoff seeding in this town. Remember, too, the loss column is the only thing you need to pay attention to at this point -- games behind means just about nothing. If you have one loss more than a team you are chasing, you can win as many games as you have left but never get that loss back. You can't erase a loss.
That's why people talking about Portland overhauling Houston in the standings are talking about a real longshot. Yes, the Trail Blazers are just two and a half games behind the Rockets, but they have four more losses. The Blazers, who do not have the tiebreaker with Houston, would have to win their remaining seven games and have the Rockets win just five of their last 10. Possible? Yes. Probable? No.
What made Sunday unique for Portland was a home loss by Golden State -- which had been tied in the loss column with the Trail Blazers -- to lowly New York. The Warriors are incredibly hard to figure out, as inconsistent as any talented team in the league. Phoenix, which had been on a seven-game win streak, was mauled by the Lakers, too, keeping the Suns back in the pack.
The Blazers have a very favorable schedule the rest of the way. There are no back-to-back games and the only two road games Portland has left are Tuesday against the Lakers (can you believe TNT is showing that game?) and April 11 at Utah -- two of the league's worst teams. But there are critical home games ahead to end the season vs. the Warriors and Clippers. The good news for Portland is that by the time the Clipper game rolls around, that team will probably be locked in to its playoff seeding and might be resting players.
The schedule doesn't even matter as much as it normally would if what we saw from the Trail Blazers Sunday night was for real. Has this team found its early season magic again? is it ready to be considered a dangerous playoff opponent?
Ball movement, player movement, hot shooting, bench play and defense. It was all on display Sunday night in the Moda Center.