Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Catching Up & Answering A Few Questions

Very nice win by Portland last night. Built a solid lead, weathered Memphis' third-quarter storm, and kept the game within distance in the fourth quarter. I think that for this club to get its first road-win against a team that isn't in the bowels of the league will be good for them, and may set the table to get another road win or two (Orlando and Atlanta anyone?) on this trip.

As they stand now, the club is 4-5 and for all practical reasons probably eclipsing most people's expectations for the team by a bit. Of the four wins, I believe you can call two of them "quality wins" (vs Chicago and at Memphis). So if you look at -- based on on-paper talent and road/home splits -- where the team is at record-wise:

-2-0 in games they should win (home games versus bad teams ...vs ATL, vs NY)
-0-2 in games they should lose (home games versus very good teams or road games versus good teams ... @Den, vs DET)
-2-3 in games that could go either way (@MIN, vs CHI, vs GS, @NY, @MEM)

So in a nutshell, they're winning when they should, losing when they should, and have a .400 record in games that could go either way. Given the lack of experience on this team and universally low expectations, I think we as Blazer fans have plenty to be happy about (or "give thanks for", being this week) and look forward to.

A couple of quick notes:
  • Darius Miles has been great. Without him, the team would be sunk on offense. His 20 points a game have been huge, and although he settles for jumpers too often his 48% field goal shooting can't be argued with. Even his adjusted field goal percentage -- a stat that takes into consideration three-point accuracy combined with floor accurace -- is great. More on that later.
  • Ruben Patterson ... dude, wake up. He's a good spark off the bench/role player at his best, and a poor-shooting ball hog distraction at his worst. From Mark in Portland: "I’ve suspected all year that Ruben really was hurting more than helping out there because he’s a terrible passer and a black hole when he gets the ball, plus he clogs up the middle and he’s not a post player. Good times."
  • Last night's game was the first in which Travis Outlaw really looked good. Let's hope the reason he hadn't been playing truly was an injury, and that Patterson's departure will bring him more minutes.

Now, on to the adjusted field-goal percentage. Essentially what this stat does is measure shooting efficiency by taking into account the total points a player produces through a field goal attempt. Hence, it adjusts for three-point accuracy. Assume for a moment a player will make 50% of his 2-point attempts. Six shots will generate six points. Then, in order for that player to justify attempting a three-pointer, he'll need to shoot at least 33% from beyond the arc, in order to generate the same amount of points. Very similar to the points-per-shot you've seen me reference on this site before which also takes free throws into consideration.

Portland's player rank in adjusted FG%, with points-per-shot in parentheses:

1. Monia: .630 (1.39)

2. Pryzbilla: .615 (1.54)

3. C. Smith: .500 (1.14)

4. Telfair: .494 (1.17)

5. Dixon: .494 (1.28)

6. Miles: .483 (1.21)

7. Ratliff: .474 (1.42)

8. Outlaw: .471 (1.06)

9. Zbo: .456 (1.16)

10. Jack: .400 (1.11)

11. Patterson: .360 (1.12)

What to make of all this nonense? We're only 9 games (or roughly 11% of the season) in, so I'll spare you the deep-dive until we have more to work with. There are a few nuggets to be gleamed, however.

Clearly, volume has a lot to do with Monia and Smith being so high. As they take more shots, their AFG will inevitably drop. I think we can see a directional trend with Monia, however ... that he's got potential to be a very nice three-point threat. His current clip of 56% from behind the arc probably won't stick, but he's clearly demonstrating some value. And you'd expect the big men to be high in AFG and PPS, considering that many of their shots are taken in the paint ... but Zbo's low numbers are clearly a concern. Bottom line is that he needs to do more passing out of double-teams. It feels like every game there are at least two or three instances where he receives the ball in the low post, a double-team comes to help, he dribbles a few times and forces a shot. Granted -- I'm all for Zach getting as many touches as possible -- I'd just like him to be a little smarter with the ball.

More on this next week. In the meantime, enjoy your long weekends and Go Blazers!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Guest Article: +/- And The Myth Of Scrappy

Once again, BlazersBlog contributor The Loch has another fine article written. For your enjoyment ...

+/- And The Myth Of Scrappy
By The Loch

The Portland Trailblazers are in first place. Wow. That’s where they sit right now on November 17, 2005, cut it out of the paper and pin it up because it’s certainly something nobody really expected even 6 games into the season. Now, before we get into the roster through 6 games I need to squash something that I’m a little worried is gaining momentum. Jason Quick, who I like, wrote this in today’s Oregonian: “the Blazers once again unveiled a scrappy style of play to pull out another close game in the fourth quarter on Wednesday”. First of all, I know people like to read that their team is scrappy, has heart, and all that other rubbish, so I’ll let Quick off the hook this time because I assume he knows that. However, the Blazers did not win last night because they were “scrappy”. They won because they shot 51.5% from the floor and held the Bulls to 39.1%. Plus they managed to only hoist up 6 three pointers, which is good because this team can’t shoot them. It’s really that simple, they played smart, took good shots, made the good shots they took, and for the most part prevented the Bulls from getting off a lot of good shots. If anything they almost lost because they were being “out scrapped” by the Bulls, who crushed them on the boards, had more assists, and less turnovers. So let’s just agree to stop the “scrappy” non-sense, just play smart, take and make open shots, and you’ll win games.

Now, let’s look at the roster from a +/- standpoint, a terrific statistic that you can find for every player on every team by using the link to 82games over on the right hand side of this page. The Blazers roster breaks down like this, and we’re only using the 10 guys who have really played so far this year, along with a minutes percentage thrown in there for easier analysis later on:

Randolph +33.1, 80% of the available minutes

Telfair +15.8, 58%

Miles +15.2, 80%

Joel +13.5, 48%

Monia +12.3, 19%

Ratliff +2.3, 46%

Reuben -4.0, 41%

The Chaz -6.3, 16%

Dixon -6.5, 40%

Jack -17.2, 46%

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way, there are a lot of small sample size hi-jinks involved with looking at these numbers right now. We’ll revisit these numbers later in the year when there is a larger sample size and compare. So the question arises, what can we take out of these numbers to date? Well for one thing it certainly appears that Nate has figured out who to start the game since they are the top 5 guys in +/- on the team. It also shows the overall value that Zach Randolph brings to this team. When he’s on the floor, the team is pretty good, when he’s not they’re very simply a bad basketball team. I would theorize that his presence opens up cutting lanes for Miles, frees up open shots for the 2 guard du jour, and really helps out a player like Sebastian because they can run that high screen and roll and he can blow by the big man on the switch and create havoc or he can dish back to Zach for the mid range jumper that he seems to hit almost every time. Ratliff and Joel have formed a pretty formidable duo in the middle, and the only weak spot appears to be Nate’s reserve 3-some that he loves so much, Reuben, Jack, & Dixon. A spaz, a rookie point guard, and a mad gunner, shocking that it doesn’t work out that well. The other issue with those 3 on the floor is it usually involves Reuben at the power forward. This is problematic because, well for one he’s not a power forward, but it also takes Zach out of the lineup and they really can’t score without him out there. I think Jack is being small sample sized a bit, probably hurt a great deal by that Denver game, but just looking at those numbers it’s pretty clear that Telfair changes the game for the better when he’s out there ahead of Jack. 20-25 games in we’ll take another look at these numbers but for now, scroll up and read that first sentence again.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Game 4: Blazers (1-2) vs Knicks (0-3)

The Blazers host New York for the only time this season, as the winless Knicks and their shiney new coach Larry Brown come rolling into town. This is the first of six straight road games for New York, and arguably the first "non-playoff" team they've played as their three losses have come at the hands of Boston, Washington, and Golden State. This matchup pits two teams who don't shoot very well (39% and 40% for New York and Portland), although New York has shown to be a very good rebounding team.

Starting Lineup Preview:

PG: Telfair vs Marbury ADV: NY
SG: S. Monia vs J. Crawford ADV: NY
SF: D. Miles vs Q. Richardson ADV: POR
PF: Z. Randolph vs A. Davis ADV: POR
C: J. Pryzbilla vs E. Curry ADV: EVEN

Bench: Patterson, Jack, Dixon, Ratliff vs Barmes, Frye, James, Ariza, Robinson, Lee ADV: NY

As you can see, New York has the backcourt advantage while Portland has the frontcourt advantage. Portland will be able to post up Monia over Crawford, while New York can do the same with Marbury and Telfair. Pryzbilla is a much better rebounder and defensive player than Curry, whereas Curry has the advantage on offense.

Game Observations:

  • Antonio Davis has definitely lost a step. Zbo torched him several times in the first quarter both on the block and tip-ins, and Davis committed three fouls right off the bat.
  • Had to love this little nugget that The Mike Brothers (Blazer broadcasting team) dropped on us late in the first quarter .... Rice: "Isiah is always looking to trade someone a uniform for their best player. Usually someone not too intelligent." Barrett: "Don't say that - there have been rumors of a Portland-New York deal. John Nash did confirm with us today that he had a phone conversation with Isaiah Thomas, but that was all."
  • Speaking of which, how do you guys feel about our broadcasting team? Personally I think they're terrible, but I also think that about 90% of all sports tv broadcasters are god-awful which would make them average for their field. Mike Rice in particular really annoys me at times (despite the "Nate Robinson was a husky, but I still like him" line which was the smartest thing he has ever said). Am I alone on this one?
  • Isn't it bizarre that Travis Outlaw is on the inactive list right now? I wonder if something's wrong with him physically and the team isn't telling us about it. He was expected to do so much this season, it's really a surprise what a non-factor he's been.
  • Stop shooting, Juan.
  • First half was UGLY. Terrible game. Telfair and Pryzbilla both got into foul trouble and couldn't play much. Portland scored 39 points, committed 12 fouls, shot 32% (including 1/10 from three), and was 8-16 from the line. Brutal. Oh, and Juan Dixon chimed in with a smooth 0-for-6 in 7 minutes. Portland had more turnovers (5) than assists (3) as a team. New York wasn't a whole lot better -- committing 17 fouls, but outrebounded Portland by 9 and shot a higher percentage, finishing the half with a 10-point lead.

And then ... Portland came out and played a fantastic second half. They moved the ball as well as they have all season and shot a much higher percentage (both from the field and the line). Sebastian Telfair did a great job running the team, especially during a stretch at the end of the third and first half of the fourth quarters, feeding the shooters who caught fire: Miles, Patterson, and even Ratliff. However, following his fifth foul, Nate went with a lineup of Jack, Miles, Ruben, Zbo, and Ratliff (who by some stroke of god managed to knock down a couple of key jumpers -- yes, that's right, jumpers, and had an impressive put-back dunk on a missed free throw) and they were extremely effective. The fourth quarter was Portland's best quarter of year to date. The team went from looking lifeless in the second quarter to looking like a contender in the second half. Nate pressed all the right buttons as well -- kudos to him for coaxing a fantastic half of basketball out of this team. (Can't say nearly the same for Larry Brown.)

Final stats of note: Zbo - 29 pts, 12 reb, 3 ast, 3 stl. Miles - 26 pts, 8 reb, 1 ast, 3 stl. Patterson - 17 pts, 5 reb (including 4 offensive), 1 ast, 1 stl. Blazers even things up at 2-2 and move to 2-0 on their home court. A nice win for this team and a great effort.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Guest Article

As you all know, I will occasionally pull in other writers to contribute to the site. Fellow Blazer fan, NBA critic and e-mail site contributor The Loch is makes his full-article debut for your Blazer enjoyment.

The Backcourt Problem
by The Loch

It’s no secret that the front line for the Blazers is certainly above average by NBA standards with Miles, Z-bo, and Joel, although the depth is pretty much non-existent with Reuben out of position at the backup 4 and Theo somehow contracting Dale Davis Disease this past off season. Bottom line, you can win with the front court players they are going with right now. Unfortunately, the backcourt has a whole host of issues and the team will win and lose depending on how they play from night to night. Their first 3 games they’ve got this from their backcourt:

At Minnesota:
PG (Telfair & Jack, 48 minutes) – 5 for 13, 12 points, 6 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 rebounds
SG (The Chaz, Dixon, 48 min) – 7 for 19, 16 points, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 6 rebounds

At Denver:
PG (Telfair, Jack & Blake) – 4 for 18, 9 points, 5 assists, 6 turnovers, somehow 13 rebounds
SG (The Chaz & Dixon) – 8 for 17, 20 points, 5 assists, 0 turnovers, 1 rebound

vs Atlanta:
PG (Telfair & Jack) – 11 for 21, 28 points, 7 assists, 2 turnovers, 8 boards
SG (Monia & Dixon) – 4 for 13, 12 points, 7 assists, 0 turnovers, 6 boards

Obviously the big game from Telfair and Jack against the Hawks stands out as a solid performance. When you have a young point guard tandem like this, you’re going to get some streaky nights. I accept this. What I don’t accept is The Chaz and Dixon, they are awful. The Chaz basically does nothing at all out there, love the line against the Wolves where he was just out for an evening jog, 0 assists, 0 rebounds, 0 turnovers, 1 steal in 21 minutes. Thanks for that. Dixon on the other hand has got to stop shooting. His mad gunning has become ridiculous and every time he jacks one up with 19 seconds left on the shot clock it’s one more possession where Miles & Z-bo don’t touch the ball.

So where does this leave the backcourt for the future, the rest of this season and beyond? I think you take your lumps with Telfair and Jack, both bring stuff to the table, both take some things off at times. There’s obviously a contingent forming already in the “Jack for starting point guard” camp, but it’s way too early to pull the plug on Sebastian. I know Jack played in the ACC, took a team to the NCAA title game, and certainly looks like he’s got that prototypical NBA point guard game, but Telfair’s your guy for the time being. You have to give him at least 30 games to see what he can do, then make the change if it’s clear Jack is the better option. My suggestion: Telfair 28 minutes, Jack 20.

At shooting guard, the Monia insertion in to the starting lineup and 30 minutes in the home opener was a shocker to just about everyone, probably including Monia. That being said, I think he’s the starting shooting guard indefinitely. As we’ve covered previously, The Chaz does nothing and Dixon is a streaky shooter that obviously thinks he’s a lot better than he is. Monia showed us the other night that he’s not overmatched out there, although the quicker 2 guards in the league will certainly tear him up off the dribble. He also seems to grasp the concept of get the ball to Miles and Z-bo, only shoot when you’re open and the ball’s been kicked out to you, and more importantly make the shots under these circumstances. Webster is the guy they want to develop into this role, but Monia is the guy that’s NBA ready right now, he’s your guy. My suggestion: Monia 30, the other 18 depending on if Dixon is hot in those first 5 shots he takes (should only take about 2 minutes of game time to see those 5 shots) or The Chaz if Monia’s getting ripped up by the opposing 2 guard.

What Have We Learned So Far?

An extremely busy work schedule and a visit from a family member has kept me from posting ... apologies. However, a few quick thoughts.

What have we learned about the Blazers after three games? Here are my quick thoughts. Again, this has only been three games so these are preliminary thoughts:
  1. Darius Miles has stepped up his game. We all knew he had the talent, and he seems to now have a desire to take a leadership role. Granted, it's early November and we could be talking about what a jerk he's reverted to in a month, but he has clearly been the leader of the team. Without his 20, 8, and 4, Portland would be completely lost on offense.
  2. Sergei Monia looks much better (granted in limited action and granted against a very crummy Atlanta team) than I thought he would. As far as I can tell, he should be the defacto starter until proven otherwise. He's got a nice jumper, decent size, passes the ball, and runs the court well. Now about that defense...
  3. Stop Shooting Juan Dixon (I hear that's officially part of his name these days) looks awful. The man is a black hole. Once the ball gets passed his way, it's going up, and it's probably bouncing off the rim. So far I haven't found much that he's adding to the team, and for the record, he's got the second-worst +/- statistics of the club's regulars.
  4. Chaz Smith looks very blah, which is about what we expected. I can see him having the skills to be a 10-15 minute per game player off of the bench, but he doesn't appear to have the talent or court presence to be a starting 2-guard in the NBA.
  5. Jarrett Jack has been a nice surprise. His +/- numbers don't look good, but he's got a very nice presence with the ball and a decent looking jump shot. It appears that he'll be able to fill holes at both PG and SG this year as well.
  6. Travis Outlaw's playing time has been sporadic and much smaller than we anticipated. Given Outlaw's emergence last year, I expected him to get at least 25 mpg and fill up the bucket with plenty of points; he's only made it into one game for 10 minutes. What gives?
  7. Theo Ratliff looks terrible. He's clearly lost most of his skills and is starting to look like a terrible contract extension signing.

What do you think? Email me your thoughts and I'll post them here. And as for the Blazers-Knicks trade rumors floating around, I don't buy into them. Reason being, the Knicks will want Miles in any deal, and Darius Miles has clearly shown himself to be the key to Portland's offense this season, and I don't believe the club will trade him. At least not yet.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Game 1 Obersvations

Ducked out of work a bit early yesterday in order to catch Portland’s first game in its entirety. Despite Portland’s lack of a real shot this year (both literally and figuratively), I think there are a bunch of exciting reasons to watch the Blazers this season; most of which we’ve covered. Nonetheless, on to game 1. Bring me my bullets! Bear in mind that I’m an out-of-towner, which means I’m watching on NBA Season Pass, which means when the Blazers are the away-team I’m stuck with the other team’s announcers.

  • Loved Timberwolves point guard Marko Jaric out hustling Charles Smith and Zbo to the tip off, snagging the ball and scoring a quick up-and-under. Waty to get the season started.
  • To that point, however, you had to love the energy and the offensive setups that the team started out with. They already looked like they were at least running plays, which is four steps better than last year.
  • The game started out a little sloppy, with both teams turning the ball over and fumbling around a bit. Marko Jaric was creating a little havoc for the Twolves. And speaking of Jaric, these Twolves announces just informed us that “he’s just as big in Europe as Michael Jordan”. Call me crazy but I’m going to go ahead and doubt that.
  • Blazers looked good in the first quarter, with the exception of Telfair. They drew two fouls on Garnett, took smart shots, and had a lead as many as 9.
  • Juan Dixon looks terrible, and he shoots FAR too much. Juan - stop shooting.
  • Rashad McCants was Minnesota’s first player off the bench, and he looked okay. He’s clearly hobbled by that sprained ankle but managed to knock down a couple of open jumpers.
  • It’s sad to see how much Theo Ratliff’s defensive presence in the paint has deteriorated. He's wortheless. The bottom line with him these days is that he needs separation from the player he’s guarding if he wants to affect the shot; a player with any sort of size puts their butt into him and he’s helpless. In the first half alone, Wally Szczerbiak scored right over the top of him and Kevin Garnett threw down a huge dunk right in Theo’s grill (and bloodied his nose in the process to add insult to injury).
  • Portland’s shot selection faultered significantly in the second quarter, and it showed as Minnesota turned an 11 point deficit into a two point deficit in just a few minutes. Juan Dixon hit a couple of long jumpers, but is a bit of a mad gunner and needs to do more passing.
  • Richie Frahm entered the game in the second quarter and formed a nice backcourt with McCants for the Wolves. They had a combined 18 points in the quarter and sparked the Twolves. The announcers couldn’t shut the hell up about how much Frahm reminded them of Fred Hoiberg.
  • Zach Randolph had six field goals in the first half, and half of them were long jump shots. Not what we’re looking for from Zbo.
  • Charles Smith has no business being a starting wingman in the NBA. During four consecutive plays, he airballed a three pointer, failed to block out on a rebound that Szczerbiak put back in, then turned the ball over and fouled a Wolve on the other end fast break. Thanks for that.
  • Portland’s defense really started falling apart in the third quarter, and Nate tried to put a stop to it after Minnesota had built its lead to 9 points (in my opinion, Nate was about two possessions too late but you can’t blame him for seeing if they could pull out of it on their own). Darius Miles’ scoring (he had 20 points with five minutes left in the third) kept Portland in the game, but he cooled off and they were down 13 heading into the fourth quarter. Miles, however, is having a phenomenal game. Nobody has ever questioned his talent, it's his effort that's been the issue, and tonight's bringing an exceptional amount of effort.
  • Portland came out hot in the fourth quarter, and closed to within four with nine minutes left. They traded baskets for the rest of the game and ended up losing by four; they’d have had a real chance to win the game if Zbo hadn’t had a layup blocked with about 24 seconds left that would have cut the lead to 2.

Nonetheless, a nice game for Portland. Granted, Minnesota isn't a playoff team and the Blazers still lost, but they brought a ton of effort, Miles was spectactular and if Juan Dixon hadn't sabotaged parts of the second and third quarters, they may have snuck out a win.

Opening Day for Portland! Game 1 Preview

Portland (0-0) at Minnesota (0-0), 5:00pm PST

You can get the starting lineups and last year's scoring averages anywhere (there are plenty of links to your right if you don't know where to find them), so we'll take a slightly different approach to our game previews here at BlazersBlog.

Both teams have tons of question marks, and neither is projected to make the Western Conference playoffs. Hence both teams have much to prove. Portland's starting point guard, Sebastian Telfair, is lightning-fast -- but he's small at 6-0, 165. Minnesota's starting point guard, Marko Jaric, doesn't have nearly the quicks or the passing skills as Telfair but he's much bigger at 6-6, 250. Expect Minnesota to slow the game down and utlize their size advantage there as well as Kevin Garnett's amazing low-post scoring and passing skills. If Jaric spends too much time passing directly over Telfair or posting him up, look for Portland to test out Jarrett Jack' s effectiveness early in the game.

Speaking of the point guard situation, it appears that Jack may get more playing time than we initially thought. A few interesting quotes:

Nate McMillan: "They both play like young point guards. You see some bright spots, but then you see the inexperience, the youth. Sebastian is trying to figure out what is going on. He’s like a Ferrari. He wants to go. When he has to set an offense, the engine is boiling over. Understanding situations and how to run a team is going to take some time with him. He’s always played an uptempo style, always depended on his speed. He has to learn to use that speed and run a team. Right now, he’s inexperienced — it’s as simple as that. He’ll look good some nights, and then he’ll look really bad."

Again, McMillan: "Jack could be a little bit more seasoned, because he spent that time in college, had that teacher, was in a lot of big games. Though (the Atlantic Coast Conference) is not at the NBA level, it’s really good competition. He understands a little better right now slowing up, running a team, attacking, handling the pressure situations.”

A very disturbing quote from Telfair: “I was in a slump offensively. It’s surprised me. I just haven’t been feeling right out there. But I remember Damon (Stoudamire) started last season in a slump and shot his way out of it. I’ll do the same thing.”

After watching last season's tiny tandem of Damon and NVE do more than their fair share of shooting, I'm really hoping he's not taking that too much to heart. A few final notes on tonight's game:

  • Keep an eye on Zach Randolph's playing time. He'll definitely get the starting nod, but I'd be surprised to see him play much more than 28 minutes tonight.
  • Also keep an eye on Travis Outlaw's perimeter rotation when he's on the court. One of McMillan's crucial but highly unpublicized decisions during this summer and fall was to keep Outlaw solely as a "3" and not have him learn the "2". When Outlaw is on the floor it will be interesting to see how much time he spends jump-shooting as opposed to slashing and getting to the hoop.
  • Minnesota's new head coach, Dwayne Casey, was Nate McMillan's top assistant in Seattle and they have worked together for 11 years. McMillan had claimed for years that Casey deserved to run his own team.
  • Minnesota has won 10 consecutive home openers.
  • Portland's roster is beginning the season at 15, with three inactives and no players in the NBDL. Both of the russians (Monya and Khryapa) and Ha Seung-Jim will begin the season on the inactive list. And speaking of the NBDL, the NBA's non-embracing of it as a whole has been fascinating. It seems that NBA teams generally value their own ability to monitor the player in practice and have their own coaches groom them with the team far more than the player getting on-court game time. And I can't say I blame them.

Enjoy game 1 -- and go Blazers!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


To celebrate opening day, ESPN held several NBA chats. A few highlights:

Sean (Vancouver): What's the over under for Blazer wins this year. Healthy or not.

John Hollinger: I'll go with 30 wins. They're an interesting team to watch with all those young guys, but it's going to take a while, and I'm not sure McMillan is the right guy for their situation.

Interesting prediction from Hollinger. My personal prediction is 33 wins for our boys. The funny thing is there are a million question marks for the Blazers this season but it seems to me that McMillan has proven himself to not be one of them.

Mike (Reno, NV): Is there anything for us Blazer fans to look forward to this year?

Chris Sheridan: Start keeping a tally of the number of times Zach Randolph shows up late for something. Zach and coach Nate are already at odds over Randolph's tardiness, and McMillan is probably scoring points with some of the other players by holding the tam's highest-paid player to the same standard as everyone else.

A smart, thoughtful journalist might say something like "watching the development of all of Portland's young guys" or "seeing Sebastian Telfair blossom", but's Chris Sheridan comes in with the easy route. Nice work.

Joe (New York, NY): Why do half the people at doubt the Lakers will make the playoffs? They have arguably the best player in the league, Lamar Odom playing a more natural three position, and arguably the greatest coach of all-time. If he can win with MJ, Scottie, and Bill Cartwright, he can win with this team.

John Hollinger: The absolute, only reason to think L.A. will make the playoffs is Jackson. L.A. has no point guard, a weak frontcourt and little depth. Plus, the Jordan-Pippen comparisons to Kobe-Odom are just a wee bit overdone -- the only thing Kobe does like Jordan is imitate him in interviews, and perhaps if and when Odom makes an All-Star team we can start comparing him to one of the league's 50 greatest players.

I put this question in here not because it was about the Blazers, but because it echoes what I've been saying all offseason: the Lakers are a garbage team and I don't understand how even half of the ESPN prognosticators could predict them to make the postseason.

Also a note about our opponents tomorrow night (you'll remember that McCants was rumored to be a possibility for Portland to draft for a couple of months):

Matt (Orlando): With the drafting of McCants, already having Wally and Trenton, what are the Wolves thinking? Are they done as a playoff contender already, or can Jaric and KG be enough to sneak in?

John Hollinger: McCants gives them a bench scorer and they need somebody like that, but they can't play Wally and McCants together because they'll get ripped on D. T'wolves only shot for the playoffs is if KG plays all 82, Jaric stays healthy and Kandi Man wakes up.

A Quick Look at Portland's Schedule

29 hours and counting until Portland tips off the season at Minnesota tomorrow night. We'll take a closer look at that game in our next column tomorrow morning, but in the meantime: how about Portland's schedule? How do they start out? Let's see.

As mentioned, the first game of the year pits two likely non-playoff participants in Portland and Minnesota. This game to me is the type of game that will determine if Portland finishes in the 9-11 range or the 12-14 range when all is said and done. Following that game, the Blazers get an off day, and then play back-to-backs, at Denver and versus Atlanta. Normally, that Hawks game would be a likely win but given that Portland has to criss-cross the country and play the next day, *and* it will be the first home game for a couple of our rookies, don't count on it being a shoe-in. The team then has three off days in a row, followed by well-spaced-out home games versus New York, Detroit, Chicago, and Golden State.

On November 20th, the team hits the road for what is tied for their longest road trip of the season, visiting New York, Memphis, Miami (back to backer), Orlando, Atlanta, Philly and Washington (back to backer).

Does that mean the season will start out slow? Let's take a look.

Likely wins: vs ATL, vs NY, @ORL, @ATL (4)
Likely losses: @MIN, @DEN, vs DET, vs CHI, @MEM, @MIA, @PHI, @WAS (8)
Could go either way: vs GS, @NY (2)

Of course, predicting wins and losses in specific games like this is a bit ridiculous, but it's worth a shot. The above theory gives us a 4-8 record with two swing games. Suppose Portland goes 1-1 in the swing games, leaving them with a start of 5-9. Thank god for those two games versus the Hawks, eh?

Game 1 preview will be posted tonight/tomorrow.