Portland will be on a four game road trip starting Friday against the Boston Celtics, all four of which are very winnable games. With how the Trail Blazers have been playing, they should expect nothing less of themselves. The four games consist of games against Boston, the Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.
All of the four teams on this road trip have sub-.500 records. I will take a quick look at each team and what it will take for Portland to come out victorious.
The Celtics have had a little bit of an up and down season already. They dropped their first four games to some middle of the pack teams. Then, they go on a four game win streak, including a nice win on the road against the Miami Heat. Just as things seem to be picking up, they fall to the Charlotte Bobcats the other night.
Boston plays defense well enough to stay in most games. Avery Bradley did a great job on Damian Lillard last season. If Lillard can establish himself early on, this will be a long night for Boston. He is coming off a rough shooting night. He has always played very well the following night on similar occasions, so this will be an interesting matchup to watch.
LaMarcus Aldridge should have a nice night. Boston’s posts aren’t the best defensive weapons – they’re mediocre at best, but they do run two deep at each post position with Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger. Boston could throw a few different looks at Aldridge, but I don’t see it being much help. The rest of the team just has to be ready to step up and contribute, as they have, for the most part this season.
This is one that will come down to perimeter defense for Portland. Rudy Gay seems to always give Nicolas Batum trouble. Gay is Toronto’s leading scorer. It starts with Batum. He has to play hard-nosed defense, and not get lazy.
It starts with Batum and carries on to Wesley Matthews, Lillard, and their bench replacements – Dorell Wright and Mo Williams. Along with Gay, DeMar DeRozen and Kyle Lowry are right behind him in scoring for the Raptors. I can see this game turning out to be a high scoring game with both teams shooting a high percentage.
The Raptors are dead last in assists per game. Their guards and wings play a lot of one-on-one. So perimeter defense is the key to this game. As long Portland can contain these guys, keep them in front of them and force tough shots, they should be able to carry out a victory.
Brooklyn had high hopes coming into this season, and they still do have high hopes. They traded for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Their starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez sounds like an all-star lineup, but they have yet to get things going. The Nets hold a 2-5 record and are currently on a 3-game losing streak.
Things can change from now up until the game against Portland, but so far it hasn’t looked good for Brooklyn. Jason Kidd has had a rough coaching career thus far – he has a 1-4 record this season (he was suspended for the first two games of the season). Kidd’s only win was against the lowly Jazz (1-9 on the season).
Are these star players just too old to dominate the game? It’s early, but that’s how it’s looking for the Nets. And what happened to Deron Williams the last few years? Brook Lopez looks like the only guy doing anything for this team. Speaking of Lopez, he will have his hands full trying to cover his twin brother, and that’s about where it stops.
This game will be on the backside of a back-to-back, so maybe Portland’s legs will feel like they have half as many miles on them as these Brooklyn players’ old legs. We’ll see.
LARRY SANDERS! (tip of the hat to ZACH LOWE!) is out six weeks after having surgery on his thumb. The surgery just so happens to come after an altercation in a night club, but the team has said that he injured the thumb in a game against Cleveland.
Without LARRY SANDERS!, the Bucks has little to no interior defensive presence. The Blazers’ bigs should have a field day. Establishing the post should create open 3-point shots – let’s hope Portland can knock them down.
Milwaukee can fill it up from long range themselves. O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal and Ersan Ilyasova are all shooting over 50% from beyond the arc this season. So again, perimeter defense will be a key to victory. As long as Milwaukee doesn’t steal the Phoenix Suns’ game plan against the Blazers – by creating high screens for their guards, leaving Aldridge and/or Lopez alone on an island as they continue to switch on said screens – this should be an easy win for Portland.
Back to the road trip as a whole
On paper, this looks like it could be an easy 4-0 trip for the Blazers. 10-2 sounds great, but I highly doubt that Portland will pull it out. Portland has been historically bad on the road. Going 2-2 sounds more accurate. So that’s what the goal is. Anything more than that is a plus. 8-4 is not a bad record, not bad at all.