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Knowing where Portland has come from the past few seasons, I can’t believe the Blazers winning the Northwest Division remains a possibility. Figured they’d make the postseason. Just didn’t imagine they could beat out Utah and Denver in the process.

So late last about midnight – after spending about a good five hours painting the master bedroom in my house – I had some work to do. The task: trying to figure out how Portland can get this done – win the Northwest.

The goods are running now over at HOOPSWORLD, and for me comes down to something the Blazers have played Jekyll and Hyde with all season long – winning on the road. Those two games in Texas – against Houston and then San Antonio – are going to be rough.

Think we all know what happened a couple weeks back.

With 18 games remaining (8 at home, 10 on the road), how will this race play out? Here’s the tale of the tape from here on out – with a little guessing game to boot:

Portland plays New Jersey, at Atlanta, at Memphis, at Indiana, at Cleveland, at Milwaukee, versus Philadelphia, Phoenix, Memphis, Utah, at Oklahoma City, at Houston, at Memphis, at San Antonio, versus the Lakers, at the Clippers, versus the Thunder and versus Denver.

Record: 10-8

The eight losses? I have Portland falling to Atlanta, Indiana, Cleveland, Phoenix, Utah, Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio.

That would give Portland a final record of 50-32. Is that enough to win the Northwest?

Discuss….

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The Latest: Know I am getting this update out late…..but it’s been one of those weeks. First, I think with Rudy Fernandez – who was pretty gimpy before the game – fully healthy, Portland would have beaten Dallas on Wednesday night. They missed his three-point shooting. I’m just saying.

But you still can’t argue with how the Mavericks always handle the Blazers. It’s pretty sick. Same goes with Dirk Nowitzki doing what Dirk Nowitzki does. Those two shots over LaMarcus Aldrige with a minute and under left in the game are as clutch as they come. You can’t stop that.

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Trail Blazers Nuggets Basketball

Nate McMillan talks about this a lot. His players are too offensive minded. Defense comes last. McMillan on the other hand believes defense should trigger your offense. So when the Blazers came out flat against the Denver Nuggets it didn’t come as a shock.

We’ve seen this charade before.

The defense wasn’t there – again. And when it was, it was far too late. But that wasn’t the only thing missing in Denver on Thursday night. Portland simply doesn’t have that physical chip on their shoulder that they so desperately need. I’ve gone down this road before. Plus, the Blazers inability to beat a Western Conference team bound for the playoffs is nonexistent. They are now 1-12 in that department.

Those two aspects – a lack of physical play and struggling to win away from the Rose Garden against the big boys out West– will mean an early exit from the postseason whenever Portland gets there.

TNT’s Doug Collins summed it up going to a commercial break minutes into the second quarter, after Kevin Harlan noted, “Nate McMillan would like the Blazers to be more physical.”

Really? You don’t say. Collins came correct though.

“I don’t think that is their make-up right now. Maybe as they get older they might be a team that takes some harder fouls,” Collins said. “But I don’t think Nate would mind that, especially the way to start a game tonight just to set the tone of the game. They did not do that.”

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The Latest: Portland has been there before – on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Earlier in the week at HOOPSWORLD, I took an early look at the seven teams who are probably wondering what the heck they are playing for right about now.

There is one losing team – perhaps the worst the league has to offer – that is playing for something: the Sacramento Kings. Not only will they make more moves this offseason, but they have a solid chance at landing the number one overall pick come June.

And lastly….make sure to check out Andrew Perna, RealGM’s Deputy Editor and his mission to raise awareness about Multiple Sclerosis with his “NBA for MS” series. Andrew has really made an impact – both with his writing and forming lifelong relationships around the league – with his truly worthy cause. Nice work Andrew….

pic via: AP

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Stick and Move….

82990649DCE_BLAZERS_SPURSSomewhere in the world Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje should feel pretty good about himself. Sure Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells ran the show, but everyone on that 2002 Blazers team can say they were around to last beat San Antonio on their home floor.

Seven years later, that unfortunate streak remains intact, as does Portland’s recent road woes. It’s now at five-straight losses on the road. 

No Tim Duncan. No Manu Ginobili. No worries.

Still, Portland can learn from the heartache….

Travis Outlaw: He went 6 for 8, finished with 13 off the bench. Loved to see Outlaw’s jumper falling, but would it kill the guy to drive to the rim every now and again? That’s when Travis is at his best – well, that and when he’s knocking down that corner three. For as much as he talks about playing more aggressive, you sure don’t get that from the sight of Travis’ constant fall away jump shot.

Channing Frye: Where did that come from? Frye went for 15 points – hasn’t dropped those numbers since late November in Miami when he finished with 17. Good for Channing. Maybe it was the increased playing time. Maybe it was the fact that Frye was close to losing whatever minutes he had left to Shavlik Randolph. Either way, the playing time should be there for Channing if Greg Oden continues to sit. But will Frye’s production be there?

Steve Blake: More of a professed pacifist myself, but I loved seeing Blake mix-it-up with Francisco Oberto in the third quarter. If only Portland showed more emotion like Blake flexed against Oberto, maybe the Blazers wouldn’t be so easily pushed around. Think about it. Who is quick to not back down from anyone – Joel Przybilla. Everyone after that is tied for a very distant second. Notice Joel was the first one to step to Blake’s aid?

If these guys plan on making their mark on the postseason, Portland has to be more physical. We saw that between Przybilla and Tyson Chandler. We saw it with Brandon Roy and David West. Guess Blake was sending that message in San Antonio.

On The Road Again: Thought for sure Portland could go 2-1 when they first embarked on this trip – perhaps beating Houston and Minnesota. But now the only thing the Blazers have going for them is meeting the Timberwolves who are 1-9 in their last 10 games and losers of four-straight on Friday.

pic via: yahoosports

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82993701JF019_Houston_Rocke

Man, how times have changed. It used to be that when Brandon Roy and Aaron Brooks shared the court, Roy reaped the praise. On Tuesday night in Houston, these two Seattle natives did a little changing of the guard.

“He’s a mismatch problem for everyone who goes against him,” Brooks said of Brandon back when Aaron was at Oregon and Roy represented Washington.

“He’s quicker than most guards.”

It’s as if the Rockets diminutive guard was talking about himself.

Roy may be the two-time All-Star, but Brooks is starting to shine for Houston – a team who has won eight-straight at home. He finds himself the point man of the Rockets future, particularly after Rafer Alston was shipped to Orlando at the trade deadline last week. And to think there were actually some who cover the Rockets that disapproved of drafting Brooks 26th overall two summers ago.

How do you like him now?

The kid could still be a legit candidate for 6th Man of the Year. If nothing else, he’ll be one of the reasons Houston makes noise out West during their postseason run, sans Tracy McGrady. 

Roy may have finished with 24 points and 5 assists, but Brooks takes home the win. He went for 20 points and 5 assists over the Blazers, who couldn’t overcome an 18-point deficit despite a third quarter surge.

While Portland is tied for the most of any team in the NBA, winning eight games – including six on the road – when trailing at the start of the final period, they couldn’t make it nine on Tuesday night.

So what do they have to show for their efforts?

Nothing more than a quick trip to San Antonio, a restless night and a back-to-back against the Spurs on Wednesday night.

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The Latest: Pretty convenient having Ron Artest on the floor considering one of the topics I touched on in a “PM Report” for HOOPSWORLD late Tuesday.

Who is the “dirtiest player” in the game today? We all know Artest’s history, but I don’t think he takes the honors. For my money, Matt Barnes of the Phoenix Suns gets the nod. See the evidence here. Apparently everyone else and their grandmother – including many players around the league – votes for Bruce Bowen.

Discuss.

pic via: daylife

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brandon

It’s a simple question: where does Brandon Roy go from here?After his second-straight impressive All-Star outing Sunday in Phoenix, you have to wonder if one day Roy will stand in front of his peers and raise that MVP Trophy.

Lost between the Shaq and Kobe Bryant lovefest and the fleeting minutes of the game – or the second edition of the ‘Slam Dunk Contest’ as I like to call it – was Roy’s performance. Not surprising. I’m sure there were a lot of people watching who don’t even know what Roy is capable of – let alone who he plays for.

Not only did he finish with 14 points on 7-8 shooting to go with five rebounds and five assists, but he led everyone in minutes with 31. I bet Nate McMillan will thank Phil Jackson for that later. Because the last thing McMillan and the Blazers want is an All-Star hangover from their true All-Star.

Roy has to be ready to really lead Portland during the second half of the season. We’re talking about building upon his first half performance, not duplicating it.

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The Latest: Man, Michael Beasley took a lot of HEAT (yes, pun intended) for jacking up too many shots on Friday night. What do you expect? It’s an exhibition contest, plus he was trying to exchange buckets with his boy Kevin Durant. I digress.

Here’s a quick story about Beasley and Durant’s childhood friendship and a shared dream…..along with the Atlanta Hawks Al Horford showing his true colors at All-Star weekend. Both stories ran Saturday over at HOOPSWORLD.

W

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Put him on your squad….

 

For those keeping score at home, Kevin went for 19 points and had 1 block in 1:17.

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The Latest: I wasn’t sure if he would make the cut. I wasn’t sure if he’d even get his shot. But Jerryd Bayless – screaming after made buckets and all – is proving to be a point guard you can start to mention in the same sentence as Roy-Aldridge-Oden for the Blazers future.

That’s why he made the list.

Here Bayless joins some other rookies flying under the radar as “6 Underrated NBA Rookies”, a feature now running today at HOOPSWORLD.

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jerryd_490_080719Just when you thought Portland’s point guard rotation was back to normal with Steve Blake returning to the floor, along comes a Brian Skinner pick.

When the Los Angeles Clippers big man put a body on Blake with about five minutes left before half, a yelp and cringe by Blake said it all. Not sure what hurt more – Blake’s right shoulder or the two air balls he launched during his ten minute stint.

Actually, I’m wondering what he was doing out there in the first place. Obviously it was his call to play, but it was Nate McMillan’s decision to start him. Would Blake have re-injured his shoulder if he came off the bench? Perhaps.

But right now, the tag team of Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless are self sufficient enough to hold down the fort for a few more games. If McMillan is going to put faith in his two backup point guards, it might as well be during this stretch.

Take Sergio for example. Rodriguez passed up a wide-open three early to find Joel Przybilla all alone under the basket, and his over-the-head-no-look-pass to Greg Oden two quarters later was about as sick as a dish comes. A little stylin’ and profilin’. He played smart. Maybe Sergio’s numbers aren’t going to blow you away (7 points and 5 assists in roughly 17 minutes), but combined with Bayless’ performance the two are holding down the point.

Chances are Jerryd started the game thinking he’d be lucky to even sniff the court. But as we all know about the NBA, injuries and opportunities go hand-in-hand. Much like Sergio, his final stat line isn’t All-Star worthy either (5 points and 6 assists in just over 22 minutes), but the fact is the two point guards only combined for two turnovers, and that is solid.

Very solid.

And while so much is made of Bayless’ aggressiveness and his barking after a bucket, what about his on-court chemistry with Oden? It seems at least once a game, the two rookies are in sync with an alleyoop or quick dish for a dunk. They have good chemistry together.

It’s nice to see both Sergio and Jerryd taking some ownership at the point.

In other words, take your time Steve. Take your time.

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Shameless Plug: Couple more weeks to go to the trade deadline is officially upon us. So as we wait to see what takes place in Portland, teams like Cleveland prepare for another postseason run.

But will they make a move?  I caught up with Cavs head coach Mike Brown last week – along with Ben Wallace – and was curious what the approach is when names float around in the rumors, as they are prone to do this time of the season.

The story is running in full over at HOOPSWORLD.

pic via: nba.com

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