Look, I know I'm a homer. I realize I'm a die-hard Blazers fan. But this winning streak they're on is something I can't just ignore right? I can't just say "I'm a fan, therefore I shouldn't talk about it." After all, Bill Simmons writes about the Celtics/Pats/Redsox constantly, so I should be able to give some love to my team when it's warranted, right? I think so.
That being said... the Blazers are freakin' awesome! I'm not delusional enough to think that less than a fifth of the way through the season, the Blazers second best record in the West is indicative of them being the second best team in the West. Nor am I silly enough to proclaim that they are the third best team in the entire NBA, as their record places them right now. But what I will say, unequivocally, is that this Blazers team is better than we thought they'd be. A team that was originally supposed to compete for a playoff spot is now being considered a team that could potentially compete for a top-4 seed.
If I were betting on the Blazers playoff seeding, I'd say 5th or 6th is pretty likely. But that's still very exciting for Portland fans who have experienced tremendous frustration, hope and heartbreak following their beloved team over the past decade. But with success comes criticism and expectations, and some are not believers in Portland's success, for various reasons. There are two main concerns brought up by national media outlets urging caution regarding the Blazers' hot streak. Let's take them one-by-one.
Portland hasn't played anybody
Bullshit. Portland has beaten the Spurs, Warriors, and Suns, who all currently have winning records. Additionally, there are only 12 teams in the league right now with winning records, meaning of the winning teams, Portland has beaten 25% of them. If you throw in Chicago, who had a winning record until they played the Blazers, then that's four teams, but we'll stick to 25%. The only team with a winning record with a more impressive schedule this year is the Clippers, who have been playing fantastic this season.
Portland is making shots, what happens when they stop?
Portland is making shots by design. This is the difference between the Knicks (who jack up bad shots all game, but sometimes make enough of them to win), and the 2010 Orlando Magic, who used ball movement and an inside-outside game to give their shooters excellent looks at the basket.
Additionally, Portland has more than a couple shooters. Damian Lillard has a dagger three from distance that he seems to drill every time the Blazers need it, and Wes Matthews is on pace to break the franchise record for three point percentage, so clearly there is talent outside. But when these two players are having off nights (something we haven't really seen from Wes yet to be fair), Nicolas Batum and Dorell Wright step up and can make deep shots. If they can't do it? Mo Williams has shown a knack for making shots when the Blazers' offense stalls. Yes, the Blazers are five deep when it comes to shooters, and this is not counting Will Barton at the end of the bench (who averaged 13 points a game down the stretch last season) and the injured rookie C.J. McCollum, first round pick out of Lehigh, who will be out another month or so.
And when the shots aren't falling? LaMarcus Aldridge has demonstrated he can be a force inside, and Lillard definitely can penetrate. Also, Batum has shown himself to be adept at racking up rebounds, steals, and assists, playing the utility knife role in the Blazers offense, helping others get shots while making plays on his own when he needs to.
And how about Aldridge? Aldridge is playing as well as anyone right now, and he just won Western Conference Player of the Week following his 30 point, 21 rebound performance against the Warriors Saturday night. Aldridge had a double-double in just the fourth quarter!
Long story short, the Blazers are making shots, but they're also doing a lot more too.
Behind a rapidly improving defense, newfound depth on the offensive and defensive ends, the improvement of players like Joel Freeland, and the star power you get from Aldridge and Lillard, there's reason to think the Blazers stay hot and finish with a high playoff seed. It's hard to believe because of how they finished last season, and I remain cautious with them, knowing it'll take continued improvement and a luck in the injury department to do it, but I think that all signs point to this being a very good team, not unlike the Warriors and Pacers last year, who surprised everyone. The thing all three teams have in common, a factor that I think is a pleasant surprise for the Blazers, is the fact that these guys love to play together. This is something you can see in the eyes of every Blazers. This team likes to be on the court together. And that, as much as anything, should continue to fuel the fire and confidence that have the Portland Trailblazers playing excellent ball.