Only 3 days 12 hours till I touch down in Los Angeles, and a few more hours later till I’ll be watching the Rockets face the Lakers at Staples. I can hardly wipe the smile off my face.

I’ve been struck down with the death flu the past week, hence the lack of blogging, but with a few days to ponder and reflect without wearing pants, I’ve come to restore a little blogging equilibrium before I jump on that plane LA-bound.

My Blazer-loving friend Corno tells me I don’t write enough about Portland, and he’s probably right. Apart from this season preview, I’ve hardly touched on them excluding the obvious Greg Oden jokes and occasional mention of Brandon Roy in the Blogger MVP rankings. But there’s a reason I said Brandon Roy was like an ultrathin condom, and the same analogy can probably be leveled at the entire Portland team – sometimes, you don’t even notice they’re there. The stories out West right now are the Lakers chase for the league’s best record, Utah’s ominous charge towards the top four, the question marks above the heads of the Nuggets as they try to prove that three-quarters of the season hasn’t been a fluke, and the trials and tribulations of the Suns as they face the reality of a playoff-less season. Nowhere do you hear mention of Portland and the very real chance they have of finishing with home court in the first round. In Marc Stein’s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ playoff proposal he posited that the Spurs would want to face the Blazers in the first round if they had a choice. Get that? A team that could still finish 4th, 3rd or even 2nd in the West is apparently the team you want to face if your San Antonio. Some may say that’s downright disrespectful. Me, I come back to the ultrathin condom.

Go look at ESPNs stats leader page, showing the top five leaders in every major statistical category. There are 30 players mentioned there representing Miami, Cleveland, LA, Oklahoma, Dallas, New Orleans, Utah, Phoenix, Toronto, Boston, Denver, Orlando, Golden State, New York, Indiana, San Antonio, Charlotte and the freakin LA Clippers. That’s eighteen teams, almost two thirds of the league, most of the playoff-bound franchises, and the freakin Los Angeles  Clippers. But you won’t find the Portland Trailblazers there. No sir. The only better team that doesn’t get a rep is Houston, but it’s hard to argue Houston go unnoticed when three billion people vote Yao into the All-Star game every year. Of course there is no real meaning in the top five stat leaders of each category; I just wanted to show you the startling lack of Portland amongst the lists of NBA stars that young fans and fantasy buffs browse through every day.

The real fans know that Brandon Roy is Portland’s superstar, their inspirational leader, and a seriously overlooked MVP candidate  – you replace him with Dwyane Wade and would the Blazers really have any more wins? It just so happens that in today’s Lebron-obsessed world players like Brandon Roy can have ridiculously good seasons and go relatively unnoticed. The ultrathin condom. You compare Roy’s numbers to Kobe’s – they’re not that different. Kobe has a few more points per game, everywhere else Roy pretty much has him beat. Still, he might not even make the All-NBA second team (I could see the voters going with Deron, after Wade, Kobe and CP3 of course). Does everyone not see the complete injustice in Brandon Roy NOT being named to the All-NBA First or Second team?!

With Roy at the helm, Oden and the Vanilla Godzilla patrolling the middle, Aldridge easily capable of 25 point scoring outbursts on any night, the bench explosiveness of Rudy and Outlaw and the persistent three-point white man threat of Steve Blake, you’d think this Blazers team might instill a little fear into the hearts of their would-be playoff opponents. Maybe just a little? Ain’t so. Not these Blazers, not this year. Why? It all seems to hinge on one thing – experience – and these Blazers are lacking it, apparently. Hard to argue with really, and if they had snuck into the playoffs last season I can’t help but feel we would be thinking about them in a completely different light. But alas, this will be the first postseason this young Blazer team has faced, and this wouldn’t be such a big deal if every other Western Conference playoff-bound team hadn’t been there before – several times before. The Lakers, Spurs and Mavs have Finals experience, the Jazz have been to the Conference Finals, the Hornets were minutes away from making it there, and we all know what regular first round visitors the Rockets and Nuggets are. The Blazers are the odd one out.

Is experience really that important? Didn’t the Lakers make it all the way to the Finals, passing the veteran Spurs along the way, without having made it past the first round together? Didn’t the playoff-virgin Warriors beat the reigning Finalist Mavs a couple of years back? Didn’t the Baby Bulls beat sweep the reigning champion Miami Heat in ’07? Didn’t the Hawks win last year’s AFL Grand Final with the youngest list in the AFL? It’s happened before, and I’m not about to count the Blazers out. Not with the possibility of home court in the first round. If they face Houston in the first round (looking likely at this stage), who do you think has the upper edge down the stretch of every close game? The Yao-reliant Rockets who have become psychologically scarred from repeated first-round choke jobs? Or the Blazers lead by a man who is more reliable in the clutch than MacGyver? I’m going with the Blazers. Brandon Roy is that good. If everything clicks he’s more than capable of having a Wade-esque playoff campaign a la 2006 – he won’t get as far as Wade did because he doesn’t have enough help right now, but he could do some serious damage.

It’s too early right now to make any concrete predictions about the playoffs, we don’t know the match ups yet. But when the season is over and the playoff bracket is set, and you’re looking at the Blazers first-round match up and you’re thinking “pfff… these guys have no chance” just take a second to reflect: do you give the Blazers no chance because you don’t know who the Blazers really are? Is “lack of experience” just a cover up excuse for the fact you can’t name half their team?

So while the final few weeks of the regular season play out, and the Cavs/Lakers battle for #1 reaches feverpitch, the Jazz continuing their furious finish, the sun slowly setting on Phoenix and the hopeful stories of possible first-round escapes for Denver and Houston abounding, just keep notice of the Portland Trailblazers hovering somewhere in the middle, buried amongst the headlines.

Or don’t. They probably prefer it that way.


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