Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trailblazers Preview

In preparation for Utah's last preseason game tonight, TCG presents you with a Portland Trailblazers preview compliments of SJ and the guys over at Rip City Project.  And be sure to check out our own Guru's take on the Jazz, which is up on their site.  

As Jazz fans everywhere remember, the Blazers gave us plenty of heartache back in late 90s.  Anyone remeber this guy gliding on the hoops court as well as he does on the dance floor?  Hint: despite an uncanny likeness, it's not Daryl Strawberry. 

Since those glory days, of course, the Blazers have fallen on some hard times.  Will this be the year they climb back and challenge our Jazz in a race for the NBA's Northwest Division crown?  To the preview. . .

SJ, what are you thoughts on the Jazz this year?

The Utah Jazz are scary. I believe they are easily in that top-5 of the West that is not going anywhere, anytime soon. On paper they may not have the greatest talent but they have the best talent for that system. Sloan manages to get the most out of every piece of the pie. Not to mention that the Jazz have two great things going for them: depth and home court advantage. It's damn hard for teams to win in Salt Lake City and I feel like it's been that way forever. And their depth is sneaky. Guys like Korver, Milsap and Harpring get overlooked for their contributions. But then the devil's advocate in me wonders how far a team can go that depends on Ronnie Price, CJ Miles and Ronnie Brewer in a tough Western Conference playoffs series. I do wonder if they are good enough to get to the Finals. It will be interesting to see how good the Jazz are this year, and whether or not they can move up from that #4 spot they seem to be stuck in.

How do you see Portland and Utah matching up?

I'm very confident about our matchup with the Jazz this year. We definitely have the beef to bang with you guys. Last year the sight of Boozer, Milsap and even Okur overwhelming poor LaMarcus and Channing made me whimper, and Big Joel could only do so much. Now we've got those three with Oden and Ike we can definitely match with your greatest strength inside. It's going to be extremely physical inside but I'm ten times more confident this year. 

On the perimeter, on paper you could say we have an advantage. Roy, Fernandez, Martell, Outlaw are more 'talented' if you will than AK, Brewer, Korver and CJ Miles. But to their advantage the Jazz have scrappy, long, hard-working guys. And again they are the guys who work perfectly for Utah, kind of like how the Spurs manage to squeeze the most out of guys like Jacque Vaughn. Kirilenko and Brewer can absolutely cause fits on defense and Korver didn't exactly get murdered. Plus the Jazz are very, very physical. Add a banger like Harpring and it will be interesting to see if the Blazers can handle that kind of toughness on the road. And yes whenever I imagine a matchup with the Jazz, I imagine playing in Salt Lake because that's the real Jazz.  

How would you grade Portland's offseason?

The Blazers off-season...A++++++. And I'm not even kidding. Technically the only moves we made this season were letting James Jones walk (underrated move) and dumping Jarrett Jack for Bayless and Ike (direct revenge for Dale Davis/Jermaine O'Neal). But truly the off-season of 2008 is really reaping the benefits of the off-season of 2007. Greg Oden will be trading in his smile, crutches and dress clothes for a bit of determined frustration and more importantly a Blazer uniform. Rudy Fernandez will also be in uniform not in Spain. 

What excites you most about Portland this year, and how high do you think they can finish?

The wealth of talent surrounding this team is what excites me the most. As Blazer fans we went through a definite dry spell when it came to the 'depth' department. This is heaven compared to the Brian Skinner, Ha Seung-Jin, Charles Smith, Vashon Lenard, Viktor Khryapa, Sergei Monia, Sebastian Telfair era. And yes they all were significant players at one point two years ago. GM Kevin Pritchard said he believes we have 4 options at every position. It's a luxury that I for one am not taking for granted. To have three great players like Roy, Aldridge and Oden surrounded by talent like Rudy, Martell, Bayless, Outlaw and the just makes you smile. Our depth has depth which makes me forget we're incredibly injury prone. Bayless or Sergio could see themselves on the outside looking in, ditto for Frye or Diogu...all guys who could easily be rotation players anywhere else. 

I don't see the Blazers finishing any higher than 6th in the Western Conference. I've gotten it a lot of ways from Blazer fans who think I'm lowballing, but I have to be realistic. Despite all the hype, excitement and potential...this team hasn't done a thing. Combine that with an extremely tough Western Conference and a particularly nasty first month or so and you see what I'm saying. The top 5 teams in the West should not be going anywhere, anytime soon unless they suffer catastrophic injuries: Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz and Rockets are the elite. Then you've still got Dallas and Phoenix who while they may not be in the top 3 or 5 are still very good teams, and both are being slept on which may be perfect for them. So my high end is the 6 seed and my low end is the 8th seed. 

What do you think of head coach Nate McMillan?

I feel great about Nate. I feel like he's the perfect coach for this team. A lot of pressure is going to be on him as his cupboard is finally full of talent...but I know he can do it. He knows this team has yet to arrive and he is going to do everything in his power to get him there. He did a tremendous job last year of getting a much less talented team to compete for the majority of last year (before trailing off). Nobody expected anything from that team minus Oden and they busted off 13 in a row (before being overshadowed by the Rockets and their record breaking streak). The road won't be easy. He'll have to find a way to get the most out of every player, find shots and minutes for everyone, keep people happy and get everyone to buy in. I know there are Blazer fans out there who wonder if he's the guy...but he deserves the chance to lead this team after what he's gone through. That being said...I'm still bitter about the Mo Cheeks firing. 

Finally, what's your favorite Jazz-Blazers memory?

Probably a tie between 1999 when we finally got over the Jazz hump and sent y'all packing or 2000 when we just crushed you on the way to the Western Conference Finals. Other than that...truth be told the Jazz have caused a lot of heartbreak. Every game in Salt Lake was a tear jerker, especially Game 5 in 1996 when you gave us the worst elimination game beating this side of the Atlanta Hawks. Speaking of Salt Lake...such a hellacious place to play at. I've watched enough games in that building to just see things coming from a mile away. The backbreaking three pointer...the offensive rebound....the stop....I just get a feeling. 

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