Double take

We have all heard the expression, “the calm before the storm.” But the Portland Trail Blazers are putting their own spin on the old adage, altering it ever so slightly to read, “the calm after the storm.”

YesNathan Hellman

We have all heard the expression, “the calm before the storm.” But the Portland Trail Blazers are putting their own spin on the old adage, altering it ever so slightly to read, “the calm after the storm.”

In this case, the storm is Portland’s absolutely phenomenal play that has literally taken the league. Since early December, the Blazers are 20-4 overall, including a 13-game winning streak that lasted over a month.

During this bout of success, second-year guard Brandon Roy has been sensational, earning All-Star consideration and respect from around the league. Once castoffs Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw are beginning to become household names with much-improved play. And, the City of Roses is ablaze with Blazermania, conjuring up comparisons to the Rip City era that permeated the city in the early 1990s.

From an outsider’s perspective, all seems to be peachy in Portland. However, this may just be an illusion induced by the rose-colored glasses Portlanders are donning following the Blazers stunningly superb play.

After stumbling to a 3-3 mark on their current road trip, the Blazers’ perfect storm appears to be on its last legs before the calm sets in and all of the magic Portland has mounted over the past 24 games evaporates.

Calm means not rocking the boat. The NBA translation is playing .500 basketball without extended streaks of success and failure, which perfectly describes Portland’s play of late. Over the Blazers’ last six games, the team has traded wins and losses.

A win against Golden State was matched with a double-overtime loss to Toronto. A blowout road victory over the Nets in the swamps of New Jersey was coupled with a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. Portland edged out Miami Friday and then slipped up against the Magic Saturday.

Everyone should be able to predict how Portland will respond to squeaking by the Hawks Monday afternoon when they face off against New Orleans Wednesday night. If the pattern continues, the Blazers should leave the Crescent City showing all the typical signs of disappointment and letdown.

Let’s face it, Portland: the Blazers reached the peak of their potential. And though it was enjoyable while it lasted, the magic that propelled this team into the national consciousness and fueled its second-longest winning streak in franchise history has run out.

The images of Outlaw sinking last-second jumpers to force overtime and instances of Portlanders claiming divine intervention has guided Portland down this path of success should end immediately.

Portland is the league’s youngest squad. The Blazers are soft in the post on both ends of the floor, as evident in losses to Toronto and Boston where big men Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett abused Portland’s inferior interior defense. And Portland is only 8-13 away from the Rose Garden, which should concern diehards and aficionados.

Expect the Blazers to slide into one of the last playoffs spots in the Western Conference. Expect Roy to earn a ticket to the All Star Game. Expect head coach Nate McMillan to receive consideration for Coach of the Year.

But, also expect a pretty consistent exchange of wins and losses in the second half of the season, because the storm has cleared and it’s strictly average basketball for Portland the rest of the way.

NoOwen R. Smith

When the Trail Blazers were sitting beleaguered near the bottom of the league, nursing a 5-12 record, it seemed as if it might take supernatural intervention to lift the local five out of their sorry slump.

Oh, what a couple of months can do for a team’s outlook. It’s common knowledge that the Blazers rattled off 13 straight wins in the month of December and are currently locked in a first-place tie with Denver in the Northwest Division, one of the toughest divisions in the NBA.

On their current seven-game swing through the Eastern Conference (including an upcoming stop Wednesday against Western Conference foe New Orleans), the Blazers are 3-3 with losses to Boston, Toronto and Orlando and wins at New Jersey, Miami and Atlanta.

Still, 3-3 isn’t quite 17-1, which was the Blazers streak before the road trip began. Is the mystical juice powering this awesome stretch finally running out?

The Blazers are the youngest team in the NBA and have seen some mighty struggles on the road. They are 17-3 while playing within the friendly confines of the Rose Garden, yet just 8-13 away from home, where they do almost everything a little bit worse.

You might say the Blazers never really had much magic away from home, but that isn’t necessarily true. There have been key road wins in Denver and Utah, two division rivals and potential playoff matchups. A 106-105 win at Memphis sparked the 13-game win streak, and the double-overtime win against Chicago notched the Blazers’ 20th victory.

In fact, Portland is a healthy 8-4 in its last 12 road games. I think coach Nate McMillan can live with those numbers.

Perhaps the question shouldn’t be if the magic is running out, but if there were ever a need for magic in the first place. The Blazers are winning games because they are talented, well coached and coming together at the right time. There’s nothing magical about that. In fact, it’s been quite a long time coming.

Back in November the team had just completed a four-game home stand that included back-to-back wins over Dallas and Detroit. There was indeed magic in the air, but it stemmed from the infectious and raucous enthusiasm of the crowd, not some stardust or sorcerer’s wand.

To be clear, Portland is not an elite team. But, they are proving themselves to be a playoff team and not the pushovers most had marked them as at the beginning of the year. It isn’t magic powering the Blazers, but talent and a hard-nosed style of play that reflects McMillan’s personality.

The Rose Garden crowd recognized as much during that early home stretch, and other teams are recognizing it night-in and night-out: the Blazers are simply better than advertised.

So save the hexes, potions, cure-alls and other assorted witchcraft for another year. The Blazers appear headed for the playoffs, where the real magic happens.