Providing a counterpoint

So you think you’re hot stuff, eh Blazers? Think that 3-3 start and first place in the Northwest Division means your young squad has a chance to make the playoffs, or at least to make some noise in the NBA this season?

Think again.

Let’s look at the “big wins” so far this season. The Blazers have beaten Atlanta, New York and Chicago. Whoo-hoo. Those teams have a combined record of 5-17 as of Thursday afternoon. If that doesn’t make those teams pushovers, I don’t know what would.

So before everyone jumps back on the Rip City bandwagon, lets put on the Beer Garden Goggles and peer into the Blazers’ future. The Blazers start a seven-game East Coast road trip starting Sunday in New York. After facing the Knicks, Portland will play Memphis, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Philly before finishing up in the nation’s capitol.

Here’s a quick prediction: the Blazers won’t finish this road trip in first place in their division or even at .500. The Knicks game will probably be a win (one would hope, since Larry Brown is failing miserably in New York), but Memphis is 6-3, Miami is 5-3, Philly is 6-3 and Washington is 5-2. Those are all better teams than Portland and I doubt the Blazers will win any of those games, including the team’s first match against old coach Maurice Cheeks, who is thriving with Allen Iverson and the Sixers.

So that leaves the Orlando and Atlanta games as the other wins on the trip. A 3-4 road trip record isn’t terrible and the Blazers will probably be happy to take it, all things considered. Even without Carlos Boozer and Nene, division rival Denver will be making a push as will fellow division rival Minnesota, both teams that should finish ahead of the Blazers in the long run this season.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. This team does something that the Blazers haven’t done for quite some time: they scrap. And they play hard. As the Vanguard’s Blazers beat writer Brian Smith reports in his new Inside the Blazers column (available online at, coach Nate McMillan doesn’t suffer fools the same way past Blazer coaches have.

Nate will cuss a player out who doesn’t show the proper effort, such as Ruben Patterson at a recent practice. He’ll bench promising youngsters like Travis Outlaw because he likes the defense of Russian project Sergei Monia. No player other than Zach Randolph and Darius Miles is playing more than 30 minutes a game.

I don’t hate this team. I think they have the potential to be quite good. But just not this year. The “hot start,” if it can be called that, is nice, to be sure. But that’s all it is, a hot start that has more to do with other teams failing than the Blazers succeeding.

The NBA season is not a foot race. The best teams peak in March and April heading into the playoffs. The Blazers will most likely be mathematically eliminated from postseason play by that time. But it’s a long season and anything can happen. And for once I hope I’m wrong.