The 2011-2012 Portland Trail Blazers season starts on Monday and we have a season preview, places to watch in Portland, info to catch you up on what’s happened since the lockout, and what to expect on Monday.
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- All Season: Portland Trail Blazers 2011-2012 Schedule
Watch Trailblazers Games in Portland (Food & Drink Specials):
Tanker Bar (Se Hawthorne & 48th) | (503) 445-4635
Tanker Bar will be playing all games on their 6 large LCD TVs. $1 Pabst during all Blazers & Football games, and $1 off Nachos during all games. 15 beers on tap, Buckhunter, free popcorn. More info: tankerbar.com
Blitz (Ladd, Pearl, Tigard, NW 21)
Blitz's FOUR locations will be happening as always with tons of televisions, drinks specials, and games (ping pong, shuffleboard, buckhunters, horseshoes in Tigard, and more). More info: blitzbarpdx.webs.com
Portland Trail Blazers 2011-2012 Season Preview:
By Cain Stoneking
It was a week ago last friday that every Blazer fan had their hearts ripped out. Brandon Roy, the Natural, was retiring. And with him gone, so too, was the end of an era.
At 27 years old, Brandon Roy was leaving the game of basketball due to degenerative knees. The knees he slashed toward the basket on, the knees he used to rise up and hit buzzer beating shots, the knees he would use to leap out of the building, had now forsaken him.
Those knees had no cartilage left in them, and the bone on bone contact had forced him to give up the game he loved.
That same day, we find out Greg Oden had a setback in his treatment. If there was one silver lining to the lockout, it was that by the time it was over, Oden might be back to almost playing basketball. However, now it seems like it will be yet ANOTHER year until he comes back.
Every team in the Western Conference was getting better, while the Blazers had lost their two young cornerstones.
For years, Brandon was the all-star scorer. He was the man that could carry a team almost single-handedly, while Oden was supposed to be the defense anchor that brought this team a championship. Everyone believed the Blazers were on the rise. However, injuries had a way of derailing any and all ideas that the Blazers organization had.
So, where do they go from here?
Well, last year a funny thing happened. December 15th, almost a year ago today, LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers were taking on the Mavericks in Dallas. Now, Aldridge has always played well in Dallas, his home town, but tonight, he looked different. He looked at his teammates (sans Roy, who was sitting out most of the season with that knee injury) and decided to put the team on his back. He exploded for 15 points in the 4th quarter and while the Blazers still lost a heartbreaking game, Aldridge had changed.
He was about to blossom.
For weeks upon weeks, he would only get better. It was one of the most fascinating stories in the NBA. In the month of February alone, he would notch a career high in points scored. Twice. And it wasn’t against teams with losing records; it was against the Spurs who finished first in the West and the Bulls who finished first in the East. He would finish that month earning a Western Conference player of the month award, only the 3rd Blazer to ever win that distinction. He was the renaissance man, soaking up a ton of minutes, but playing defense against the other teams best players while simultaneously being the Blazers’ best offensive player.
The Blazers decided that Aldridge, who in their original plan would be the 3rd brightest star on the team, was now the best player, their new cornerstone.
Over the offseason they traded Andre Miller to the Nuggets for Raymond Felton. Felton is a younger, faster point guard that shoot 3’s. Miller’s lack of shooting ability let other teams double up on Aldridge a lot down low, and he just kind of filled the lane. Felton will fix this problem. As the starting point guard, it will be his job to get this team to mesh and rolling.
With the retirement of Brandon Roy, the Blazers were able to sign high-scoring Jamal Crawford to take his place. Crawford lacks defense, but his shooting ability almost mimics Roy’s. He is a high-volume shooter that is aggressive on offense, exactly what the Blazers were missing. He was 6th man of the year two years ago, so expect him to come off the bench but play a lot of minutes.
With Aldridge steering the Blazers towards the playoffs last year, the Blazers made a trade deadline deal that brought in Gerald Wallace. A full year of Wallace this year has Blazer fans drooling. Known for his monster dunks and humiliating blocks, Wallace has become a fan favorite. His defense is amazing, and two years ago he was an all-star. For his position he rebounds a ton, and is just a perfect all around player. He loves to slash to the basket, but has lately been working on his jump shot. If he is able to knock down some jumpers this year, the spacing on the floor will really open up.
Last year the Blazers signed Wesley Matthews to a 5 year, 35 million dollar deal that most people laughed at. Well, who’s laughing now? With Brandon ailing, Wesley was the first one to step up and fill the shooting guard role. He was the early season savior that kept the Blazers a float long enough for LaMarcus to blossom. While Matthews struggles scoring off the dribble and around the rim, he has a tremendous jump shot and can hit 3’s. He is sometimes a streaky shooter, but what isn’t streaky is his defense. Matthews can guard against so many positions and guard them well. He can lock up point guards, shooting guards and small forwards, and virtually take them out of the game. He says he feels better this year than last year. He looks hungry. He will start at the 2 guard, with Crawford coming in being him.
The most intriguing Blazer may be Nicolas Batum. Batum can produce plenty, and is mature enough to come off the bench. He can have big games, but also seems to get lost in Nate McMillian’s grind-it out offense. He is obviously a special talent with an unbelievable wing span. He can really become a star in this league if his potential becomes fully realized. He has a quick shot behind the arc, can dunk and slash, and plays great defense. He was the best player in Europe this year and hopefully he plays that well in America now that the lockout is over.
With a tightly packed schedule, the Blazers bench is going to have to produce more than ever. The bench will be pretty young other than Kurt Thomas who is the oldest player in the NBA. Armon Johnson, Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams, Luke Babbitt, Chris Johnson and Craig Smith will have the opportunity to impact this team and earn a lot of minutes if they play their roles right. Besides Craig Smith, none of these Blazers have played more than a season.
Kurt Thomas will be the enforcer, the man who fouls hard down low on defense, and will hit 17-foot jump shots on offense. His game will go well with LaMarcus because if defenders sag over to double team him, and LaMarcus is able to pass out of it, all of his teammates are capable of hitting an open shot.
2nd year player Armon Johnson and rookie Nolan Smith really have an opportunity to get minutes. The only true point guards behind Raymond Felton, one of them will have to step up. It didn’t appear Armon was capable of running the offense last year, so expect Nolan Smith to see minutes here first. If he is capable of running the second unit, that will be a HUGE boost to the team, and will garnish them many more wins.
Elliot Williams and Luke Babbitt also face similar circumstances. Before the Crawford signing on the 15th, Williams was going to be the backup shooting guard. The man can jump. He had a 44″ vertical leap. He has yet to play in the NBA, but if he is as good as he was in college, the kid could really blossom in Portland. Babbitt was our first round pick last year, but didn’t blossom like we had hoped. With one more year under his belt, let’s see how he responds.
Chris Johnson came to us out of the D-League last year and played some inspiring basketball, especially in the playoffs. He is lanky with a huge reach and awesome leaping ability. He likes to play center, but he was underweight. Rumor has it he has put on some weight and is ready for his first full NBA season. Many analysts believe he could be a catalyst in the Blazers plan. The center position for the Blazers right now are manned by two pretty old guys who will have a hard time playing on their knees this year. If he can step up and give relief to those guys, this team can go far.
Craig Smith will make his Blazer debut this year too. He will give some relief to LaMarcus Aldridge. Near the end of the season last year, LaMarcus looked tired from how many minutes he was playing. Smith should be able to cut down those minutes by one or two a game. If he is successful in stepping up while LaMarcus rests, that would also be huge for the Blazers.
As for the preseason…
The Blazers look good. The first game showed a lot of energy and speed. The second game saw our starters lose to a horrible Utah bench, which may work to their advantage. It will show them they need to play for a full four quarters. The Blazers have to rebound if they play small ball, that is so vital. Everyone needs to crash the boards in every game if we expect to win. Portland never really got to send its true starters out, so this first month will be super important. I expect them to start 3-0 and anything else would be truly disappointing. In a shortened season the Blazers NEED to start fast. This will be a crazy year, any team can win it all. Injuries will plague teams; it has already plagued the Lakers. Can the Blazers stay healthy? That would be huge. Portland is pretty healthy this preseason, especially if Marcus Camby is alright. He is our only true interior defender, and they will need him. Portland will also need to make a huge trade before the deadline.
This year will be interesting in a couple ways.
First, the Blazers have speed this year. It would be very interesting to see if they use it on offense. Will Nate change his game plan of the half court offense and play a more run and gun style of basketball?
Second, an achilles heel for the Blazers last year was their shooting. However, they have vastly improved that during the offseason this year. Will that open more things up for LaMarcus? He could be an all-star this year if it does.
And lastly, there are a lot of new faces on this roster. If some of them can really step up the Blazers can go far. Which ones will be able to accept their roles and be the missing cogs in the Blazers machine? If all of them step up, can we contend for a championship?
I expect the Blazers to need some time for their roster to mesh well. LaMarcus hasn’t been able to play in training camp yet, so he might need some time to get accustomed to game speed, as well as the rest of the Blazers. If they stayed in pretty good shape during the offseason, and I except that they did, the Blazers can have a great start to the season. With how fast the games are going to be coming up, and us playing 5 games in 6 days sometimes, the bench will be playing a lot of minutes. While it is not as deep as I would like, it should help us reach a top 4 seed in the Conference.
That being said, I fully expect the Blazers to get out of the first round this year, as I actually think their roster is better suited for a 7 game series, than the brutal regular season.
It’s a great time to be a Blazer fan, and basketball fan. Every team is undefeated. The Blazers season starts December 26th, at home, against the Philadelphia 76ers. Christmas came one day late this year!
Blazers coverage by Cain Stoneking, a life-long Oregonian who breathes Blazers basketball. During the offseason he enjoys backpacking and playing music in his local band Foxtrot. Follow him on twitter at Letsgoblazers, or write to him at [email protected].
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