Back when the schedule first came out, I divvied it up into several Chunks, picking out stretches of games that seemed to have a pattern to them.
Well, the second chunk has just come to an end, so it's time for the second Chunk review, where I note the performance of that section and identify the next Chunk. (The first chunk update can be found here).
First, here's what I had to say in the last update, in looking forward to this now-completed chunk (W/L results added next to games):
THE LOOK FORWARD:
10 - @Magic: WIN
12 - @Miami: WIN
14 - @ N.O.: Narrow LOSS
15 - @Minny: Narrow WIN
18 - @GS: our first UPSET of the year
19 - Bulls [ESPN]: BEST BEATDOWN SINCE LAST SEASON'S HOME CLOSER AGAINST MEMPHIS
21 - @Sac: WIN
22 - @PHX: LOSS
Record of opponents as of right now: 24-26
Here comes the road. Oden will return sometime during this stretch. The story will be three questions:
1) Did we learn to win on the road? (Particular games: All but Bulls)
Yes we did. Road record before this chunk: 0-3. During this chunk: 4-3.
2) How did we do in games that are harder than beating 1-win teams (Spoors, TimberPuppies) at home, but not as hard as visiting the three strongest teams in the conference as of right now (recent history aside)? We got ONE game in this first 6-game chunk in this category, and we won it - but barely, and at home. Coming up, we get more games against teams better than Minnie/Sandy Auntie, but not as good as La-La, Utah, Phoenix, and Houston. Also, teams maybe about as good as the Spoors and TimberPuppies, but in THEIR building instead of ours. (Particular games: Bulls, Miami Lukewarmth, Pyrite State Worriers, Sac O' Mentos.) That's a level of play we fall somewhere in; now's the time to find out if we're at the bottom, middle, or top. Or: Can we beat teams that are about as good as us? (We're 1-for-1 on that so far.)
4-1 in the games I mentioned. Aside from the Pyrite State game, losses were like the previous chunk's ones: To established powers (Hornets, Suns), in their house. BUT, with far better performances than in the first chunk's debacles in Phoenix and La-La; instead, we had two games that looked a lot like that Utah game.
3) How did we manage Oden's return? (Particular games: Whichever ones he plays in.)Of course, the far end of the window for his likely return is just after this Chunk ends, so he may not come back. But if so, then THAT will be part of the way this Chunk ends up being defined: He might've come back, but he didn't. So return or not, the issue will define this Chunk.
He came back, had a weak first outing against Miami, and has been nothing but ahead-of-the-recovery-curve progress since then.
So all three general questions were answered with great satisfaction. YEAH!
Additional question of interest, but more as a stand-alone event than part of the overall nature of this Chunk: Do we play better in our November 22 return to Phoenix (especially if we have Oden this time, which we should)?
Yes we did. We still lost, but we're no longer the pushover we were in season games #1 and #3. Again, it looks more like the Utah game.
Aside from those issues addressed from the look forward, here's the breakdown:
Chunk record: 5-3
Record before: 3-3
Overall record: 8-6
I think the review of the questions going in cover it all: We learned to win on the road, we won most games where there was no favorite, Oden truly walks among us (for GOOD this time!), and our losses to better teams are no longer wipeouts. We both cemented the improvement we had between games 1 and 6, and added new improvements on top of that. We're now fully removed from where we were after 3 games, and in a whole new world of not-THE-best, but well better than average, and consistently so: It feels like we'll never be average again, much less "bad".
And now, the look ahead:
24 - Sac
26 - Miami
28 - N.O.
30 - @Detroit
Dec. 2 - @Nix
3 - @DC
5 - @Celts [ESPN]
7 - @TO
9 - Magic
11 - @Utah [TNT]
12 - Clips
Originally, I lumped all three chunks (the opening 6, this completed 8-game stretch with 7 road games, and this finale of the trilogy) into one massive chunk, which I described thusly:
9 home, 16 road
7 travel back-to-backs
Two-thirds of the way through that massive slog, and things feel good. So the storyline is simple: SEAL. THE. DEAL.
The notable thing about this third is its mix of the other two chunks' difficulties: Road games AND top-tier competition, without undue emphasis on either.
Plus, there's the pace; the first two chunks each included multiple days off in a row, whereas this one has only single days off, plus back-to-backs. 11 games in 19 days.
And more to the point, here's what I put in a reply-to-a-reply in the original posting of my version of the schedule:
That December 12 break, their record should be the worst it’ll be all season.
That “CREAMPUFF” stretch should allow them to recover, adjust, and get calibrated for
the more consistent homestand/road-trip schedule pattern of the last 46 games.
That January 12 game in Chicago to start that four-game eastern swing
should be considered a sort of Game 1 for that 46-game sub-season.
The main thing is that they handle that creampuff stretch appropriately, take whatever happened in the brutal start
and take the opportunity to learn from it all, and become a new team all over again for after January 11.
This is going to shape where they’re at at season’s end, and what they are positioned to do in the playoffs.
I really don’t care where they’re at on December 13.
Wow. Those highlit phrases to bookend this quote just say it all about how great this good start is. I stand by the opener, if not the closer. Where we're at come the end of this next chunk is the BOTTOM for the rest of the season. Believe it.
Okay! - on to the key things to look for:
1) "We're now fully removed from where we were after 3 games, and in a whole new world of not-THE-best, but well better than average, and consistently so: It feels like we'll never be average again, much less 'bad'.": Can we fulfill that? The task this time isn't further progress, but the avoidance of backsliding.Blazers, just confirm everything you seem to be, but weren't as of November 2. Be competitive against the best (Key games: road games at Detroit, Celtics, Utah), win most of the tossups (at Toronto, home games against Hornets and Magic), and sweep the rest (at DC & Knicks, home for Sac, Heat, and Clips).
2) As I alluded to, the chunk AFTER this one is the one I labeled this way:
9 of 11 at home in 30 days
2 home games in 10 days to start
The real danger during this chunk is that we look forward to this soft part of the schedule (especially that "2 home games in 10 days to start") as our BRUTAL START winds to a close: Do we take our eye off the ball near the end? (Key games: The last 3 in 4 days, after the eastern road trip ends.) This is the equivalent of getting outscored massively at the end of the first half, getting caught looking forward to halftime.
3) Come December 12, how is Martell doing? I expect a return date to be identified by then; dream case scenario, he's back right around then. More likely, we start looking forward to his return.
4) How's Quality Pie doing? Let's just say things are changing at this end of the wire. My status in relation to both The Bedge and the Blazers is poised to change a heckuvalot (a good-news/bad-news picture if ever there was one); by December 12, I'll probably be more open about that. But not now.
(Next update: December 13)