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 first chunk has just come to an end, so it's time for the first Chunk review, where I note the performance of that section and identify the next Chunk.
Oct. 28 - @L[xxx]rs [TNT] : Severe LOSS
31 - Spoors [ESPN] : Decent WIN
Nov. 1 - @PHX : Pretty bad LOSS
5 - @Utah : LOSS that could've been a win
6 - Houston [TNT] : Close exhilarating WIN
8 - Minny : WIN
Record for the Chunk: 3-3 (0-3 away, 3-0 at home)
Record overall: 3-3
Record of the teams that beat us: 14-3 (11-3 outside of our games, 11-6 if we had won those)
Record of the teams we beat: 6-11 (6-8 outside of our games, 9-8 if we had lost those)
I'm not concerned with a game-by-game breakdown, so I'm not going there; suffice to say, hunt down Dave & Ben's post-game reviews for that. But I do want to note the overall play of the team, AND note the change in the team's play between the start of the Chunk and the end of it.
First, this: Three times, we played a great team (top 5 playoff seed last year, top-3 conference record right now) in THEIR BUILDING, and got smoked each time. But the extent of our smoking got milder with each successive occurrence. Conclusions: We're not up there with the big boys, but we're learning the art of hanging with them, getting closer to playing as their equal with each try. (Either that, or the opponents were successively weaker, that L.A. is superior to Phoenix, who in turn are better than the Jazz. I could see that. But I don't.)
The message sent by the other three games (trend: We Won Our Home Games, against a variety of three opponents) depends partly on what you make of San Antonio circa Autumn 2008. Me? I think they're done. Maybe they come back, but right now, they are a Bad Team. I'm not taking too much from our win over them, except to put it in the category of "game we should have won, and we did." In other words, not much different from the last home game against Minnesota. But that's just my suspicion; best idea would be to not know what that win says about us, other than our resiliency from a tough L[xxx]rs loss .
And by the way, that is a HUGE deal. Combined with our Houston rebound from the Suns/Jazz losses (and our good first three quarters at Utah after the tough Suns loss), we seem to have great resiliency, in how we bounce back from tough losses. Winning streaks are nice; the lack of losing streaks is even nicer. If this bounce-back-from-a-loss character gets confirmed, it's gonna be a GOOD season. At the end of the season, let's try to remember this, and look back and take note of what our longest losing streak this year ends up as, and what our record after losses is (so far, we're 2-1, but the one loss saw us open the game just fine; we just couldn't finish).
But the other two home wins (the games that close this Chunk) show a wonderful thing, winning home games the way true contenders do. For one, we squeezed out a win in a tossup against a REALLY good team, and for the other, we had an off night, teased a mediocre team into thinking it could hang with us (at least for one night) before winning ugly; I'm especially proud of this analysis, which got totally buried because I posted it at halftime on the first-half thread, not realizing that the second-half thread was up and running and already going 68 posts deep. But I urge you: READ THAT POST. Coming from the at-the-half context, I think those observations are huge.
End result: We started the Chunk as total pretenders, choking up in the face of Big-Game-Ness, and ended it beating two teams at home exactly the way we're used to getting beat.
OVERALL LEVEL CHECK: Contender, but sub-power; comparable to where the Wizards and Nuggets have been on average the past few years.
PROGRESS CHECK: Fantastic (in my opinion)
THE LOOK FORWARD:
10 - @Magic
12 - @Miami
14 - @ N.O.
15 - @Minny
18 - @GS
19 - Bulls [ESPN]
21 - @Sac
22 - @PHX
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)
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.)
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.
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)?
Next post-Chunk installment: Sunday, November 23, two weeks from tonight.