(Note: This was written after the Sac O' Mentos game, but represents a pre-Sac viewpoint. As such, the lovely results of that beatdown are not considered in the following observations.)
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. The third chunk has just come to an end, so it's time for a Chunk review, where I note the performance of that section and identify the next Chunk.
This one comes a little differently, as the end of the third chunk is, more largely, the end of a 3-chunk mega-hard opening stretch I called "BRUTAL START: 9 home, 16 road, 7 travel back-to-backs".
Oct. 28 - @L[xxx]rs
31 - Spoors
Nov. 1 - @PHX
5 - @Utah
6 - Houston
10 - @Magic
12 - @Miami
14 - @ N.O.
15 - @Minny
18 - @GS
19 - Bulls
21 - @Sac
22 - @PHX
THIRD CHUNK (What I'm reviewing most here):
24 - Sac - W
26 - Miami - W
28 - N.O. - W
30 - @Detroit - W
Dec. 2 - @Nix - W
3 - @DC - W
5 - @Celts - L
7 - @TO - W
9 - Magic - L
11 - @Utah - L
12 - Clips - L
Obviously, the 3-game skid at the end colors the story. But overall, here's what I had to say in advance of the third chunk:
1) 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 for three on the first point (beat Detroit, kinda competed at Utah, didn't compete in Boston), totally good on the second point (won 2 of the three), and a Clippers barf shy of fulfilling the third point. Really, mission accomplished overall; don't let the 3-loss clump distract you from the overall pattern.
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.
NOW we're talkin'! Let me repeat that: Key games: The last 3 in 4 days, after the eastern road trip ends. I called my shot here.
And in the overall 3-chunk BRUTAL START, it's clear that we finally GOT TIRED. Well, of course, and why not? And know this: It ain't gonna get the opportunity to happen again. We will never see as exhausting a schedule as that, let alone for a month-and-a-half stretch.
Between games, we had 3 days off once (with travel), 2 days off twice (both with travel), 1 day off 14 times(11 times with travel), and NO days off (always with travel) seven times.
That's right: Back-to-back home games only 3 times, each time with only a single day off.
And but well then so YEAH, we hit the wall. I can't believe there's any meaningful analysis of what we did wrong in the space of 4 days, where we lost 3 times (twice barely at home). Forget it! The schedule killed us! And we let it affect us for the last 4 days! Nooooooooo BIGGIE. And now it is O-V-E-R. Totally irrelevant to the rest of the season, and to the status of this team as of the morning of December 13. Consider it a who-killed-JR-type dream sequence, mkay? Mkay.
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.
Eeesh. Not good. We'll be back to this November-24 point sometime around Obama's inauguration. Sorry, Martell. It would've been nice to hit this stretch with your imminent return as part of the scenery. Try again in a month.
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.
Here. And you can add to that a date: I'll be rolling back into Portland on January 9th.
And I just want to emphasize that the point was NOT intended to be a venting of my troubles, but to say that soon, I'll be posting at the Bedge a lot less, but I will be amongst all you fine, fine Portlanders. See you on the street rather than here.
THE LOOK AHEAD:
9 of 11 at home in 30 days
2 home games in 10 days to start
Dec. 16 - Sac
18 - PHX
22 - @Denver
23 - Denver
25 - Dallas
27 - TO
30 - Celts
Jan. 2 - N.O.
4 - @L[xxx]rs
7 - Detroit
10 - GS
Look back at my summary of between-game breaks over the first 25 games above. Compare to this. ONE back-to-back with travel, and our opponent will be in the same boat. 30 days, 11 games, 9 at home. I can't even fathom the difference.
Some individual things to look for:
1) ENERGY. With our depth, we outlasted a lot of teams back when our schedule was brutal. Now, with rest and rehab? Now's the time for some serious up-tempo pacing and hard, physical banging. Every opponent we see in this month should be totally gassed by the start of the fourth quarter. Physical AND fast: Learn it, live it, love it.
2) Practice, practice, PRACTICE. With so many days off at home, we should spend some time back in training camp mode, working on things like defensive rotations, more complex offensive sets, emphasis on team play and gelling. By January 11, we should be a smoother, more practiced, more complex team.
2a) There should be some non-basketball downtime at home as well; I hope our Blazers find the time during the holidays to not just get re-acquainted with their homes and families, but get to know each other a bit better as non-basketball friends and family. I want to see Blazers going bowling together, visiting each other's homes for holiday dinners, taking up a whole row at the Laurelhurst Theater to see A Christmas Story or I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. Blazer teammates = BFF!
3) DON'T BACKSLIDE. The big danger is that we start getting lazy and/or out of shape. This is kinda an extensio of point 2); Nate needs to keep the team busy and ballin'. But the temptation to get into off-season mode may be there, and maybe just subconsciously, the unthinking reaction to a dramatic drop in physical demands. This is how muscles tighten and sprain.
4) We have some tough games. This time, we can gear up for them very individually, the way a team gears up for a playoff series. Specific games: Phoenix, Boston, L[xxx]rs. I WANT REVENGE. We can be ready for these great teams in a way we couldn't be on October 28, November 1, November 22, and December 5.
Basically, it's time to remake this now learned and experienced team; here's how I put it in a reply-to-a-reply in the original sked post:
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.
That's it, right there. Back to pre-season form, but with experience and a set rotation. Our REAL season starts on January 12, and is only 46 games long. That's the way to get ready for the playoffs. The first 25 games was the Beta prototype of the 08-09 Blazers, and this next chunk is the debugging and improvement. Press reset, and create "08-09 Blazers 2.0".
Last but not least, I'll be coming home at the end of this chunk. Back with the next update from a Portland computer on January 11!