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 fourth 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.
First things first: Hello from lovely Portland, Oregon! It's good to be home. I can say no more without going on about it at documentary length. Suffice to say it's been emotionally riveting. Also, if any Bedgers were at The Agency tonight around 5:00 to 6:00, I was the chap at the end of the bar with the Timbers Army scarf and the black shirt with "ODEN" scrawled on it with a bleach pen (drawn in a drunken fit the night of the 2007 draft lottery).
Next, the format of these reviews is gonna change a lot starting now; the first four chunks were long stretches of 6, 8, 11, and 11 games, and the rest of the season is comprised of alternating road trips of 3-5 games and homestands (well, usually stretches with a single road game in the middle of a bunch of home games) of 4-7 games. As such, the chunks are gonna be much less of a journey of the team revealing some level of growth and development, and more just a simple how many games we won and lost, and change in the standings. These reviews will be more frequent, less analytical, more like a balance statement on the account.
Onward! Here's what I had to say in advance of the past month's worth of games:
9 of 11 at home in 30 days
2 home games in 10 days to start
A lot of you called me on the carpet for that CP word, and you all turned out to be correct: This stretch was murderous in the quality of the opponents. Two things made this stretch much harder than I had anticipated: Brandon Roy missed four games (of which we lost two), and Dallas and New Orleans were playing at a much higher level recently than they were for the first month or two of the season. My sense of how tough they'd be to beat was sadly outdated, based on early-season struggles for those two teams which ended weeks ago. Those two teams (like San Antonio) are much tougher now than they were before Thanksgiving, and they got Rose Garden wins to show for their improvement.
So, I expected us to lose 2 or 3 games in this stretch, and we lost four instead. Still, not bad, especially considering that, yes, New Orleans and Dallas are, right now, top-tier (if sub-L[xxx]r) conference rivals, as good as Phoenix and Utah were during the early-season stretch where they went a combined 4-0 against us.
Of course, we did have two extremely killer wins, both in our Royless stretch: The Boston game (less impressive now, in light of Boston's performance lately - they've gone in the opposite direction from Dallas' and New Orleans' improvements lately), and Detroit (who, in contrast, are also much better lately than they were a few weeks ago).
Certainly, viewing this past chunk, you gotta notice less that we played without Roy and won two great games without him but went .500 overall, and pay more attention to the fact that the injury happened, the games were missed, he's back, end of episode. Based on how last night's game went, you know that as of now, this team is in the same state as if the hammy thing never happened. We're rather used to things like Oden's missed season and Martell's aborted comeback, where when a player re-enters the lineup after missing time with an injury, the recovery is still a story. With Brandon, it's not, and it takes a conscious effort to not treat him as a Blazer Returning From An Injury. He's not - he's just Brandon Roy, same as ever.
The rest of my analysis was more focused on how much downtime at home we had; in 30 days, we had 11 games and 4 travel hops (IF one doesn't include the flight to Chicago, which probably happens tomorrow) - that leaves FIFTEEN of the thirty days between December 12 and tomorrow as days off at home. So, I expected the team to go into semi-training camp mode, do a lot of practicing, get healthy, spend some off-court time gelling as teammates, and taking the lessons of the hectically paced first 1 1/2 months and pressing reset, approaching the "January 12 game in Chicago to start that four-game eastern swing" as "a sort of Game 1 for that 46-game sub-season." As far as that goes, I can't really look back at the past month's events and judge how well that's been accomplished; only the performance from here (all season long, not unduly applied to the next few games or anything), and ESPECIALLY our state at season's end going into the playoffs, will tell how wisely we spent this past month as prep for 46 games-plus-playoffs.
Lastly, the whole idiotic Darius thing doesn't enter the picture when I look back at how this past chunk went. Not an aspect AT ALL.
On to the next chunk (and here's where the shift to shorter chunks, with less to analyze and less development to expect, ensues for the rest of the season):
EASTERN ROAD TRIP
Jan. 12 - @Bulls
14 - @Philly
15 - @NJ
First of all, these are NOT GOOD TEAMS - New Jersey was apparently a Good Team earlier this season, and Devin Harris is still a flat-out stud, but the impression lately has been that they're not actually "good", they're just surprisingly not actually "bad", or maybe just not AS bad as we thought they'd be. With the current state of the Western Conference, we're not used to the concept of neither-good-nor-bad; we're used to one KILLING team, 8 good teams, and six bad teams, no middle ground. New Jersey is in that middle ground - and the other three teams are BAD.
1) Can we win on the road? We're right back to where we were at the beginning of the second chunk, when I asked in advance, "Did we learn to win on the road?" Well, back then, when we had 7 out of 8 games on the road, we went 4-3 after having gone 0-3 to start the season. Similarly, at this point we haven't won a road game in over a month, since the December 7 win in Toronto. Of course, we've only PLAYED 3 road games in that stretch, losing them all, but to teams we would be expected to lose to, at least in THEIR cribs (Utah, Denver, and the L[xxx]rs), just like our opening 0-3 road stretch was at the L[xxx]rs, Phoenix, and Utah. And just like then, our ability to (re)learn how to win on the road in the coming stretch presents us with less imposing competition. And speaking of which . . .
2) Can we beat the teams we're supposed to beat? The take-care-of-business look of last night is a good sign. Road issues aside, this road trip is just four sequels to that Pyrite State game. What we did last night, do it again, do it, do it, do it 'til you're satisfied.
As I said, from here, these chunk review/preview posts need to be less analysis and more like an account statement. So, here are some numbers that will be in every chunk review/preview from here on in:
Record at the start of this next chunk: 22-14
Western Conference 2-through-9 standings, in "Team names ( games out of second )" format (I expect this 8-teams/7-playoff-spots situation to last all season long, unless the L[xxx]rs come back to the pack, in which case it just changes to showing 1-through-9 standings):
Spoors, Nougats ( - )
New Orleans ( 1/2 )
Houston ( 1 1/2 )
Portland, Phoenix ( 2 )
Utah, Dallas ( 2 1/2 )
In all chunk review posts to follow, I'll post these data sets from before AND after the just-ended chunk, and compare the change (heck, given the small chunks, I may not do much more than that). Also, I'll throw in a third piece of data:
Combined record of opponents in the upcoming chunk: 65-84 (.436)
See you all with the next Sked Update in a week, on the 18th.