Question of the Day: Which Opponent?

The buzz today is all about which playoff opponent would be best for the Blazers' chances, so we're going to throw that question out for discussion.  If you want to see the possibilities, check out the exhaustive list of outcomes at the end of the Game 82 Preview below.  Depending on the outcome of three games tonight (Warriors-Blazers, Spurs-Mavericks, Suns-Jazz) Portland could face either Dallas, Phoenix, or Utah.  My general view is that the Blazers have dodged the most treacherous opponents:  L.A. and, if healthy, Denver.  Portland won't be favored against any of the remaining three but none is a disaster either.  That's a good outcome.

Though Utah was widely considered among the worst matchups leading up to the playoffs they're probably not as fearsome as their 4-0 regular season sweep over Portland indicates.  Carlos Boozer has gone down with an injury.  Paul Millsap is plenty good but he doesn't manhandle LaMacus Aldridge the way Boozer does.  Also Portland didn't play those games with Marcus Camby on board.  Even with Boozer healthy Camby allows the Blazers the luxury of watching him with Camby, switching Aldridge onto the perimeter-oriented Mehmet Okur.  Even if they go conventional having Camby on the floor gives Aldridge defensive back-up he simply didn't have with Juwan Howard.  Deron Williams is all-world but Utah doesn't have high-scoring wings to overwhelm Portland in Roy's absence.  The Jazz are really at their best with Andrei Kirilenko functional and motivated.  He's been injured as well.  He'll probably return to the playoffs but who knows in what form.  Portland probably wouldn't beat Utah without homecourt advantage but the Blazers could easily win a couple games, maybe pushing for more.

The Blazers have had more regular-season success against Phoenix.  This has led Portland fans to underrate the Suns much as they've overrated the Jazz.  The main advantage Portland has when playing Phoenix is one Antonio Harvey mentioned on the radio this morning:  physicality.  Portland doesn't like it, the Suns don't have a ton of it.   The Suns don't rebound well on the defensive end and the Blazers love offensive rebounds.  Phoenix is also the worst of the four teams in defensive efficiency, ranking 19th in the league where Utah is 11th, Dallas 12th, and Portland 13th.  But the Suns' offense is so overwhelming it's hard to be confident facing them.  Steve Nash isn't a safe matchup for the Blazers.  Even though Miller can overpower him on offense Nash can create enough points to nullify any gain.  Amare Stoudemire has abused Portland in the past, though again you may see a Camby switch-over here, leaving Aldridge on Jarron Collins or the distance-shooting Channing Frye.  Grant Hill and Jason Richardson know what they're doing too, likely better than Portland's wings without Brandon.  Again Portland would certainly win a couple games but over the course of seven the Suns' offense may be too much to contain.

Dallas has the most depth and punch to their lineup of the three opponents.  Portland has done well against Dirk Nowitzki this year and he's the one power forward who doesn't scare LaMarcus.  On the other hand Erick Dampier, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, and Jason Terry can all be a handful.  Dallas is solid on both ends.  About the only thing they don't do well is offensive rebound.  Given Utah's injury concerns Dallas would qualify as the most rounded team of the three.  However Dallas also offers one advantage that the other two don't...or rather lack the potential to exploit a potential Portland disadvantage.  Were I the coach opposing Portland my big red marker would circle Andre Miller's name 92 times on the whiteboard.  Without Brandon Roy who else scores, handles the ball, and makes plays with any regularity from the Blazer backcourt?  Take out Miller and what do the Blazers do?  I would be running play after play for my point guard, making Miller defend (not a bright prospect) and eventually foul.  Miller will either get tired, in foul trouble, get scored on incessantly, or Portland will have to commit help and free up somebody else.  I'd do the same thing if the Blazers switched Miller off of my point.  Whoever he's guarding gets the ball.  Unlike Nash and Williams, Jason Kidd does not present the same kind of threat when operating naturally in the Dallas offense.  Were I Portland I might even live with Kidd taking tons of shots.  Perhaps Jason Terry too if that's how they went.  Both eventualities take the ball out of Dirk Nowitzki's hands.  Even though Dallas may be the best team of the three, I think Portland's results against them would look similar to the other two.

What are your thoughts?  Which team provides the greatest chance of a Blazer breakthrough?  Is that the same team that would be the best matchup on average?  Who do you want and why?  Vote and comment below.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)  

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