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Swearing Off the Playoffs

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If you've read Jason Quick's articles in the last few days, or listened to the Quick Chat, or browsed the posts at this site, or glanced at the poll to the right, you know that after two straight wins against quality teams, the "P" word ("playoffs" for the slow among us) has started to creep into the consciousness of Blazer Nation.

I am not here to rain on anybody's parade.  I think it's wonderful that the team has put us in a position to even begin thinking/dreaming about such things. And I am absolutely ecstatic to hear from Jarrett Jack's lips that the playoffs are his personal goal and what the team is shooting for.  That's exactly as it should be every single year.  It's the only thing that really matters.  So Jarrett, if you're reading, bravo!  And stop reading this post right here.

For the rest of us, though...you do realize that it's overwhelmingly likely that this is just a little upswing in what has already been (and will continue to be) an up and down season, right?  I'm glad that we can almost begin to say "playoffs" with a straight face, but we're still a long way away from actually realizing that goal.  I worry when we get into the manic phase of our fan cycle like this that the inevitable down slide will cause us to rue not having achieved the all-but impossible rather than celebrating that we got to the dreaming stage to begin with.

I can understand why the playoffs might seem within reach based on record alone.  Golden State currently holds the 8-spot with a 26-29 record.  We're 24-32, which doesn't seem that far behind.  But how many teams can make that claim?  There's the Hornets at 26-29 themselves, the Clippers and Timberwolves both at 25-29, Sacramento at 23-30, and Seattle at 21-32, all within a couple of modest winning streaks of being able to lay claim to the prize.  Provided, of course, everybody else in that group loses at the same time.  Therein lies the rub.  If we were the 9th team in the West with this record things might be as close as they seem on the surface.  We'd only need the Warriors to lose while we win.  But each team in between or close adds another level of statistical improbability.  And there are plenty of those teams.  In fact every team in the West but Memphis can make the same claim we are starting to make about the record and the eighth seed.

What's more, I've been around some of the message boards and I guarantee you that people in Los Angeles, Minnesota, Sacramento, and every other one of those cities ARE making those claims at this point.  Each fan base gives their own team a legitimate shot.  Meanwhile each looks at the other teams and finds reasons why they won't be the one.  One of the things that drives me crazy about fandom is when we recognize clearly that something is foolish in our opponents and yet justify it glibly for ourselves.  If you don't think Sacramento and Minnesota are going to make the playoffs (and you can't if you think Portland will) then you really shouldn't think Portland will either.  In the absence of other data the logic that applies to one team's situation should also govern the other teams'.

So what about that extenuating data?

Some have pointed to the schedule as a reason we might make it.  These upcoming two games against Memphis and Seattle seem winnable to most.  In fact some are seemingly chalking them up as won already.  It seems logical since we just beat two much better teams than those.  It's also wrong.  There are no "gimme games" on our schedule.  We're not good enough for that yet.  Not even close.  The team that beat the Jazz and Lakers on consecutive nights is the same team that lost to the Knicks at home by 18 and the Celtics twice.  We are young.  We are radically inconsistent.  Sometimes we're inconsistent to the good, sometimes to the bad, but there's no reason to think that we've turned any kind of corner that isn't going to be turned right back again (at least if our play this year is any indication).  And when it does turn back let's not hear the wailing and moaning as if we had just blown the division lead.  Nothing has changed!  We're getting better, but we're getting better s-l-o-w-l-y.  And it's going to take a lot more time than this to say with confidence that we're going to win any given game against a Memphis or Seattle or New York, let alone be consistent enough to legitimately claim a playoff spot.   Besides, if you look at the various schedules you'll find that we're still far enough out that nobody has that clear of a path home yet.  All of these teams play tough opponents and all play some weaker ones.  We all have relatively similar numbers of games at home and on the road.  It's just a matter of what order these things come in.

The case for the playoffs gets even more fragile when you look at our performance statistically.  Of those seven teams still in rough contention for the last playoff seed (Golden State, Clippers, Minnesota, Sacramento, Seattle, New Orleans/OK, and us) we are last in point differential (and worse than any team in the West outside of Memphis), next-to-last in field goal percentage (the Hornets are worse), and next-to-last in field goal percentage allowed (edging out Seattle by one one-hundredth of a point).  Stats come and go but those are usually pretty good barometers of how strong your team is...especially point differential.  In other words, statistically speaking, every one of those other teams has a better case for arguing they'll be the one to make it than we do.

I am not trying to get down on the team here.  I appreciate how they've played and I'd give two kidneys, my gall bladder, and a couple of eventual children to see us make the playoffs.  But realistically that ain't gonna happen, at least not this year.  And I'd prefer to spend the rest of the year celebrating what we're doing well (which is a lot the last couple of games) rather than measuring by over-aimed standards against other teams that are in a different (and right now probably better) position than we are.  If we end this season winning less than half of our remaining games I refuse to mourn that we didn't get that #8 spot and the privilege of getting obliterated by the Mavericks.   I'd rather concentrate on the fact that even a 33-49 record would be a lot better than most people would have thought we were capable of when the season started.

So unless and until we're in that 9th spot, within a game or two of 8th, and there's nobody in between you're not going to hear me talk much about the playoffs.  

If I'm all wet about that feel free to have at me in the comments.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)