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How Far, How Fast?

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So...if you listened to yesterday's podcast (the post right below) you heard Gavin Dawson explain his reasoning for thinking the Blazers could make the NBA Finals this year.  No fuss, no muss, no waiting in line.  With the season approaching fast it seems like time to address that topic, so let's throw it open.

Assume that the lineup through most of the season will be as you see it today.  There is probably a move left somewhere in the first half of the season but we don't know what that will be yet so we can't forecast that into our discussion.  How far do you expect the Blazers to go this season?

A big issue for me is the seed Portland is able to grab.  If the Blazers are in the top four again I expect they'd get to the second round. They're not likely to be ambushed again as they were in Game 1 of last year's Houston series.  That moment swayed the proceedings in so many ways.  The Blazers should be able to defend the homecourt and vanquish at least one opponent, no matter who that opponent may be.

I think the Blazers have a reasonable chance of grabbing the division title, undoubtedly the easiest way to ensure a good bracket position.  Failing that the worries come less from who's in front than who's behind.  Dallas and New Orleans are the teams to watch.  Both have picked up new players whom they hope will return them to near-elite status.  I'm not sure that will work for either squad, but if one of them catches lightning in a bottle the Blazers could be in for a rougher fight than many assume.

Nevertheless, a series win is the clear goal with the Conference Finals being a possibility.  I don't believe the team has enough experience either in absolute or playoff terms to dethrone the L*kers, especially since Portland would almost certainly lack homecourt advantage in that matchup.  So the ride would probably end whenever those two teams met.  Any other upper-echelon Western Conference opponent I'd give the Blazers a chance against...maybe not an even chance exactly, but enough of one to sustain hope.

Failing to grab a top seed would be disappointing and bowing out in the first round again would be a setback.  This team has not yet failed to reach any reasonable goal to which they set their minds.  I wouldn't want to see them start this year.

What are your thoughts on the matter?  How far do you expect the Blazers to go, understanding that expectations are distinct from hopes and wishes?  Weigh in below.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)