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The Winning Edge

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Reader Chip left a nice note in my inbox over the weekend talking about the site and asking a simple question:  "What's the single biggest thing the Blazers need in order to succeed in the coming season?"

After a summer full of rumors, moves, draft picks. contracts, and more opinions on more subjects than I can recall from any off-season ever you're probably expecting an esoteric answer.  "Integrating Andre Miller" or "Making Oden comfortable in the pick and roll" or "Shifting responsibility for screen defense" would all be acceptable answers.  There are probably a dozen more available as well.  But the one I'm going to pick is the same one I started the off-season with.  One word...

Confidence.

This team has talent. This team is growing in experience.   A few odd pieces aside, this team fits well together as well.  Those are great qualities.  But the best quality of all may be their expression and enforcement of their will.  I've seen the Blazers lose games because they were fatigued, outmatched, or simply caught by surprise on a given night.  Those are part and parcel of growing up in the NBA.  But I've not seen this team beat itself very often.  I've not seen this team accept losing or pile unacceptable losses on top of understandable ones.  There's something intangible about this team, an aura that permeates it.  That aura radiates winning.  You can knock them left or right. Sometimes you can even stop them in their tracks.  But they don't go backwards.  They don't fall apart.  They don't surrender.  They feel like they were born to win.

This is not a common quality.  Before Bill Walton went down the '77 team had it.  You never asked questions about that squad.  You just knew they would take care of business.  I loved the Clyde teams, but looking back on that era with some perspective (and retroactively examining how I processed things then) I now understand that the early '90's Blazers, even while amassing an astonishing victory total, didn't have that aura of invincibility.  They won and won and won...until they lost.  Once they started losing they had a hard time getting it back.  This didn't show up in the regular season much, as they were clearly better than nearly every team they played.  But we saw it in spades in those critical playoff series.  If you hit those teams squarely in the nose they'd turn back.  The same could be said of the late '90's Rasheed-Damon-Pippen squad.  They were great but they weren't made of steel.  They could, and did, fracture in the face of harder competitors.

We have not yet seen the Brandon Roy Blazers retreat.  They've lost.  By winning percentage they haven't proven themselves to be at the level of any of the teams just mentioned.  But every season, every month, sometimes from game to game, they've grown.  And they've refused to let anyone or anything get in the way of that growth.  There's something about them that just screams "winning".  As long as they keep that air they're going to do inceredibly well once the other factors that leave them short of the competition (experience mostly at this point) even out. 

The Blazers have a history of finding a way to lose.  This team has been nursed on finding ways to win.  If they retain that pattern and their confidence they're going to be just fine no matter what the answers to all of those other questions turn out to be.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)