Dane Carbaugh of Sporting News believes that there are several reasons that this year's Portland Trail Blazers are contenders.
He writes of the way the Trail Blazers seem to have several players that have stepped up when the team needs them, with the latest example being the three point shooting of Wesley Matthews and, in particular, what his early fourth quarter corner-three did to the Charlotte Hornets. Here's what it looked like.
From there, the Hornets were out of gas. The Trail Blazers had pulled out a double-digit lead by midway through the quarter with the help of shots from Damian Lillard, Chris Kaman and Robin Lopez.
"We've got a lot of guys that can get hot, a lot of guys who can carry a team on any given night," said Matthews.
Another reason, he says, for the Trailblazer's rise to prominence this year is the bench, especially the tall bearded-guy:
Kaman -- Portland's big offseason signing -- has been a force down low. Compared to the last three seasons, the former All-Star is shooting an additional 11 percent of his shots in the eight feet surrounding the basket, leading to a sky-high 52.7 percent from the floor.
Then there's the young guys improvement along with the trust of their coach:
The Trail Blazers have also benefited from the natural growth of their young players. Allen Crabbe has been given a green light to let if fly by Terry Stotts, and CJ McCollum and even Meyers Leonard look much more comfortable in the minor roles they've played. Combined with the ever-solid Joel Freeland, Portland's bench has been unthinkably serviceable. You might even call them... good.
Carbaugh suggests that too much should not be made of a loss to a good team the day after a holiday (he must be clairvoyant since he wrote the story before the game between Memphis and Portland, although he did say "if they lose") leading to a nice finish to the story:
What's more important is how we think of Portland when it comes to the discussion for best teams in the West. They've been consistent and as the team has gelled under Stotts so too have they seemingly quelled their custom concerns from last season in terms of defense and bench reliability.
The West is tough, but Matthews' performance in Charlotte on Wednesday was a reminder that Portland is a tough out no matter what. Even further, it's probably time to call the Trail Blazers what they are: Contenders.