Ever since the 2007 draft, the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder (RIP Sonics) have been connected. That's just what happens when two of the most hyped prospects come out of college the same year. Fans from both cities had visions of Conference Finals showdowns for years as both franchises were heralded as the teams of the future.
We don't need to go over what happened next. Suffice it to say the Thunder got the red carpet with home run draft picks and nearly perfect health, and the Blazers got the carpet pulled out from under them. I, for one, have held on to an irrational bitterness as a result, but those metaphors have shifted these past two years. Perhaps the basketball gods haven't left Portland for the bible belt after all.
That turn of fate is most evident in the ten game lead the Blazers currently enjoy over their division rivals and Kevin Durant's custom tailored suits. Unfortunately, it's still a little too early to declare victory. When both Durant and Westbrook played, the Thunder won 74% of their games last year, an absolutely elite rate. Playing at that pace would put the Thunder at 52 wins for the season, setting a reasonable bar for the Blazers.
The Blazers would only need to win 56% of their remaining games to take the division title. Sounds easy until you remember that last year, the Blazers finished the season 30 and 23 (57%) after a 24-5 start. In other words, if the rest of the season goes like it did last year, the division is gonna be decided by a measly game or two.
But will these trends continue like they did last year? There's evidence on both sides. The Thunder are probably a bit better with the improvement of Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams' expanded role, and the addition of Anthony Morrow. It's easy to argue the Thunder can beat their 74% pace once they get healthy. Yes, the entire West has improved but a breakneck 80% winning percentage would certainly be possible.
The Blazers are also clearly better with a top five defense for the first time in ages. The worry is that a portion of this success has been propped up by the second easiest schedule in the league. Since Oklahoma City plays in the same division, they'll have roughly the same strength of schedule at the end of the year. The Blazers' cupcake competition so far means they'll have a much harder road the rest of the way compared to OKC.
Certainly, Portland is in a good spot and the division title is theirs to lose (and if Durant misses many more games it might just take care of itself). However, the Blazers can't afford a second half regression like they had last year. The Thunder are still a sleeping giant and everyone needs to keep the champagne chilled and the confetti unpopped a little while longer.
Or better yet, use it tonight. No matter what, 2015 is looking like a great year to be a Blazer.