Because the Blazers played only 2 games since our last weekly stock watch, we're switching up this week and doing a general review of the season so far.
After the red hot start for the Portland Trail Blazers last season, many analysts said that it was not repeatable. Portland did not have to deal with major injuries, they played a weak schedule, teams were unprepared. The same excuses to explain why Portland would fall back to Earth and finish outside the Top-5 in the Western Conference were played over and over.
So much for that logic. Despite missing LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez for extended periods of time, the Blazers started this year just as hot as last season. The bench has more depth than last season, Wesley Matthews has taken another step forward into the "star" category from "starter", and the team chemistry is as strong as it has ever been.
With the calendar switched over to the new year, here is the good and the bad in review for the first half of the 2014-2015 season.
Best Win: (Tie) Monday, December 15th and Friday, December 19th versus San Antonio
You could certainly vote for the Blazers absolute obliteration of the Denver Nuggets on November 12th, or the heart-attack inducing comeback win versus Oklahoma City on December 23rd. I voted for the two-game sweep over the Spurs for the same reason Rockets fans rejoiced in the Blazers loss in Houston on December 22nd: it helps exorcise the demons from last year. San Antonio dominated the Blazers in the Western Conference Semi-Finals last year, so to take one from them at Moda Center, then go into San Antonio and take a second in the same week is a huge statement for this team. Taking the defending champions to three overtimes in the second game was spectacular, a statement win for a team convinced it can go deep in the playoffs this season.
Best Starting Player: LaMarcus Aldridge
Damian Lillard is still a force of nature in the second half. Wesley Matthews has been a one man artillery piece in past weeks. That said, Aldridge is still the valve that the rest of the Portland offense passes through. Many Blazers possessions are simply "give the ball to LaMarcus and let him make whomever is guarding him miserable". He will either back you down and get an easy bucket, back you down before passing to an open three-point shooter, or step away from you and hit a virtually unstoppable mid-range jumper. He has succeeded Dirk Nowitzki as the most dangerous shooter at the power forward position. He is a 43.3% shooter from 16-24 feet, and the only power forwards in the league to shoot more accurately from that distance (minimum four shots per game) are Nowitzki and David West. Aldridge takes a shot and a half more than either of them.
Best Bench Player: Chris Kaman
When the Blazers lost Mo Williams to free agency after last season, there was a great deal of speculation on who would replace the bench scoring. Kaman answered the call, and then some. He scored in double-figures in 12 of his first 16 games. The last Blazers backup center to have that many double-figure games in an entire year was Channing Frye in the 2007-2008 season. Early on in this season, Kaman was blocking shots at a record-setting pace, with the peak being five blocks off the bench November 9th versus Denver. His defensive rebounding has continued to be top-notch even as his shooting has cooled off. With Lopez out and Joel Freeland about to miss some time, Kaman's presence off the bench will help keep the Blazers stable.
Best Moment (So Far): Portland at Oklahoma City, December 23rd, 2014
There are not enough words in the English language to describe the Blazers victory over the Thunder on December 23rd. Down ten points with 1:39 remaining, Portland rallied past Oklahoma City on their home floor for a victory to remember. The technical foul on Russell Westbrook that gave Lillard a three-point play. Lillard's subsequent three to cut the lead to four. Aldridge's four point outburst after a Serge Ibaka miss. Finally, Lillard re-enacting the Houston game winner, this time with the Thunder, to send the game into overtime from 26-feet away. The improbable rally and victory is a defining moment of this year's Blazers, with their tenacity and ability to fight back from even the most dire circumstances. Portland had many fourth quarter rallies this season, but this one was special.
Runner-Up: Portland rallies from 23 down to defeat Charlotte, November 11th, 2014.
Worst Loss: Sunday, November 2nd versus Golden State
Losses do not get much worse than this. Leading the game by one with possession with 25 seconds remaining, only to commit turnovers on back-to-back possessions. The in-bounds play has been an issue for Portland the whole season. If opposing teams can blanket Lillard, the Blazers struggle to find a second option. Matthews dropped the ball out of bounds, Klay Thompson hit a short field goal, and the rest is history. Losing to one of the top teams in the Western Conference is bad, to do it in that fashion is worse, and to have it happen at home is just the icing on a very bitter cake.
Worst Moment (So Far): See Above
Portland has had some bad games thus far. The loss against a Minnesota team missing most of its key players. The loss in Chicago where it felt like the entire universe was conspiring against the Blazers. The pounding in Houston where James Harden won the game and two Golden Globes. The Warriors loss is the worst one. To have the game almost in hand with two of the most accurate free throw shooters in the league at your disposal, only to commit two preventable turnovers and lose is painful beyond words.