Star player Brandon Roy was forced to retire and center Greg Oden is injured as always. Yet the Portland Trail Blazers are the hottest team in the NBA. This could be the year the Blazers finally top the Western Conference elite.
The tandem of Roy and Andre Miller in the backcourt was often criticized, including by the players themselves. The two-year experiment never worked but, rather than choose between the two guards, the team lost both of them this offseason.
Unfortunately, Roy’s oft-injured knees forced him into early retirement. It is a disappointing end to a career full of potential. However, the Blazers are no longer hampered by his large contract. Wesley Matthews has proven more than capable of stepping into his starting role.
The team also signed Jamal Crawford to add some of the offense lost in Roy. Crawford has been described as a one-dimensional player and often considered selfish. He is averaging a solid 12 points in 23 minutes off the bench for the Blazers. More importantly, the 11 year veteran who is on his fifth team, has bought into the team because of the unbelievable chemistry.
“It goes beyond being unselfish,” Crawford told The Oregonian. “You can see that the guys are happy for each other.”
Miller was shipped to Denver in an offseason trade for Raymond Felton, who has been the point guard that coach Nate McMillan always wanted. He is helping the Blazers push the tempo on offense to take advantage of their athleticism.
The Blazers lost their entire starting backcourt from last season but were able to replace them easily. Although they lost their offensive focal point in Roy, they were able to add the depth they need to make it through a shortened season.
With Crawford and athletic swingman Nicolas Batum coming off the bench, the team has one of the best point guard-shooting guard-small forward tandems in the league. The Rhino Craig Smith also provides energy off the bench for the bigs as one of the best players in limited minutes.
The team is holding opposing teams to only 93.7 points per game. Their defense helps them generate easy opportunities on offense.
The Spurs are struggling to stay healthy, the Mavericks have not been able to replace all the talent lost to free agency, and the Lakers are trying to learn a completely new offense. The Blazers have an advantage and it could lead them all the way to the NBA Finals.