Well, we all got what we wished for and it doesn’t look good.
In the final scrum for playoff positioning, no Blazer fan on earth wanted to face the Utah Jazz, instead we anointed the Suns as our ideal suitor. But now, on the eve of the postseason’s opening game, it’s hard not to have a little case of buyer’s remorse. The Suns are the hottest team in the NBA and to face them without Brandon Roy is a scenario that will test the faith of even the most devoted Blazers fan.
After last season’s brief playoff run—one where the Houston Rockets left a naive Blazers team bruised and battered (and eliminated)—Portland was pining for a first round opponent that would not exploit the Blazers’ finesse—or pillowy soft—style of play. The Suns are that team. But while Phoenix won’t toss any elbows they often lull opponents into a sense of competitive complacency. Since the All-Star break, the Suns have been rolling; combining their usual offensive dominance with a newfound defensive flair. Phoenix won’t lock Portland down defensively, but the Suns are more than capable of holding the Blazers south of the 40% mark from the field (they did just that in their 94-87 win on March 21st by zoning up). On offense, well, let’s just say this is a team that can make a former Blazers bench player (that would Channing Frye) into one of the NBA’s best deep threats. The Suns lead all teams in offensive rating, and have the only player not from French Lick who can average 50-40-90 (shooting percentages for field goals, threes, and free-throws, respectively) in Steve Nash.
For Portland to win—something they really can do, even if the only expert who concurs with us is the Abbott family—they’ll need to win the battle of pace (tortoise vs hare?), control the boards, prevent Amare Stoudemire from getting too close to the rim, and find someone to score consistently in order to make up for the massive gap left vacant by the absence of Brandon Roy. Redundant statement alert: It won’t be easy.
If one thing is for certain in this series, it’s that Stoudemire is going to go try and go “Full Hedo” against the Blazers. Much like Turkoglu used last year’s postseason to woo gullible GM’s into writing him a regrettably large check, Stoudemire has a little extra motivation to posterize the Blazers under the basket over the next four-to-seven games. The future free agent can pad his bank account with a standout playoff performance (granted, he’ll probably have to put on a Knicks jersey to get that payday). Stoudemire has an opt-out year with the Suns to the tune of a little less than $18 million, but if she shines in postseason, he’ll get even more than that. Speaking of incredible numbers, the Blazers best not forget about Nash.
While veteran leadership has been invaluable for the Blazers, with the exception of Camby, this is still a team desperate for playoff experience. Nash alone has spent more time in the postseason than all Blazers not named Camby combined. Want one final heroic dose of stress before tipoff? The Blazers are one gimpy Marcus Camby ankle away from starting Juwan Howard.
So it looks dire. This is a series that can just as easily be a four game Suns sweep as it can be a Blazers victory in seven. But in a season where bad luck has come in unrelenting waves, the Blazers have always found a way to be resilient and to endure. Portland has had nothing to lose ever since Greg Oden hit the floor in November, and because of that they’ve found a way to win again and again. Let’s see if this tenacity can extend to four more wins.