- 1st team in NBA history to start the season against 5 straight 50 win teams from the previous year (4 on the road)
- 16 of 24 on the road (66%, highest in NBA)
- 6 back-to-backs, all with at least one road game involved
- One 4 week span that includes 2 5-game road trips and only 4 total home games
- Road games include trips to: Boston, Detroit, New Orleans, Phoenix (twice), Orlando, Utah (twice) and the lakers; while home dates welcomed the likes of: San Antonio, Houston, New Olreans, Orlando and Miami
If that's not the toughest first 24 games in the NBA history, it's gotta be in the running. To start a season off with that stretch of games would likely humble the most veteran of teams, but to thrust this gauntlet on the 2nd youngest team in the league (and still one of the youngest in NBA history) is downright cruel.
I was truly hoping for a 1-4 start, and 10-12 wins over the first 24. That would put them in the "do-able" situation of needing to find 34-32 wins in their last 58 games (55-58%) to hit the 46 wins I thought it'd take to sneak into the playoffs in the West. With such a young and talented group of players, it seemed logical that the Blazers would improve throughout the season, and start hitting their stride once the schedule lightened up, and Greg Oden got his sea-legs. Even with the ups and downs of a young team, winning a little over half their games down the stretch seemed reasonable.
That made for a relatively simple plan of action: Simply survive the first 24, then make your run down the stretch.
Well, to say the Blazers have "survived" their first 24 games would be the understatement of the year in the NBA. With 22 games in the books, the Blazers are sitting comfortably in 2nd place out West, with a sparkling 15-7 record. They are undefeated at home (7-0) and have a winning record on the road (8-7). Those 2 5-game roadies? Passed with flying colors, having amassed a tidy little 7-3 record in those 10 games. With 2 games left in the hellish first 24, the Blazers are assured of finishing no worse than 15-9. .500 be damned.
Now, in order to meet that 46 win plateau I had hoped for in October, the Blazers must win 31 of their final 60, or just about half. Considering the 34 remaining home dates and the Blazers new-found comfort on the road, I'd be absolutely flabbergasted if they don't reach that mark.
Of course, it's still quite early in the season, and things are bound to change drastically. In fact, with the Nuggets acquiring Chauncey Billups, they already have. Now, the Nuggets (who seemed destined for the #9 spot coming into the season) are looking like legit contenders, and with Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio refusing to go away, 50 wins is once again looking like the magic number out West.
So, with roughly 1/4 of the schedule in the books, there's still a lot of basketball left to be played, and we've only just begun sorting out the playoff picture in the wild wild West. Trades will be made, injuries will (unfortunately) occur, and countless big shots will be made. Because, just like last year, the Western Conference should be a dogfight, all the way down to the final days. Until then, uncertainty will reign supreme.
But, at the quarter pole of NBA season, there is one thing that can be said for certain: The Portland TrailBlazers have arrived as one of the Western elite, and they've brought with them a suitcase, a sleeping bag and a toothbrush. Let's just say, they're planning on staying for a while.