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April 13th, 2011 CASEY JARMAN | Sports
 

Men In The Middle

Can the Blazers finally escape the first round?

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As the Trail Blazers prepare this week for their third consecutive playoff appearance, Portland seems poised to make a push for postseason success thanks to the midseason addition of Gerald Wallace. Getting out of the first round in the Western Conference for the first time since 1999 is a big deal because the team this summer must reassess a roster loaded with oft-injured players and veterans with uncertain futures. But while the Blazers appear to have their best shot at advancing to the second round in the Nate McMillan era, it’s also looking like kind of a clusterfuck. Below, we assess the team’s most likely opponents (as of WW’s Tuesday afternoon press deadline).


SAN ANTONIO 

Record against Portland: 1-3

Key Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller have both had big games in wins over the veteran Spurs. It’s that one-two punch that would help the Blazers upset San Antonio.

The story: During the Kevin Pritchard era, the Blazers tried to emulate the Spurs’ international scouting and focus on team chemistry. Beating San Antonio would be total student-becomes-the-teacher material.


DALLAS 

Record against Portland: 2-2

Key Blazers: At times this season, Aldridge has made perennial All-Star Dirk Nowitzki look like a punk. But it would take strong guard play—including Brandon Roy, who was dreamy against the Mavs in March—to match Jason Terry and J.J. Barea.

The story: This is widely viewed as Portland’s best-case scenario, but we can’t stop thinking of the tumultuous seven-game series from 2003, the last time these two teams met in the first round. Dallas won, remember?


LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Record against Portland: 3-1

Key Blazers: In the Blazers’ sole victory against the Lakers last week, Wallace bullied Lamar Odom and Ron Artest. The Blazers would need him to be huge in the playoffs.

The story: Despite the Lakers’ limping to the finish line, the smart money is on vastly improved play by Los Angeles in the postseason. Still, a Blazer upset would mean bragging rights as “Laker killers” for years to come. I say bring ’em on.


OKLAHOMA CITY 

Record against Portland: 3-1

Key Blazers: Wallace, who scored 40 on OKC in March, and Nic Batum, who’s had some success stopping star Kevin Durant, who could’ve been a Blazer if not for the Greg Oden pick.

The story: While Portland and OKC usually play competitive games—the Blazers lost three games to the Thunder this season by a combined 12 points—this is a very young, improving team that nearly upset the Lakers last year. Besides, Blazer fans certainly don’t need reminders of Durant’s success. 

 
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