Thursday, February 21, 2008

Opposing View: 2/21 at Portland

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, we hear from's Casey Holdahl, whom I've been reading on three different sites for years now. Check out Casey's Center Court blog, Mike Barrett's world-famous blog and's preview of tonight's game. After you've finished that, Blazers Edge is one of the net's finest team blogs and don't forget to stop by the Behind the Beat blog by Oregonian beat writers Jason Quick and Joe Freeman.

How exciting was Brandon Roy's All-Star performance for Blazers fans?
I think the stellar performance that Brandon Roy had in the All-Star game was just icing on the cake. Being a first-timer, we all kind of expected that Brandon would get a few token minutes here and there, so it was a real pleasant surprise to see Roy get as much run as he did. And for Brandon to make as much of a mark as he did in those minutes was about as gratifying as anything a Portland player has done in recent memory.

When Brandon was announced as an All-Star reserve, it seemed like a weight had been lifted off the city. Roy making the All-Star game was validation and recognition of the turnaround that we’ve been fostering here in Portland. I think Blazer fans tend to feel a little slighted by the media, probably due to being up here in the Northwest and in a smaller market, so to get that respect on a national stage was eminently gratifying.

How, if at all did the winning streak change expectations in Portland?
The streak was a bit of a dual-edged sword. It was obviously a great thing for the team and the fans, but in a way, it might have given the Blazer faithful a false sense of what to expect from the team this season. Winning 13 games in a row is impressive no matter how you slice it, but it’s still just a little more than a fifteenth of the entire season.

As far as expectations go, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a lot of fans assumed we’d be playoff bound after the streak ended. As the season wears on though, I think people here in Portland are seeing that a lot can happen, both good and bad, throughout the course of 82 games. Are fans still excited about the possibility of making the playoffs? Absolutely, but they’re also patient and smart enough to realize that it’s not the end of the world if the youngest team in the NBA doesn’t make the postseason.

What's been the most surprising aspect of this season?
There have been quite a few surprises this year. I don’t think anyone was sure how the team would respond to losing their leading scorer and rebounder, so the fact that the Blazers are a better team this season is in and of itself at least a little surprising.

I also think people assumed that Brandon Roy might have had a bit of a sophomore slump, especially considering that he’s the focus of every opposing team’s gameplan, but the exact opposite has happened. At the start of the season I think even the most hardcore fans would have told you that Brandon is a great player, but maybe not of superstar caliber. Now I don’t think anyone doubts that Roy has the makings of a Hall of Fame career.

And I can’t talk about surprises without mentioning the play of Travis Outlaw. He showed flashes of what he could do at the end of last season, but he’s really come on strong this year. His maturation from this time last year has been the biggest surprise for me. I think he’s a legit contender for Sixth Man and Most Improved.

How has James Jones' injury affected the Blazers?
It’s impossible to overstate how important James Jones is to this team. There are a fair amount of people who would argue that James’ return to the lineup at about the 17-game mark is what really spurred the winning streak. His outside shooting and ability to spread the floor in the second unit give the Blazers an entirely different look. But James might most be missed for his calming presence on the floor and on the bench. He just doesn’t get rattled. Up by 20 or down by 20, James Jones is the exact same presence on the court.

The thing about James Jones that people might not realize is that he’s an incredibly smart guy both on and off the court. He understands the game and everything that comes with it as well as anyone I’ve ever met. It’s like he’s got a sixth-sense for hoops.

What don't we know but should about the Blazers?
The “Jail Blazers” days are over. This franchise is dead serious about winning the right way; anything less is simply unacceptable. I can’t imagine there’s another team, and I’m talking about everyone from the basketball side to marketing to ticket sales to broadcast to community relations, that is more focused on winning a championship with good people than we are.