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Fan outlook: Portland Trail Blazers race toward 2011 Western Conference playoffs
The Portland Trail Blazers are on a collision course with the 2011 Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers moved into the fifth seed in the West with an impressive win over the New Orleans Hornets on Feb. 16, and with it finished off the first half of the season on quite a tear. Portland has won its last six games, a streak that moved them from the eighth seed by passing the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, and New Orleans all within the last week.
Now the Blazers head into the 2011 All-Star break with a 32-24 record, and sit just four games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for first place in the Northwest Division. You would be hard-pressed to find many Blazers fans who thought that this was possible with all the injuries the franchise has had to endure, yet there they sit, now within striking distance of grabbing a home court advantage in the 2011 Western Conference Playoffs.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Blazers would go up against Oklahoma City in the first round. It's a team that Portland has become quite familiar with, but one that has also beaten the Blazers twice in the 2010-11 season. The teams will meet up two more times before the season comes to a close, and those should be very competitive games with a lot on the line for both franchises. For Oklahoma City, it would also love to give their fans an extra home game in the first round, something that marks an accomplishment of its own for that franchise.
The winner of the projected Portland vs. Oklahoma City series would then play the winner of the projected San Antonio (No. 1 seed) vs. Utah Jazz (No. 8 seed) in the second round. That would be another great match-up for Portland, and it would actually help it to avoid the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoff brackets. Things could obviously change before these series are set in stone, and with the cluster of teams vying for the final four playoff spots in the West, that should be an expectation for the final months of the regular season.
Last season, the Blazers posted a nice 50-32 overall record, but they were then beaten by the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the NBA playoffs. With all of the injuries that the team has had to work through this year, it started to look more likely that they would be heading to the NBA lottery than the NBA Playoffs. Suddenly, LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) has emerged as one of the best power forwards in basketball, though, and the series of injuries to Brandon Roy(notes), Marcus Camby(notes), and Greg Oden(notes) haven't turned out to be quite as disastrous for the team.
When the Blazers return from the 2011 All-Star break, they are going to need Roy and Camby to come back from their injuries and step up big for the team. There are just 26 games left in the regular season, but the 40-plus minutes that the starters are forced to play right now could really catch up with them soon. The six-man rotation that the Blazers have going has resulted in some impressive wins, but the grueling NBA schedule is going to eat up this team if Roy and Camby can't become crucial parts of the Portland rotation again.
The Blazers get a second half challenge right away, as they head to Los Angeles to play the Lakers in their first second half game. That one will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 23, and could really be a great barometer to measure where the team is now standing.
Blazers First Half Star: LaMarcus Aldridge with 22.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. Aldridge is also shooting 49.8 percent from the field this season and averaging 39 minutes per game.
New Blazers Record: 32-24; fifth place in Western Conference
*Ryan is a Northwest bred sports fan that has been a Portland Trail Blazers fan for years. He doesn't miss a game, and has high hopes that the Blazers can get into the 2011 Western Conference Playoffs and start to create some fireworks with a first round upset. Note: This article was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Sign up here to start publishing your own sports content.
*Note: This article was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Sign up here to start publishing your own sports content.