COMMENTARY | Christmas day is heaven for NBA fans, as the premier teams of the association are put head-to-head in an all-day marathon, starting in the early morn' and ending at night.
If the best teams are incorporated into this nonstop schedule, where were the Indiana Pacers? More importantly, where were the Portland Trail Blazers? Both teams are atop or near the top in the conference standings, respectively, yet neither one found themselves suiting up to play this Christmas.
Christmas game or no Christmas game, the Trail Blazers seem self-motivated to prove the naysayers wrong. By my account, they've been doing a pretty good job of that so far.
Not entirely a Cinderella story, but not exactly expected either, the Blazers have put together an impressive run through 32 games, and one worthy of further scrutiny. The question remains: How far can this team go come April? May? June??
The NBA season is a class. If the regular season games are a horde of quizzes for minimal evaluation, and the playoffs are the final telltale indicator, then let me hit my stride later rather than sooner.
This should be the exact mindset of the Blazers.
They've missed the playoffs the past two years, in addition to being knocked out of the first round three years in a row before that. They haven't exactly been contenders in previous years (their first and only championship came in the 1976-77 season), so this "winning" stuff may be a bit new to them.
With that in mind, here's how they should go about the next few months: First, don't let your foot off the gas pedal. Your players are young so there's no need to pull a Greg Popovich and rest your key guys in pointless games against teams like the Bobcats or Bucks. Heck, even the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are worthy of being "Popoviched."
Continue to go out every night and win games. This will only benefit your team and your chances of home-court advantage come playoff time, which can be absolutely crucial.
Second, watch (continue if already doing so) a ton of film. Kobe Bryant has watched countless hours of film, even admitting that he stole all his moves from the greats, and look how he's turned out. LeBron James prepared for the NBA Finals by watching Michael Jordan highlights and if my memory serves me correctly, he's got two rings.
Mentioned above are just individual examples, but it is quite clear by general consensus of coaches and players that studying film yields great results.
Watching film lets you see things that you wouldn't have been able to otherwise, especially if you do it together as a team or even better yet, with your coach. That way, you can point out missed assignments or thoughts on improving, say your pick-and-roll defense -- things of that nature.
You can see players' tendencies, their favorite spots and how to counter their most utilized moves. Adjustments, adjustments, adjustments. Make them now so you won't regret not doing so in the future.
And on top of that, watching your individual highlights and mishaps gives you insight into ways for improvement. You split the defenders, took and missed a left-handed floater? Well, when you see that on film, you'll see that you had a shooter wide open for a corner three. The blow-by on the left wing was left uncontested at the rim -- why? You see by watching film that you should've rotated over, thus contesting the shot.
It is the small things like these that make a huge difference for any team that aspires for more than losing their second-round virginity. The Blazers have already done that. They want to lose their Finals virginity for a second time.
The playoffs are supposedly the second season; the Blazers must treat it as so.
Thirdly, put the extra time in the gym now. That means the weight room and basketball court. When the playoffs roll around, you won't have the time or should you spend the time lifting weights.
You should be resting, studying your opponent, and refining your skills and the "little" things because make no mistake, the playoffs are a GRIND.
Get it in now, so that you're fully prepared for later.
Lastly, continue to enhance your half-court set effectiveness. The pace of the game slows down in the playoffs and luckily for the Blazers, this won't be much of a problem.
They have a big in the post whom they can dump the ball down to and let go to work, aka LaMarcus Aldridge, and they have a crafty point guard in Damian Lillard who can create for himself, and for others, namely their shooters (Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, etc.).
The Blazers can get out and run, but can also break teams down in the halfcourt. Having 7-footers like Robin Lopez behind your defense is always helpful, too.
The Trail Blazers are still young in age so their future looks bright. Despite that fact, they, like any other team, want to win now. There's no telling how they'll fare post-regular season and there's no fortuneteller to divulge their destiny (and if there is, he/she is most likely bombarded with yearning Portland fans).
Follow these simple but easier-said-than-done steps, and the future is that much brighter in Rip City. They have a shot without a question -- it's just whether they can play the right cards at the right time. Hint: Continue playing the Aldridge/Lillard card.
Parting words of advice for the Trail Blazers as they continue to toil in the arduous season: Keep moving forward but keep a steady pace.
In the NBA, particularly the playoffs, it's a process. Remember, it's not a sprint. It's a marathon.
Taylor Barfield is currently a college freshman at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. He covers the NBA (specifically the Portland Trail Blazers) primarily via blogging and can be contacted at, email@example.com.
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