Running The Break: Bold Predictions

January 6th, 2014

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Will LaMarcus Aldridge end up as Portland's All-Time leading scorer? Which Western Conference team is poised to make a playoff push in 2014? And are the Warriors a more serious threat in the playoffs than the Trail Blazers? Seven local reporters who eat, sleep, and breathe Trail Blazers basketball give their take in this week's edition of Running The Break.

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1. ESPN's Tom Haberstroh recently wrote an article claiming the Warriors are a more serious threat than the Trail Blazers, citing health and point-differential as his main arguments. Based upon what you've seen so far this season, which squad do you feel is the more serious threat in the West?

Casey Holdahl (@Chold), TrailBlazers.com: I think, all things considered, the Trail Blazers and Warriors are fairly even. Golden State's starting unit might be marginally better than Portland's, but the Trail Blazers have the better bench. And Golden State has some playoff experience, which might not be much, but it's still more than Portland. I really don't think there's much difference between the two and I think a playoff series would be a coin flip.

Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes), CSNNW.com: I’d have to go with the Warriors due to the fact they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last year and then they acquire Andre Iguodala in the offseason to help with advancement. Put aside that they’re the hottest team in the league right now, I just feel that they’re equipped to make a deep playoff run because they’ve experienced postseason success. Despite Portland’s surprise start, if they were to get knocked out in the first round it wouldn’t be considered a disappointment because no one expected them to be this good this early.

Mike Tokito (@mtokito), The Oregonian: How about we put the two teams in a seven-game series and find out? It would be fun, high-scoring and played at two great home arenas, plus it would be easy travel for us in the media.

Otherwise, it gets silly to suppose how a team would do if its injury-prone players are healthy. Brandon Roy and Greg Oden with healthy knees, anyone?

Erik Gundersen (@BlazerBanter), The Columbian: I hate to go with the old cliche, but this Warriors team has experience winning in the playoffs and the Blazers don't. The Warriors "#FullSquad" starting line-up of Andrew Bogut-David Lee-Andre Iguodala-Klay Thompson and Steph Curry is outscoring opponents my more than 20 points per 100 possessions. While Portland's starting line-up has been one of the best in the league, the Warriors line-up has been better. The Blazers still have time to prove the doubters wrong, but the Warriors defend better than Portland. The Warriors haven't been the beneficiaries of good health for most of the season but are still more consistent on defense than the Blazers who have been healthy, with the exception of C.J. McCollum for the whole season.

Mike Acker (@mikeacker), Willamette Week: The NBA season is long, and teams get hot all the time. A hot team gets a lot of press: Portland did at the start of the season with their huge winning streak and the Warriors are getting it now with theirs. That doesn’t necessarily mean Golden State is a serious contender because they are currently streaking and the Blazers aren’t because they’ve cooled off just a little bit over the last week and change. Personally, I believe the Blazers and the Warriors are relatively even when it comes to the level of contender they might be, regardless of injury or anything like that. Golden State is a great team with a strong young core that can definitely win a playoff series. Portland, in my mind, is that too. The difference will probably come down to whether one team can get home court in the first round (or beyond). The Warriors have a strong home court advantage, just like the Blazers. Either team can reach the Conference Finals if they start their playoff run at home.

Dave Deckard (@blazersedge), BlazersEdge: I have a confession to make. Despite covering the Blazers and the league professionally I don’t have an ESPN Insider account. It’d be useful if I wanted to write, say, 130 articles about the Heat, Lakers, or Knicks but for Blazers coverage the info and analysis from folks participating in this project alone blows away any national coverage. So I haven’t read Mr. Haberstroh’s piece.

I’m not entirely impressed by his claim that “when healthy” the Warriors are 15-3. If the Blazers had been injury-free the last six years they’d have a couple of titles by now. Also 15-3 isn’t that much better than the Blazers, Spurs, and Thunder are doing without the qualifier.

The threat of injury is a legitimate concern for the Blazers. They’re clicking on all cylinders right now. What happens when one of those cylinders blows? I’d concede that an injury to the starting lineup could easily drop Portland to Golden State’s level. But that doesn’t mean the Warriors are more or less legitimate than the Blazers.

Margin of victory usually sorts out elite teams from pretenders but like plus-minus, it’s one of those stats that needs to percolate before becoming indicative. I don’t lend it much credence before the All-Star break. Besides as we speak Portland’s average margin of victory is a couple points higher than Golden State’s mark so I’m not sure what the point is there.

I don’t see any basis right now to say the Warriors are superior to Portland. Neither one of them will be title favorites. Either one could make a nice run. Both will have to show it in order to gain credit.

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2. Thursday night, the Trail Blazers connected 21 times from distance against the Bobcats, becoming the first team in NBA history to make 20+ 3-pointers twice in the same season. With 49 games remaining, do you envision Portland racking up over 20 3-pointers again? And is the NBA All-Time record (23 made 3-pointers) in jeopardy?

Holdahl: The Trail Blazers have some nights where everything seems to go in, so I'll say yes, they have at least a third game with 20+ three-pointers this year and I'll go as far as to say that they'll set the NBA record for threes some time before the end of the season. Thing is, so many other teams are shooting three-pointers at an advanced rate that I'm not sure if a new record would make it through the 2013-14 season.

Haynes: I honestly think they’ll break the NBA record of 23 threes in a game this season. Opposing defenses have yet to figure out how to cover so much ground when helping out on the pick-and-rolls, thus leaving three, and sometimes four, shooters open on the court. Portland zips that ball around so precise and on target that it allows already good shooters to become great shooter because they’re completely left wide open. They’re in a groove and their passing has gotten contagious. There’s too many games left on the schedule for them to not break, or at least tie, that record.

Tokito: The two games the Blazers hit 20 threes in were 30-point blowouts. The teams that share the record of 23, Orlando and Houston, both hit those in games they won by more than 30. In all four, there were plenty of mopup minutes involved, so let’s not start treating this as a hallowed record.

Gundersen: I don't think it is. The only way I see it really in jeopardy is if Portland goes off for a big time performance in a close game where going for the record comes as the Blazers are trying to win. Stotts is a big believer in respecting the game and I don't think this team is going to try and set records. I'll say the 23 record isn't in jeopardy but with this team you truly never know.

Acker: I’m writing this following Portland’s tough loss at home against the Sixers, a game in which they attempted 22 threes but made only three of them. So to answer the question, yes I believe there will be another game, maybe more than one, where the Blazers hit 20 or more threes. Even when they’re not falling, the Blazers shoot the three at a high volume. On nights when the shots are going in, they shoot more threes, which makes sense. The Philly game, actually, is a good one to look at. After that game, coach Stotts, and most of his guys, said they were happy shooting the threes they shot. Those threes, even though they were mostly misses, came naturally as part of the offense. Basically, nobody was forcing up bad shots; the shots simply weren’t falling. Hopefully there won’t be many more nights like that, where the three-well runs dry, but regardless, the Blazers will still be shooting. Twenty-three made threes doesn’t sound that far fetched.

Deckard: Why not? Coach Stotts has gone beyond giving his guys the green light. He’s the guy behind them at the intersection honking his horn. Have you seen the Blazers take an open three this year that actually looked like a bad idea? During the course of the regular season you’ll always run into defenses that aren’t capable, don’t care, or don’t adjust their scheme for outlying, specialty teams like the Blazers.The Blazers should take advantage of such every time they see it.

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3. It's early in the season still, but give the readers one bold statement for the Trail Blazers in 2014 ...

Holdahl: Saying the Trail Blazers would be 26-8 on Jan. 6, 2014 would have been a stupid bold statement at the start of the season, so I'm having a hard time coming up with something that trumps it.

Haynes: The Trail Blazers will pull off an under the rader, low-risk/high reward trade at the deadline…

Tokito: Terry Stotts will coach the Western Conference team in the All-Star Game, then win Coach of the Year.

Gundersen: I don't know how bold it is to say now that they've played 34 games but the Trail Blazers will host a first round series

Acker: Will win a playoff series and send two players to the All-Star Game. And of course, also this: https://twitter.com/mikeacker/status/418296351479197696

Deckard: The 2014 Blazers will go down with the 1977-79 and 1989-92 squads as the most fun teams to watch in the history of the franchise. Terry Stotts will walk away with Coach of the Year.

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4. Back on December 30th, LaMarcus Aldridge surpassed 10,000 career points as a Trail Blazer and currently sits fifth on the all-time scoring list as of this writing (January 3rd, 2014). Will he catch Clyde Drexler and The Glide's 18,040 points for most ever in the red and black before it's all said and done?

Holdahl: I'll say no, but I think Aldridge ends up being the second-highest Trail Blazers scorer when it's all said and done. I think he's already in the conversation for Top 3 player in franchise history, which I think is more important anyway.

Haynes: He’ll need a few more good years beyond his current deal to reach that feat. But assuming he’s still a Trail Blazer for the distant future, yes, he’ll become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. And with his game, the way he plays, he’s doesn’t do it with athleticism. It’s via a picture-perfect jumpshot and a nearly impossible to block turnaround go-to move. He can last forever in this league and maybe so can his record once he eclipses Clyde Drexler.

Tokito: I covered this a bit Monday – Aldridge will definitely leave his mark all over Portland’s record book. I doubt he’ll catch Drexler, but he will finish No. 2, which is impressive. How about he gets to No. 2 in a home game against Minnesota, when Terry Porter is in the Moda Center? That would be cool.

The only way Aldridge has a chance of catching Drexler would be if he re-signs with the Blazers after his contract expires at the end of next season, which would take him to 12 or 13 seasons, and even then it will be hard. Aldridge doesn’t shoot threes, and Drexler scored 1,392 points with Portland – a full season’s worth of points -- on threes

Gundersen: If the Blazers win in the playoffs and give Aldridge a reason to become a lifelong Blazer, then I'm sure he will. The team's success will determine whether he will get there.

Acker: That’s a tough question because it really has nothing to do with scoring. LA is going to have scored a lot of points by the time his career is over; he just might not do all of it in Portland. My thinking is this, right now the Blazers are good enough for LaMarcus to want to sign a long extension that will ensure that he’s in Portland until he’s in his early 30s on into the back-end of his career. However, and this is the big however, if the Blazers fall off a cliff this season, OR if they do something insane like win a title, keeping Aldridge in Portland becomes less of a sure-thing. That’s the long way of saying that if LA finishes his career in Portland he could probably catch Clyde (who didn’t finish his career as a Blazer).

Deckard: If he remains a Blazer, easily. He’s one contract away from hitting that mark.

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5. Which Western Conference team, currently not in the Top 8, do you foresee making a push in 2014? Conversely, which squad in the top-half of the standings do you see dropping out? One thing to note: As of this writing (January 3rd, 2014), no team in the bottom-half of the West has a winning record in their last 10 games.

Holdahl: I'll go with the stat answer and say the Timberwolves, as they're the only team that isn't in the Top 8 in the Western Conference with a positive point differential (they're +4.0, which is better than Houston, Phoenix and Dallas). I could also see the Pelicans and Grizzlies making the jump as well if either team is able to get and stay healthy.

As for who falls out, I'll say the Mavericks, only because I'm not going to spend any more time doubting the Suns, who currently sit one spot above Dallas in the seventh spot.

Haynes: I really like New Orleans and what they’re capable of doing when healthy. The game they played in New Orleans against the Trail Blazers last week was the kind of performance most thought we’d see from them this year. I’m gong with them to be a team currently out of the playoff picture that will sneak into the Top 8.

I still can’t see Phoenix sustaining this level of play so they are my team I expect to plummet. I’ve been counting them out all season and they have yet to agree with me in opting to tank for this deep draft class coming up. They’re well coached and management is top notch. It’s just difficult for me to see that roster playing in May. But hey, I really didn’t think the Blazers would be either.

Tokito: I thought Minnesota’s win over the Blazers might ignite a hot streak, but it didn’t. I still think the Timberwolves will become a factor down the stretch. Dallas feels shaky to me based on age and thrown-together chemistry.

Gundersen: I'm going to say Minnesota although New Orleans is a close second. I just think that Minnesota has too much talent from top to bottom to not make the playoffs. Kevin Love is as good as he's ever been but the rest of the team can't shoot. New Orleans can't seem to stay healthy, but even if they are, their lack of a good back-up behind Jrue Holiday hurts them as well as their inconsistency on the road. Oddly enough, I think Chase Budinger coming back is going to swing this thing. He gives the Wolves some shooting they desperately need.

Acker: There are a lot of good teams outside the top eight in the West, but that doesn’t change the fact that the top eight in the West is super stacked and getting out of the bottom and into the top is a tall order. The Pelicans look like they could be a playoff team if Anthony Davis stays healthy (and Tyreke Evans continues to develop as a Sixth Man and Ryan Anderson isn’t out for too long) but they’re still three and a half games behind the Mavericks for the last spot in the West. Memphis and Minnesota are both teams that could be dangerous based on past performance and personnel, but the Grizz seem like a bit of a mess record-wise and the T-Wolves are brutally inconsistent. Denver has a record that is good enough to keep them close, but that’s clearly a team in turmoil. And that about covers it for the teams outside the top eight that could make a playoff push. As for the other side, Phoenix is the clear favorite to drop off the playoff table since they’re a young team that probably should be tanking. Dallas is at the bottom of the playoff standings right now, so they’re a potential to miss the post season if they get hit with the injury bug that’s going around, put that’s probably true for each of the bottom three teams in the West’s top eight.

Deckard: Minnesota is the easy pick for the former. I like the Pelicans but I worry about that backcourt meshing. Falling out of the bracket? Maybe Phoenix. I’m not sure anything is settled anywhere in the conference yet though. It’s as interesting of a year as we’ve seen in a decade.