Maybe that is a bad example because the Rockets slump every year right after tax day, just like the swallows coming back to Capistrano. But we could just as well end up pitying San Antonio or Denver or New Orleans.
We should pity whoever gets the Portland Trailblazers in the first round, because that is going to be one tough out and is likely to go seven games.
The young Blazers have turned the Rose Garden into a fortress, having recently beat the Lakers, Spurs and last night the Suns there. And the Spurs and Suns didn’t just lose, they got blown out. The Suns came in a team desperate for wins just to make the playoffs, and they were down 8 at halftime and just got steamrolled in the third quarter.
To beat the Blazers in a best of seven, you had better defend your home court because you know they are going to defend theirs. Portland is 29-7 at home and starting to play their best basketball now. After years of disappointment in Portland — from the era of the “jailblazers” to the struggles of Greg Oden — they are ready to rally behind their team. That arena is going to e rockin’ for the first round.
And the Blazers have the talent to steal a game on the road, too. Brandon Roy is one of the best, most physical ball handling guards in the league. Not only can he drive with quickness, but he is so strong it is hard to keep him off the spots he wants to get to on the floor.
LaMarcus Aldridge has quietly become one of the best, most efficient power forwards in the game. Steve Blake can bomb away from deep if you collapse your defense on Roy or Aldridge. The Blazers have one of the most active benches around, with Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez, not to mention the ball of energy that is Travis Outlaw.
And all of those guys just seem to play a little better in the Pacific Northwest.
The Eastern Conference has more championship-caliber teams at the top, but there is nobody in the bottom half of the bracket that remotely scares Boston or Cleveland. The first round in the East will be primarily exercise for the best teams. The West may only have the Lakers as contenders, but rest assured they do not want Portland in the first round. Los Angeles hasn’t won in Portland in four years.
And they don’t want to have to find out how to do it in the playoffs. Nobody does. Which is why we should pity Houston — the current match up — or whoever draws the Blazers in the first round. There may not be a second round for them.