The Blazers flip the switch

When I last wrote about the Blazers, I was about ready to write them off for the rest of this year. They had just lost 7 of 10 and were only a half-game in the standings above the dreaded "play-in tournament," where one lost game or two will abruptly end some teams' seasons.

My discouraged words, flung into the internet ether, must not have been too inspiring, as Portland went out and dropped the next two games in a row on their home floor. Talk of firing the coach, Terry Stotts, surfaced. But then, perhaps realizing they were sliding away from a successful year, the Rip City crew manned up and proceeded to win seven of their next eight, including five games out of six on the road. Back at home, with fans in the stands, they beat a B-team version of the Lakers, and last night they demolished the Spurs.

Yet with all that winning, Portland is still just a game and a half above the cutoff for the "play-in" nightmare, and the team has a rough schedule ahead for its last four games. It's got road dates with Utah and Phoenix, the two hottest teams in the West, and Denver comes to town for the season finale. The only easy opponent, and it has all the markings of a "trap" game, is last-place Houston, here in Portland tomorrow night.

That's got to be one of the worst schedules, if the not the very worst, of the remaining teams who may find themselves in the "play-in" mess. The others who may wind up there are Dallas, the Lakers, San Francisco, Memphis, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Sacramento. Only two of those eight teams (the eighth being the Blazers) will avoid the "play-in," and two won't even make it to the "play-in."

If I had to predict, I'd count San Antonio and Sacramento out, and put Dallas and the Blazers through without having to deal with the "play-in." In my scenario, the Blazers would be playing the L.A. Clippers in the first round. That would be a scary matchup indeed for Portland. But hey, one thing at a time.