PORTLAND — The question posed to ESPN basketball writer Chad Ford went as follows: “If Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Russell Westbrook, Lebron James and Chris Bosh get injured, can the Blazers win the title this year?”
Answered Ford in the online chat: “Add Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki to the injured list and you’ve got a definite maybe.”
Funny. And probably accurate. And maybe the reality dose Blazers fans need.
But what if the questioner toned down the hyperbole and lightened the expectations?
What if he asked: “If Utah’s head coach resigns, and the Nuggets trade Carmelo Anthony, and the Western Conference reels in the Hornets like Portland general manager Rich Cho expected months ago...could the Blazers earn the fifth seed? Could they upset Oklahoma City in the first round? Could they give destiny a generous tip, capitalize on a San Antonio injury and make the conference finals?”
Now seems as good a time as any for the timeless cliché, “stranger things have happened.”
Problem is, stranger things haven’t necessarily happened. But stranger things could happen, and that’s all Blazer Mania needs to talk itself into believing.
Two weeks ago, it sounded as if Cho had his finger on the detonator. The man is about as prone to gossip as Marcel Marceau, but when he was stressing how much he values draft picks, you have to think he was ready to deal impact players to acquire them.
Then, Portland beat the Spurs. Then, Portland beat the Bulls. And in each game, LaMarcus Aldridge set a career in high in scoring, shooting better than 65 percent despite not having Brandon Roy to help divert the defensive attention, or Marcus Camby to toss him lobs from the top of the key.
Portland’s injuries over the past few months have been a Zoloft manufacturer’s dream. But they’ve had their benefits, too.
The same way a father’s absence can force a child into becoming a man, the likes of Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum have all developed exponentially amid the surgeries.
The Blazers are 18-11 without Roy this year. If he returns, and provides scoring off the bench without cramping Aldridge’s style, who’s to say they won’t get better?
The Blazers are 8-6 without Camby this year. If he returns, and rebounds at his old blistering rate, who’s to say they won’t improve?
Twelve seasons ago, Camby was part of a New York Knicks team that entered the playoffs as an eighth seed and made it all the way to the NBA Finals sans Patrick Ewing. He said he thinks about that every day.
Could the Blazers make a similar run? Probably not. In fact, there’s a better chance they miss the postseason entirely.
But with Jerry Sloan resigning Thursday, expect the Jazz to slide the way Denver did last year when George Karl took a leave.
If the Nuggets part with Anthony, expect them to tumble down the Rockies the way any suddenly superstarless team would. And even if the Blazers does miss the playoffs, they’ll most likely end up with a late pick in a down draft year.
No, they shouldn’t start rebuilding now; not when wrecking balls are swinging toward rival structures.
The status quo is hardly the vision the Rose Garden faithful had when the season began, but it’s not one completely devoid of hope, either.
The window of opportunity is just tempting enough. Better to try and squeeze through than shatter it completely.
Matt Calkins cover the Blazers for The Columbian. He can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blazerbanter