Tough week awaits Blazers

Stretch of six games in nine days includes some of NBA's best

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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After an impressive stretch of play to start the season which ended with a loss in Phoenix on Wednesday night, the Blazers had an opportunity to recover, collect themselves and refocus on what they need to do.

They had three days off before playing six games in nine days which began with a road win Sunday over the Los Angeles Lakers.

"It was good because we had a crazy schedule the last three weeks," said Nicolas Batum on the three-day break without a game.

Damian Lillard believes it was helpful to have a moment to reflect.

"I thought it was good for us to get away from it for a second," he said. "We didn't have a game. We had a few days away from it. It was helpful. I know it was for me to be able to get myself together and look back on the good winning streak we had and the disaster in Phoenix."

The Blazers have tasted early season success, but will be the first to tell you that they've accomplished nothing quite yet.

They had an 11-game winning streak, tied for the longest streak in the NBA this season. During that time, they won seven road games in a row.

As the season progresses, things are going to get harder -- and they want to prove this early season start was not a fluke.

"Basically, what we feel is that we have to go prove it every night," said head coach Terry Stotts. "We're at a stage with this team that we haven't won any championships, any banners, and we have to prove it every night."

The Blazers beat teams that they should beat with an early season schedule heavy with lower tier Eastern Conference opponents.

Although they currently sit near the top of the Western Conference, the team has not changed its goal, which is simply trying to be a playoff team in the West. While it could be easy for them to change their expectations, Batum said that they are not getting ahead of themselves.

"Our goal is to be in the top eight. It's only been 15, 16 games. We have a lot of games remaining. We don't want to go too fast. A lot of teams behind us and in front of us too, especially in the West."

LaMarcus Aldridge was quoted during the preseason that he thought the Blazers could get the seventh seed in the West, but will not address if he thinks that the Blazers can get home court advantage in the playoffs.

"We just want to win games. If you win games, all that stuff just happens for you," Portland's All-Star said. "We are going about it the right way, taking it game by game. You just build from there."

Statement games?

On Sunday, the Blazers started a stretch of six games in nine days with four of those games coming against teams with winning records. Two of them, however, are against 3-15 Utah. They also play host to the team with the NBA's best record and one of the favorites for the Western Conference title.

"We have to keep playing like we did the last couple of weeks but against playoff teams now," said Batum. "Some of the best teams in the NBA right now. Indiana is the best team in the league, OKC (Oklahoma City) with Westbrook coming back is one of the best teams in the league, too."

In addition to the Pacers, who have the league's best defense, and the dynamic Thunder team, the Blazers also play Dallas. The Mavericks are one of the teams predicted to compete with the Blazers for playoff seeding.

"Dallas and OKC are West teams, too, and we need those games," Batum said.

However, the significance of getting a win against the best team in the league isn't lost on Batum.

"If we beat Indiana, it will be a big statement."

The Thunder have had the Blazers' number over the last few seasons and are the team to beat in the Northwest Division.

Over the past few weeks of this early season, the Blazers have made their presence known around the league that they are much improved from last year. But with this stretch of games coming against elite competition, they hope to prove that they're here to stay.