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February holds fewer games, more answers for Portland

02/04/12
  1. Written by: KevinHudson


    The Portland Trail Blazers February schedule is a clear-cut case of quality over quantity.

    Because Portland plays 14 games this month (as opposed to 18 in January) and has a week off Feb. 22-28, the load is slightly lighter. The competition, however, gets much stiffer; the schedule littered with top-tier Western Conference opponents.

    Over the last two weeks of January, plus Charlotte and Sacramento to open this month, The Trail Blazers played 11 games. Just three of those games - at Atlanta (1/18), home to Memphis (1/25) and at Utah (1/30) - were against teams that win more games than they lose.

    The bad news: Portland went 6-5 over that 11-game stretch. Far below expectations after the team's hot start to the season and even more disappointing considering losses at Detroit (4-20), Golden State (8-12) and most recently Thursday in Sacramento, when the Trail Blazers lost 95-92 despite holding a 13-point lead in the first half and having several late chances to capture a road win.

    "We had this game...We really had control of this game, but in the second half we lost control," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "We are right in these games and we have to execute plays in the fourth quarter...Really, all these things are on us. It’s not the teams that we are playing, it’s us self-destructing."

    The worse news: Over the next two weeks and change, the Trail Blazers schedule shifts conversely, with eight of the next 11 games coming against clubs that are currently above .500 and nine against Western Conference foes.

    The good news: The schedule also flips conversely in terms of home and road games. The previous 11 games held seven road contests for the Trail Blazers. The ensuing 11 will hold seven games in the Rose Garden, which has been a fortress for Portland this season, having won 10 of its 11 home games so far.

    The wealth of conference competition is also good news for fans and analysts covering the team. Many questions have been raised about how good this season's squad is and can be over the last two weeks due to Jekyll-and-Hyde performances like Wednesday night's blowout of Charlotte followed by Thursday's night's debacle in Sacramento. Questions will be answered over the next 11 games not only because of the quality of competition but by virtue of the fact that a streak of either persuasion could go a long way in determining where this team has positioned itself in terms of the playoff race at the halfway point of the season.

    Jamal Crawford stressed the importance of upcoming games to the playoff hunt, especially the need to turn around the current four-game road losing streak, after Thursday's loss to Sacramento.

    "We gave the game away, plain and simple. We had our chances," he said. "It shows how far away we are. There are three teams with a .500 (road) record in the West. Whoever can shine on the road will separate themselves. We have every opportunity and we had every opportunity in the last few road games and we find ways to lose it."

    With home games against divisional rivals Denver and Oklahoma City this week and both of the Los Angeles clubs looming this month, fans are hoping their team can begin finding ways to win, instead.

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