Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: Yes, the Trail Blazers are for Real

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whereistheloveWhere is the love? Why do so many pundits and taking heads consider these guys to be a flash in the pan?

As Martin Luther King Day arrives, the Portland Trail Blazers have the second-best record (31-9) in a brutal Western Conference, along with the third-best overall record in the NBA.

They have twice beaten San Antonio and Oklahoma City and come up victorious against Indiana, Miami, the Clippers and Golden State. Yet all of those teams continually garner more confidence from “experts,” despite tangible evidence this Blazers squad can hang with the best.

Of course, All-Star lock LaMarcus Aldridge himself pegged the Blazers as just a seven seed – not six, not eight, seven — heading into the season, more or less where many people (myself included) felt they would land, health provided.

Clearly, they’ve exceeded expectations, but is it sustainable when the stakes rise? That depends on whether you buy into this team’s strengths more than fear its weaknesses.

From an offensive standpoint, there may not be more balanced starting five than Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, Aldridge and Robin Lopez. Each guy’s role is plainly obvious, and their skill sets mesh beautifully. Lillard and Aldridge (rejuvenated playing his natural four-spot again) are capable of taking over games.

Matthews and Batum keep the floor stretched, and the latter is among the more versatile players in the league. Lopez has found his niche as a heady dirty worker who doubles as a defensive anchor. That job has been made easier by Batum and Matthews along the wings, plus the willingness by Lillard and Aldridge to pitch in despite their burgeoning superstar status.

Some may be concerned about reliable bench depth beyond Mo Williams, but perhaps C.J. McCollum’s return can eventually goose the works. If not, they can always swing a deadline deal, or simply take comfort knowing that a moderately productive seventh and eighth man could be enough in the playoffs, where rotations shorten anyway.

This should also alleviate some concerns about the pedestrian defensive numbers. As ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz recently noted, when Portland’s top five players are on the floor, the D is more than respectable. The most pressing concern might be collective inexperience, but for the time being, this group appears unfazed. Thus far, the positives have far outweighed the negatives.

Granted, a lot can change between now and April, much less beyond. But 40 games into this season, I’m increasingly convinced this group’s championship prospects may not be ironclad, but should also be dismissed at an opponent’s own risk.

On to the rankings.

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Acker: 10 Reasons Why The Blazers Are For Real

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Raise your hand if you had the Portland Trail Blazers leading the Western Conference. LaMarcus_Aldridge2

OK, now put your hand down and stop lying.

The Trail Blazers are 16-3. After a disappointing loss in Phoenix that ended a double-digit winning streak, Portland is 3-0 in December, including back-to-back home victories over the Indiana Pacers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, two of the best teams in the NBA.

There are two things every NBA fan wants to know right now. First, is this Blazers team for real? And second, how are they doing what they’re doing?

The answer to the first question is yes, this Blazers team is definitely for real. Does for real mean they will win 50 games or make the Western Conference finals? It’s too early to tell. But it does mean that their record is no fluke.

As for how the Blazers are doing what they’re doing, there are plenty of reasons. Here are just a few:

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Sprung: Freedom, chemistry behind Trail Blazers’ early success

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BROOKLYN – Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts doesn’t run any crazy offensive scheme. He just tries to get the most out of his talented players. Often this season, that has meant letting his shooters shoot with the rest taking care of itself.

Wesley MatthewsSo far, that has been a major key to the success of the NBA’s hottest team. It seems simple, but in a sporting landscape where coaches like to exert influence or control, sometimes giving individuals freedom can get the most out of a ballclub.

A prime example took place in the first quarter of Portland’s 108-98 win in Brooklyn, when Wes Matthews hit four 3-pointers without a miss over the first six minutes.

“After the first one went in, I started hunting a little more,” he said. “The second one went in and I was definitely hunting for it.”

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Tweet of the Day: NBA Players Promote Typhoon Relief

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Typhoon Haiyan: residents of Tacloban city

Super typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines over the weekend.

As details of its destruction have become global news in the days since its wake, more and more athletes are coming forward to herald the relief cause.

It began last week, as Haiyan was first reaching land, when Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes had linked to the American Red Cross’ relief page on his Facebook post, as was mentioned in Friday’s Tweet of the Day.

Monday, many more NBA players have come forward in expressing their concern and sympathies for those feeling the effects of Haiyan’s carnage.

Preseason Playoff Picture: Western Conference

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Dirk NowitzkiIn a teleconference last week, we asked NBA analysts Chris Webber and Greg Anthony to pick a Western Conference team which missed the playoffs last season but will make the playoffs this season.

“Dallas, mainly because of Dirk Nowitzki,” Webber said. “He’ll be back healthy. What he does, with spacing, getting guys involved … We take his game for granted.”

“I would go with the Pelicans,” Anthony said. “I think that’s a team that could make sizeable leaps and surprise a lot of people.”

Both those teams are certainly among the half-dozen in the hunt for what appears to be two postseason spots up for grabs in the West. Those spots belonged to the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets, who also remain in the running despite taking some backward steps in the offseason.

Without getting into seeding specifics, the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets look like mortal locks to be playing in May.

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