Coming into this NBA season, I was fully prepared to sugar coat a below-par season from these Portland Trail Blazers. Even after the Halloween night upset of the Lakers, I thought maybe it was just a fluke type of win. But then my tone changed strangely enough in the loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
LaMarcus Aldridge is the leader of this team and has never really been known for his leadership, grit or fight. He is seen around the league as a big guy with a nice touch on his midrange jumper, an adequate defender, and a very athletic power forward.
Friday night against the Thunder, I saw a different Aldridge. His shot wasn't falling the way he is used to but instead of giving up, he grit his teeth and contributed to his team in other ways. He looked like a leader on the floor, he hauled in 15 rebounds (double his career average), and he kept shooting. As the buzzer sounded, the Blazers had lost the game but there was a different atmosphere about this team; they had bought into their coaches’ philosophy.
It is incredibly difficult for a young team to go on the road and beat the defending Western Conference champions. But Terry Stotts has this team working together and working hard. Stotts is all about moving the ball, moving without the ball, shooting the 3 and playing defense. All of these traits have been evident in the first three games of the season.
The following night in Houston, Stotts' defensive emphasis won them the game. At the end of regulation, Wesley Mathews made an incredible defensive play against James Harden that sent the game into overtime.
After the first overtime and first road win for this young team, there is a different feeling around this team and around the fan base. There is a sense of belief, a sense of intensity and a sense of "us against the world".
Personally, I am excited about this season, more so than I was before the season started. A lot of people are buying into the Blazers and the reason fans and media are buying into to the Blazers is because the Blazers are buying in Coach Stotts.
As the season progresses, there will be ups and downs, there will be wins and losses. This team will meld and grow together and we could be watching something special.
Media members have all weighed in on their predictions of the season but some of those have already changed after the 2-1 start against three very talented Western Conference teams. Last Thursday, Dan Patrick said, "Portland is a good team. They are going to be a playoff team this year."
Patrick made that statement so matter-of-fact that it made me stop and think about it. People are buying into this team and I feel myself buying in too. I just have to remind myself this is a long season and this is a young team. No matter how the ebbs and flows of the season goes, this team is going to be fun to watch.
-- Garrett Thornton is on Twitter. Follow him at @GarrettPortland