The Trail Blazers have left town and they aren’t coming back … at least not for a while. They are in the East Coast for a seven game road trip that will test the mettle of this young team. They departed with a .500 record after an exciting victory at the Rose Garden against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Black Friday. Road trips always challenge a team, but if the Blazers continue to play as they have been a 4-3 record on this trip is not out of the question.
The trip begins In Brooklyn, in the newly opened Barclays Center. The Blazers were greeted with the unfortunate news that power forward LaMarcus Aldridge would be out with a sore back that apparently tightened up on the flight out. It is unknown how long the Blazers will be without him. On the bright side, this presents a nice opportunity for Meyers Leonard to get some minutes and valuable experience with the first team.
After the Brooklyn game, the Blazers travel onto Detroit, Washington, D.C., Boston, Cleveland, Charlotte, and Indiana. Seven games in ten days. A grueling travel schedule, however these are all opponents the Blazers are capable of competing with. Brooklyn, Boston and Indiana should prove to be most difficult games. Detroit, Washington, Cleveland, and Charlotte are teams the Blazers should be able to handle.
To be successful on this trip and come home one game over .500, the Blazers are going to have to capitalize on opportunities in close games and play smart basketball. Tighten up on defense. They should look to Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews to exercise some veteran leadership with Aldridge potentially out of the lineup. Meyers Leonard will need to stay out foul trouble and J.J. Hickson needs to continue to play with a lot of energy. And of course, Damian Lillard needs to keep doing what he does, score and facilitate, but reduce the turnovers.
The Blazers are proving they can be a good team, but not be a great team this year. They have some good pieces, but they don’t have a lot of them. In order for the Blazers to have a winning road trip, they need to maximize the talent from their starters and players like Leonard, Ronnie Price and Jared Jefferies. Great teams can play good basketball or even poor basketball and still win on talent alone. The Blazers are not yet in this category. They need to execute, take smart shots, play solid defense, and hustle more than their opponents. If they do this, it is fair to think that they can be a team that hovers around the .500 mark. When the Blazers return to Portland after the December 5th game against the Indiana Pacers, it should be a little bit more-clear where the team is in its development.
Patrick Hughes is on Twitter. Follow him at @phughespdx