Found January 11, 2013 on Sports Blog Net:
[caption id="attachment_186" align="aligncenter" width="534"] (Photo: Steve Dykes, USA TODAY Sports Images)[/caption] Every rose has its thorn, but for the young Portland Trail Blazers, the last 9 home games have been thorn-free at the Rose Garden. Victories bursting with emotion have become the signature of a team that was spiraling towards the lottery back in November. The turnaround for the Trail Blazers has been fueled by a stellar starting lineup. Portland is lead by All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as budding superstars Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard. Despite sub-par bench play, Head Coach Terry Stotts has managed to lead his team to a 20-15 record, good enough for 7th in the Western Conference. Should the surprising success of the Blazers propel Stotts into the coach of the year discussion? The answer is yes, depending on how Portland finishes a season with 47 games remaining. Stotts should definitely be in the conversation with names such as Mike Woodson and Mark Jackson, and he has a bright future ahead of him. Plenty of cap space and a young team with a winning record should cement Stotts' job for as long as the success continues. But how long can the Blazers ride this momentum? With a thrilling 92-90 victory over the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Thursday, Portland captured its 9th consecutive home victory. Raucous fans and an overall record of 13-4 at the Rose Garden create a deadly matchup for a lackadaisical 1, 2 or 3 seed come playoff time. The electricity is quickly returning to the Blazer fan base despite a dismal 2011-12 campaign. If and when the Trail Blazers make the playoffs, their focus has to be on stealing a game in enemy territory, because the Rose Garden is one tough road venue. So what happens when all is said and done? What comes after the shattering of expectations and possible playoff run? Excess of $13 Million will be available in cap room this summer, and with any luck, the Blazers could land a superstar along the lines of Dwight Howard. But I don't believe that Portland should invest in a Dwightmare. J.J. Hickson has been the MVP of the Trail Blazers this season solely based on his rebounding effort. At 6'9", Hickson may not be the biggest, strongest center in the NBA, but he possesses something that Dwight Howard lacks greatly. Heart. J.J. Hickson goes after every rebound with unparalleled force and effort. In every one of Portland's 9 consecutive home victories, Hickson has posted a double-double. Some will argue that there are far more important components to the Blazers success, like the play of rookie sensation Damian Lillard or French swingman Nicolas Batum. However if you analyze Trail Blazer games, Hickson is a catalyst in victories. In the last 7 games where Hickson had the game-high in rebounds, Portland was 7-0. There's a lot to like about the Portland Trail Blazers. Key role players like Wesley Matthews and Luke Babbitt are steadily improving and finding their niche. Damian Lillard is a shoe-in for rookie of the year barring serious injury, and Nicolas Batum has superior athleticism along with an incredible basketball mind. If Aldridge can keep performing in his prime as those two continue to grow, watch out NBA.
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