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NBA -- Blazers thriving under "new normal"


PhilBoxing.com



Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.

PORTLAND -- With a seating capacity of 19,393, the Moda Center in downtown Portland is usually a beehive of activity every time the Trail Blazers host an NBA game at their home floor.

But when the Houston Rockets visited last December 26, an eerie silence engulfed the massive $440 million arena that opened for business 25 years ago this past October.

The long lines that normally form at the multiple arena entrances and the sea of humanity that flood the main concourse before tip-off were noticeably absent.

But after having taken part in the NBA bubble a few months ago when the Los Angeles Lakers were eventually crowned 2020 champions, the Blazers already have a sense of this pandemic-driven setting where no one but essential personnel are allowed in the playing venues.


The Moda Center is teeming with silence during the Blazers-Rockets game on Dec. 26, 2020.

Under strict protocols, which include social distancing and responsibly wearing a mask, the Blazers have allowed media coverage in their building and PhilBoxing.com was fortunate enough to among the outlets who has been credentialed covered the Blazers on-site.

After dropping their home opener against the Utah Jazz on December 23, the Blazers bounced back with a nail-biting 128-126 overtime victory over the Rockets on December 26 when they survived a 44-point outburst from a disgruntled James Harden who continues to demand for a trade out of Houston.

Following a 1-1 homestand to begin their 72-game schedule, the Blazers then embarked on a two-game road trip to the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Powered by a combined 59-point effort by Damian Lillard and Gary Trent Jr, the Blazers stunned the Lakers 115-107 on December 28 before falling to the Clippers, 128-105, two nights later yesterday.


Houston's James Harden (L) dribbles against Portland's Damian Lillard during their game on Dec. 26, 2020 won by the Blazers 128-126.

At 2-2, Portland currently occupies the eighth place in the power-laden Western Conference.

Although it's too early in the race to talk about the playoffs, the signs are promising for this veteran squad that has been tried and tested in the crucible of the post-season.

Their two leaders --- Damian Lillard and CJ MCollum --- are playing in All-Star form, averaging 28 and 23 points per game respectively. And with an average of 14.8 three-point makes an outing, Portland has shown the capacity to out-shoot any team on any given night.

Team depth is also a plus.

The support cast of Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter and Gary Trent Jr. pool together a decent 36.2 points a contest while center Jusuf Nurkic has been more than able to handle the business in the middle.

There is, however, more work needed. Especially on the defensive side of the ball.

The Blazers surrender 120.2 points per game, 24th among 30 teams. And their defensive rating is ranked 28th at 117.2.

It's a correctible flaw that head coach Terry Stotts and his staff will no doubt work hard to smoothen out as the season drags on. It's not easy but doable.

With their tough schedule right out of the starting gate, the Blazers were expected to be 1-3. So being 2-2 is a modest feat that will hopefully lead to bigger things. (RG)


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Ryan Gallardo.


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