By Jonathan Ryan Davis
1) First Real Test: Tonight starts the beginning of the Blazers' first legitimate test: a six game road trip in nine days! Portland has proven they can protect their home court (save the blunder on Wednesday night where they trailed by 23 and still almost won despite horrific defense). Starting tonight, the Blazers will tell us whether they are an actual contender this season. Not only is this road trip a lot of games, but a lot of games in a very short period of time, with two Texas games and a visit to the Eastern contending Hawks. If Portland can finish this trip 4-2 or better, they will have proven they should be considered contenders in the West this season. If Portland goes .500 or worse, we are likely witnessing another Blazer team that will crush our hearts with a first round playoff exit.
2) Defense, Defense, Defense: Maybe I jinxed Portland on Wednesday with my proclamation of 48 minutes of quality basketball. Instead of 48 quality minutes, the Blazers mustered maybe 8 minutes (and still almost pulled it out). I'm going to lower my standards tonight and ask for 40 quality defensive minutes of basketball. If Portland can do that, they win. They have shown over and over again this season how much more effective and dynamic they can be when they play smothering team defense. They just can't wait until the fourth quarter to do it. Against a veteran Pop coached team, if Portland can't sustain their defensive energy, they lose.
3) Luke Babbitt: If he plays tonight we know we're in trouble. Let's hope Crash, Batum, and Matthews can hold down the small forward position tonight. A nine man rotation with a smattering of Old Man Thomas and the Rhino should suffice. Look for Gerald Wallace to come out aggressive tonight and establish the tone for the game.