Yes, I picked the Blazers to beat the Suns in seven. Yes, I'm the only ESPN.com writer who picked Portland. Yes, I'm the rare sportswriter who makes his team allegiances known, and thats' my team. No, putting all that together doesn't mean I'm a merciless, integrity-depraved homer.
Here's the deal: I thought it would be dumb and boring to pick all favorites. So I was shopping for an underdog or two among my picks.
San Antonio and Utah, so high in all the stat geekery assessments, don't count. I toyed with Miami, but couldn't convince myself.
I actually didn't want to pick the Blazers, merely because I knew I'd get tiresome e-mails from angry jerks lecturing me on journalism ethics. But my honest assessment was that this was my favorite candidate for an upset, and I was upset shopping.
Roy's absence is huge, but not fatal. The Roy-less Blazers beat the Magic, Mavericks and Spurs, for instance -- and that was before they really learned to play with Andre Miller and Marcus Camby. Roy also missed most of a recent road win against the Lakers.
Phoenix and Portland played three times this season, twice in Phoenix and once in Portland. Portland won two of those, including a February game in Phoenix without Roy. The Blazers' only loss was a very close game with strange ending in which Portland made mistakes they are unlikely to replicate.
You say: Phoenix is on such a roll! But for Portland's meaningless Travis Diener-laced special last night, the two teams would have identical records (Suns 17-4, Blazers 16-5) since March 1. Meanwhile, guards who muscle into the paint can cause Steve Nash problems on defense, and Miller does that like crazy, especially in Roy's absence. Big men who rebound have also wreaked havoc for the Suns, and Camby has that potential. Not to mention, the Blazers are not the young team we know them as. They're Miller and Camby and veteran tricks galore, including and especially in how they relate to referees.
Having watched every minute of those two teams going head-to-head all season, it's impossible for me to see that series as anything other than a toss-up, which is more or less how I called it.