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Sunday, November 30, 2008
John Hollinger + Portland = Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving weekend has been fantastic. The eating, the family, all those things we all count on ... I'm loving it.

But also, as a fan of the Portland Trail Blazers, it has also been a little bit like Christmas.

Why? Yes they have won nicely at home. 

But more importantly ... Have you seen John Hollinger's power rankings?

(I have been aware of this for several days, but have not wanted to make a fuss out of it ... for fear it would later prove meaningless. But now it has been hanging around for a while, and I can't stay quiet.) Brandon Roy

Not to oversimplify things. But more or less the current state of events -- from a supercomputer programmed by one of the savviest experts in the game today -- is that all of the many teams of the NBA are spread across a vast array of quality. The exceptionally crappy Thunder are off the deep end of the charts, but ignoring that, every single team in the NBA has a Hollinger Power Ranking that is arrayed somewhere between 90 and 103 on the Hollinger scale.

The ranking is built on strength of schedule, margin of victory, and various other factors that have proven, over time, to matter.

Ignore Hollinger at your peril.

In any case, what I haven't told you is that not all the teams are either OKC or between 90 and 103 on the scale. There are actually four super teams that co-exist in the ether above the spectrum of normalcy. They're all over 108.

And they matter. Between them, these four teams hog a 90.7% likelihood of winning this year's title in an extrapolation of the power rankings.

Who are the NBA's four elite teams, based on Hollinger's formulas and the early returns? With all the normal early season provisos, and in order, they are: the Los Angeles Lakers (36.8% chance of winning the title), the Cleveland Cavaliers (30%), the Boston Celtics (13%), and ... my Portland Trail Blazers (10.9%).

By any conventional measure, the Blazers are somewhere between so-so and pretty good. They're 11-6 just like Houston, Phoenix, and Denver. They're a half game ahead of Atlanta,  about which I'm sure you are lukewarm. But Hollinger's computer knows Portland has played all kinds of tough teams, and they have had some big-time blowouts (thank you Miami and Chicago!) as well as quality wins against the likes of New Orleans, San Antonio, and Houston.

Portland is loaded down with so many weapons that many nights they can make big mistakes and still win.

Look, I'm not getting ahead of myself here. I realize that Portland still has flaws, and will not be winning a title this year.

But I'm also starting to realize that Portland's much-anticipated entry into the NBA's elite may be arriving well ahead of schedule. It couldn't be more exciting. As a fan who has been on the outside looking in for a decade and a half, it's a real thrill to be part of the Big Boy NBA conversation. Especially with a roster that features heavy minutes from three rookies (Rookie of the Year candidates Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez, as well as starter Nicolas Batum) and is built for three years from now.

Where does that leave us? With a lot to look forward to (if by "we" we mean "Portland fans"). Virtually every Blazer can be expected to get better over the course of the next two or three years. And yet, even now in its infancy this Portland roster is a profound threat to win every game it plays. It's a nice situation.

Unless, of course, you find yourself in the peculiar position of being both a national NBA blogger with a commitment to fairness and a dyed-in-the-wool Blazer fan. I have long feared the day when by Blazer fandom could cause profound and persisent objectivity problems for my NBA coverage. 

That time is coming. 

Please, bear with me.

UPDATE: After beating the Pistons in Detroit Sunday, the Blazers have moved ahead of the Boston Celtics, to take over third in Hollinger's power rankings. An interesting test of that formula will come on Friday, when the Blazers visit the Celtics.

(Photograph: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)