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Rockets vs. Blazers game preview: it ain’t opening night anymore

Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

If there’s one lesson to take away from these early season previews, it’s that expectations can be a real pain.

Expectations get coaches fired. Expectations get players traded. Expectations can lead to trade demands from star players. Expectations make GMs make rash moves that get them fired. Expectations lead to fan unrest.

Only one team wins an NBA championship every year, and usually only a precious few other teams end the year “happy.” For example, the Dallas Mavericks ended on a decent note. They made the playoffs, giving Luka Doncic valuable playoff experience and taking the Los Angeles Clippers (a terrible matchup for the Mavs) to six games with Kristaps Porzingis missing multiple games and Dallas’s rotation basically a MASH unit by the end of the season. Even as a hater of all things Dallas, it was an impressive run.

Now? The expectation on Dallas is to take the next step. They were supposed to win the Southwest Division, and that was before the Rockets traded James Harden. The Mavericks made moves to try to make them a more complete team in the offseason. Excitement was high.

As I write this, Dallas sits at 8-9. Not out of the division race by any stretch, but still a long way off from where expectations had been set. It could lead to some real questions from Luka about the direction of the team. If Dallas doesn’t get out of the first round after the expectations placed on them this season, someone is getting fired in Big D.

“But AK,” I hear you say. “The Rockets are playing the Blazers, not the Mavs! Are you making a goof just like on Monday when you posted the preview a day early?”

Well first off, thanks for bringing up that sore subject.

No, the point was to set up the discussion about the Portland Trail Blazers. After a nice run in the Bubble moved them into a play-in spot (which they won), the Blazers took Game 1 against the Lakers before succumbing to the onslaught that was LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Heat took two games off the Lakers, but Portland took just as many games off LA as the Rockets or Nuggets did. Maybe if they didn’t expend so much energy trying to get into the playoffs, they wouldn’t have been mentally drained when the games started to really matter. Maybe a wing or two could be the difference. They were close. The traded for Robert Covington and Enes Kanter, they signed Derrick Jones Jr. and Harry Giles, and they re-signed Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony.

So guess what happened in the offseason? Expectations. You started to see the Blazers picked to finish as high as second or third in the West. They were going to challenge for the Northwest Division. Damian Lillard was going to start pulling up from 80 feet.

All of those things could yet happen. Portland is 9-7, but really only have one good win. That win came against the Lakers, so it counts as two good wins I guess. But their schedule has been relatively cupcake so far. Most of their wins have come against teams that aren’t expected (there’s that word again) to go anywhere this season. The Blazers start a grueling stretch at the beginning of February. They start with road trips to Milwaukee and Philadelphia, have a decent middle-section with some tough games, then end with road games against the Suns, Nuggets, and Lakers. Maybe they come out of February smelling like roses. Maybe they’re trending upwards. But if they don’t? What does the future look like for Lillard and C.J. McCollum together? Is Terry Stotts safe? Does Neil Olshey take the blame if the supporting cast can’t step up?

See? Expectations are a real pain.

Tip-off is at 6:30pm CT on TNT