It’s almost as if the real NBA season in Portland is just starting – and, in reality, it’s almost over.
But with the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers visiting Moda Center Friday night, the circumstances just might make this the biggest and most anticipated game of the year in Portland.
First – and best – is that for the first time this season there will be a limited number of fans allowed to attend this game. Around 1,900 are expected – about 10 percent of capacity.
And on top of that, there is a lot at stake. The Trail Blazers, Lakers and Dallas Mavericks are fighting over the fifth, sixth and seventh spots in the Western Conference.
And the focus of all three teams is to avoid the seventh one – which means a berth in the four-team play-in tournament.
Add to that the fact that the Lakers and Blazers have split their two games this season, making Friday’s game the tiebreaker in case the teams end in a tie.
This is a big one – without even mentioning that the Lakers have always been Public Enemy No. 1 to Trail Blazer fans.
“I think it's a big game,” Coach Terry Stotts said after listening to what’s at stake. “Everybody recognizes all the things that you mentioned. Especially with the play-in format.
“You know, maybe it'd be different if it weren't for the play-in format, but it's a big game. The tiebreaker. The Lakers. There's a lot at stake.
“We win this game, you know, the ball’s in our court. And they know that if they win, the ball’s in their court.
“So, I love the fact that we are going to have fans in the arena. That was great news.
“And I think it's appropriate almost that our first game with fans is going to be against the Lakers. I can't think of anything better.”
Can a big, 90-percent-empty arena with just 1,900 fans make a difference?
“Yes, they can certainly make a difference,” he said. “I mean, we've been on the road now in multiple arenas that have fans and you do notice the fans.
“Now, it's not 19,000. But to me, you appear in a gym with 500 people, you feel the 500 people. So, I think our players, no question, will notice a difference in Moda Center with nineteen-hundred people.”
And Friday, finally, we will find out.