PORTLAND, Ore. — Entering the NBA season, preseason pundits pegged six teams as legitimate contenders in a loaded Western Conference.
The Portland Trail Blazers were not thought to be one of them.
A little more than a month later, while still admittedly early, that narrative is beginning to shift a bit.
And the latest reason came Wednesday night, when the Blazers overcame a double-digit, second half deficit to burst past the Thunder for an impressive 111-104 win.
The victory broke OKC's league-best eight-game win streak and improved Portland's record to 16-3, stamping them alone atop the West.
“They just got good chemistry,” Kevin Durant said. “They put together a nice group of guys, mixed in some veterans with some young guys and have the kind of core you want to have.”
It was a big win for the Blazers but certainly not their only one of the young season. Portland also has victories over the 15-3 Spurs and 16-2 Pacers.
But Wednesday night's outcome might have been the most impressive, if only because of the exceptional individual performance that backed them.
In 37 dominant minutes, LaMarcus Aldridge torched the Thunder front line, compiling 38 points, 13 rebounds and five assists — only one less than the Thunder's entire starting lineup.
“An All-Star having an All-Star night,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He made 17 field goals, all were well-contested. But when you're hot like he was tonight, (it doesn't) matter what you do.”
And the Thunder did try a few different tactics on Aldridge, going small for a portion of the fourth quarter, before scrapping the idea when he continually took advantage of Serge Ibaka. Brooks reinserted Kendrick Perkins in the final minutes — a rare thing these days, which tells you plenty about Aldridge's impact — to guard the Blazers' big man.
But it didn't matter.
“He was shooting turnarounds from almost the three-point line on top of our bigs,” Kevin Durant said. “He was knocking them down and that's what great players do … It looked like it was great defense on our part, but better offense.”
On this night, in this building, where Portland is now 8-1, Aldridge was just too much. And so were the Blazers, who are rapidly becoming a national media darling.
There's no telling if it will continue, but for now it seems clear that the Blazers have at least entered the convoluted conversation.
“There's a handful of teams,” Brooks said. “It's the West, they're all top teams. You're not going to have an easy game … But they're a good team.”