Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There are three teams with nine wins in the NBA right now.
Can you name them?
Everyone knows the Indiana Pacers started 9-0, so that was a layup.
If you guessed the Miami Heat, sorry, they aren't quite there yet.
Next, you'd probably say the San Antonio Spurs. History is on your side since they've been more dominant than the Harlem Globetrotters over the last 15 years. You'd be correct, also. The Spurs are 9-1.
The Chicago Bulls? Nope. Oklahoma City Thunder? Negative. Brooklyn Nets? Good one.
The other nine-win team in the NBA right now is ... the ... Portland Trail Blazers!
Who guessed it? Liar.
Buoyed by a seven-game winning streak, the Blazers have moved atop the Northwest Division and earned the third-best record in the NBA. It is their best start since the 1999-2000 season.
So, here's the logical next question - when will the Trail Blazers come hurtling back to earth like a baby grand piano falling out of a fourth-story window?
"I'm sure there's people waiting for us to go on a five, six-game losing skid, go back to how we were," said guard Wesley Matthews. "We start taking too many shots, we shoot too many threes, we're not aggressive, all that other stuff, blah, blah, blah. That's cool. At the same time we're going to keep practicing, keep going at it, our locker room is still tight and keep playing every game to win."
Matthews is just repeating what people are thinking. Some believed Portland could scoop up one of the final two Western Conference postseason berths preseason, but to host a series, or finish as a top two seed, that's the talk of a mad man.
Yet, the Blazers sit there through just an 1/8 of the season. How are they here?
"We are not going to outscore teams on a consistent basis and win," Matthews said after the Brooklyn victory. "We have to practice what we preach, which is defense, and that's what we were able to do tonight."
Statistically, Matthews' claim has no basis.
The Blazers rank sixth in scoring at 104.9 points per game, ninth in field- goal percentage and fourth in 3-point percentage. Defensively, they are tied for 14th in opponents' scoring and 15th in opponents' field-goal percentage. (Portland is first in the league in opponents' 3-point percentage, so that's something.)
But the Blazers do have some pieces of a formula that can lead to long runs in the playoffs.
First, they have stars. LaMarcus Aldridge is a two-time All-Star at the age of 28. He's made these teams without the Blazers being a terribly good team. Currently, Aldridge ranks 10th in scoring and tied for 16th in rebounding.
Damian Lillard is the reigning Rookie of the Year and hasn't regressed. He's scoring 20.0 ppg, handing out 6.1 apg and is second in 3-pointers made. (Matthews is fourth in the long-distance category.)
Two superstars can make a team a contender. Matthews and Nicolas Batum are excellent complementary pieces and the team acquired Robin Lopez to play center when J.J. Hickson bolted for Denver as a free agent.
That's an above-average starting five, but the bench was a gigantic problem last season. The second unit averaged 18.5 ppg in 2012-13, which was almost six points less than the next worst team. It was also the lowest average by a team's bench since the Phoenix Suns in 2004-05.
This season, thanks in a very large part to Mo Williams' arrival, the reserves score 25.1 ppg, which is 25th. That's not good at all, but it's definitely better than historically bad. Williams, Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright have stabilized that group so the starters don't have to play 42 minutes a night.
But here's what Blazers people don't want to hear - the schedule does have something to do with it. The combined records of the seven teams during this winning streak is 14-39. They have beaten the Spurs, yes, but the Blazers have had an easy run of it, playing just three teams with a winning record.
Teams shouldn't be held accountable for the schedule, but the reality is Portland hasn't faced too many of the NBA's elite. When that changes, the record will change, too. Plus, teams will get up for the Blazers in a new way as their record continues to impress.
The Blazers are a good team and after this start, there's reason to think they will definitively make the playoffs. Let's just cool our collective jets on them being elite.