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SCORESHEET: What makes a difference for Blazers

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Damian Lillard's arrival makes the Trail Blazers much different at point guard.Never have understood why the Trail Blazers were counted out of the playoffs before the season even began.

Sure, they still have a ways to go, but let's put it this way: If you could have had Damian Lillard running the offense last season — and had Terry Stotts as head coach from the start — do you think the Blazers really would have gone 26-38 and been the mess they were?

Or let's do this: Close your eyes and picture Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford at point guard on this season's Blazer team instead of Lillard.

OK, it's safe to look now.

Last year's Blazers earned the draft pick they used to take Lillard — which is how the system is supposed to work.

And, once the Portland organization got that draft position, it was ready to get serious about bringing on a full-time coach —  Stotts — who knows how to use Lillard, Nicolas Batum and others.

This season, the Blazers should be able to at least stay within striking distance of the final two playoff spots in the NBA Western Conference, especially with other teams' older stars and even younger ones (Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio) going down with injuries.

Road games and managing the minutes of the starters will be a challenge for this Portland team, but with Lillard and Stotts and if the team is healthy, there will be some chalupa nights at the Rose Garden.

• My interest in soccer goes back to my Cleveland High days (circa 1970) and the heyday of the North American Soccer League. I covered the Portland Timbers when they began in 1975. Attended just about every home match from 1975 through the United Soccer Leagues era. Grew up rooting against just about any and every sports team from Seattle.

The Cascadia Cup, a made-up competition between the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, was kind of fun — in, oh, 1976.

Now it's 2012, and the whole Cascadia thing seems lame to me, if not even a little silly. And certainly blown way out of proportion.

I had hoped that it would go out the window now that Portland has a Major League Soccer team.

I couldn't have imagined the Trail Blazers of the 1990s going wild over winning a Cascadia trophy over the Seattle SuperSonics and Vancouver Grizzlies. And I can't picture the Portland Winterhawks of today getting very fired up if someone contrived a side competition between them and the Seattle Thunderbirds and Vancouver Giants.

Happy Birthday

Nov. 3, 1957 — Steve Johnson (age 55)

Nov. 5, 1952 — Bill Walton (age 60)

Nov. 5, 1973 — Gavin Wilkinson (age 39)

Oregon sports history

Nov. 2, 1947 - At Portland Golf Club, captain Ben Hogan and the U.S. squad completes an 11-1 victory over Great Britain. It was the seventh Ryder Cup and the first since a hiatus from 1939-45 caused by World War II. Other U.S. players included Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret, Lloyd Mangrum and Lew Worsham.

Nov. 2, 1968 — Marshfield High senior Steve Prefontaine wins his second consecutive state cross-country title.

Nov. 4, 1988 — The Trail Blazers retire the No. 20 jersey of forward Maurice Lucas.

Nov. 1, 1991 — Grant High graduate and former University of Oregon guard Terrell Brandon begins his NBA career with a game in his hometown. Brandon, playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has 15 points, six assists, three steals and two turnovers in a 117-106 loss to the Trail Blazers at Memorial Coliseum. "He's going to be a terrific player," says Cleveland coach Lenny Wilkens.

Nov. 4, 2002 — The Blazers shut down their Action Sports Cable Network, after a 16-month attempt to get the regional channel on local television. Team president Bob Whitsitt delivers the news to ASCN employees at 2 p.m. to the station's Northeast Portland office near the Rose Garden, and by midnight, the signal is off the air.

Tweet of the week

God has a plan for ME! It's going to be special too!

Nolan D. Smith ‏@NdotSmitty

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Twitter: @sbrandonsports