(SportsNetwork.com) - The Portland Trail Blazers will try to get back to the playoffs starting Wednesday night when they open the season with a visit to the Phoenix Suns.
Portland missed the postseason the last two seasons after three straight first-round exits. But the Blazers won five more games than the season before and feature an exciting roster of young players.
The most important of which is LaMarcus Aldridge. The two-time All-Star has posted incredible numbers since he's become the focal point of the franchise, but it hasn't translated into any postseason appearances.
Last season, the next piece of the puzzle was last season's Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard. He was fantastic in his NBA debut season and looks to build this season with Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and some other great offseason acquisitions.
After finishing with a embarrassingly bad second unit last season, the Blazers built a bench. They drafted C.J. McCollum, who will miss time thanks to a broken foot, traded for Thomas Robinson, who is wandering the NBA like a nomad, signed Mo Williams, Joel Freeland. Meyers Leonard and picked up sharp- shooter Allen Crabbe.
"This is still a process, but everything we did this offseason was with one goal in mind. We're going to continue to develop our young guys, it's just not going to come at the expense of winning games," GM Neil Olshey proclaimed at Portland's media day. "I think we're talented enough (to make the playoffs)."
Phoenix is not.
They weren't before a week ago either, but on Friday, the Suns traded Marcin Gortat, who was on the last year of a contract, and a slew of marginal players, for Emeka Okafor and a 2014 first-round pick.
The move should free up time for this year's first-round pick, Alex Len, to play more center. It also frees up cap space, gives them possibly four first- round choices in the incredibly rite. During the losing streak the Cyclones have lost by an average of 28.3 points per game, though that number is largely colored by a 71-7 rout by now No. 5 Baylor. Dating back to last season, Iowa State has lost eight of its last nine games
The Wildcats were suffering from their own losing slide before last weekend when they upended West Virginia. The Wildcats scored 28 unanswered points to close the game and come away with their third victory of the season. Overall the Wildcats have not had a great deal of success this season with a 3-4 overall record and a 1-3 mark against the rest of the Big 12. It has been quite the dropoff for the defending conference champions, but one that can be expected with the loss of do-it-all quarterback Collin Klein.
Speaking of Klein, last season the quarterback helped the Wildcats rally from a 14-10 deficit to post a 27-21 win over the Cyclones by rushing for 105 yards and three touchdowns. The win was the fifth straight for Kansas State against Iowa State. However, the Cyclones hold the all-time series edge by a count of 49-43-4.
Most weeks Iowa State has failed to not only pick up victories but many points or yards. Though not last in the league, the Cyclones are well within the bottom half in total yards (351 ypg) and points scored (25.4 ppg). A 42-of-123 success rate on third down has not helped.
Quarterback Sam Richardson suffered a concussion against Oklahoma State, but he is listed as probable this week. Richardson has been guiding the offense and has thrown for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns on 55.6 percent passing, while being intercepted six times. One of those interceptions came in the loss to the Cowboys when he completed just 6-of-15 passes before coming out. Should Richardson be out, Grant Rohach, who threw for 97 yards and a score on 12- of-23 passing against OSU, would be the starter.
Quenton Bundrage (29 receptions, 441 yards, six TDs) gives whoever is throwing the ball a solid target and one that is more than capable of the big play. Bundrage is averaging 15.2 yards per reception and already has a 97-yard catch this season. E.J. Bibbs (20 receptions, 209 yards , two TDs) is a decent second option.
Losing Richardson will not just hurt the passing game but the running game as well. Richardson has piled up 311 yards on the season, which ranks second on the team. Aaron Wimbley (401 yards, two TDs) is the more traditional ball- carrier and leads the team in rushing, despite ranking second in carries behind Richardson.
Although the offense certainly hasn't been producing at a high level the Cyclones efforts on defense have really been their undoing. Iowa State is dead last in the league in total defense (481.7 ypg). Iowa State has just 10 sacks and has allowed teams to convert on all but one trip into the red zone. Jeremiah George (81 tackles, 2.5 sacks) has done all he can but he has been one of a very few consistent performers.
Jake Waters has been the guy responsible to take over for Klein this season. Waters has been decent but far from the offensive force that Klein was. Overall Waters has thrown for 1,234 yards and seven touchdowns on 63.7 percent passing while being intercepted five times. Waters is also not as dynamic on the ground as he is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Against West Virginia, Waters threw three touchdown passes on 10-of-13 passing and also totaled 55 yards on the ground.
Leading rusher Daniel Sams was limited severely against West Virginia as he added just 16 yards to his season total on just 14 carries. Sams (538 yards, seven TDs) has teamed with John Hubert to form a strong backfield tandem but Huber (486 yards, five TDs) has been more productive of late, especially against the Mountaineers when he picked up 86 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Tyler Lockett (39 receptions, 586 yards, four TDs) and Curry Sexton (27 receptions, 301 yards) serve very different roles as the one-two punch for the receiving corps. Lockett is the predominant target and the big-play scoring threat, while Sexton, who is averaging just 11.1 yards per reception, is more of the steady, short-yardage target.
In all, the Wildcats are posting solid numbers on the offensive side of things, scoring 30.9 points and posting 407.1 yards of total offense each week.
The Kansas State defense ranks in the middle of the Big 12 in both scoring (24.1 ppg) and total defense (379.1 ypg). One of the biggest weaknesses for the defense is in the turnover department. The Wildcats have forced a league- low nine turnovers, while coughing the ball up 17 times for a Big-12 worst turnover margin (-8). Ryan Mueller (5.0 sacks) is s solid pass rusher for the Wildcats.
At this point it does not look like either of these teams will be in the running for the Big 12 crown. Kansas State is clearly the superior squad with its adequate play on both sides of the ball. As long as the Wildcats keep the turnovers to a minimum, Manhattan should be celebrating on Saturday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kansas State 37, Iowa State 20