With the Trail Blazers opening their season Tuesday, Oct. 28, on national TV against the Los Angeles Lakers, it's time to ask: "How you think the Blazers'll do this season?"
Over the past few years, answers have gone from deep sighs at another crappy year to quiet optimism hoping for a competitive team. The Blazers missed the playoffs last year for the fifth straight year, but their 41-41 record came without injured No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden. Oden's back this year, along with rookies Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez.
ESPN's season preview lists the Blazers as 13th best in the 30-team league, while a USA Today preview vaulted them to an almost unthinkable fifth. Are the Blazers really going to be that good?
How the hell should we know? But, being gigantic nerds, we do know that the wonderful world of video games gives an incredibly detailed breakdown of the NBA.
NBA Live 09, produced by gaming giant Electronic Arts, has long dominated the basketball-game market, despite clunky mechanics and inferior graphics. NBA 2K9, produced by struggling Take-Two Interactive, has a stronger hoops game but frustratingly uneven presentation.
While we find the games a draw overall (2K9 feels a bit more like a simulation while Live leans toward the arcade end of the spectrum), there's a definite deal-breaker for us: Which game is better to our Blazers? We found out by checking the look, the feel and the predictions hidden within the two titles. Game on!
Block parties: Joel Przybilla hasn't had this much hair or rise since high school, but damn if it isn't fun to reject shots with him in
Sky's the limit: Travis Outlaw can almost dunk from the free-throw line in Live, and he's money on a fast break.
Makin' it rain: It's comical how many 3-pointers one can hit in a row in Live. Even Steve Blake can become a dominant scorer from behind the arc.
Oden smash!: His body becomes an uppercase "C" and the whole court shakes when he dunks. Just like real life!
The Spanish connection: No one sees that Sergio Rodriguez-to-Rudy Fernandez alley-oop coming, and it's fun to sing, "Olé, olé, olé, olé!" afterward.
Rolling with Roy: Brandon Roy has historically been a video-game bust, but 2K9 gives him the right balance of power and finesse.
Bayless: Preseason rating: 68 out of a max of 99. As his rating would suggest, Bayless isn't great in
though he is quick.
Fernandez: Preseason rating: 72. The 72 rating is a little deceiving—most things you can do with B-Roy, you can do with Rudy.
Oden: Preaseason rating: 79. He can feel a little sluggish, but he uses his length more successfully than in 2K9.
Bayless: Preseason rating: 79 out of 100. Streaky with his 3-pointers but fantastic driving the lane. And he always looks very serious.
Fernandez: Preseason rating: 79. An absolute scoring beast and flashy passer. You can take over a game with Rudy.
Oden: Preseason rating: 83. Not the shot-blocking force you'd expect, but they gave him a godly inside game.
Thirty-eight wins. The team was remarkably injury-free. But the Blazers lost a lot of close games, which made it all the more painful when the game innocently asked, "Would you like to intervene?" It was encouraging to see Rodriguez become a starter and the second leading scorer behind Roy. But come All-Star Weekend, the Blazers were only 23-29, and losing to up-tempo clubs like Golden State and Phoenix. Blame Oden, who only averaged 6 points per game, and management, which was unwilling to play Fernandez.
Forty-eight wins. Nasty injuries plagued Roy and Oden for the season's first half. But after the All-Star break, the Blazers cruised to first in the Northwest Division. Fernandez couldn't get time, his morale level moving from "restless" to "disturbed." Oden had a solid, if unspectacular year and Roy averaged 17 points and almost eight assists a game. The real surprise was Bayless, who finished second in scoring behind Roy. Our Blazers even beat San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Lakers in the second.
may be flashy, but its gameplay still isn't quite as intuitive or fun as that of
Blazers could kick just as much ass as those in
with a human at the helm. Our cop-out verdict is that we recommend Live for single players and 2K9 for people with actual friends. And as for the Blazers' real '08-'09 season? How about 45 wins and a few more injuries than either game predicted?