By now, you've probably seen all the dire predictions for the Trail Blazers this season.
Even though Portland made the Western Conference finals last season, most of the "experts" are forecasting it to finish in the bottom half of the conference or even out of the playoffs entirely.
Yes, the Trail Blazers are underrated almost every season. The rest of the country has trouble keeping up with what's going on out here, apparently.
But let me say briefly what I think – and over the last few seasons I've been a pretty accurate forecaster of Portland success. And by now, most locals know I'm anything but a homer.
The changes the team made in the offseason didn't involve superstars or big names. But they were changes that will have an impact on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland's best players. Instead of having forwards who cannot be counted on to consistently make three-point field goals, the Blazer guards are going to have an open floor to navigate because the corner shooters must now be defended. Hassan Whiteside will be a more-than-adequate fill-in for injured Jusuf Nurkic at center and the bench is going to be better. In addition, I expect Zach Collins to hit the usual third-season boost in development this team has experienced under Terry Stotts and his staff.
And I also expect the two starting guards to make another jump this season. This is a modern-day version of Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars and we will see that this season.
I don't think there is any team in the league that Portland should or will fear. And I expect this team to win 52 games, at least.
A championship? Certainly they will be in the running. But injuries will have the biggest impact on that. The healthiest team in the West has the best chance of winning and I'm not ready to start predicting injuries.
And the one unfortunate thing for the West winner is that by the time it runs the gauntlet of its own conference playoffs, it may turn out to be too burned out to beat the East.
Dwight Jaynes' annual forecast of the Trail Blazers' season, win total originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest