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BRANDON: Picking the Blazers; LPGA still searching; locals spice NFL games

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Suzann Pettersen receives the winner's check from Tom Maletis of Tournament Golf Foundation after her LPGA victory last year at Columbia-Edgewater Country Club.When will the Trail Blazers (28-9) match their 2012-13 season win total of 33?

When will they get victory No. 34 this season?

Let the guessing begin.

Here are their next 10 games — and my predictions:

Jan. 15 — Cleveland (Portland wins)

Jan. 17 — at San Antonio (Spurs win)

Jan. 18 — at Dallas (Portland wins)

Jan. 20 — at Houston (Portland wins)

Jan. 21 — at Oklahoma City (Thunder wins)

Jan. 23 — Denver (Portland wins)

Jan. 25 — Minnesota (Portland wins No. 33)

Jan. 26 — at Golden State (Warriors win)

Jan. 28 — Memphis (Portland wins No. 34)

Feb. 1 — Toronto (Portland wins No. 35, for a 35-12 record)

  • • The LPGA is crowing about its growth.

    The tour has turned its final event of 2014 into a season-points championship, with the winner pocketing $1 million.

    Also, this year the pros have five more events on the schedule than they did in 2013.

    But that increase includes the historic Portland tourney, which remains sponsor-less, subject to negotiations with Safeway and other potential new backers.

    "It's going to be an ongoing thing for the next eight weeks," Tom Maletis, Tournament Golf Foundation president, said last week.

    The tournament is on the LPGA calendar for Aug. 28-31 at Columbia-Edgewater Country Club, and Maletis says all systems are go between TGF, which runs the tournament, and the club.

    "We met with Columbia-Edgewater (last Friday) and went over our schedule and a lot of preliminary stuff," Maletis says. "Even this time of year, we have to do a lot of things in preparation for the event."

    Safeway has been on a year-to-year basis as title sponsor.

    "We're still talking to them and a number of other potential sponsors, new and existing," Maletis says.

    It would seem that the LPGA has the know-how and momentum to make something happen, or to step in and guarantee that the Portland tournament comes off for a 43rd consecutive year.

    It would be a serious black eye if the LPGA had to take Portland off the calendar, after the other impressive gains forged by Commissioner Mike Whan and company. Hard to believe Whan would let that happen on his watch.

    The new season championship finale event "is really good for the tour, the players and the fans," Maletis says. "It's sort of like what the PGA has done. And Mike Whan has done a fantastic job as commissioner.

    "We never have a problem getting the top players to come to Portland, but this new format just helps guarantee player participation."

  • • Anticipation is high for NFL conference championship day.

    On Sunday, New England plays at Denver for the AFC title in a game pitting the perennial Patriots against the mile-high Broncos, with quarterback legends Tom Brady and Payton Manning. Immediately after that, San Francisco visits Seattle in another clash of physical NFC divisional rivals who don't like each other, from the coaches on down.

    It's also a big day for fans of local products. Each team has key players with various ties to the state of Oregon.

    A key to New England's offense is former Oregon Ducks running back LeGarrette Blount, who ran for four touchdowns, including a 73-yarder, in last week's 43-22 victory over visiting Indianapolis. Blount has become a big weapon.

    And the Pats' punter/holder, Ryan Allen, is from West Salem High. Allen, however, was iffy as of Tuesday morning, after injuring a shoulder when he was tackled for a safety after a bad snap in the Colts game.

    Denver has Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas from Portland State. All the former Vikings basketball/football player has done this year is catch 65 regular-season passes for 12 touchdowns and 788 yards and then grab six balls for 76 yards last week against San Diego.

    San Francisco uses three former Ducks offensively — 6-4, 290-pound Will Tukuafu, who was a defensive lineman at UO, is now a blocking fullback; Adam Snyder is a veteran backup offensive lineman; and LaMichael James returns kickoffs and punts and backs up Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter at running back. Tukuafu could miss the Seattle game with a sprained knee he suffered last week as the Niners eliminated Carolina.

    Seattle's roster includes starting center Max Unger and defensive back Walter Thurmond III, both ex-Ducks. Also, veteran Paul McQuistan from Lebanon is a reserve offensive lineman and former Portland State standout DeShawn Shead is an extra defensive back and special teams regular.