When we boarded the plane in Minneapolis after this last game the conversations started among a few of us who have been around this team for a while. My 13 years don’t measure up to Rice’s 22, so I deferred to him.
Yes, perhaps the freshest memories are the strongest, but Rice uttered, to no one in particular, that this was as surprising a road trip as he’s ever been a part of with this team. That’s one of those “all-things-considered” type comments.
A few of us remembered a 3-1 trip back in 2010, but even that trip is difficult to compare to this one. That was a 48-win team that had very high expectations. That particular trip included games against the Clippers, and then we went to New York, Chicago, and Milwaukee. So, record-wise, that trip matched this one. But, in terms of unexpected success, it isn’t in the same league with the trip we just wrapped up.
Not to sound overly pessimistic, but I remember thinking after the win at New York on New Year’s Day, “well, at least we got one on this trip.” And, I don’t think I was the only one thinking that. The performance in Toronto, even though perhaps explainable, probably justified those earlier feelings. Then came the win in Memphis, followed by Saturday night’s win in Minnesota.
To show how truly unpredictable things can be in this league, the game in Toronto actually seemed like the one realistic shot the Blazers had on this trip. Turns out it was the only one they lost.
So, take the wins at New York, Memphis, and Minnesota. Those teams had a combined home winning percentage of .791. The Knicks had only lost twice at home all season, and Memphis just three times, before their games against the Blazers.
Before we go any further, it’s only fair to point out that Portland did get some breaks in the last two wins, in terms of who was available for the two teams. But, given the injuries Portland has suffered in the recent past, I’m not feeling sorry for anyone, nor am I going to entertain ideas that because Zach Randolph and Kevin Love didn’t play against the Blazers that it somehow took something away from the wins. Road wins are road wins. Portland recently beat Denver at the Rose Garden without LaMarcus Aldridge, and went 4-2 without Wesley Matthews on the same home stand.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on where this road trip ranks on your list, at least compared with trips in the recent past. Or, what your honest predictions were before the trip started. Or, your reaction to the Blazers now being three games over the .500 mark and in seventh place in the Western Conference race at this point in January, speaking of surprises.
With the Trail Blazers leading by 22 points at Minnesota in the third quarter, I said on the air, several times, to expect a hard charge by the Timberwolves. It just never felt comfortable, and very little has come easy for this team this season. Yes, a big, comfortable win would have been very nice. But, again, any road win is acceptable.
The biggest cause for concern heading into the fourth quarter against the Timberwolves was Portland’s energy. Back-to-back sets are very tough in the NBA. The only thing tougher is when just one day off separates two back-to-back sets, otherwise known as four games in five nights. Sometimes, you get the benefit of a home game during a stretch like this. When the entire set comes on the same trip, and you factor in travel, very late nights, and four different hotel beds, it enters an entirely new factor into the equation. I don’t want to bore you with stuff about travel and recovery, but being I experience it, I can tell you it’s very tough. It wears us out and I’m sitting in a chair for two hours during the games.
So, when you take into account the strength of schedule of this trip, the lack of time in between games, and the expectations going in, this trip is right up there with the best I’ve ever experienced.
Just to brush the details of the win over Minnesota, the Trail Blazers used a combination of solid defense and rebounding to build that 22-point lead. Teams always make runs at you in the NBA, so it wasn’t exactly going out on a limb to predict that. But, Portland then started playing too fast, got sloppy, panicked, and nearly lost complete control of the game.
As Minnesota appeared poised to tie, or take the lead, in the final minute, the one negative thought I had was something about this still being a good trip, even if… I know, ye of little faith. I suppose that’s one of those defense mechanisms, to prepare for the worst and be pleasantly surprised if things work out. Yes, I’m one of those people. Part of the reason is so I don’t come off totally pissed and without explanation if something goes wrong and I’ve got to describe it on the broadcast. I learned that early. Expectations, either too high or too low are pretty transparent.
As you know by now, the Trail Blazers held the Timberwolves to 3-of-13 shooting in the closing minutes, got a huge shot from LaMarcus Aldridge, and put the game, and the trip, away.
This is about the time I start to look ahead to what’s to come on the schedule, and use phrases like “it doesn’t get any easier now,” but I don’t feel like doing that tonight. Yes, Portland is about to hit murderer’s row on the schedule, but let’s cross that bridge later.
It was a fantastic trip, that included three upset wins, and this team is slowly becoming a great story.
As another trip wraps up, I also want to give a public shout to our traveling TV crew. I did this on the air tonight toward the end of the game, but probably don’t do it enough. They are my second family, and I love them dearly. Our director Chris McMurtry is so talented it would take an entire blog to explain how much he means to the TV broadcasts. Jeff Curtin, our producer, actually worked high school games with me when we were students at Oregon State. John Burns, who punches all the buttons on an incredibly confusing switchboard, is our technical director. He basically flies the plane. John Lukrofka runs a confusing machine called an EVS. That’s where we get most of our instant replays and highlight packages. It’s basically like running a massive version of iMovie, only you’re dealing with 10 cameras flowing into your massive hard drive, and you have to create things in real time, to be shown on a live TV broadcast. John McConnell is the other member of our crew, and he handles all of the graphics you see on a broadcast, and oversees the people handling the score, clock, ect. Those are our guys, who I spend so much time with. Everyone else on the broadcast, including camera operators, we hire locally wherever we are. And then, of course, there’s Rice. What a piece of work. But, he’s so dang good at seeing a game develop, and predicting how coaches will react. I can’t tell you how much fun we have doing this job together. I didn’t want go overboard giving you behind-the-scenes stuff here, but these people are so important to me and they deserve a mention from time to time.
Okay, next up is Orlando on Monday. See you then.