For a team fresh off an NBA Finals appearance and having no core rotational player over the age of 30, minimal changes were made to the roster in the summer of 1990. With only one selection in the June draft, the Trail Blazers picked Alaa Abdelnaby, a 6-10 forward out of Duke at No. 26 in the first round. While it would have been easy for the Trail Blazers brass to sit on their hands and call it good for the offseason, they weren’t the best in the biz for a reason. Realizing the team could use more championship experience as well as another long-range threat, Bucky Buckwalter and Co. killed two birds with one stone on August 1st, 1990.
A deal was swung with the Sacramento Kings by sending 1989’s first-round draft pick, Byron Irvin, their own 1991 first round pick (ended up becoming Pete Chilcutt) and the rights to Chicago’s 1992 second round pick (Brett Roberts) for Oregon native Danny Ainge. The nine-year veteran had a plethora of postseason experience – winning two NBA Championships with the Boston Celtics in 1984 and 1986 – and possessed a deadly touch from three-point range – connecting on 37.4% of his attempts the season prior. The addition of Ainge gave the Trail Blazers arguably the deepest roster in the entire NBA and the ability to go 11-deep on any given night.
This time around the Trail Blazers would no longer catch teams by surprise. The entire 82-game season would be played with the target squarely on their backs – getting the opponents’ best shot night in and night out. Many members of the media had them pegged as heavy favorites to win the West once again and ultimately win it all. Anything short of a championship was viewed as a lost season by BlazerManiacs everywhere. Simply put, the pressures put on them by outside forces would be too much too handle for most other teams. But these Trail Blazers were up to the task.
Right out of the gate, the Trail Blazers proved to the rest of the NBA that they were the team to beat. With the schedule maker putting them at the “Crazy Coliseum” for 10 of November’s 13 games, Portland won their first 11 to kick off the ’91 campaign – the fourth best start in league history – eventually holding an envious 12-1 record at the end of the month. And it wasn’t the cellar dwellers of the league Portland was taking to school on a nightly basis either. Of the 12 different opponents played in November, eight were participants in the 1990 NBA playoffs.
Along the way in making this a November to remember, Portland knocked off the Lakers at the Forum in overtime fashion, 125-123, got revenge against the “Bad Boys” at the Coliseum 113-101, and handled Jordan’s Bulls with ease in the Rose City, 125-112. But no win was more memorable than the one against the defending Midwest Division champion Spurs on November 25. In what is now referred to simply as “The Perfect Quarter,” Portland blitzed San Antonio, converting on 22 of their 25 field goal attempts in what led to a 49-18 lead after the first quarter. The Trail Blazers cruised to a 117-103 victory; just another day at the office for this group who outscored their opponents by a margin of 15.6 points – the most by any team in the NBA during the opening month.
A nightmare for opposing coaching staffs to game plan for, the Trail Blazers featured an astounding seven players who scored in double figures during the opening month, led by Clyde Drexler’s 23.9 points per game. Building off of his brilliant postseason the spring prior, The Glide also grabbed 6.8 rebounds and handed out 6.5 assists. His running mate in the backcourt, Terry Porter, put up a double-double – 18.3 points and 10.4 assists—making a strong case for himself as an NBA All-Star. The starting frontcourt (Kersey, Williams, and Duckworth) combined for 43.8 points and 23.3 rebounds, making the defense pay for focusing on Drexler and Porter. Off the bench, Cliff Robinson’s rise to stardom continued its course as he poured in 11.4 points in only 20 minutes of action. But to make matters worse for the rest of the league, the Danny Ainge experiment was working. And it was better than anyone could have imagined. The dead-eye shooting Ainge connected on 59% attempts from long-distance (23-39) en route to a 14.4 scoring average. Have fun picking your poison.
When November was all said and done, the Trail Blazers had lived up to and exceeded the expectations set out for them. Their 12-1 mark was tops in the entire NBA and Portland already had earned a comfortable 3.5 game lead in the Pacific Division as well as for the No. 1 seed in the West. For his team’s excellence, Rick Adelman was awarded the NBA’s Coach of the Month honors – his second such honor in three seasonal months (March, 1990). Although the Trail Blazers only lost once (a 14-point anomaly at home versus Phoenix), they had only ventured away from the friendly confines of the Memorial Coliseum three times. A road-heavy December schedule would prove once and for all if the ’91 Trail Blazers had any chinks in their armor.