Running Down A Dream: Duck, Uncle Cliffy Keep Portland Hot Throughout The Winter
By DHawes22 Posted in: Blazers, buckwilliams, Bulls, cliffrobinson, clydedrexler, dannyainge, drazenpetrovic, Heat, jeromekersey, kevinduckworth, Magic, Pacers, rickadelman, ripcity, terryporter
While the Trail Blazers were the toast of the league after their impressive start to the 1990-91 season, critics were quick to point out that Portland’s sterling 12-1 record could be attributed to playing 11 of the month’s first 13 games in front of one of the most raucous fan bases in the entire NBA. To truly silence any more of the remaining doubters, the Trail Blazers would have to prove themselves on the road. December’s docket had the Trail Blazers hitting the road 12 times – the most by any team in one month during the 1990-91 season.
But these Trail Blazers were up to any task set out in front of them. Of the 12 games away from the Glass Palace, Portland took care of business a staggering nine times – setting a franchise record for road wins in a single month; a record that still stands to this day. Those who fell victim to Portland along the way included a four-game in five-night East coast sweep of Miami, Orlando, Indiana, and Chicago. The victory over the Bulls was only the fifth defeat they suffered all season long in Chicago Stadium, in which the Trail Blazers cruised to a 109-101 victory, sweeping the season series from Michael Jordan and Co.
One would think waltzing into Chicago Stadium on the second night of a back-to-back would be the month’s highlight victory and during a regular month it would be, just not this one. On the opening night of December, Portland made the 150 mile trek up Interstate 5 for a northwest battle with the young and upcoming Seattle SuperSonics. It was a crazy contest in which Portland aided Seattle in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on multiple occasions. Carried by Xavier McDaniel’s game-high 41, the Sonics had the visitors from the south on the ropes numerous occasions. Portland had to claw back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth just to get the game into overtime, needed a Hail Mary three by Terry Porter to force a second overtime, and came back from four down with seven seconds left to push it to three overtimes before finally prevailing in what is now known as the “Miracle at the Seattle Center Coliseum”, 130-124.
Could Portland win away from the Rose City? Can they continue winning at this record-setting clip? All answers put forth by the media were answered with an emphatic “YES!” throughout December’s 18-game schedule of which the Trail Blazers won 15. At one point during the month, Rip City’s record stood tall at 19-1 – the second best 20-game start in the history of the NBA at the time. As the calendar turned to January, there were the Portland Trail Blazers standing atop the rest with their league-best 27-4 record.
The New Year saw the Trail Blazers come back down from the stratosphere, losing three of their first six games. But just when Portland seemed ripe for the picking, they reeled off seven straight to close out the month, ending up with 10 wins in 14 tries to run their overall record to 37-8. It’s somewhat astonishing to think a 10-4 mark is playing below standards but the Trail Blazers lost as many games in January as they did in in November and December combined.
Although the backcourt duo of Drexler and Porter got most of the publicity from the media and attention from opposing coaching staffs, it was the “Gentle Giant”, Kevin Duckworth and second-year Sixth Man Cliff Robinson who increased their outputs during the winter months. It’s hard to fault any coach for putting more of an emphasis on stopping Clyde, Terry, and Jerome but these Trail Blazers had no weaknesses and the Duck and Uncle Cliffy made them pay for leaving them unaccounted for.
Duck increased his numbers across the board in January, averaging 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds as he made a strong case to become an All-Star for the second time in his career. Due to his ability to play multiple positions on the court, Coach Adelman gave the young Robinson nearly seven more minutes of playing time in January compared to the previous month and Cliffy responded. Of the six 20-plus point games scored by Cliff during the 90-91 season, three came during January which saw him boost his scoring average from 10.2 points per game to 14.8 from the prior month. Coincidentally enough, the Trail Blazers were a perfect 6-0 with a margin of victory of 16.67 points when Robinson scored 20 or more during that regular season. Portland had the rest of the NBA in a Catch 22. Try and stop the backcourt and the frontcourt destroys you. Focus on the big men down low and there’s no one to guard The Glide or TP.
Highlights of January included both a major accomplishment for Rick Adelman and a roster shake up. A home encounter against Washington on January 18 saw the Trail Blazers give their head coach a belated Christmas present. Once the 24-point drubbing of the Bullets was in the books, Rick Adelman had clinched the head coaching spot for the Western Conference All-Stars. It was only the second time in franchise history a Portland coach would lead the Western All-Stars in the mid-season classic – the other being Jack Ramsay in 1978.
Five days later on January 23rd, 1991 the Trail Blazers front office successfully completed a three-team trade with Denver and New Jersey. The Trail Blazers sent their Croation star, Drazen Petrovic, who had become unhappy with his current role to the Nets. New Jersey sent their 1992 first-round pick (Bryant Stith) to Denver who then traded away veteran swingman Walter Davis to Portland.
It appeared the offseason acquisition of Danny Ainge cut too deeply into Petro’s playing time, causing a rift between Drazen and Coach Adelman. Rick saw two players – Ainge and Petrovic – who could play either backcourt position and each possessing a scorer’s mentality, but only one had multiple years of championship experience – Ainge. After playing nearly 16 minutes per game in April of 1990, Petrovic’s action was slashed by nearly 75 percent, seeing the floor only 4.6 minutes a night in December.
In acquiring the 36-year old Davis, the Trail Blazers strengthened their bench by adding another scorer who could come in sporadically throughout the game and deliver buckets at Coach’s discretion. And it didn’t hurt that Walter had 13 years of experience and six All-Star appearances under his belt, including multiple trips to the conference finals. But like everyone else on the roster, Walter wanted another shot at winning his first championship ring. Although he was 36, Davis still showed he had plenty of gas left in the tank as he was putting up 18.2 points per game on 50 percent shooting throughout the first two months of the season. While Portland gave up a bit of their future for a better shot at the present, it was evident that the Trail Blazers, one through twelve, had the deepest and most talented roster in the entire NBA.