When I think back to that fateful April day when the Trail Blazers were awarded the #1 pick, I can still feel the goosebumps on my skin. I still hear the voices, shouting in the post-pubescent chords, of myself and my friends Casey, Nick and Matt. I still remember the incredible sense of “we’re here, we’re back; everything is going to be fine!” Travel from that April afternoon into the future, well the present, and you find that those feelings of hope, elation, exuberance are as faded as denim and replaced with a sullen and downtrodden countenance unsure of where to look. The future looked so incredibly bright and full of promise, until cloud by cloud, just like a Portland winter, the light was choked by the cumulus cover. It’s actually sinisterly poetic how Portland’s dreariness is a metaphor for what has occurred with the Portland Trail Blazers the last five years: just when you think there will be a chance for sunshine, you get dumped on in an unrelenting fashion.
Ball so hard, this shit crazy
Y’all don’t know that don’t shit phase me
The Nets could go 0-82 and I look at you like this shit gravy
–Jay-Z, N****s in Paris
Must be nice (Lyfe Jennings voice) Jay-Z, regardless of the Nets’ futility or this impending lockout, you will (still) indeed be balling. Even as a minority owner, you’ll be cooling. Same goes for the other owners around the league. As for the players, you’ll be good too, as long as you manage your money better than Charles Barkley and Antoine Walker ever could. I am actually 100% certain that is the exact reason the NBA has a “Money Management” seminar shortly after players are drafted… but I digress. As for the rest of us… the rest of us that have some employment connection to the NBA as arena ushers, concessionaires, game-day operation staff, well, we will not be as fortunate for however long this lockout lasts and continues to cut games. The ENTIRE NBA business model has decimated the preseason slate and is slowly chopping regular season games at the knees in two week intervals. The employees (and jobs) that are integral to making sure that the “system” runs properly for all of these NBA teams are being put up on the Mayan sacrificial altar as alms to the idol of the dollar sign in a vain attempt to make a collective bargaining agreement. Just like in Apocalypto, I am Jaguar Paw and that is not about to fly… not while I have a voice that yearns to be heard amid the dross of “I NEED MORE MONEY,” from the owners and players.
Well, that was interesting. Maybe interesting isn’t indicative of how insanely irritating the initial two games of the first round of the NBA playoffs were for the Portland Trail Blazers. In a manner the Blazers have perfected throughout the year, the team lost a close game they had in their grasp due to late game in-execution and lost another by sheer befuddlement and lack of effort in the second half. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: these are the Ugly Blazers.
In a season marked by countless trials, inhumane adversity and frustrating failure, it only got worse in the disastrous two game jaunt in Dallas. Gone is the hope and the thoughts of tasting the sweetness of the second round and unwelcome are the questioning of desire, the inability to defend and “WTF is wrong?” by fans and pundits alike. As a series pegged to be an upset-worthy, it has been anything but… and dramatically so. And now almost everything: sanity, pride, confidence in the present and future hang in the precarious balance of two home games in the Rose Garden.
Just when the Blazers seem to have played some of the best basketball of their season in the month of March, lethargy, poor shooting and an inability to complete road games in which they lead reared its ugly head. Sure they ended March with a cool 10-6 record, but upon further examination of those wins and losses (more importantly the losses), that 10-6 was as choppy as the Atlantic Ocean. The entire Blazers’ fan base was given the gauntlet of emotions to feel throughout March: shock at the luck with certain key opposing players being suspended or injured, elation over thwarting the Heat and stunning the Spurs, seething anger over the appearance of not giving enough effort in Charlotte and Atlanta, sound confidence in a few boring blowout wins and a loss for words and utter disappointment in losses to Oklahoma City and New Orleans. The Blazers season to date has not been as well-wrought as expected and the month leading into the playoffs proved no different.
Editor’s note: First paragraph written before Camby’s return on Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks, but after the impressive comeback win against the Denver Nuggets.
When I was going to write this post last week it was going to focus on whether or not the Blazers should tamper with the current chemistry that they have built by trading away pivotal players. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby (though he is not playing, his veteran presence in the locker room is invaluable) were the main names thrown out as potential chips to be used to upgrade (or downgrade the team) at the February 24th trade deadline. The main question as going to be: can they live through those two being gone? Could the chemistry live? Would the good vibes, as the Blazers had built a 7-2 record going into the All-Star Weekend and the deadline (now a strong 8-3 after last night’s victory), survive a jostling of significant magnitude? I wrestled with that question for quite awhile, something I know Rich Cho has worked tirelessly to answer this season. Juggling the loss of Greg Oden again, the uncertainty of Brandon Roy’s return, the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge (attributed to Andre Miller’s point guard prowess) and the burgeoning confidence being shown by Wesley Matthews, Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum (intermittently, of course) and then deciding to make a trade? Restless nights were many, and had often I can assume. I know that I for sure would have fell asleep in the training facility office after a long night of throwing proposals at the wall to see which stuck.
Editor’s note: The entire time this incident was occurring, I was initially going to use the G.O.O.D. Friday track “So Appalled.” However, the subject matter and overall lyric flow didn’t fit the scope of this post. The only parts I really thought fit were: “I’m so appalled/Spalding ball,” Swizz saying “life sometimes can be ridiculous,” and the hook (especially in the RZA’s voice) “this s*** is f***in ridiculous” because it truly was. The song chosen has more of an uplifting message and is in line with my imploring that I never want to see what I saw Wednesday night.
Tonight, the Blazers may have lost a heart-wrenching 5 point game to the sheriffs of the West in the Lakers, but the bigger loss is my respect of Blazers fans that I cater to. I work as an usher for the Rose Garden at entry A3 and my job is pure bliss and enjoyment most nights. Tonight’s game was enjoyable until pettiness reared its ugly head and ruined a rather enjoyable, competitive and energetic atmosphere that had been brewing at my perch in A3.
The game hadn’t even started yet and when my man Dennis walked in the building, his exuberance and Laker regalia screamed shrillingly that trouble may lurk at some point in the game. Laker games are full of harbingers that makes the trained eye (I’ve been working A3 for 4 years and have seen 7 Laker games full of incidents) recognize before anything else. There was something different about Dennis though. Not to pigeonhole Laker fans, but most are pompous, abrasive and emboldened to stir the pot as they see fit. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. And don’t snicker and smirk Blazer fans, you are by no means anymore angelic. This story will make you livid and curse the very fans that tried to ruin an opposing fan’s enjoyment of basketball.
Still late, but I am going to catch up in one fell and timely swoop. The Blazers returned from one of the oddest road trips you will see, mostly because of the fact they are the only team left in the Pacific Northwest. They started in LA for a Clippers game, New York for a Knicks showdown and then it was off to some Midwest swinging in Chicago and Milwaukee. That itinerary sounds rather insipid, huh? If I’m scheduling these games, I would like to schedule them in manner that is not as crazy and odd as this. But such is life in the NBA with the countless back-to-backs that are needed for all teams to play their 82 games in the most frenetic 7 months thought possible. Well, enough about that topic and onto rehashing a very good, quality, frustrating, and intriguing 3-1 road trip by the Blazer. To save time, yours and mine, to save space and show some trends, I have decided to lump this all together like a fantastic Hungarian goulash.