Blazers’ Corner: Portland’s Late Season Struggles Seem Familiar
What it is with the Blazers and the second-half to seasons? Since the beginning of February, Portland is the only Western-Conference playoff team with a losing record at 13-14. More recently, they’ve three of four and seven of ten. Their star player, LaMarcus Aldridge, has been out the majority of this rough stretch, but if you’ve followed the team for a while, you know that All-Star player or not, this team always struggles to close regular seasons.
Ah yes, the last great Portland team. Despite ultimately getting to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers in game 7 (I apologize for bringing this up), Portland did not enter the playoffs on a particularly high note.
If you recall on Leap Year Day in 2000, Portland and the Lakers played at the Rose Garden with matching 45-11 records and 11-game winning streaks. Anyone who followed the league knew these were the best two teams in the NBA and when they inevitably met in the conference finals, the winner would go on to win the championship.
They eventually lost a 90-87 heartbreaker and the tailspin began. They would go 14-12 the rest of the way and while it didn’t prevent them from reaching the conference finals (they easily dispatched the T-Wolves and Jazz going 7-2 in both series), they did not have home-court when they played Los Angeles which may or may not have played a factor in that series (they lost two home games and won two road games in that series anyway).
The very next season, the team was rolling again. Following a drubbing of the Golden State Warriors on March 3, the team stood at 42-18. Things were going so well, they decided to bring more depth to the team by adding an aging Rod Strickland. As it turned out, he was not the final piece to the puzzle.
A five-game losing streak followed, including two losses to the lowly Vancouver Grizzlies, Shawn Kemp got busted for drugs and left the team and the Blazers went 8-14 the rest of the way.
Despite finishing with 50 wins, Portland’s limp into the playoffs managed to get them the 7th seed and another matchup with the Lakers. There was no exciting, long series this time around as the Blazers were swept by the eventual champs in three blow-out losses. Oh, and they fired head coach Mike Dunleavy after the season. The same guy who won Coach of the Year with the team two years earlier.
From mid-February to mid-March, the Blazers were actually playing really well. At the All-Star break, the Blazers were an average team at 25-23. But then they reeled off 18 wins in 22 games and were riding high at 44-27.
They then preceded to go 4-6 in the last ten games, finish as the 6th seed and once again got swept 3-0 by the eventual Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. It’s a smaller sample size, but it’s still noteworthy.
Another strong start and an average finish. After winning 7 of 9, the Blazers sat at 39-20 on March 2 and possibly had one more deep playoff run in them with aging stars like Scottie Pippen and Arvydas Sabonis. But once again, the team struggled heading into the post season.
Portland went 11-12 to finish the regular season, met Dallas in the first round as a 7th seed and after being down 3-0 in the series, the Blazers rallied and took the Mavericks to a game 7 in Dallas (the first team in NBA history to force a game 7 after being down 3-0).
But the team would run out of gas in the fourth quarter of the deciding game and eventually lose 107-95. That was a competitive team with Zach Randolph coming into his own and Bonzi Wells playing the best basketball of his career (remember his 45 points in game 2?).
If only they had had that fire in the last quarter of the season? They could have gotten home-court advantage and played Dallas four times in the Rose Garden.
This team brings back fond memories. Expected to still be in rebuilding mode, the 07-08 team looked like it was headed there after a 5-12 start. But then Portland did the unthinkable and won 13 consecutive games and 19 of 21. On January 14, they were a solid 23-14 behind strong play from a couple of young studs (Brandon Roy and Aldridge), the Vanilla Guerilla Joel Przybilla and the irrationally clutch Travis Outlaw.
The honeymoon would not last however as the young pups would go 18-27 the rest of the way. But it was fun while it lasted.
The following two seasons ended with a thud. The 2011-12 team had expectations going into the season with Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Marcus Camby, Gerald Wallace and newly acquired Jamal Crawford and Raymon Felton as well as rumors of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden’s return.
Yeah… about that. Felton came in to training camp out of shape, Crawford went from being a streaky shooter to just plain awful, Camby got old overnight, Roy and Oden never played for Portland again and coach Nate McMillan was eventually fired. The 66-game lockout season is not a fond memory.
And that brings us to last season. Everyone remembers the 13-game losing streak to end the season, but do you remember that team was 20-15 at one point after beating the Miami Heat at home? That doesn’t sound like an impressive record, but last year’s team essentially had five players worth a damn.
It’s because of this that the starters played too many minutes, broke down and the team went 13-34 (yikes?) the rest of the way. After the win against the Heat, Portland lost six straight games where the margin of defeat was never greater than six. This gut-wrenching stretch doomed them the rest of the way.
So as you can see, Portland apparently believes in the adage; it’s not how you finish, but how you start. This season has followed the same formula and unless the Blazers right the ship quickly, they’re in danger of joining a long list of teams that had unmemorable playoff runs.
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