Blazers overcome an avalanche, enter the playoffs
PORTLAND — Goodbye, injuries. Farewell disappointment, drama and the at times overbearing weight of expectations.
Hello, NBA playoffs.
Portland destroyed the New York Knicks, 118-90, Wednesday night at the Rose Garden before a sellout crowd of 20,636. In the process, the resilient, no-quit Blazers qualified for the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“These guys have just been able to stick together and believe; not feel sorry for themselves” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “They’ve continued to work and continued to rally together. And they’ve put themselves in a good position.”
Losses by Houston and Memphis on Wednesday aided the Blazers, who walked onto the court with a magic number of two.
After running off a how-to-dominate-at-will-in-the-NBA display and easily disposing of the lowly Knicks, Portland then walked off the court with the knowledge that it had met one of its primary goals when training camp began last October.
When the Blazers’ regular season ends April 14, it will not mark the conclusion of Portland’s season. A five-year franchise playoff drought from 2004-08 has been answered with consecutive postseason appearances. And with seven regular-season games to go, Portland sits in seventh place in the Western Conference playoff chase, just a half-game behind sixth-place Oklahoma City and four behind second-place Dallas.
“It feels good,” Blazers guard Brandon Roy said. “There were a lot of moments there we could have put our heads down. But guys just stayed positive. And coach always kept reminding us that we made the playoffs last year, and this is something that we want to do each season.
“It feels good to have clinched. But, again, we’ve got to try and get as high as we can in the standings and just keep playing well. So, that way, we won’t have to pick up as much when the playoffs
LaMarcus Aldridge scored a game-high 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting to lead the Blazers (46-29) over the Knicks, while Roy added 20 points. Five Portland players reached double figures in scoring. The Blazers dished out 30 assists and committed just seven turnovers, while Portland outrebounded New York 50-30.
It was another impressive effort from a Blazers squad that has spent the majority of the 2009-10 regular season overcoming an uncanny — if not unbelievable — series of setbacks. Season-ending injuries to centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla topped the list, while everything from the fate of general manager Kevin Pritchard to temporary drama surrounding starting point guard Andre Miller clouded what was supposed to be a clear, clean picture.
The Blazers have missed 293 games due to injury this season. Oden, Przybilla, Roy, Nicolas Batum, Patty Mills, Jeff Pendergraph, Rudy Fernandez and ex-Blazer Travis Outlaw all missed at least 15 contests.
The low point for Portland arrived in late January, when the team lost four of five games. At the same time, Roy was dealing with a mysterious hamstring injury that eventually forced him to miss 14 of 15 contests.
But Roy and McMillan said the team never doubted it could overcome adversity, and never questioned whether it would be able to reach the playoffs.
A 114-112 overtime road victory over Dallas on Jan. 30 stopped the Blazers’ midseason fall. Miller scored a career-high 52 points in the game, and the win captured the resiliency and it’s-never-over mentality that has characterized Portland’s unpredictable season.
“We’re getting to where we want to go, and that’s what I’m most excited about” Pritchard said. “I’m overwhelmingly proud.”
The acquisition of center Marcus Camby on Feb. 16, just before the trade deadline, then gave the Blazers a much-needed boost.
Portland struggled to survive for nearly two months with Aldridge, veteran Juwan Howard, and rookies Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham filling in the middle. But when Camby was acquired in a deal for longtime Rip City stalwarts Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw,
Portland finally had a true center back in its lineup.
The Blazers are 15-5 since adding Camby, while the team has won 12 of its last 14 games.
“Camby has been the world to us,” Pritchard said. “He’s been absolutely terrific.”
Tickets to the Blazers’ first two home playoff games go on sale at 2 p.m. April 15. Tickets will be sold via blazers.com or by calling (888) 716-5510, but will not be available at the Rose Garden box office.
Portland’s first-round opponent, game dates and times will be determined no later than April 14, and the playoffs start April 17.
Last season, the Blazers lost to Houston, 4-2, in a first-round seven-game series.
Check the Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter for practice notes, news, interviews, photos and videos.