Column: An especially surreal season could still produce magic
Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan showed off a slight smile and acknowledged that it was a “great accomplishment.”
General manager Kevin Pritchard’s eyes were red and watery. Then, sounding like a graduation-day parent, Pritchard said he was overwhelmingly proud.
Portland guard Brandon Roy used words such as “good,” “great” and “positive.”
But that was about all you were going to get out of the Blazers late Wednesday night, following a playoff-clinching victory over the New York Knicks at the Rose Garden.
There was no celebration, no party. No pumped fists, raised voices or dancing. If anything, the mood was somber and reserved. And that was just the way the team wanted it, veteran forward Juwan Howard said.
“What you guys expect? Balloons? Champagne? Like how they do it in baseball; cover the lockers and spread champagne on each other?” a stone-faced Howard said. “Nah. We don’t do that here. … The season’s not over with, and we have a lot to play for.”
The Blazers definitely do.
After overcoming an avalanche, Portland has found the will to extend its life.
Come April 14, Western Conference teams such as New Orleans, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Clippers will watch their season draw to a close. No more games, no more opponents. Each team’s 2009-10 book will end up in the remainder bin — easily forgettable
and quickly forgotten.
But not the Blazers’. Portland still has possibilities.
All season, McMillan has steered his team through the NBA’s version of hell. Piles of injured, discarded bodies. Souls that temporarily lost their way. Somehow, McMillan and the Blazers have survived. And now they can see the light.
“That’s one of the great attributes of the this team. When somebody goes down, one or two people step up,” Portland guard Martell Webster said. “And we’ve been doing that consistently this year. Now, we’ve got pretty much what we need. We got into the playoffs. And we’ve just got to make something good of what we’ve got.”
Which leads to the inevitable: Do the Blazers have what it takes to succeed in the postseason?
Rhythm, consistency and confidence are everything in the NBA, and Portland has found the beat. But the Blazers aren’t just hot — they’re good. The team is better positioned than any other current 5-8 seed in either conference to emerge from the first round.
Portland is fitted with a near-perfect blend of talent, chemistry and experience that could allow the Blazers to enact serious damage throughout the playoffs. A starting five of Andre Miller, Roy, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby equals major danger. While reserves Howard, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless and Martell Webster scream second-round potential.
Which is why it will be so easy to get carried away with all the what-ifs, how-tos and they-shoulds during the days leading up to Portland’s first-round matchup against an opponent still to be determined.
As soon as the ball is tossed skyward and the game clock counts down from 12 in Game 1, some are going to analyze the life out the Blazers’ postseason experience. And should Portland not make it out of the first round again for the second consecutive season, some are going to want to paint everything in depressing disappointment and immediately seek out a name to blame.
They’ll be missing the truth.
No matter what happens from here on out, this season has been special. Absurd, surreal, unpredictable, unexpected, uncanny — even ridiculous. But very, very special.
When Oden and Przybilla hit the hardwood, clenching their broken knees and writhing in pain, no one in their right mind would have sold a ticket with the words “Portland Trail Blazers — 2010 NBA Playoffs” printed on it.
Now, those tickets will be devoured. Portland still has possibilities. The Blazers still have life. And an especially surreal season could still produce a little more magic.
Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter