Friday, February 20, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Never Underestimate the Power of Attitude

When Chris Paul went down with 1:13 remaining in the third quarter, the Hornets were still pretty comfortable with their 72-55 lead. The Blazers had another ending in mind. After the game, Brandon Roy said, “As soon as Paul went down, I said we’re gonna come back.” There were no “ifs” or “maybes” about it. Over the next seven minutes, the Blazers went on a 26-7 run, ignited by Jerryd Bayless, who is no stranger to taking advantage of opportunities with aggressive play. Ultimately outscoring the Hornets 38-15 in the fourth quarter, Portland evened the season series with a 97 to 89 win.

A lot can be learned from the game tonight. The Blazers win puts the team back at 500 on the road (12-12), which is one of Nate McMillan’s goals for the road trip. It also puts Portland in sole possession of that highly coveted fourth place spot in the Western Conference (think home court advantage). Beyond standings and records, the Blazers can also chalk this one up to experience which they can draw on down the stretch of the season as pressure steadily intensifies. So as I made my way to the locker room, I had one question in mind. What did the Blazers learn from this game that will ultimately make them a better team?

As always, first up is Nate McMillan. “We’re trying to become a better road team and we didn’t have our fans. Our fans have been great at home at helping us make runs like this. This is about growing up and maturing and learning how to do it amongst yourselves – the 12 players and the coaches on the road. Tonight the bench was involved in the game and we had guys we needed to get a lift from, and we got that lift.” The Blazers bench chipped in for 52 points, more than half the overall total, led by Bayless with 19, Travis Outlaw with 16 and Rudy Fernandez with 15.

In the locker room, I checked in with LaMarcus Aldridge who was equally excited about the win and notion of jumping on the plane and heading home to Dallas. According to LaMarcus, who finished the night with 22 points and 11 rebounds, “I think we waited too long to start playing and I think when we actually started playing it was kinda late, but then Jerryd came in and got a couple steals and things changed for us.” Recognizing that he’d like his team to get off to better starts, he also learned that a rally against a top team in the West “gives us motivation because it tells us we can beat these good teams even when we get down. It was good to get this win.”

From one captain to the next, Roy who learned once again that his teammates can capitalize offensively when he commands that much of an opposing defense, said, “I think we just got to take from this that you can never quit. Anything can happen in a 48-minute game. Unfortunately they had to lose Chris Paul, but sometimes that’s what you need. Everybody’s getting breaks, everyone’s kinda banged up right now. We just gotta keep playing, and keep scrapping. This is a huge win for us. It puts us at 30 wins before the all-star break.”

My take? New Orleans struggles to maintain an offensive flow without Chris Paul. Conversely, Portland's depth absorbed an off night for Roy (6 points on 2-10 shooting), while still fighting from 20 down in the 3rd to beat a top team on the road. But, I like Outlaw’s take away the best. As he respectfully closed up shop in the locker room, he said with an attitude that was both confident and humble, “It means a lot. We’re definitely shaping up to look like a playoff team.” Attitude won this game.