Like so many times before, the outlook is bleak today for the Trail Blazers, this time facing an 0-2 hole as they head into Saturday’s Game 3 against Golden State.
But inside the Blazers, they view life with a different lens.
Much like they were last season when they faced an 0-2 deficit to the Clippers in the first round, and much like this winter, when they were 11 games under .500 and three games out of a playoff spot, this team has shown a penchant for postponing their funeral.
So while the rest of the basketball world plans their tidy demise in four games to the mighty Warriors, the Blazers remained bold, if not brash, in their hope.
“We still believe we can beat them – don’t get it twisted,’’ captain Damian Lillard said. “They won the first two games, we competed well in the first, a blowout in the second, but after the game, scores don’t carry over.
“We feel like we matchup well … we feel like we can beat them.’’
Amid the flurry of clichés trumpeted after Friday’s practice – “a series doesn’t start until someone wins a road game” and “it’s never over until it’s over” – none carried more weight than the body of work in the last two seasons by the core of this team.
“I mean, look at the way our season went,’’ Maurice Harkless said, noting the Blazers 24-35 record entering March. “We rallied and found a way to make the playoffs. Right now, it’s similar: Our backs are against the wall and we have to find a way to rally and make it a series.’’
CJ McCollum said he figures the stubborn fight of the Blazers comes from the backgrounds of their roster. Both he and Lillard went to small schools after being unheralded coming out of high school. Harkless was traded to Portland by Orlando for virtually nothing. Allen Crabbe was a second-round pick. And players like Al-Farouq Aminu and Shabazz Napier have nearly played for as many teams as they have years of NBA service.
“Being counted out, it takes a certain determination, a certain mindset to overcome and have success,’’ McCollum said.
A mindset is one thing. Having enough talent and the ability to execute against the NBA’s best team is another.
The refrain from many of the Blazers players was the 110-81 Game 2 loss – which came with Golden State star Kevin Durant sidelined – meant nothing. Yet, those same players were quick to point out their competitive Game 1 loss, when the score was tied heading into the fourth quarter.
“We have to compete for a full game – I don’t think we’ve done that yet,’’ Harkless said. “We’ve had quarters, we’ve had halves, but we haven’t put together a full game. Game 3 we have to put a full game together.’’
Portland in last season’s playoffs lost the first two at Golden State then won Game 3 in Portland. This season, Portland finished the season with eight wins in a row at home before a loss to New Orleans in the season finale. Golden State this season won both games in Portland, although Evan Turner had a chance to win the second meeting with a three pointer that was off.
The Blazers on Friday “upgraded” center Jusuf Nurkic from out to doubtful for Game 3, which is a step forward but still a regression from the questionable designation he was given for Game 1.
Nurkic or not, Lillard says this is not the time to plan vacations.
“Had we given up after the second game last year (to the Clippers) and come into Game 3 with our heads down, and maybe it doesn’t even matter … maybe we go home in the first round,’’ Lillard said. “It just goes to show that you just never know.’’