Friday is a big day for the Trail Blazers. For the first time since March 10, 2020, fans will be allowed back inside Moda Center.
The Blazers announced on Wednesday that Moda Center will be open at 10 percent capacity, meaning roughly 1,900 fans will be allowed inside the arena when Portland takes on the Lakers this Friday.
Said Chris McGowan, the Trail Blazers’ president and chief executive officer, “We're obviously really excited to start welcoming fans back to the arena...We've been looking forward to this day for a long time and know the energy and passion our fans are going to bring during important games is really important.”
Following their victory over the Cavaliers, capping a 5-1 road trip, the team talked about how excited they are to play in front of their own fans again.
“I love the fact that we’re gonna have fans in the arena. That was great news," said head coach Terry Stotts. "It’s appropriate almost that our first game with fans is gonna be against the Lakers. I can’t think of anything better.”
Fans in attendance are more meaningful than just a sense of a return to normalcy. It's a chance for Rip City to really help the Blazers win some games. Portland is currently 16-16 at home and 21-13 on the road, a major part of that having to do with the lack of energy inside an empty Moda Center.
Said Damian Lillard, “I’m super excited. I think our record is much better on the road for a reason. We come in these other buildings and just having that fan energy, that real energy in the building, it feels like a competitive NBA game when the crowd is there. It’s fun. It feels normal. It’s how the game is supposed to be played. Then we come home and it’s an empty, dead building. It’s a noticeable difference. You can feel it."
The help from the sixth man couldn't come at a better time. The Blazers have six games left on the schedule, four of those being home contests. Portland is also currently just a half-game behind the sixth-place Lakers, meaning Friday's game is perhaps the most important of the season.
The game will have a real playoff feel to it, and the fans will only help that. But, can 1,900 fans truly make a difference? Coach Stotts thinks so.
"They certainly make a difference. We’ve been on the road now in multiple arenas that have fans and you do notice the fans. Now, it’s not 19,000 but to me, if you’re in a gym with 500 people, you feel the 500 people. I think our players, no question, will notice a difference in Moda Center with 1,900 people."
Lillard took to social on Tuesday to draw attention to the fact that the Blazers were the only team without fans in the arena. Fans quickly made the tweet go viral and supported their star.
While the Tweet may not have directly led to governor Kate Brown's change of course, Lillard can still claim that the mission was a success.