Monday, March 9, 2009

On the way to respect

Respect is often hard to come by when you’re young. Real respect has to be earned, so it makes sense that those who are new to the game would have to accumulate lumps and the corresponding experience to win the over doubters. The Portland Trail Blazers, through a series of arduous yet rewarding seasons, are reaching the point where they now demand and command the respect of others.

But do they have the respect of the Lakers?

The team Portland fans love to hate has the respect and attention of the Trail Blazers and the NBA in general. They’ve got the best record in the NBA. Some of them have rings. They’ve got arguably the best player in the game and one of the most successful coaches in the history of the league. In short, the Lakers have done just about everything necessary to earn the reverence of the 29 other teams in the NBA. But is that respect reciprocated when it comes to the Trail Blazers, a team that has none of those things?

“I think they do,” said Nate McMillan after pondering the question for a moment. “I certainly think they do. I don’t think they come in here assuming that it’s going to be an easy game.”

No argument there. The Lakers know the Trail Blazers are going to give them a tough game … at least at the Rose Garden. After all, there’s not a player in the L.A. locker room who doesn’t know of Portland’s recent domination at home, so in that respect, the Lakers have to have some respect for the Rose Garden.

“I think they have more respect for us at home,” said Brandon Roy. “Every team does, because we’re very capable at the Rose Garden. I think in their building, there’s a little more room for error. I think in our building, they know they have to be at the top of their game for 48 minutes.

“The fact that we’ve beaten them the last six times in our building makes them know that they have to be ready to buck in the Rose Garden.”

True enough. No team with any sense thinks they’re going to get an easy out in the Rose Garden, but is that really respect? Does that deference carry over when the Trail Blazers visit the STAPLES Center? And can you respect a team part-time?

“When you beat someone, they respect you, and they respect us” said LaMarcus Aldridge, a player who has had his share of … disagreements with the Lakers. “I think they feel like they know they have to come play us. I think we’ve showed them that we can beat them, so they’re going to come ready to play.”

Channing Frye agreed with Aldridge’s assessment that beating a team six consecutive times on your own court demands respect, but with a caveat.

They haven’t won here in four years,” said Frye, “so I think they respect us, but I don’t know if they look at us as one of those top-tier teams. I think what we have to do is continue to establish ourselves. But we can’t really worry if they respect us or not. We have to make them respect us and we’re going to do that by physical play and by going out there and hooping.”

So almost to a man, the Trail Blazers believe, that they’ve got the respect of The Zen Master, the Mamba and the rest of the Lakers. Winning, albeit only at the Rose Garden, is enough, in their minds, to earn L.A.’s admiration.

But then there’s Travis Outlaw.

According to the longest-tenured Trail Blazer, he’s seen nothing out of the Lakers to make him believe they truly respect the Red and Black. And in Outlaw’s opinion, that lack of respect comes down to one thing.

“We young,” explains Outlaw. “They probably look at us as an up and coming team, but naw, I don’t think they really respect us.”

In short, Outlaw isn’t buying the notion that beating a team 50 percent of the time is the way to go about gaining credibility. As he sees it, simply winning at home isn’t enough to garner the respect of an opponent.

“Sure, we been beating them in the Rose Garden,” said Outlaw, “so it’s probably a little hump in the road for them, but I don’t think they respect us like we’re going to be playing for the Western Conference Finals. Not like that type of respect or how they respect someone like Tim Duncan. It’s totally different. We just young, that’s how they look at it. They swagger is on 1,000!”

So how does a team go about getting that swagger?

“You’ve got to win everywhere,” said Outlaw “You kind of got to put them on their butts a couple of times. You can’t just get respect by not doing nothing. We ain’t been to the playoffs, so they’re like, ‘How they deserve respect?’”

And maybe that’s the question the Trail Blazers should be asking themselves.

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