Friday, April 24, 2009

The Road Not Yet Traveled

Winning Game Two did a lot to soothe the pain of getting blown out in Game One. Confidence was rebuilt and a sense of pride restored. While all of that is fine and good, it doesn’t change the fact that, by losing in Portland, the Trail Blazers will now have to win at least once in Houston to have a chance of advancing to the second round. Simple as that.

While the math is simple, not much else is when it comes to winning on the road in the playoffs. Everything is new for this Trail Blazers team when it comes to the postseason, and tonight they’ll get their first taste of what in means to play in front of a hostile crowd in the playoffs.

Nate McMillan has been here before, so he’s got a good idea of what his team needs to do to have even a chance of leaving the Lonestar State with a win.

“We’ve got to come out and scrap,” said McMillan, “do the things we did in our second game: be aggressive, be connected, be solid. Whether you’re at home or on the road, though you certainly need to do it on the road. The Rockets are going to make some runs and you’re going to have some adversity during the course of the game. You got to make sure that you stay connected through the good and the bad.”

Scrapping and playing together are things the Trail Blazers have excelled at this season, but they have at times been inconsistent when it comes to something else: getting off to a fast start. The Blazers look like world champs right from the gate at times, but there are other instances, such as in Game One, where they struggle to find any kind of flow in the first quarter. If that happens tonight in their first road playoff game, it’s going to be next to impossible for a young team to overcome.

“I think it’s important that you get off to a good start, that you’re not playing yourself out of a hole early,” said McMillan. “So being sharp from the start is important. Even if you’re not making shots you’ve got to establish that you can run an offense and you’re getting good looks.

“Defensively, you can’t give up anything easy. You have to be smart with your fouls. They got into the penalty early against us, so we can’t do that. But we’ve got to be able to remain aggressive without getting them into the penalty early. So officiating, looking at how those officials are calling the game and making your adjustments. Being smart.”

These are things you want to do every game, but in a playoff atmosphere, the stakes are higher and the crowd is much more of a factor

“The crowd is into it even before the tipoff,” said Steve Blake. “The intensity, the volume of the arena, everybody is intense right from the beginning, whereas lot of times some arenas don’t pick up until the fourth quarter when it really gets tight. But a playoff road game, it’s right from the tipoff. Even before the tipoff its’ up and it’s loud. Everyone is into it.”

“When you don’t have the crowd behind you, it’s kind of different,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I think tonight we’re going to be tight and close. When you come into a place like this, guys have to be real close and play hard together.”

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