Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The Wait Needs To Be Over
Watching the Trail Blazers through the first five games of the season, one could get the sense that they’re waiting for something to happen, something that will get everybody moving in the same direction. If it is indeed the case that this team is holding out hope that a spark will ignite the season, that expectation would not necessarily be without merit. It has happened before.
There was Travis Outlaw’s game-winning shot against the Grizzlies in early-December of the 2007-08 season. The Trail Blazers were 5-12 at the time and winless on the road in their first nine tries. They had just been blown out by the Spurs in San Antonio the night before, but that bank shot by Outlaw as time expired started something legendary. The Blazers would go on to win the next 13 straight and 18 of their next 20. That shot might have very well saved the season.
And of course there was Brandon Roy’s 30-foot overtime game-winner against the Rockets in the fifth game of the 2008-09 season. On the verge of starting the year 1-4, Roy’s high-arching attempt gave a young team something to build on. Roy’s answered prayer also started a run that would see the Trail Blazers win 13 of the next 16 games, putting them on course for their first playoff appearance in five seasons.
It is probably unnecessary to recap these events. After all, those moments have taken on lives of their own. They’re seen in commercials and reenacted on playgrounds. They hold an important place in the collective memory of Trail Blazers fans and, more importantly, the players. And while it would be sacrilege (and patently false) to blame those memories for the Trail Blazers’ inability to burst out of the gate through the first five games of the 2009-10 season, one has to wonder if reaping the benefits of a singular transformative performance in two consecutive seasons has brought the team to where they are now: waiting for a similar event to occur once again.
“I don’t know if we’re waiting on something,” said Joel Przybilla, “but if we are we better hurry up and figure it out. We’ve just got to look in the mirror, quit pointing fingers at what we think we need to do and focus on ourselves.”
“I think this is our next step to becoming a good team,” said Brandon Roy. “We can’t wait for the big bang to happen to go on these great runs. I think we have to figure out a way to be consistent at a high level. In a way it’s like we are waiting for that emotional charge to get us excited about the year, but we have to just develop it.”
At least if they want to make the jump from promising young team potential to legitimate playoff contender. You can get by on enthusiasm when you’re young, on passion when you’re untested. But it has to be about more than that to join the ranks of the elite. It has to be about confidence and commitment and routine rather than coincidence.
“The Spurs don’t have to have something great happen to them every year,” said Roy. Boston, they come in ‘This is what it is. We’re not waiting for a lucky shot.’ If that happens, then great, we get the win that night. I think it’s a little bit of a process because it seems like guys are waiting around for something crazy to happen. That can’t be what gets this thing started.”
Not any more it can’t. It has to be real this time, which is why it’ll be worth waiting for if and when it happens. Someone could hit a buzzer-beating halfcourt shot on Friday, sending the Rose Garden into a frenzy and the Spurs home to San Antonio with a loss, and it would be great to get the win and maybe it would pave the way for a successful season, but would that really help this team in the long term? What is the cost of getting over like that? Because eventually that potential game-winner isn’t going to find the mark. That much is inevitable, and to Roy, apparent.
“Bill Walton came in and said the good teams don’t win on adrenaline or emotions. He said the championship teams play consistent every night. You have to beat teams consistently and you have to be better. I think that’s what we’re trying to get to as a team. We can’t wait for this big crazy shot by me or Travis or Blake to get us emotionally excited about the season. We have to come in ready.”
It is a fine line. It’s looking a gift horse in the mouth or disavowing the notion that being lucky is in fact preferential to being good. It goes against human nature to root against good fortune, but that’s not really the point. Every team that has ever accomplished anything substantive has caught their fair share of breaks, but at some juncture, you have to be better than luck allows. Great teams win in spite of their luck, rather than because of it.
Which is why Portland’s 2-3 start, as painful as it might be to watch, could very well do this team a service in the end. If the entire team can come to the realization Roy has, that they can’t rely on a moment to change the course of their season, maybe they can meet or exceed the expectations thrust upon them.