Raymond Felton, forever looking for his teammates, was searching once again. This time, however, it wasn’t for a streaking LaMarcus Aldridge or a slashing Nic Batum, but rather the words to describe his new club.
“I don’t know what it is. I can’t put my finger on it,” the Trail Blazers point guard said.
Within nanoseconds, Portland’s locker room erupted with cheers and quips as a local sports station played highlights from Tuesday’s win over the Clippers. Suddenly, a verbal illustration was no longer necessary.
“See?” Felton continued. “We’re having fun. I’ve been on a lot of good teams, but the energy we have in the locker room, you don’t see that too much. It’s a different feeling. It feels special.”
Felton seemed sincere in his comments, but positive feelings are typically expressed in extremes. Nobody ever comes back from a weekend in Vegas screaming “Ninth best trip of my life!!!”
Blazers guard Wesley Matthews echoed Felton’s thoughts that same night, saying “it’s not that we didn’t have a good team last year, but there’s just a feeling that there’s something special here.”
Well, to steal Portland coach Nate McMillan’s favorite line — we’ll see.
The Blazers’ season has been a beachside drive about to hit Manhattan-like gridlock. Yeah, they’re 7-3, but six of those wins have come at the Rose Garden and they are 1-2 away from home.
Remember, Portland had the second-best home record in the West last season but finished sixth in the conference thanks to an 18-23 mark in opposing arenas. So with a six-game road trip beginning Friday vs. the Spurs, this is where we see whether the fastball hitter can handle the curve, too.
“Now it’s a test,” McMillan said.
Of course, one might ask: How is this the test? Regardless of location, the Blazers have logged wins over the Thunder, Lakers, Sixers, Nuggets and Clippers — the first four of which made the playoffs last year, and the last of which is expected to this year.
Meanwhile, opponents on this upcoming roadie include the Rockets, Raptors, Pistons and Hornets — four teams with a combined record of 12-32. So wouldn’t the Blazers trumping that quartet be the equivalent of Blender trumping Banana?
Last year, at about this same point in the season, Portland lost four consecutive road games to New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington — three of which had abysmal records at the time, and two of which finished the year with fewer than 25 wins.
Truth is, this may be an even truer test than if the Blazers were facing the league’s elite. If they come out of this trip 1-5, it all but assures another season atop Mt. Mediocre.
A team’s road record is probably more reflective of its ability than its overall record. Clubs like the Grizzlies don’t reap the benefits of triple decibels when playing at home, but do face the same hostility as everyone else when away. If baseball players had performance-enhancing drugs, the Blazers have a performance-enhancing domicile, as the Rose Garden is consistently singled out by players and coaches as the NBA’s loudest arena.
But the fact of the matter is, Portland has been bounced in the first round in each of the past three seasons, and during that stretch, is 1-7 in playoff road games. That’s not being homesick. That’s having an acute home illness.
Wednesday, Felton and Matthews’ comments were relayed to McMillan, who was then asked if he, too, had those “special” feelings.
Initially, he said his focus was on the next game, but then admitted that “the one thing that I’ve said to our guys is that if we keep both feet in, and commit to each other and work at it, I think they’ll give themselves a chance to win big.”
But before you win big, you’ve got to be able to win anywhere. The phrase “one for the road,” doesn’t apply to the Blazers. “One on the road” should become their new adage.
Matt Calkins covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. He can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @blazerbanter.