Candace Buckner: Playoff hope is in the math

Candace Buckner: Commentary

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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photoCandace Buckner

PORTLAND — Wesley Matthews has it all figured out.

He has masterminded a way for the Trail Blazers to break out of this funk and still have a chance in the playoff picture. It’s all very simple, really. The Blazers don’t need a miracle. They just need to follow Matthews’ math.

“My mindset right now and the mindset I’m going to instill in this team, we got to go on five three-game winning streaks,” Matthews said.

So, let’s review: 3W x 5 = a fat chance.

I majored in journalism, not math. So, please, excuse my cynicism. It’s part of the job description. Matthews, by the way, declared advertising as his major back at Marquette — so maybe he’s selling himself, and Blazer fans, a dream.

After seven consecutive losses, a streak only snapped on Sunday night in a return of the gutsy Blazers of yester-season, Portland stands four games behind the Houston Rockets for the No. 8 seed. At this point, the mention of playoffs should make a sensible person break out a Jim Mora impersonation.

However, Matthews actually spent time crafting this formula. Sometime after the Friday night loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, he blocked out the pain shooting from his left leg and turned down his boiling frustration with the officiating to a low heat and thought about the direction and destiny of his team. So for his sake, let’s all play along and break down the numbers.

“If we go on five three-game winning streaks, that puts us at 15-5 for post All-Star break with (seven) more games left. You never know what can happen,” Matthews told me. “You win three, you drop one. You win three, you drop one. That’s realistic. Setting a realistic goal hooks people.”

And realistically, the season won’t play out the way that I’m about to suggest but let’s use a rather elementary blueprint for this. Sunday can serve as Win No. 1 in the first of the five three-game winning streaks.

Now going with the win three, drop one trend, the Blazers will reach their desired streaks on Saturday against Minnesota, March 10 at New Orleans, March 18 at Philadelphia, March 24 at Oklahoma City and April 1 at Utah.

By April 3 — the last “drop one” game in this formula, a home matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies — the Blazers should be 40-35. Not enough to make the playoffs, but here comes the payoff.

At this point, the Blazers will close the regular season with five of their final seven games on the home turf. Even better, the trifecta of visitors in consecutive order: Rockets, Mavericks and the Lakers. The three teams all fighting with the Blazers for that final spot.

So maybe the method makes sense. Maybe the realistic bite-sized chunks can work. And maybe Wesley Matthews is more math wizard than obsessive guy with the crazy wall in his laboratory like “A Beautiful Mind.”

“There’s still a lot of basketball left and everybody’s still clustered. There’s no separation,” Matthews concluded. “Everything is going to roll through us, so we still hold the cards.”

The hopeful message has only slowly percolated through the locker room. On Sunday night, J.J. Hickson said he could recall hearing Matthews say something about a five-and-three plan but “I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Hickson believes in the ol’ “take it one game at a time” method. That can work, too, but some urgency needs to be shown in this final stretch. That’s why, even if it doesn’t pan out, the Blazers need to start trusting the math.

“Started with one, got to keep it going,” Matthews said while dressing at his locker Sunday night. “We can do it. Every team that’s ahead of us has to come through us. It all has to come through here. We control our own destiny. We just got to know that and believe it.”

Candace Buckner covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. She can be reached at 360-735-4528 or email at candace.buckner@columbian.com. Her Twitter handle is @blazerbanter.