Blazers leave comforts of home for trip

After 15-14 start to season, Portland hits road to begin 2013

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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Before the Trail Blazers left their home base for the last time in 2012, the team locker room buzzed with the energy of a family reunion.

Ronnie Price walked around with his young son, who knew exactly what to do when Jared Jeffries held out his hand for a low five. The two grandsons of Harry Glickman, a pioneer of the franchise, clutched gray Rip City jerseys and floated around the room for autographs and Nicolas Batum — draped only in his No. 88 embroidered towel — stepped out of his way to give Glickman a warm handshake.

The Blazers felt comfortable in their space on Saturday night, as they have all season. They have won seven consecutive home games, and 11 of 15 total inside the friendly environment of the Rose Garden to finish the 2012 portion of this season with a 15-14 record.

However, a simple message scribbled on the locker-room dry erase board, reminding players to bring their passports to get into Canada, was a sign that the comforts of home will soon end and the challenge awaits.

"It's going to be a grind," center J.J. Hickson said.

The team begins a four-game road trip today in New York City, then heads to Toronto for a back-to-back before winding the journey to Memphis and Minneapolis.

"No matter what a (team's) record says or what personnel they have on their team," Hickson continued, "it's going to be a grind."

Hickson was repeating a lesson the team learned during its last long road trip; a seven-game journey that stretched from late November until the Blazers returned to Portland on Dec. 6 with only two wins to show for it.

The differences between the home and the road Blazers are startling.

The never-say-quit team that fights for home wins with a 3.0 margin of victory has shown glimpses on the road as the Blazers have won three overtime games away from the Rose Garden.

However, through a 14-game sample, they have mostly appeared as road kill — in comparison to their play in Portland, the Blazers decline in statistical categories such as points per game, defensive field-goal percentage and shooting percentage.

Jeffries, an 11-year veteran of the league, believes that lessons from the last long trip have stayed with the Blazers.

"Just how tough it is playing on the road," Jeffries said. "No matter who you're playing against in the NBA, whether it's a sub .500 team, .500 team, road wins are hard to come by. Every road win you get, no matter who it's against, is important."

"I think we do a better job of not taking anybody for granted, preparing ourselves for the road and playing well."

The last time the Blazers hit the long stretch of road games, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge missed the first game with an aching back. Now, the Blazers are battling injuries again, as reserve big man Meyers Leonard did not make the trip.

Leonard, who sprained his right ankle during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night, stayed behind to get re-evaluated.

In spite of Leonard's injury, the Blazers felt energized after defeating the Sixers 89-85 and hope to carry it over on the road.

"I think we have more confidence now," point guard Damian Lillard said. "We kind of had a bad record going into that (last) road trip. We dropped some games or we were kind of just down. We were desperate for a win but it was tough every night."

"Now, we won a few games, had a win streak and we got more confidence now. We're 15-14 so now we've got something to play for."