PORTLAND — This season’s Portland Trail Blazers are a nice story.
They improved by 21 wins, the biggest turnaround in franchise history.
They shook an injury curse that made one wonder if there was more voodoo happening in Portland than just a quirky doughnut shop.
They are relevant and resilient, having pulled themselves out of a mid-March funk by winning nine of their last 10 games.
That’s all nice. But nice finishes last in the NBA playoffs.
Winning a playoff series would be an evolutionary leap for a franchise that hasn’t tasted postseason victory in 14 years. The missing link may be a bit of attitude.
After Wednesday’s season finale against the Clippers, Portland’s players dismissed the idea of being an underdog to Houston. Robin Lopez called that perception part of a media agenda.
Embrace that role, I say. Play with an us-against-the-world edginess. Tap in to the fire that fuels Wesley Matthews.
The Blazers guard was asked about being matched against James Harden and whether he could hold his own against Houston’s leading scorer.
“I’ve been wrote off my whole life,” Matthews said. “That doesn’t mean anything to me. … We’re preparing ourselves for a dogfight, and that’s what it’s going to be.”
The Blazers play best when they feel doubted. There was a bunker mentality early in the season, when many predicted Portland wouldn’t make the playoffs.
The season had its share of bumps and bruises, none more than when LaMarcus Aldridge missed seven games with a back contusion.
The last game he missed was likely the low point of the season, a listless 95-85 loss to an Orlando team that finished 23-59.
Aldridge returned and Portland won nine out of 10 to end the season, once again silencing doubters that predicted a season-ending swoon.
It’s no coincidence the words “Me Against the World” are tattooed across Aldridge’s back.
“After the Orlando game it was looking a little dicey,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said before Wednesday’s season finale. “Then to win eight out of nine showed some resilience for our team. Maybe it made us stronger.”
Most experts don’t think Portland will beat Houston, which caused plenty of matchup problems in winning three of four games against the Blazers this season.
The Blazers will have to draw on every intangible it can, including attitude.
Portland just completed a regular season that put it back on the NBA map. But to extend this season past the first round, it will have to play with a bit of nastiness.
And to see that from the Blazers would be nice.