It’s said that nice guys finish last.
Last year’s Portland Trail Blazers didn’t quite finish in the cellar of the Northwest Division. That was meager consolation for a team that ended the year losing 13 straight games.
This year’s team hasn’t lost more than two in a row. It turns out a mean streak is a good way to stop a losing streak.
No, the Jail Blazers haven’t been paroled. And this team isn’t trying to bully opponents like the Detroit Pistons of the Bad Boys era.
But these Blazers have edginess to them. It’s a distaste for defeat that sets good teams apart from the mediocre ones.
“We lose even one game and in the locker room guys are pissed off,” Damian Lillard said. “Every time we’ve lost two in a row, guys get a little more quiet and lock in a bit more. We’ve been able to handle our business every time.”
That attitude is vastly different from last year, Lillard said.
“We wanted to win, but it didn’t really bother us to lose as much as it does now,” he said. “We expect to win every game. Last year, we just wanted to go out and give ourselves a chance.”
The Blazers returned home last week having lost the last two of a four-game road trip. It didn’t matter that they played four games in five nights against teams currently in playoff position in the Western Conference.
This team is greedy, but in a good way. Call them the Wolves of Wheeler Ave.
“We feel like we should win every game,” Wesley Matthews said. “We know that’s not realistic, but that’s our mentality going in. That’s our confidence. We’ve won every kind of way. When we lose, a lot of it is on us.”
Portland trailed by as many as 15 points to Denver on Thursday. You could hear the murmurs of naysayers and cynics who believe Portland will wilt under the heat of a tough second-half schedule.
Instead, Portland willed itself to a comeback victory. The Blazers outrebounded the Nuggets 23-13 in the second half and held them to 6 for 19 shooting in the fourth quarter.
“The second half is how we have to play the whole game,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “Our first halves have not been great to us. We came into the locker room and talked about it. Guys came out more focused.”
I asked coach Terry Stotts whether his team played “angry” in the second half.
“I thought we were playing hard, we were competing,” Stotts said. “We were determined. I don’t know if angry is the right word, but we played defensively with some emotion. I know it’s in us.”
Aldridge insisted that losing out to Kevin Love and Blake Griffin for an All-Star starting spot provided no extra fuel for his career-high 44-point performance Thursday.
Sure, and the Willamette River isn’t wet.
The Blazers can be edgy, stubborn or greedy, especially when faced with a losing streak.
Those are good things to be for a team looking to leave mediocrity in its dust.