Heading into their final extended road trip of the season, the Trail Blazers are trying to focus on what has gotten them this far.
“It’s us,” Wesley Matthews said. “It’s not about X’s and O’s anymore because once we get to the playoffs, we know who we are playing against. It’s not about plays, it’s going to be about who wants it more.”
The Blazers’ most recent road trip was a struggle.
They lost the first four games of the trip with one loss coming in overtime and another after the came back from down 30 points to take the lead.
In this final stretch, they will be playing five Eastern Conference teams from everybody from the lottery-bound Orlando Magic to the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
“We are trying to play our basketball,” Matthews said. “That’s what we did with our 32 assists. We are our own competition. We are our own enemies.”
The magnifying glass has been on the Blazers for their late-game losses since the New Year. They enjoyed the league’s best winning percentage in close games, and many times the belief was that they knew how to win late.
As the season progressed, the favorable bounces and missed shots from other teams that had been breaking for the Blazers started to go back the other way.
“I think we’ve been fine,” said Joel Freeland who has been injured since before the All-Star break. “Every team has slumps during the year.”
One need look no further than the Miami Heat team they face on Monday night or the Indiana Pacers who continue to struggle with a recent stretch of mediocrity.
The Blazers feel like they’ve got some momentum back after winning three out of their last four with their only loss coming by one point.
“We won two straight, we feel good. When we were losing we were just irritated that we were losing,” Matthews said.
The Blazers were the feel-good story of the early season, and now they want to finish their last road trip strong.
Dorell Wright believes in the confidence of the Blazers as they face four Eastern Conference playoff teams and the defending champs.
“Or confidence is the same. We still believe we are a great team,” he said. “We’re not no sleepers no more. We know that. It’s a long season, it’s going to be different moves people would think. This locker room stays together. A lot of teams I’ve been on, when things get down, they go the other way.”
The league has taken notice of the Blazers since their hot start.
But whether the rest of the league knew who they were, the Blazers have known who they are through the losses and the wins.
These final 13 games won’t change who they are. They are 11/2 games behind fourth-place Houston.
With Houston’s Dwight Howard missing games due to having fluid and a cyst removed from his ankle and Blazers potentially finding their ball movement again, hosting a playoff series still isn’t out of the question.