Not much going easy as Blazers face elimination

Practice loose, but players know it's a big hill to climb

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer



TUALATIN, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers returned to the practice court on Sunday, facing an almost inevitable elimination from the playoffs and an offseason of uncertainty.

The soundtrack to what may be their last home practice of the season was a mix of hip-hop ranging from Warren G and Nate Dogg’s classic “Regulate,” to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa.” Then, the playlist shifted to “Easy,” by The Commodores.

Portland’s late-Sunday morning and afternoon was anything but easy as the mood resembled a bad hangover.

The Blazers were in the building, but they were simply there, existing, in their discouraging present facing an uncertain future.

On one end of the court, Portland’s seldom used role players like Joel Freeland, Tim Frazier and Allen Crabbe were getting in a game of half court along with Blazers staffers.

On another side of the court, Robin Lopez was working on sky-hooks from 20-feet out.

While they kept themselves occupied with little games, they can’t escape the ugly reality of a 3-0 series deficit.

“I think it’s tough,” Damian Lillard said when asked about the task of coming down from an 0-3 hole. “It’s tough to come back from 2-0. So 3-0 we have to win 4 games in a row. And it’s not impossible, but we know how tough it really is. All we can control is the next game.”

After Saturday’s loss, Blazers coach Terry Stotts went into a lengthy defense of Portland getting a game at home before losing in five games to the Spurs.

“One thing that bothered me last year was we got down 0-3 to San Antonio, we showed a lot of guts and heart to win Game 4 and people kind of belittled it as being a Gentlemen’s Sweep,” Stotts said. “I thought (it) was a disservice to the players. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of heart to get on a plane and go. We did it last year and we’re going to do it this year.”

Portland has more hope in extending the series now. The Grizzlies will be without starting point guard Mike Conley in Game 4 who left in the third quarter of Game 3 with a facial injury.

But back-up point guard Beno Udrih — who is shooting 57 percent from the field against the Blazers — will play after missing Game 3.

As Portland stares elimination in the face they face yet another unfriendly visitor: conversion rate on second chances.

The Blazers have actually had more offensive rebounds than the Grizzlies in the series, 32-26. But Memphis has 48 second-chance points compared to just 35 for Portland.

One difference in this series so far has been when the Blazers gets an opportunity, they don’t take full advantage, while the Grizzlies kick down the door when they get an opening.

“If you look at the ‘stats’ our defensive rebounding percentage is pretty good for the series but their conversion has been very high which has made a difference,” Stotts said.

The Blazers have rebounded well, but in the aftermath of their slip-ups, Memphis has taken full advantage.

Whether it’s a second chance or a slip-up on defense, the Grizzlies have taken advantage.

“We haven’t made those plays to get over the hump,” Meyers Leonard said.

LaMarcus Aldridge refused to talk about his free agency coming in the summer. Damian Lillard said he couldn’t think of any reason why the Aldridge wouldn’t come back.

But before they go into a potentially transformative summer, the Blazers are simply looking to extend their season for one more game.

At this point, there’s only one thing left for the Blazers to play for.

“Just try to play the game and show some pride,” Nicolas Batum said.