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THE NBA

Trip Takes a Downturn for Fading Trail Blazers

April 27, 2001|MARK HEISLER

Soemone paid $89.7 million for this?.

This was going to be the biggest game of the Portland Trail Blazers' season, according to the Trail Blazers, which shows you just what kind of season it has been for them.

It wasn't quite that last-ditch, backs-against-the-wall, no-tomorrow, gut check they were planning. Try a 106-88 rout by the Lakers, who took a 2-0 lead in this series that hasn't turned out to be their worst nightmare, after all.

The Trail Blazers' high-priced roster went out in style. Unfortunately, it was Trail Blazer style, with Rasheed Wallace ejected for getting two technical fouls, and Dale Davis for throwing elbows.

This is only a best-of-five series so the Trail Blazers' next game is going to be really big.

"How high is the mountain you have to climb?" someone asked Trail Blazer Coach Mike Dunleavy after the game.

"Bigger than you, big fellow," said Dunleavy, with a rare grin. "You take them one at a time but you're talking about winning three."

A lot has changed in a year . . . or in the Lakers' case, two weeks.

A year ago, the Lakers led the Trail Blazers by 24 points in Game 1 of the Western finals and beat them by 15 . . . after which the Trail Blazers came back to lead Game 2 by 30 and win it by 29.

The Trail Blazers then went on to force a Game 7 here, and to lead by 15 in the fourth quarter, before the Lakers pulled off their improbable rally.

Not that they ever needed to face the Trail Blazers again in another playoff series, much less in the opening round.

First lesson of history: This isn't last year.

The Trail Blazers had spent the last three days summoning all their resources. They were ensconced in a swank hotel at the corner of Wilshire and Rodeo in Beverly Hills and many of them had their wives along. Local prices being what they are, the husbands must have been glad they were getting NBA pay, or that game day finally arrived.

As far as basketball went, it was actually a quiet time for the Trail Blazers, with no intramural fights or suspensions.

Scottie Pippen did complain that he was wasting away in Dunleavy's offense.

Dunleavy then broke down the game film and counted Pippen's touches in Game 1--41 in all, which didn't sound like Pippen had been frozen out.

"He had touches early and we leave it up to him to be aggressive or not aggressive," Dunleavy said. "I'm not going to go back and forth with him.

"Yeah, the first two possessions of the game weren't called for him but after that, it's the flow of the game."

There was also the furor in which Pippen sneered at Kobe Bryant's rib injury, suggesting Bryant invented it to "be like Mike."

Not that Dunleavy thought it was a tad overblown, but when his reserve center, Antonio Harvey, limped into the dressing room before Thursday's game because of back spasms, Dunleavy suggested, grinning, "He wants to be like Mike."

So much for the laughs.

The Trail Blazers started out well enough, grabbing a 27-19 lead while Bryant went to the bench in early foul trouble.

After that, however, the Lakers went on to outscore them, 87-61.

Of course, if the Lakers weren't exactly happy to see the Trail Blazers in round one, the feeling was mutual. Not that they dwelt on it, but the Trail Blazers knew this could happen.

"I definitely think they got a little momentum," Damon Stoudamire said this week. " . . . Everybody's kind of found themselves within what the system is. Everybody knows their role. . . .

"What can you say? Obviously, you got Shaq [O'Neal] and Kobe but there in that fourth quarter [of Game 1] when they hit us with that run, it was Brian Shaw hitting a three, Derek [Fisher] hitting a shot, Rick Fox hitting a shot. And these are guys--they know where their opportunities are coming from. They know their spots on the floor and they know exactly when their opportunities were going to come. . . .

"I mean, they [O'Neal and Bryant] are a tough tandem to deal with, obviously, because they're capable of putting up 70 points in a game against you. What they've done, they've been able to create so many mismatches that you've got to go and double-team them. That leaves the floor wide open for guys to shoot the ball. . . .

"The way they've played over the last couple weeks of the season, it's kind of scary to think if they would have had Glen Rice around here, spotting up, shooting them threes. That would have been, shhhoot. . . .

"They're playing well but we've been in this situation before and it's not nothing that we can't overcome."

Let's just say, if the Trail Blazers do overcome, it'll make last spring's Laker comeback look like a bunt.

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