The Trail Blazers swear they don’t feel like underdogs in their first round playoff series versus the Rockets, which tips off Sunday at 6:30 pm on KGW, TNT and 620 AM. Sure, the Rockets are the higher seed and have the home court advantage that comes along with it, but both teams ended the regular season with 54-28 records.
The Trail Blazers also head into the postseason having won nine of their last 10 games while the Rockets went 5-5 to end the regular season, which was a product of both Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley sitting out games due to injury. Both are back in the starting lineup, though it’s unknown if either player is 100 percent healthy, which could possibly give Portland the upper hand in the series.
Though the experts certainly don’t see it that way. Maybe it’s Houston winning the season series 3-1, or the star power of Howard and James Harden or Portland’s inability to get out of the first round for the last 14 years. But whatever the reason, almost nobody is picking the Trail Blazers to advance. Of 45 NBA analysts who have made playoff predictions, only four have picked the Trail Blazers to win the series.
“We got off to a 22-4 start and people say ‘Yeah, but …’” said Nicolas Batum. “We’re Top 5 in the West? ‘Yeah, but …’ So we’re used to it. We’re used to nobody expecting anything from us. We’re still Top 5 in the West, tied for fourth with the Rockets, one of the best records in the league. So we know who we are. We don’t really care about that.”
It makes sense that the Blazers would be used to being doubted. Most had them pegged as a fringe playoff team, at best, until they started the first two months of the season by going 25-7.
But even after getting off to one of their best starts in franchise history, there was an air of skepticism about whether the Trail Blazers were “for real” among many in the national media. And when they struggled between the end of January to the end of March, at least compared to their early-season performance, those naysayers took the opportunity to declare they were right all along and that Portland’s season was little more than fluke three-point shooting combined with an easy schedule.
Even when the Trail Blazers ended the season by beating four playoff teams after LaMarcus Aldridge from injury, they were still tabbed as the team every other playoff team wanted to play in the first round.
So while they don’t consider themselves the David to Houston’s Goliath, there’s been an acceptance by the players that there’s no point trying to prove their worth yet again, let alone expect many to pick them to make the second round for the first time since 2000.
“We were picked to finish 15th or 12th to 14th in the West,” said Wesley Matthews. “So no, we’re not worried about what other people’s predictions are. We know we’ve played this team tough. We know it could have very easily been a 3-1 series for us during the regular season. We know it’s going to be a dogfight. We know what they’re going to do, they know what we’re going to do.”
They also know the first three games of the 2014 NBA Playoffs were won by the lower-seeded team. So rather than fighting the underdog label, maybe it’s time for the Trail Blazers to embrace it.
“A lot of guys on our team come from underdog situations,” said Damian Lillard, “so I think that’s when we do our best, when things are up against us. We’re going to come out and compete and try to give ourselves a chance to make something happen.”