TUALATIN — The Portland Trail Blazers returned to practice on Saturday after dropping Game 3 to the Rockets at the Moda Center Friday night. They watched some film and the players who see infrequent playing time were engaged in a live scrimmage when the media was let into the gym, but for the most part, one got the sense that it was a light day.
And at this point, that’s probably the way it should be. After all, the Blazers and Rockets finished with identical regular season records, the average margin of victory in the series is 4.6 points and two of the three games of the series have gone to overtime. In short, there’s is very little separating these two teams.
“I think we all knew that we’re very evenly matched,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts after Game 3. “We’re very similar in styles. I think these are the games we’ve got to expect.”
So when two teams are so close, what does a team work on to gain an advantage? There are missed opportunities and mistakes in every game and minimizing those instances is certainly a goal, but there’s no amount of practice that is going to prevent a game-winning shot off a broken play or a career 21 percent three-point shooter hitting both of his three-point attempts at pivotal moments.
“I think (Game 3) did a good job of putting the whole season in perspective,” said Robin Lopez. “We realize all these games have been very close matchups. It could very easily be 2-1 in favor of the Rockets, it could be 3-0 in favor of us. It really comes down to a few plays in each game.”
Which is what every player asked about what the difference had been in the series so far repeated. While big-time performances from the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard and Damian Lillard put each team in place to come away victorious, it’s the little things that have ultimately been the tipping points in the series.
“It’s just details, like lose balls, offensive rebound, turnover, those little things,” said Nicolas Batum. “We’ve got to get a better start tomorrow. We can’t start with a 10-0 run for them. All those details count at the end because you lost by two, three or four or a last shot, like what happened the first three games almost, those details count a lot.”
The Trail Blazers know what they need to do, and for the most part, have done those things very well. But at this point, there’s no amount of running up and down the court on an off day that’s going to make any difference regarding which team moves on to the Western Conference semifinals. Any improvements to be made are mental.
“I think we realize we need to be a little free out there, but at the same time, we can’t lack that edge. And we feel there were parts of the game yesterday where that was the missing ingredient.”