By Jonathan Ryan Davis
It is often deemed uncouth to discuss one's bowel movements in public; however, there is no better way to describe the 2011-2012 Trail Blazers' season than a bad case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. As a lifelong sufferer of this debilitating disorder, I have an intimate appreciation of one's affinity for home and fear of going out on the road. Home provides comfort, amenities you are used to, and strong support from loved ones. When your stomach acts up, people understand, your cat still loves you, and you get sympathy for every return trip to your "home within your home."
Going out on the road is a different story. There is constant fear of co-workers or acquaintances labeling you with hurtful names and overlooking the id that makes you who you are. Your colon becomes extra spastic out of fear of no bathroom. You get anxious about every destination, every traffic jam, and every piece of food offered to you that might contain undetectable lactose, caffeine, or spice. The road is a scary place that results in you not being who you are, instead just a shell of your true essence.
Now 21 games into the season, the Portland Trail Blazers play like they have IBS. At home, Portland is unstoppable. They average a Chilupah (+5), they push the pace, Gerald Wallace plays like an All-Star, and the Blazers' pressure defense creates bundles of points off of turnovers. Aside from a disappointing loss to the Magic (who are more spastic than the Blazers this year), Portland has been unstoppable at home, beating top tier teams like Denver (twice), both LA squads, and an improved Memphis team. Portland is aggressive from the opening tip, relying on the consistent inside-out play of LaMarcus Aldridge and the slashing, destructive force that is Gerald Wallace, to thward opponents. Each home game usually results in six plus Blazers scoring in double figures, with reliable bench play by Batum (see his 9....NINE...three pointers last night), J-Crossover, and even the Rhino, who has gotten less time in the last week after Nate McMillan likely realized the Rhino is turning into a "black hole" on offense.
Yet more than their offensive consistency at home, it has been Portland's team defense that has enabled them to dominate their opponents. The Blazers are blessed with many hybrid, athletic players who can switch on defense and cover multiple positions. Nicolas Batum routinely covers point guards and power forwards in the same game. Gerald Wallace is the glue on defense that irritates the opposing team's best scorer. Wesley Matthews is a lesser version of Crash. And in the middle, Marcus Camby and LA anchor the paint by using quick hands, active feet, and great timing to aggravate opposing players. Most importantly, this squad is able to help one another on defense by trapping in the corner, switching on pick-and-rolls, and rotating for weakside help (Camby's favorite kind of block).
With this type of smothering defense and fast-paced, efficient offense, Portland is one of the most dangerous basketball teams in the league...at HOME. The ROAD, a different ballgame (literally).
Portland has been a different squad away from the Rose Garden. Instead of playing mostly complete games like they do at home, the Blazers play one half of competitive basektball and one abysmal half, which inevitably results in a three point loss. Portland could be up by 23 early, and they lose by three. They could be down by 17 in the fourth quarter, and they lose by three. Whatever magic they have at home, Portland loses it when away.
Most journalists and fans point to two key factors in the Blazers' road woes: 1) A different Gerald Wallace; and 2) Terrible shooting, which has resulted in averaging fifteen fewer points on the road. These journalists have analyzed these phenomena ad infinitum; therefore, there is no need to repeat what has already been said. Wallace feeds off the crowd...he plays so hard...he gets tired...he needs a special energy boost...this season will hurt him more than others...all this is true. As for the shooting woes, the only explanation can be a different size/shaped cylinder. But one reason many people are overlooking that explains the Blazers' struggles on the road is: their minds.
When Portland gets on the road, they forget who they are. They forget they are confident men, capable of inspiring masses. They lose because they have lost faith in themselves. They believe they are not the same team on the road; therefore, they do not become the same team on the road. If Portland's roster is as close as they profess, one can hope they will resolve this lack of self-esteem and realize they are just as special when they fly on an airplane away from their friends and family in the Rose City. Once Portland can do this, they will be a legitimate contender. Until they do, Portland will remain a solid first round playoff team.
We will learn much more about our beloved team when they take to the road again. A .500 record the rest of the way will tell us that the Portland Trail Blazers can contend. By getting rid of their IBS brand of basketball, Portland will show the rest of the league the team that all Blazers fans have fallen in love with.