Bonzi Wells' tussle with Chris Mills is the latest distraction
The Trail Blazers enter the Christmas break with the NBA's longest winning streak at five games. They are 15-11, only five games behind Sacramento in the Pacific Division and in a battle with San Antonio, Phoenix and Houston for the third-best record in the West.
Why then, coach Maurice Cheeks wonders, is the focus with Portland always on misdeeds? Bonzi Wells' two-game suspension and the postgame histrionics on Friday at Golden State captured the attention of the national and local media, a source of considerable frustration for the Blazers' second-year coach.
Cheeks shook his head when asked if the latest incident does further damage to the franchise's already tattered reputation.
'Is that possible?' he asked. Then he lamented, 'When something happens with the Blazers, it doesn't matter if it started with the other team. If the Blazers are involved É our name is going to get top billing because of the things that have happened with us.
'We have to work at erasing that. We have been playing good ball, but that's not the topic we're talking about. It's not the subject of our concentration, and that disturbs me to no end.'
Wells was in the middle of the latest controversy, starting a melee after the win over the Warriors by punching Chris Mills in the head. Mills was so incensed, he later blocked Portland's team bus with his car and followed it to the airport, unnerving Blazer players, who ducked down in their seats over concern that gunfire might occur.
Mills received a three-game suspension for his antics but left no doubt that he considers Wells Ñ who has been involved in a string of incidents over the past two seasons Ñ the villain.
'Bonzi is a straight punk, with a capital 'P,' ' Mills told the Contra Costa Times' Matt Steinmetz. 'He tried to sucker-punch me. Then he moonwalked backward like Michael Jackson toward the tunnel. That's a punk move, and he's a punk. He's tough on the court, and I'll give it to the Blazers, their unity was there. They had all 12 players on the floor. When they all stand up, he feels invincible.
'Don't get me wrong, he's good. He's a physical player. When I got physical back, it's like it's not supposed to happen. He was trying to be big and bad É I don't let guys do that to me.'
Mills said he later sought Wells out because, 'He said, 'See me after the game.' I went to see what he wanted to talk about.'
The lengths of the suspensions were unfair, Mills said.
'No matter what I was going to do, that stuff shouldn't matter,' he said.
'What happened on the court should matter. (Wells) was in the wrong.'
Mills denied carrying any weapons in his car.
'Come on,' he said. 'I'm not a fool.'
Even with the almost constant distractions, Portland has been able to win games in amazing fashion the last 10 days. During their winning streak, the Blazers have beaten Minnesota in overtime, the Clippers by four after trailing by 10 points with six minutes remaining, Golden State by two on Rasheed Wallace's three-pointer at the buzzer and Seattle by one on Derek Anderson's three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left, again rallying from 10 down in the fourth quarter.
Portland is 7-4 in games decided by six points or fewer, a testament to the team's confidence in tight games.