Blazers felt experience made difference in Dallas series
So here we are, beginning the offseason nobody in Portland wanted to come this soon.
In the coming days, the Trail Blazer players will begin to disperse - Patty Mills (Australia), Rudy Fernandez (Spain) and Nicolas Batum (France) to their homelands to begin preparation for the European Championships and World Championship qualifying; LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby to Texas, Gerald Wallace to Charlotte, Wesley Matthews to Madison, Wisc., Andre Miller to Los Angeles. Everybody but Brandon Roy, the only Blazer who makes his offseason home in the Portland area.
The Portland players and coaches met with the media for the final time Friday at the team's training facility, expressing a mixed bag of feelings about the 2010-11 season.
There was pride that they overcame some adversity to win 49 regular-season games and make the playoffs.
There was disappointment that they were eliminated in six games by a Dallas team that, while talented and experienced, seemed vulnerable to an upset.
For the third straight season, after matchups with Houston in 2008-09 and Phoenix in 2009-10, Portland was eliminated in the first round.
The postseason 'is what you live for,' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. 'This is when you want to be playing.
'Our goal this year was to advance, and we didn't do that. That will be our goal next year.'
McMillan pointed out all the negatives that turned a potentially great season into just a good one. The season-ending knee injury to Greg Oden. Major knee injuries to Brandon Roy and Joel Przybilla, and a more minor one to Marcus Camby, that took regulars out of action for months.
'This team went through a lot,' McMillan said. The players 'didn't complain about it or make excuses. When guys got their opportunities, they made the most of it. That's a credit to our guys.
'We didn't accomplish what we wanted, but we played well enough to get to the playoffs. We're still trying to get to that next level.'
While the Blazers were the sixth seed going against No. 3-seeded Dallas, many national experts forecast an upset. The Blazer players concurred.
'We were very confident in advancing, thinking we could win,' power forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. 'We felt if we took care of business, we should win.'
'I felt we had a legitimate chance, just like last year, to make a run in the playoffs,' point guard Andre Miller said. 'Last year, it was the shooting and running up and down the court of Phoenix (that was Portland's downfall). This year, it was the execution by Dallas and a superstar in Dirk Nowitzki.'
The Blazers had plenty of confidence entering the Dallas series. Veterans such as Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd shot down their hopes.
'We matched up very well with Dallas,' small forward Gerald Wallace said. 'Our team was tit for tat with them as far as the roster goes. We're just as talented.
'The biggest thing they had was experience. That's why they're above us. They've been to the (NBA) Finals. They know how to close out games.'
Only two players - Nowitzki and Terry - remain from the Dallas team that lost to Miami in the 2006 Finals, but Wallace's point is well-taken. Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler are veterans with playoff experience who played key roles for the Mavericks in the Portland series.
There are plenty of 'what ifs?' for the Blazers. What if they had held onto a six-point fourth-quarter lead in the opener? What if Wallace hadn't had his back stiffen late in the first quarter of Game 6, when he was the best player on the floor for much of the game?
'That first game, we had that game,' Aldridge said. 'We felt like we had opportunities to take control of this series, but we didn't. We have to live and learn.
'I've been in the playoffs three times now, but this is Wesley's first time. We look older, having Camby and Dre, but some of our key guys are still young. Guys are still growing. Dallas showed they're a veteran team. Their guys are older, and they played like it.'
Aldridge, who averaged 20.8 points and 7.5 rebounds and defended Nowitzki through the Dallas series, established himself as one of the top 15 players in the NBA this season.
'LaMarcus had a great year,' Miller said. 'I told him when I first got here (in 2009), he was a guy I wanted to see improve. Greg, too. I felt those guys could establish themselves and make big names for themselves in this league.
'(Aldridge) did as far as minutes played and playing both ends of the court. He carried this team for stretches.'
The Portland players don't seem to think major personnel changes will be necessary for the team to improve next season, though Roy pointed out an obvious need.
'We need some size,' he said. 'LaMarcus played so many minutes, and physical minutes, we need to get some size in there to help.'
'We need everybody to be healthy,' Miller offered. 'We need Brandon to be healthy, Greg to be happy, everybody to be practicing every day. The Lakers are where they are because they come to practice, they come to work and they execute. It makes the games and the transition to the playoffs easier.'
Matthews said the Blazers need to take care of business with consistency through the regular season, pointing to the six-game losing streak in late November and early December that included defeats at New Jersey and Washington.
'We can put ourselves in a better position by not losing those type of games,' he said. 'We could have been a top-three seed.'
Wallace, who came to the Blazers following a mid-season trade with Charlotte, said it will help to be on hand for the start of the 2011-12 campaign - if there is one.
'I'm looking forward to having a full season with these guys, a training camp,' he said. 'I haven't even practiced with these guys. It was more of an on-the-job learning experience for me.'
Batum said he will hire a personal trainer and try to improve his body. Roy said he will not play a lot of basketball during the offseason, but will continue treatments on his knees.
'The knees feel fine,' he said. 'I could play another series right now.'
Roy deflected questions about what he wants his role to be in the future.
'I'm not going to talk about that so soon after the season,' he said. 'I still want to be a big part of this team. I feel pretty confident I can still play and be productive.'
Fernandez, who shot .370 from the field in the regular season and then was 4 for 18 in the playoffs, said he is satisfied with his role as a reserve and won't try to get out of his contract to stay in Spain next season.
'I didn't play as well as I would have liked, but I think I helped my teammates advance to the playoffs,' he said. 'Everyone wants to play more minutes, but it's a tough situation for the coach, too, when you have (a lot of) players at the same position. I understand my role.
'I have a contract here. We'll see what happens with the lockout, but I'm happy to come back here again.'