Batum all business for Blazers
HOUSTON The Trail Blazers looked loose and relaxed as they finished up Tuesday's practice session at the Toyota Center in preparation for Wednesday night's Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against Houston.
A 3-1 lead can do that for you.
There was the semi-usual halfcourt shooting contest (didn't see anybody make it this time), interviews with the media and dinner plans to tend to.
Along the sidelines, Nicolas Batum bantered with a group that included assistant coaches Dale Osbourne and Nate Tibbetts.
When he was finally ready for a short interview, Batum seemed all business.
Portland's small forward has avoided visualizing what it might feel like to celebrate the franchise's first postseason series victory since 2000.
"I don't want to think about it," he said. "Not yet."
Batum restated the mantra that the Blazers haven't achieved anything yet.
"It's the first team to four (wins)," he said.
Only eight teams in NBA history have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to claim a series, the last time Phoenix beating the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006.
"It's rarely done, but things are so crazy in the West," Batum said. "You can't be satisfied with 3-1 lead. But, yeah, I would love to get it done (Wednesday) night."
All five individual matchups have been important in this series, including the duel at small forward between Batum and Houston's Chandler Parsons.
The statistics are comparable.
Batum is averaging 17.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting .453 from the field and .348 from 3-point range.
Parsons' series averages are 20.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting .470 from the field and .333 on 3-point shots.
But Batum has been the more consistent of the two. And in Games 3 and 4 at the Moda Center, with the Rockets focusing their defense on LaMarcus Aldridge, Batum averaged 25.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
"Nic has been aggressive," coach Terry Stotts said. "In the last game, his pick-and-rolls were very good. He got to the rim, he created problems in the paint, he made his 3's. He's doing more scoring. LaMarcus was doing it the first two games, but we have a lot of guys who can score. If (the Rockets) try to take one thing away, other guys have to be ready to fill the gap."
That's the way Batum sees it, too.
"It's the playoffs," he shrugged. "Everybody has to step up his game. It's my job, too. I don't want to go home too early. I want to win games.
"The first two games, I kind of stayed back because my job was to get the ball to L.A. and play defense. The last two games, other guys have had to step up. That's what I did."
Parsons' offensive game has come in spurts -- primarily in the first half of the opener and in the first three quarters of Sunday's Game 4. Other than that, he has been mostly a non-factor and has shown a lack of confidence in his outside shot.
"He's a very good player," Batum said. "He's moving well without the ball. Sometimes, I get too focused on helping with Dwight (Howard) and I lose him. When the game's on the line, I have to step up and contain him. I don't want him to score too much."
After the opener, Parsons declared in a television interview that he felt he was the best small forward in the series. Didn't bother Batum at all.
"I understand what happened," Batum said. "Somebody asked him the question. He responded. I don't really care about that. I don't focus on what other guys say.
"I'm going to say I want to be the best team in this series, not the best small forward. I'm not going to compare myself with Chandler Parsons. Nobody cares about that."