PORTLAND HOPES TO MOVE UP IN STANDINGS
PORTLAND (AP) Damon Stoudamire could sense a familiar line of questioning on the way as he walked off the practice court, so a reporter went into Barbara Walters mode and asked the point guard: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would it be?
The way I feel right now, itd be a sapling, Stoudamire said, only half-joking.
The Blazers have a lot of reasons to feel small. Theyve lost 11 of 17 games, and are stuck in the No. 6 playoff position in the West, five weeks after they had the best record in the conference. During their last road trip, in which they lost three of four, they suspended their best player, Rasheed Wallace, one game for getting ejected too often. And they learned that backup Shawn Kemp would miss the rest of the season while undergoing treatment for his cocaine addiction.
The worst news came Monday evening, when the team announced that starting shooting guard Bonzi Wells would miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Wells was hurt in the second quarter of Friday nights 31-point win at Golden State.
Suddenly the team that appeared a certain title contender before the season is looking more like a candidate for an ignominious first-round playoff exit.
Im kind of tired of talking about what we need to do, Stoudamire said. Weve been asked this same question for like the last month and a half, and we havent come up with the answers, so I think weve got to go out and play. Just get it done.
That objective would seem within easy reach on tonight, when the Blazers play the Warriors again. But the odds of Portland moving up in the standings in the subsequent four games are slim.
The Blazers are 1 1/2 games behind Dallas for the fifth spot, and 3 games behind fourth-place Utah. And Portland is looking over its shoulder at seventh-place Phoenix, just a half-game back.
Still, the Blazers say home court advantage in the first round a reward that goes to the top four teams is attainable.
I havent given up on home court, coach Mike Dunleavy said. I think its clear that were not going to win our conference or our division, but home court is still within reason.
We havent cracked yet, Steve Smith said. Right now, I think we have just as good a chance as anybody in the West. ... I dont think theres a team 1 through 8 that wants to play us.
Following a loss at Minnesota last Wednesday, Portlands third straight defeat, Dunleavy sensed the team was coming apart. So he canceled practice and gathered the team in his hotel room after the Blazers had arrived in San Francisco to prepare for Golden State. Dunleavy handed each player a piece of paper with 18 inspirational adages the coach had collected over the years, with sentiments like Most disagreeable person: the complainer.
At Mondays practice, more eloquent quotes from Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt had been posted. The passage from Roosevelt began, It is not the critic that counts.
Although the Blazers lost at Sacramento on Sunday marking the third time in five games theyd blown a fourth-quarter lead the players continue to take the positive message from Dunleavys meeting to heart.
I think were still mentally strong, Scottie Pippen said. I still think we have a lot of hope and feel real good about what we can do about turning this season around.