The Take Command Game
Denver: 39-22 (22-7 at home)
Portland: 38-22 (13-17 on the road)
Series tied 1-1
The two teams met in a rare home and away back-to-back back on December 22nd in Denver and the 23rd in Portland. Each team held home court as Denver won at home 97-89 and the Blazers won 101-92 in Portland.
Next meeting: April 15th in Portland
This game may have MAJOR playoff implications and to add some spice, it’s the last game of the regular season for both teams.
Melo is back for tonight’s game after serving his one game suspension for insubordination.
Portland is coming in off a back-to-back with Indiana, in which they won 107-105 thanks to a couple of Brandon Roy free throws. It’s nice when the refs can give you a win. Denver has a couple of those this season as well.
I really hope the refs let the players decide this one on the court tonight. I’ve seen too many games this year just dominated by the whistle … let’s give it a rest with that garbage tonight and watch some great late season basketball!
National TV: TNT 8:30 p.m. tipoff
Opposition: Blazer's Edge
I’ve been reading a fantastic book by the legendary and late great author David Halberstam titled “Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan & the World He Made.” Halberstam is I think the most detailed sports writer there ever was. If you haven’t read this book and you love basketball then you need to pick up a copy here for less than $15.
Anyway, I ran across a passage that I’ve been thinking about for a little bit and it applies to this game tonight between these two division rivals and it applies I think for two different purposes.
The reason I think it applies for Portland is simple. They have not won the division during the Melo Era and they have a young team that is obviously on the rise. I’ve been reading and hearing Portland fans talking about wanting to take the division lead and wanting their team to capture the Northwest crown. That crown belongs to the Nuggets and Portland must seize it from them … starting tonight.
On the other side of the coin, the Nuggets have made the playoffs in each of Melo’s five seasons with the team. What they haven’t done is advance past the Spurs and Lakers of the world. Nuggets faithful believe that this may be our season to finally make some postseason noise.
Each team wants to get to another level and the passage below taken from pages 265 & 266 from Halberstam’s book on the Bulls wanting to rise above the Pistons applies to each team competing tonight in its own way. For Denver I believe it’s the desire to be an elite team and to beat the Lakers and Spurs teams of the league. For Portland it’s to be considered among the elite and to own their division outright.
Winning in the NBA more often has to do with psychological qualities than physical ones. Veteran coaches and players know that the margin of difference comes more than anything else from superior mental toughness. Quality players on great teams know how to win, how to finish a game, how to block out a hostile crowd on the road; they speak of the ability of great teams to bend the will of lesser teams to their own. If these phrases sound to the outside world like clichés, within the league they have achieved the status of gospel. In a season as long as the NBA’s, where one game runs into the next, where mental fatigue is often greater than physical fatigue, what sets the great players apart is a capacity, in the dog days of February, on the road, when their bodies ache, to see a game against a lesser opponent as being important and to bring a high level of preparedness to it. Greatness in the NBA does not just require great skill, it demands the ability to go out and play hard night after night, and the ability to inspire one’s teammates to play hard as well. That was what set players such as (Larry) Bird, (Magic) Johnson, and (Isiah) Thomas apart—not only their fierce will but its effect on their teammates. By 1990, the Bulls and the Pistons looked about even; in fact, if anything, in terms of pure talent, the Bulls looked superior. But so far, the Pistons owned the Bulls because they managed to get inside the heads of the Chicago players.
The one thing a championship-level team liked least to do was to give off any sense of vulnerability to a contender, particularly one that imagined its fortunes on the ascent. And so issues of mental toughness were critical: Were you mentally strong enough to expose the weaknesses of a rival team and emphasize to that team its own weaknesses before that team exposed your own vulnerabilities? Who danced for whom? If your magic worked often enough, as Detroit’s had in its head-to-head meetings with Chicago, you created a sense among your own players of their own invincibility, and one among your opponents of their own fallibility. But if you showed even momentary vulnerability, particularly to a team that was getting better, it was like leaving blood in the water for sharks.
We'll find out tonight which team is ready for the next step.