WHEN THE OPENING TIP was tossed into the air Sunday night, the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns wrapped up a hectic weekend of NBA playoff basketball. In the seven previous games, the favored home teams won with relative ease every time, and the assumption was that this game—between the NBA's hottest team (Phoenix) and the NBA's most woefully crippled team (Portland)—would be no different. Yet to the pleasant surprise of the Blazers faithful, and to the utter shock of the heavily favored Suns, Portland toppled Phoenix 105-100.
By the time that game ended, and before Tuesday's game began, Marcus Camby got to take a swim in Paul Allen's private money vault—Scrooge McDuck style—signing a two-year contract extension valued at around $21 million. The deal gives the Blazers an embarrassment of (injury-prone) riches under the basket, with Camby and Greg Oden left to duke it out for the starting position, while the wounded ligaments and broken heart of Joel Przybilla are left to watch it all from the bench. The franchise sees Oden as an apprentice to the wizened Camby—a Kenobi/Skywalker relationship, for all you nerds out there struggling to make it this far into a column about basketball—plus the stoic 36-year-old is insurance should God once again smite Oden in his tender knees. The odd man out, Przybilla (and his expiring contract) will be a tantalizing piece of trade bait for the team to deal come the mid-season trade deadline.
With momentum on their side and a 1-0 record on the books, the Blazers were in an enviable position for Tuesday's game in Phoenix. But the Suns came storming out of the gate, keeping a frantic pace befitting the NBA's most efficient offense—and as Phoenix's defense swarmed Andre Miller in a desperate attempt to keep the Blazers' best scoring option (not named Brandon Roy) far away from a repeat 31-point performance, they derailed Portland's offense in the process. While Portland managed to cling to a single digit lead through the opening quarter, it was abundantly clear that this was not the Blazers' night. The score ballooned as time progressed, and the Suns were relentless, eventually embarrassing the Blazers with a final score of 119-90. It wasn't just a defeat, it was the Blazers' worst loss of the season.
Rudy Fernandez continued his hurried march towards complete irrelevance—or a career of playing back home in Spain—as he netted just five points and demonstrated a horrific inability to play defense or create plays. Like a disheveled void of uselessness, Rudy's true purpose with this team is to move replica jerseys emblazoned with his name, since his time on the court remains in serious jeopardy. Adding insult to (literal) injury, Nicolas Batum was sent to the locker room in the third quarter with a possible right shoulder injury. It was the same shoulder that he had offseason surgery on for a torn labrum that caused the Blazers' finest defender, and most reliable outside shooter, to miss the 45 games to start this season. With Roy already on the mend following surgery for a torn meniscus—plus all the other well-documented injuries that have followed this team like a lingering black cloud of suffering—Batum's possible injury could be the nail in Portland's already battered coffin.
The series now heads west to the Rose Garden for game three on Thursday. After a wondrous start, and a horrendous follow-up game, everything hinges on Thursday night for the Blazers. Is the Blazers team that shocked the Suns capable of resurfacing once more? Or should Portland fans learn to accept 29-point defeats and just look forward to next season?