SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
February 13, 1978
Portland is not just running away from everybody in the NBA, it's mounting an assault on the record books as well
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February 13, 1978

Going Like Blazers

Portland is not just running away from everybody in the NBA, it's mounting an assault on the record books as well

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PHILA. 66-67







BOSTON 72-73














BOSTON 64-65















The theory is rapidly being advanced that nobody, not even Clint Eastwood, is going to make it through Multnomah County as long as the Portland Trail Blazers—otherwise known as The Gauntlet—stay alive and healthy and remember to keep their eyes averted from Coach Jack Ramsay's blinding array of multicolored pants. As Bill Walton fires his heavy ammo from the rooftops, as Maurice Lucas and Lionel Hollins heave their deadly mortars front and rear, as several other vaguely familiar and unfamiliar Blazers sneak-attack from all sides, how can ordinary basketball teams avoid being massacred when Ramsay breaks out yet another pair of those remarkable trousers. They can't. They just lose quietly and go away.

There is no real evidence that Ramsay's pants ("Pants?" says Guard Dave Twardzik. "I thought his legs were tattooed") have been responsible for a single Trail Blazer victory. But it was the same old show again last week in Portland's sold-out-forever Memorial Coliseum as well as across the river in the downtown Paramount, where the Blazer games are transmitted on closed circuit for an audience of thoroughly raving Blazermaniacs. The home team won two more games and sent historians scurrying out into the rain to speculate on just how long sport's newest wonder team can go on like this.

It is not merely that Portland is in the throes of Blazermania, Part II—7-month-old babies attend team practices; a truck driver named D. D. Albritton records a country-and-Western masterpiece entitled Blazer Mania. Nor is it just that the team is defending its NBA championship with a zeal seldom seen outside a college campus. It is the fairly outrageous numbers the champions have been compiling that have people leafing through the pages of the record books.

Before the All-Star Game, Portland won its last five games by margins of 23, 35, 35, 20 and 20 points. Last Friday night, after the Blazers had crushed Golden State 112-92, Rick Barry was approached warily by an interviewer. Barry had scored three baskets in the game, which was an improvement over the last time he played against Portland, when he scored, uh, one. Barry was asked were the Blazers good, better, or best?

"This team deserves any comparison anybody wants to make," Barry said. "The old Celtics, the Knicks, Philly with Wilt, L.A. with Wilt, anybody. It's a clinic whenever you play them. They get the ball out and ram it down your throat. Walton is a great center who does everything, and all the rest complement each other. The Blazers may be the most ideal team ever put together."

A few nights earlier, Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson had been equally adulatory. His talented young Bucks had exploded for 39 points in the first quarter, had shot 60% in the first half—and were trailing Portland 71-69. After the Blazers pulled ahead to win another laugher, 136-116, Nelson, who played on five championship Celtic teams, spoke of "situation basketball. Portland reacts to situations," he said. "Ninety percent of what they do is automatic, everyone picks it up. The Celtics had role-playing, defensive and offensive specialists. Here the attack is more general. Everybody on the Blazers can beat you at either end. They are a team for all time."

For all time. Ah, again some numbers. At the All-Star break, Walton and his merry men had won 40 games and lost eight. They were undefeated at home, with 26 straight victories this year and 44 over two seasons, including playoff games. They were unbeaten in their division—the Pacific, arguably the NBA's strongest—with nine straight. They led the league in defense (100.4 points per game allowed), not to mention in scoring margin (10.1) by nearly five points a game. Moreover, the Trail Blazers had already won as many games on the road as they had all of last year, and their road victory percentage of .636 (14-8) was higher than all but three NBA teams' overall percentage. Projected over a full season (see chart), what Portland could do would place the team among the NBA's finest ever.

The team itself will not be the last to admit this. "Lack of confidence has never been one of my problems," says Walton, the ringleader. "Maybe I'm just surprised we haven't won more." And as Larry Steele, the oldest Blazer in point of service—seven seasons—points out, "Teams are always aiming for periods of consistency—20 minutes of great ball, 25 minutes. Well, we're coming closer and closer to the perfect 48 minutes."

Last season, Ramsay could pinpoint the exact moment his club meshed, then erupted for all the world to see how good it was—a 146-104 November rout of the 76ers. The improvement this year has been more gradual. The signs could be seen last spring when the Blazers embarrassed Philadelphia by winning the last four games of the NBA finals.

"Now we are more poised," Ramsay said last week as he drove through the Oregon downpour, wearing a blue jacket, blue shoes, blue socks—and brown plaid pants. "We concentrate better. We have fewer dry spells on offense, fewer lapses on defense." Then the coach himself lapsed, taking leave of basic coaching rhetoric. "Our half-court offense is better than any of those Celtic teams'," Ramsay said. "We are really awesome."

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