Welcome to Rip City -- where perception has had a head-on collision with reality.
A lot of Trail Blazer fans bought into the Trail Blazers' Christmas present of a start (an incredible 24-5 record on Dec. 26) as a measure of just how good their team was, in spite of some warnings to the contrary. For a few weeks there, Portland was the toast of the NBA and the darling of the national media.
That team caught others by surprise with its cohesive offensive attack built on a barrage of three-pointers. It was also injury free, from the top of the roster to the bottom. But other teams made adjustments and that caused a bit of an offensive slowdown. And some high-percentage shooting fell victim to the law of averages. The defense couldn't stand up to the pressure of a heavier load as the offense slowed and things came back to earth. Now, as injuries have had an impact, the wins are harder to come by.
Stil, Portland is 42-23. Who saw that coming? The over/under on Trail Blazer wins in Las Vegas this season was 38 and a lot of people were taking the under. Overall, this team has still had almost shocking success.
But the problem, though, is that wreck between perception and reality. The Trail Blazers set a high standard for themselves early in the season and are having trouble meeting it. Fans, as they tend to do, are panicking and media is losing patience. This team is being condemned by it own recent history.
None of that matters, of course. Not in the slightest. The thing that really matters is what is going on in the Trail Blazer locker room. A post-game meeting was held Wednesday night after the loss at Memphis. Some people have called it a "players-only" meeting but it's been verified that Terry Stotts and his coaches were in that meeting, too. Those kinds of group discussions can often be beneficial, with or without coaches. They can bring a team together and sharpen the focus.
But not always. Sometimes, they foster doubt, break teams apart, serve as springboards to dissension and turn the spotlight back on coaches. I have no idea what's going on with the Trail Blazers but I would hope somebody is providing perspective and reality. This is still a very surprising season. They have to ride out the rough spots, keep the faith and continue to play unselfishly. There are some easier games ahead and playoff performance has no connection to what's happening now.
But I've seen teams who went the other direction during rough spots like this and it's not a pretty sight.
The Trail Blazers cannot allow an almost off-the-charts great start to be the measuring stick for their play the remainder of the season. They must find their true identity, with expectations to match, and ignore everyone else's perception of who and what they are.
If not, their own success could become their downfall.