Ben Golliver checks in with the view from media row.
The First Loss
It was bound to happen sometime. Since we started this magical trip on Press Row more than a month ago (December 17th to be exact), we had not witnessed a loss - until tonight.
Everything is different during a loss.
Travis doesn't hit his free throws. Brandon makes a foul that leads to an and-one. James Jones isn't left wide open by clueless defenses time and again. Lamarcus makes a tough decision, takes a tough shot, misses too many times down the stretch. The celebrity guest - this time the esteemed Ahmad Rashad (note: he doesn't travel with Summer Sanders in tow)--wasn't on his feet during the game's crucial moments, he was on his blackberry.
Everything is different after a loss.
No chalupas. No cheering. Fewer signs. Thousands of fans left early. How can you leave early on this team? Did you not witness any of the games on the road trip? 4 point plays; big time overtime 3 pointers; you realize we still have Travis Outlaw on the roster, right? It was kind of embarrassing. I realize it's the Friday night crowd but this team deserves better. 10 point deficit or 50 point deficit, you don't leave early on a team that gave you 13 straight wins and played hard tonight, despite everything, all the way to the final whistle.
Everything is different postgame.
Nate isn't smiling. He's pretty angry about the rebounding disparity. He walks out of the room earlier than usual, shoulders lowered, saying a very polite, very soft "excuse me" as he retires for the evening. Brandon isn't facing the media. Brandon isn't smiling. He's dressing with his back to 8 cameras, wishing they'd go away. He gives it a good effort, mumbling some responses, but the loss hurts. Martell looks mad. There's no singing, no dancing. It's something of a ghost town. Where is everyone?
Everything was different tonight. Here's hoping reality resumes Sunday night.
Nate on the fatigue factor: "Everyone has played 40, 41, 42 games. We're the same as everybody else. We play a lot of games. This is something [where] we've gotta grow, we've gotta learn. We've gotta take care of our bodies, we've gotta mentally find out how to get ... ready for Sunday."
Nate on the warning signs that fatigue might be creeping up on us: "We only had 14 assists. We're taking a lot of jump shots, the same as last game. We're missing free throws. [So maybe] we don't have our legs, that could be part of it. We just don't have a lot of movement, we're not reacting, we're not as strong in the second half as we've been."
Nate on Yao: "Yao didn't even play! I thought we did a nice job of trying to disrupt their offense and not allow him to get off."
Nate on Lamarcus: "He's in between, when to attack and when to shoot his jump shot. You can see him almost out there kind of thinking about should I take him or should I raise up?"
Nate on the rebounding disparity: "It was huge. We're not getting to boards. We knew they are a good rebounding team. It wasn't so much Yao, tonight [it was] there other guys, Scola and their smalls were pounding us and beating us. 16 offensive and 20 second chance points... that is.... tough to overcome."
Brandon on tonight's result: "Houston, they play a slow down game [and] we wanted to play faster, we got Yao out of the game but their [bench] guys came in and they stepped up. They played together as a team tonight, we gotta give them credit, they did a good job of crashing the boards, they took us out of a lot of things we wanted to do tonight.
Brandon on the team's defensive strategy: "We knew it was going to be a team effort. guarding Yao is not a one man job. [Our] guys did a great job of fronting him and giving him different looks. That was our game plan: to get him out of the game. But their guys came in off the bench and did a good job."
Random Game Notes:
The Blazers came out looser than I've ever seen them. Lots of smiles and playful pregame banter with Blaze the Trail Cat... Tracy McGrady didn't start but he played the most minutes of anyone on the Rockets... According to the Rockets' press guide, Shane Battier (a Duke Blue Devil of the highest order) has a dog named "Bruin"... Luis Scola or Manu Ginobili: who is the more annoying Argentinian? That's a serious toss-up... Ahmad Rashad wore a bright purple sweater, which you probably couldn't miss on television. I definitely couldn't miss it from clear across the arena. Legends get to purple, I guess... Bonzi was royally booed by the Portland crowd; he responded by mock waving and saluting the crowd. No love lost either direction it seems... Interestingly, Mike Barrett, Mike Rice and Bill Schonely (who was sporting a green sport coat straight out of Tiger Woods' closet) made a point of offering pre-game handshakes to Bonzi. Bonzi eagerly reciprocated with a "dap" which the Blazers' announcers seemed amazingly well versed in giving and receiving... The scoreboard flashed "Happy Belated Birthday to Greg Oden" and they showed him on the big screen. Martell grabbed Greg's hand and made him wave to the crowd. Greg was typically sheepish... Interesting interplay between teammates: Sergio was vehemently arguing a no-call at the end of the third quarter when Channing grabbed him by the neck and led him back to the huddle. Nate immediately picked up the referee badgering where Sergio left off...Despite the loss and spotty play, it felt great to watch a game in person-- I think we can all agree that the road trip was way too long... Best sign of the night: "Welcome Home Blazers. We missed you."