The Trail Blazers’ storied 50-year history includes one title-winning squad and a handful of others that nearly reached the pinnacle of NBA success. SB Nation is putting together a historic field of teams that focuses on the latter in hopes of identifying the best team to never win a NBA Championship.
SB Nation will roll out 64 teams this week and they will eventually settle on a field of 32. The Blazers have four teams in the field. That list, with the help of our readers, will be reduced to a single team to represent Portland in the final bracket.
This post highlights the second Blazers team in the field, the 1999-00 squad.
1999-00 Trail Blazers
Regular Season Record: 59-23
Eventual Exit: Lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals (4-3)
Leading Scorer: Rasheed Wallace (16.4)
The Blazers emerged from the listless post-Drexler years to advance to the Western Conference Finals on two occasions as the century came to a close. The 1999-00 squad swapped out a well-known malcontent in Isaiah Rider and a handful of young players to bolster their squad with proven contributors. Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith and Detlef Schrempf were added to a core led by Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire and Arvydas Sabonis.
Unlike the title-contending teams Portland fielded a decade earlier, the ‘99-00 squad was built on experience that leaned on a pick-your-poison halfcourt-heavy offense. Led by Wallace, the Blazers featured five players that averaged double-digit point production and four more players that averaged more than five points per contest. Off the bench; Brian Grant, Schrempf, Greg Anthony, Bonzi Wells and Stacey Augmon allowed head coach Mike Dunleavy to make large hockey-style substitutions that kept opponents reeling.
In the post, Wallace was blossoming into the type of power forward that would come into style in the years ahead. Next to him, Sabonis mitigated his lack of mobility with crafty moves and passes that wouldn’t surface again until Nikola Jokic’s arrival. On the perimeter, Smith and Pippen provided reliable production that opened up lanes for Stoudamire to exploit defenses. When called upon, Grant would grind his opponent to a pulp on the glass as Anthony kept the offense running smoothly.
Things were going according to plan in the 2000 NBA Playoffs. The Blazers dispatched Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves in round one, surrendering just one loss in the process. Like the previous season, Portland met Utah in the Western Conference Semifinals, this time it only took five games to oust Karl Malone and John Stockton from the playoffs. Their smooth ascent turned turbulent quickly, though. Facing the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, the Blazers fell into a 3-1 hole.
The Blazers did not go quietly when staring down a gentlemen’s sweep. Portland would rally back to secure wins in Game 5 and Game 6. Returning to Los Angeles, the Blazers had the Lakers on the ropes. And for three quarters in Game 7, the Blazers kept them there. Then the wheels came off.
Ahead 73-58 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Blazers’ title dreams transitioned into a nightmare that is forever locked inside Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s highlight reels. Portland failed to record a single point for over seven minutes of game action in the fourth quarter, a span of time that felt like an eternity. The champagne was removed from the Blazers’ locker room and moved across the hall for the Lakers to enjoy. Los Angeles would go on to dispatch Reggie Miller and the Pacers in six games in the NBA Finals.
The sting of Portland’s loss in the 2000 Western Conference Finals is still imprinted on an entire generation of Blazers fans. The exploits of Brandon Roy and Damian Lillard have provided relief. Still, that fourth-quarter collapse 20 years ago, alongside the Blazers’ well-known injury misfortune, fuels much of fear and pessimism that occasionally bubbles to the surface in Rip City.
Other teams from the same era: Following the 2000 NBA Playoffs, Portland’s Western Conference Finals drought would go on to span nearly two decades. The immediate aftermath for the 1999-00 squad planted the seeds for a painful chapter in the Blazers’ history. Bob Whitsitt kept adding players with name recognition, but the on-court production continued to slide in the wrong direction. The Blazers would exit in the first round of the playoffs for the next three seasons before missing the postseason entirely for five seasons after that.
You can check out the rest of the teams in today’s title-less field at SB Nation.