Evanson: You can't spell Portland Trail Blazers without P-A-I-N
Of course, it hurts. And of course, it happened.
The Portland Trail Blazers and their fans suffered yet another blow at the hands of the basketball gods this past week when former Rip City favorite, CJ McCollum, piloted his New Orleans Pelicans past the Los Angeles Clippers and into the 2022 NBA Playoffs.
The defeat meant little to the Clippers. After all, they've been without their two primary stars for the bulk of the season and had near to no realistic expectations of progressing towards their ultimate goal of an NBA title. But to the Portland franchise and fans, it meant the loss of a 2022 first-round draft pick, and in the process, any real faith in the hardwood deities who've been smacking them upside their domes since the title they won 45 years ago.
From Bill Walton's foot to the coin flip that cost us Hakeem Olajuwon.
From Sam Bowie to the man they bypassed to get him, Michael Jordan.
From everything Oden to Brandon Roy's knees, and lest we forget the Blazers propelling the hated Shaq/Kobe Lakers to their first of three straight titles by blowing a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals.
All random, but at the same time predictable for the league's best fans, with arguably the worst luck.
We should've seen this coming. When interim general manager Joe Cronin made the deal with the Pelicans that sent McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell to New Orleans in return for Josh Hart, two future second-round picks, three guys you've never heard of and won't ever again, and the protected 2022 first-rounder (protected), that parenthetical statement should've tipped us off to the trauma train that was barreling towards us down the tracks.
We don't catch breaks in Portland. Not when it comes to the basketball team that's had us in the fetal position for five decades. So, when that "protected" exception reared its ugly head, we all should've retreated to our figurative bomb shelters and waited for the inevitable blast.
But instead, we started shopping for prospective players, spit-balling future lineups, dreaming big despite the nightmare we had to know was coming — and now we're paying the price
That nightmare began when New Orleans defeated San Antonio in the play-in's first round, then seriously took root the morning of the game with the Clippers when it was announced that seven-time All-Star Paul George wouldn't be suiting-up due to testing positive for COVID-19.
My first thought when I heard the news was, "You've got to be kidding me?" But then after some reflection I thought, "Nah, that's about right."
When I switched last Friday night's game on midway through the second half and saw the Clippers up by double-digits, I wasn't comforted by what I saw, but rather left to wonder how it would tragically end.
Would McCollum himself do us in with a buzzer-beating trifecta?
Maybe Larry Nance Jr. would tap in a last-second miss to tip the scales?
Or would a series of missed free throws by Robert Covington and Norman Powell — former Blazers who were traded to the Clippers as part of the 2022 fire sale — lead to our inevitable demise?
Bingo. Which, while painful, was at the same time poetic in a fatalistic, self-deprecating and masochistic kind of way.
People are saying it's going to be okay. After all, we're likely slated to have a top-seven pick of our own and there's a 9% chance that pick is No. 1. That could happen?
And maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves Milwaukee in free agency in 2024 and that 2025 Bucks first-rounder the Blazers received in lieu of this year's Pelicans pick turns from a frog to a frog prince?
And who's to say; Anfernee Simons could become an all-star; Jusuf Nurkic could turn the page; and maybe Josh Hart, Justice Winslow or the impending first-rounder are the Robin to Damian Lillard's Batman?
That would be OK. It really would. But don't get your hopes up because this is Portland where things that could happen don't, frogs never turn to princes, and Robin? Puleeze.
This is where basketball hopes and dreams go to die — and there's 45 years of pain to prove it.
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