It's considered a given in NBA circles that the Portland Trail Blazers are one of the league's up-and-coming teams filled with young, talented players.
But the Blazers, who missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season last spring, know they need to be better outside of Oregon if they want to compete with the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets for the Northwest Division title.
"We just a young, immature team," said Portland star guard Brandon Roy of his club's road woes. "We play well for stretches, but to win on the road you need to be consistent for 48 minutes and we're not there yet."
Portland, which went just 13-28 last season on the road, fell to 0-3 away from home on Wednesday night after a 103-96 loss to the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.
Through three quarters on Wednesday night the Blazers were actually better than the Jazz. They led by as many as 11 points in the third quarter before settling for a 78-74 lead entering the final period.
"That was a winnable game and we let it slip," said Roy. "It's painful. We're fighting, but we're not executing right now. We've got to do a better job on the road. When the crowd gets loud we can't panic. We've got to stick to what we're doing. Tonight we panicked when they made a run."
Portland was still right there ready to steal a win over the Jazz in the final minute, trailing by just one point at 97-96 following a driving layup by Roy. But the Jazz scored the final six points of the game to put it away.
"We did some good things, but we've got to finish the game off," said Blazers coach Nate McMillan.
Wednesday night the Blazers were playing without 20-year-old rookie center Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, and 21-year-old swingman Martell Webster, who were out with injuries.
Still, the Blazers had plenty of young firepower available against the Jazz. Roy and forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who are both starting their third seasons in the NBA, finished with 18 points apiece to lead the way. Rookie Rudy Fernandez, a star on the Spanish Olympic team, added 14 points off the bench. It just wasn't quite enough.
The Jazz "are a really good team and that's what good teams do," said Portland point guard Steve Blake, the second-oldest Blazer at 28. "They turned it up in the fourth quarter."
Portland dropped to 1-3 on the year, but are still perfect in the Rose Garden at 1-0 where they will play their next two games. The Blazers need to learn to win on the road soon, however, if they want to keep pace in the standings since they start a five-game trip next Monday."We've got to play better basketball," said McMillan. "It's as simple of that."
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