In town to take on the Portland Trail Blazers in round two of the NBA playoffs, the Utah Jazz have holed themselves up in the Riverfront Marriott and tried to avoid Blazermania.
The last thing the Jazz need before tonight's Game 1 tipoff at 8:40 (MDT) in Memorial Coliseum is to take a crash course on their opponent. On paper, the Blazers are tough to beat. They've done everything this year but cure the rain forest problem. They're not a team, they're a streak. They went through the regular season like Mount St. Helens went through Clark County.This is a team that started the season with an 11-game winning streak and came within one game of ending it with a 16-game winning streak. The Trail Blazers' 63 wins were the most in the NBA, which means they'll have a homecourt advantage in any playoff series this spring that involves another NBA team.
In Memorial Coliseum, homecourt advantage is not taken lightly. The Blazers' home record during the regular season was 36-5, tied for best in the league (with the Jazz). In the playoffs, Portland is 3-0 at home. The Blazers lose in Portland about as often as the sun shines.
Part of the reason for the success at home is the excessive support of the Blazers' fans, also known as Blazermaniacs, who have filled every Memorial Coliseum seat since April 5, 1977. In the 14 years and 628 games since, regular season and playoffs, the Blazers have sold out every single time.
The 1977-78 team went on to win the NBA title. Ever since, the Blazers and their maniacs have been looking for the sequel. Last year they came close, when the Blazers fell in the finals to the Detroit Pistons.
Spurred by that loss, this year's Blazers stormed to their 11-0 start and only backed off slightly the rest of the season. They dethroned the Lakers as champions of the Pacific Division and didn't lose for almost a month as the season wound down.
The Blazers had eight players average in double figures, three All-Stars, three long-distance All-Star Weekend contestants, and the best three-point quantity and quality in the NBA (341-of-904, .377). In games against other franchises with 50-plus wins they were 18-10, and they were No. 2 in the NBA in rebounding.
All this is more or less common knowledge to anyone living in Portland. They can tell you the Nike factory is in Beaverton, the Willamette River runs through downtown, the roses are about two weeks from reaching full bloom, recycling will save the earth, and Clyde Drexler is the second coming of Bill Walton, without the flannel shirt.
In the midst of all this Blazermania, the Jazz's challenge this week is to try and avoid it. To play two games in Memorial Coliseum and escape back to Utah for the resumption of the best-of-seven series this weekend in the Salt Palace.
Then again, there is reason to believe the Jazz may have the Blazers, and the NBA, right where it wants them.
From a historical standpoint, the Jazz have fared better in series where they are the underdog than when they're the favorite.
The Jazz have played 11 playoff series in their history. In four of them they have been the favorite. In seven they have been the underdog. They are 1-3 when they're supposed to win. They are 3-4 when they're not supposed to win. And the 3-4 is with an asterisk, since it includes the celebrated loss to the eventual NBA champion L.A. Lakers in a tough seven-game series in 1988.
This week they are coming off a series triumph - over the Phoenix Suns - they were not supposed to win.
One of the other series they won when they were the underdog was in the first round in 1988, when the Jazz beat Portland three games to one. After a 53-win regular season, the Trail Blazers were the clear favorite (compared to the Jazz's 47-win season).
But the Jazz won one of two games as the series opened in Memorial Coliseum, and closed out the Blazers in the Salt Palace in two games after that, earning the right to almost beat the also heavily favored Lakers.
Besides the upset of the Blazers in 1988, and this year's win over Phoenix, the Jazz's other upset series triumph came in 1985 when they beat a favored Houston team, three games to two.
The only playoff series the Jazz were supposed to win, and did win, was in 1984 when they beat Denver three games to two, and that series was much harder than it was supposed to be.
In two series against Golden State when they've been favored, they've lost; and in last season's series against Phoenix, when they had the homecourt advantage, they also lost.
Whether any of this will mean anything in the about-to-start Jazz-Blazers series remains to be seen. But if the Jazz really are at their best when they're locked in the jaws of adversity, they couldn't pick a better spot to be in than right now - surrounded by Blazermaniacs, and by the Blazers, the best team in the NBA in the '90s . . . so far.