The Portland Trail Blazers are searching for answers. They're scouring a landfill for an air freshener.
Every now and then, a hidden treasure emerges that may be worth bragging about, but that doesn't solve the odor and filth suffocating and smothering them into submission.
That is exactly what the Trail Blazers (12-9) are trying to do on the road - find that air freshener.
"To be a really good team, to be an elite team in the NBA, you've got to win on the road," said Jamal Crawford.
If that's the case, Portland's in trouble. In fact, all but three teams in the Western Conference are in trouble. But the Trail Blazers, they're unique. They're polarizing. You either love them or hate them. It all depends on the venue. Is it the Rose Garden or the landfill?
Portland may hold the league's second-best home record, but the Trail Blazers have dropped seven of the last nine contests on the road. They've shown flashes of brilliance and elegance mixed with displays of inconsistency and utter disappointment.
And that was just Monday's loss to the Utah Jazz.
Five road games should have swayed in the Trail Blazers' favor. At least the last two, which they had double-digit leads in before second-half meltdowns changed all that. If those five contests went the other way - even the last two - the Trail Blazers would sit anywhere between first and third in the Western Conference as opposed to ninth.
Collectively, Portland's road horrors have been just that. There's no energy. No rhythm. Rather than the swagger and looseness shown at the Rose Garden, the Trail Blazers are tense. Each move seems forced and against the grain.
"Your homecourt, certainly, motivates and brings energy to the building," coach Nate McMillan said last week. "And we gotta find a way to create our own energy when we're on the road."
Whatever that way is, it better happen soon. It better happen before the backcourt collapses altogether, before Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford lose all confidence. Away from home, their field goal percentages have shrunk to 35.5 and 32.6 percent, respectively. Their three-point shooting teeters on near extinction.
One thing that has proved successful: the scoring tandem of Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum. The sample size is small, but the results are persuasive.
When Batum and Wallace both reach double digits, the Trail Blazers are 6-2. They average more than 101 points per game - compared to 87.4 in other matchups - and give go-to man LaMarcus Aldridge more freedom and confidence.
It sounds simple enough. Just get Batum and Wallace a few more touches. But, as luck would have it, Batum went down on Monday. Knee injury. An MRI revealed a bone contusion, leaving Batum's status as day-to-day.
As for Wallace, he's experiencing one of the most night-and-day seasons the NBA has ever seen revolving around Portland's central issue. At home, Wallace averages 18.5 points per game while shooting 62.9 percent. On the road, 8.1 points on 31.9 percent shooting.
You know what? Forget hands-on statistics. Toss aside game film and ease up on shootarounds. It's time to get more innovative.
First, someone give Patty Mills a call for a quick how-to on towel waving, floor slapping and overall energy-boosting attitude. That comes straight from Rip City. That's the personification of the energy McMillan alluded to.
Next on the to-do list - mantra. Most players sit in their lockers listening to specific playlists to get amped up. Mix it up. Plug in a couple minutes of Rose Garden roar with sound bytes from Brian Wheeler, Mike Barrett and Mark Mason.
Whatever needs to be done, it needs to be done soon.
"We definitely have to start pressing the urgency button, like, let's figure this out ASAP," Aldridge said after Portland's loss on Monday. "Because this season isn't as long as the other ones. You don't have 41 games to figure it out. We've got to figure it out now."
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