PORTLAND, ORE., JUNE 13 -- If the Portland Trail Blazers were supposed to act like condemned prisoners today, they did a poor job of it. The Detroit Pistons are ready to roll them out of the NBA Finals, but no matter -- the Trail Blazers leaned back, answered questions patiently and smiled for the cameras.
Perhaps there is a simple explanation: Prior to this series, which resumes Thursday night at 9 with the Pistons leading by 3-1, the Trail Blazers were 44-6 this season in Memorial Coliseum. They find it incomprehensible that any team, even the rock-'em, sock-'em defending champions, could knock them out three times in five days.
"There's no way in the world that we can lose three straight at home in our building, just no way," said center Kevin Duckworth. "If we were to lose three in a row at home, that might be some sort of record. I just don't predict it happening."
Duckworth was asked if the Trail Blazers had ever lost that many in a row in Memorial Coliseum during his four seasons with the team.
"Never happened," he said.
Well, in February 1989 the Trail Blazers lost three straight in Memorial Coliseum, the first two losses leading to Mike Schuler's dismissal as coach, the third coming in Rick Adelman's debut as interim coach.
Reminded of this, Duckworth said: "We did? Well, I can't be expected to remember all that. I can remember the playoffs, because they've always been over for us so early. Funny, isn't it?"
Until this season, there was a lot of truth in Duckworth's humor. The Trail Balzers were notorious for folding in the postseason, having lost in the opening round for the previous four seasons. This year they've torpedoed that reputation, and the last thing Adelman wants to see Thursday night is some of that hard work wasted by a Pistons sweep in Portland.
He wants to make the trip back to Detroit for Game 6 Sunday afternoon.
"We talked about that today," Adelman said. "We talked about not allowing them to come in and sweep us in our place. We don't want to let them beat us three times in our building. We don't want to see them celebrating tomorrow night in our building. . . .
"I told them today, 'If you look at the short-term, we've lost the last two.' But I told them, 'Let's not focus on that. Think about what you've done this series -- all these series. Think about Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio. Don't get caught up in the negatives.' "
From the Pistons' perspective, Game 5 is a tough one, because it invites them to put off wrapping up the title. If they lose Thursday, there is always the next game. And perhaps another. Both will be played in the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich.
"We've been in this situation before," said Bill Laimbeer, referring to last year, when the Pistons swept the Los Angeles Lakers, winning the championship series on the Lakers' home floor. "Portland will be emotional but . . . if we can push through that emotion, and quiet the crowd, we'll be okay."
Added Vinnie Johnson, who, after beginning this series one for 10 from the field, has made 18 of his last 25 shots: "We're in the finals, and if you've got a chance to win it on their home court, you take it. It's just as fun winning on their home court as it is winning on yours.
"Some people say, 'Yeah, but you can win the next one in front of your fans.' "
Johnson rolled his eyes.
"You better not wait."
Some Pistons believe they are under as much pressure as are the Trail Blazers, who are doing their best to stay calm.
"I think we'll be real loose," said Portland's Terry Porter, mindful that only the truest believers still give the Trail Blazers hope of becoming champions. Adelman, however, believes that his team would be looser still if it could manage to take this series to a sixth game.
"I think a lot depends on how the game goes," Adelman said. "We have nothing to hold back, but the situation is, we've lost these last two, and now we have to win. If they take control of the game, that could really lift their heads up.
"The easy game for us might be the sixth game. Now, if we're playing in a sixth game, the pressure's all on them, because nobody expects us to win and they don't want to have to play a Game 7."
How desperately the Pistons want Game 5 may be evidenced by Coach Chuck Daly's use of Dennis Rodman. After sitting out Game 3 with a tender ankle, Rodman, the NBA's defensive player of the year, played the final 36 seconds Tuesday night and appeared to be moving well. He is not expected to start Thursday, and how much he plays, nobody knows.
Meanwhile, Adelman thinks he'll be one player short, but by choice. Adelman said he will use an eight-man rotation that, most likely, will exclude Drazen Petrovic, who played just four minutes Tuesday night.
Now all the Trail Blazers need to find out are the travel plans for Friday: On to Detroit or off on vacation.
"I don't know about anybody else," said Duckworth, thinking the first option, "but my suitcase is packed."