PORTLAND, ORE. -- Years ago, as an assistant coach under Jack Ramsay, Rick Adelman picked up a theory that suddenly seems apropos.

"There's the old saying that you can't win them all," says Adelman, now head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. "Well, Jack said, 'Why not? Maybe you can't win every game, but if you go into every game thinking that you will, you're going to benefit from that attitude in the long run.' "

The Trail Blazers aren't going to win every game during the NBA's 1990-91 regular season. That became official Tuesday night as they fell here, 123-109, to Pacific Division rival Phoenix, in their 12th game.

So the old Washington Capitols' record -- they won 15 games to open the 1948-49 season -- is safe. The Trail Blazers are disappointed about that. But the "let's-win-them-all" attitude remains.

"It would have been nice to break the record," forward Jerome Kersey said after Tuesday night's loss. "But we have another game Thursday {against Minnesota}, and the way I look at it, it's time to start another streak."

At 11-1, Portland still has the NBA's best record. And a lot of people are suggesting that the Trail Blazers -- who reached the NBA Finals this spring -- are the best team in pro basketball right now.

The Blazers have had a favorable home schedule through November, with only three road games. But they've faced the likes of defending champion Detroit, San Antonio, Chicago, New York and the Los Angeles Lakers and have polished off all of them.

"We want to prove to people that last year wasn't a fluke," Kersey said. "We want to get back {to the finals} again and this time we want to win."

Even the Suns are wary.

"I said early last year that Portland's starting five is the most athletic of any team in the league," Phoenix Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said. "I think they're the team to beat. They're the best team we've played so far, and we've played six teams that won 55 games last year."

After beginning the season with three victories by a total of five points, the Trail Blazers steamrolled the next eight opponents, beating all by double-digit scores.

"It was an amazing run," said Adelman, in his second full season as the Trail Blazers' head man after taking over for ousted Mike Schuler midway through the 1988-89 season. "We're dominating teams. That's a hard thing to do, especially against the caliber of opposition we've faced."

The Trail Blazers began the week second in the NBA with a 125.9 scoring average and leading the league with a .533 shooting percentage. Their average margin of victory (15.2 points) and field goal percentage differential (opponents are shooting .461) were the best in basketball.

Why is Portland so good? It starts with Adelman.

He has earned quite a reputation for his low-key style, excellent relationship with the players, overall grasp of fundamentals and ability to make split-second game-type decisions.

The Trail Blazers have four starters -- all-court whirlwind Clyde Drexler, Kersey, center Kevin Duckworth and point guard Terry Porter -- who have been together for four years. The fifth starter, power forward Buck Williams, joined up last season from New Jersey and immediately provided the cement.

This summer came another key acquisition in Danny Ainge, the veteran guard who played in four straight NBA Finals for the Boston Celtics during the 1980s. The 6-foot-5 Ainge has come off the bench to average 14.3 points and shoot .598 from the field, including a remarkable 21 of 37 from three-point territory.

"We needed a veteran to come in and stabilize our bench," said Drexler. "The reserves have been consistently good this year, something we didn't have last season."

Cliff Robinson, a 6-10 second-year man who can play all three front-line positions, is shooting .585 from the floor and plays great defense, so the whole package is scary.

The Spurs were on the wrong end of one of the most devastating quarters in NBA history Sunday night. The Trail Blazers made 22 of 25 shots in racking up a 49-18 first-quarter lead here against one of the best teams in the league.

"Just phenomenal," San Antonio Coach Larry Brown said after his team fell, 117-103. "I've never seen a quarter like that. They could have beaten the all-decade team."

Seven Trail Blazers are averaging in double figures, topped by Drexler, a four-time all-star who is scoring at a 25.3-point clip. Six are shooting better than 50 percent, led by Williams, whose .671 percentage is second in the league.

"You can't play any better than this team has been playing," said Ainge, a member of one Boston team that ran off 18 straight wins. "When a good team plays well, it just rides the streak as long as it can."