The Portland Trail Blazers weren't underdogs to start the NBA playoffs against the Houston Rockets. While the Blazers were facing a Rockets team with the likes of Dwight Howard and James Harden, their surprise 54-win regular season suggested they could do something in these playoffs. Yet that has been easier said than done for the Blazers in the last 14 years, although it can now finally be done on April 30.
With a 3-1 series lead, Portland can win its first NBA playoff series since 2000 by winning a third straight game at Houston. But given how close the series has actually been due to three overtime games -- which still isn't the most in this postseason thanks to Memphis and Oklahoma City -- there may still be some drama left in this match-up.
The Rockets will need more clutch play than they've gotten from Howard and Harden, while needing some way to stop LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. These Blazers stars have raised hopes that they could have a Western Conference contender for years to come, but they need to take one big baby step first.
Portland has been cursed ever since Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, when it was 10 minutes away from completing a 3-1 comeback over the Los Angeles Lakers. But instead, the Blazers blew a 15-point lead, allowed the Lakers to begin their dynasty and haven't gotten past the first round since.
The Blazers haven't had a team capable of doing as much as the 1999-2000 squad, at least perhaps until right now. With the chance to put the Rockets away early and with the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs struggling against the Dallas Mavericks, there's a chance the Blazers could be fully rested with home court in the next round.
Since the NBA playoffs have been chaotic and top heavy in the West, Portland may have as much of a shot at the finals as any. This is technically a pipe dream for a team that has the longest postseason drought in the league today. But with one more win in these next three games, the Blazers will finally be allowed to dream bigger.
The accompanying list details all the NBA playoff demons of the last 14 years that Portland can erase very soon.
Blazers' Game 7 meltdown
2000 Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers 4, Trail Blazers 3
The Blazers' playoff jinx started with a game that changed the course of NBA history. If they had held a 15-point lead in the final quarter of Game 7, the Lakers wouldn't have won the first of three straight championships, the Shaq and Kobe dynasty wouldn't have started, and things would have been different for years to come. Instead, Portland let Los Angeles take over the game and the league for the next several years.
Blazers fall to Lakers again
2001 first round: Lakers 3, Blazers 0
The Blazers paid the price in the playoffs against the Lakers again a year later, only two rounds earlier. By then, Los Angeles was in full on dynasty mode, as it swept Portland to start a postseason where it wouldn't lose a single game in regulation.
Lakers sweep one more time
2002 first round: Lakers 3, Blazers 0
For the third straight year, the Lakers beat the Blazers en route to a championship. For the second straight year, it started with a first round sweep, although the Blazers and Scottie Pippen played these games a little closer -- but with no luck.
Blazers fall shy of history
2003 first round: Dallas Mavericks 4, Blazers 3
When the Blazers lost the first three games of this series, their losing streak in the NBA playoffs stretched to 10. However, once Portland won the next three games after that, it had a chance to erase the first 3-0 deficit in NBA history. But in their first Game 7 since the 2000 conference finals, the Blazers couldn't complete the comeback -- and this Game 7 loss would poison the franchise too.
Blazers lose in return to playoffs
2009 first round: Houston Rockets 4, Blazers 2
It took six years for Portland to go back to the postseason, and only six games to get knocked out by Yao Ming and Houston. Yet the Blazers can now get revenge in five games five years later.
Suns take Blazers out
2010 first round: Phoenix Suns 4, Blazers 2
This time, it was Steve Nash and the Suns who ended the Blazers' season early with a Game 6 victory in Portland.
Mavericks start title run over Blazers
2011 first round: Mavericks 4, Blazers 2
The Mavericks once again eliminated the Blazers in a first round match-up, but this time it didn't require blowing a 3-0 lead first. In addition, Jason Terry and the Mavs would ride this early momentum to a long awaited championship, while the Blazers would wait three years for another playoff shot.