Remembering the 2007-08 Blazers' unlikely 13-game win streak
The feel-good story of the NBA the past few weeks has undoubtedly been the formerly 11-30 Miami Heat somehow tearing off a 13-game win streak, vaulting themselves from contending for the No. 1 overall pick to becoming a legitimate factor in the East playoff race.
No team has ever gone on such a streak after starting the season quite so badly, but they're not the only solidly sub-.500 team in recent memory to go on such a surprising heater - the 2007-08 Portland Trailblazers, another squad expected to be little more than a lottery team, embarked upon a similarly sized streak after starting the season 5-12.
Now that the Heat's run has finally come to an end - with a loss over the weekend to the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers, of all teams - let's take a look back at their predecessors from a decade earlier, and see if the rest of the Blazers' season might let us know what we'll be in for with the remainder of Miami's 2016-17 run.
1. It began with an injury. The 2007-08 season was supposed to be the first of a new Big Three for the Portland Trailblazers, with guard Brandon Roy and forward LaMarcus Aldridge (both nabbed in the top 10 of the 2006 draft) joined by center Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 draft. But preseason issues forced Oden into knee surgery, ruling him out for the entirety of 2007-08, and leaving a hole in the middle of the rebuilding Blazers' roster. "This isn't about one person, never has been, never will be," GM Kevin Pritchard said of his squad after the devastating news surfaced. "This is about a team, about 15 guys going out there with a single vision, a single purpose."
2. The team started 4-0 at home and 0-7 on the road. The Blazers had a nice early surge at the then-Rose Garden, winning four straight at home in early November. Unfortunately, the patch of Ws came sandwiched in between three- and four-game road losing streaks. After their seventh straight road loss, to the Charlotte Bobcats, coach Nate McMillan reportedly was heard yelling at the team for nearly 20 minutes in the closed locker room. "Nobody is going to come here and rescue us," McMillan said. "We have 15 guaranteed contracts. We can't bring in anybody to help with the situation right now. We've got to get it done."
3. The streak began on a buzzer-beater in Memphis. Portland finally got their first road win of the season in their tenth try, against the similarly woeful Grizzlies in Memphis. The Blazers were led in scoring by Roy (26) and Aldridge (23), but the biggest shot of the night undoubtedly belonged to swingman Travis Outlaw, who scored the last two of his 21 on a running banker across the lane as the buzzer sounded, giving PDX the 106-105 victory. "I was hoping to get fouled, but they didn't call anything," Outlaw explained of his game-winner. "Then, it went in anyway, and I was like 'Oh!'"
4. Brandon Roy emerged as a star. Roy had enjoyed a successful debut season, with 17 points and four assists a night, earning him the 2006-07 Rookie of the Year trophy amidst not particularly stiff competition. But he was in the middle of a bit of a sophomore slump before the Blazers got hot, mired in a 12-53 shooting stretch over the four games before the streak's first win, all Portland losses. He rebounded against Memphis and stayed scorching from there, averaging a 24-7-6 on 50 percent shooting over the run's first seven wins, and proving that even without Oden, Portland a potential franchise-caliber player in their midst.
5. LaMarcus Aldridge missed five games in the middle. Three games into the streak, Aldridge - coming off a 24-point night in an overtime win against Milwaukee - was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, forcing him to miss the next week of basketball. But the Blazers covered for their big man's absence with breakout nights from the likes of Outlaw, Martell Webster, and even James Jones, who had 21 points on 8 shots in a win over the Warriors. "I thought the guys, even short-handed, really stepped up and showed how they have grown in the last week," McMillan offered after the Golden State victory.
6. The streak hit double digits against Denver. Despite 34 points each from Nuggets scoring machines Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, the Blazers held on for a 99-96 victory against Denver, with five players scoring in double figures and Jones, Outlaw, and point guard Jarrett Jack all hitting clutch free throws in the final minute. "We're a young team but we're growing up," said Brandon Roy about the team's high-level play. "We're maturing a lot during this win streak."
7. The 13th win was the biggest. With the good times rolling for Portland, the Blazers steamrolled the 76ers in Philadelphia on Dec. 30, winning 97-72 and outscoring the Sixers 35-9 in the fourth quarter, including a 21-0 run that broke the game wide open. The 13th win in a row made it the longest streak the Blazers had gone on since the end of the 1990-91 season, where Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, and Co. triumphed in 16 straight. "They're a great bunch, this is a great place to play and a great place to coach," then-76ers skipper (and former Blazers coach) Mo Cheeks noted. "If you've got good guys and you're playing good basketball, it's going to be like this."
8. The streak came to an end in Utah without Nate McMillan. With their coach attending a funeral and assistant Dean Demopolous taking the reins for their game in Utah - their third matchup with the Jazz since they began the streak - the Blazers' momentum finally stalled on Dec. 31. Despite 36 points from Aldridge, the Jazz' balanced attack (six Utah players scored in double figures) proved too much for Portland, and the third time was the charm for Jerry Sloan's crew, winning 111-101. Noted Dempolous postgame: "I told these guys, if they go about their lives and work the way they've done since August until now, they're going to have a lot of good months and they're going to have a lot of good streaks."
Unsurprisingly, the Blazers were not to have another streak like that in 2007-08. They had benefited over the 13-game run from a relatively soft schedule - 10 of the wins were at home - and road woes would eventually submarine the team, as they went 0-for-4 on a February road trip that eventually bled the momentum for their season. Portland finished 41-41 for the year, and though that'd likely be enough to make the postseason in 2017, in 2008 they were part of a historically stacked Western Conference that saw the Warriors finish 48-34 and still miss the playoffs. The Blazers were out of the playoff picture by mid-March.
But the foundation was in place: Roy and Aldridge both finished the season as obvious foundational pieces, the team's young supporting cast seemed similarly on the ascent, and after adding Jerryd Bayless and Nicolas Batum in the draft and welcoming Greg Oden back from injury, the 2009 Blazers seemed poised to become legitimate playoff contenders. It mostly worked: The 2008-09 Blazers won 54 games before losing to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. But Oden still struggled with knee issues and Roy soon proved injury-plagued as well, and the Blazers never quite achieved their destiny as the West's burgeoning young superpower before McMillan was fired and the team was essentially disbanded.
What might this all portend for this Miami Heat team? Hard to say, since the two teams aren't particularly analogous in construction: The Heat are built more around established, well-paid veterans and wayward young journeyman than a traditional rebuilding squad - of their currently core players, only Justice Winslow and Tyler Johnson drafted by Miami, and the former was injured before the streak even began. Consequently, while the Blazers felt like an ascendant young team simply leveling up a season ahead of schedule, the Heat feel more like a mixed-identity squad whose future path is cast into confusion by this unexpected surge.
Still, even if the Heat end up at .500 this season or worse, there's no denying the thrill that a squad like theirs - or the 2007-08 Blazers - provides to an average NBA season, proving that no squad, no matter how mediocre, is ever more than one extended hot streak away from relevance.
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