08 April 2009
Alaa Abdelnaby will be the first to tell you he had it good when he played in Portland. Real good.
During his rookie season with Portland – after the Blazers selected him 25th overall in the 1990 NBA Draft – the Blazers went on to post the best record in the NBA at 63-19, before eventually losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
The following season, Alaa appeared in 71 games for Portland, with the Blazers falling short (4-2) against the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. And while he only spent two seasons with the Blazers, Abdelnaby (who now works for NBATV and NBA Radio) remains fond of his days learning from Clyde, Terry, Buck, Jerome, and Duck in Rip City.
They are the good old days.
Before we get into your days in Portland, what’s impressed you the most about the Blazers from a national scope this season?
To me, the Blazers have improved in so many ways. They start and finish games much better. They have realized that you can’t play the whole game one way. In other words, you can't play the first minute like the last. They have taken their collective concentration - in the final minutes - to a higher level. They have also incorporated new guys into new roles smoothly. Thirdly - and most importantly - they have learned to adjust to (Greg) Oden's occasional injuries and continue to play well; a result of his long stints on the injured list in the past. Their confidence has grown.
This team is only going to get better. That's scary for the rest of the league - exciting for the Blazer nation.
They’ve taken some flak for their lack of experience during the regular season. But how does that translate to the playoffs? Is there really a big difference mentality wise once the postseason arrives?
There is a huge difference in the playoffs because of a few reasons. First, they are a new team to the playoffs as far as the major pieces to the puzzle. How will they respond to the moment? They are inexperienced when it comes to their roster. For instance, Rudy Fernandez has never seen that environment. How he responds will be a good indicator of their collective progress. In other words, they need him to play like he did in last year's Olympics.
Second, the game is played differently in the playoffs. It's a more deliberate game being played which means every possession becomes important. The playoffs separate the men from the boys. You have to be mentally resilient to succeed and young teams are usually lacking in that department. The moment consumes them and they become afraid to fail.
That is what veterans have and "youngins" don't. You can't manufacture mental toughness. In my opinion, experiences bring that toughness. That being said, I'm not saying that young teams can't advance - just not far. When matched-up against veteran teams, young teams usually struggle. Also, don't forget: 7 games in a series usually means that the best team wins.
Take me back then. You were a rookie when the Blazers lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals (4-2). What was that playoff experience like for you knowing the veterans you had: Clyde Drexler, Buck Williams, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth and Danny Ainge.
Back then rookies weren't really stars like they are now. Heck, nobody even left college early let alone skipped it entirely. The times, they have changed. My second year, I was nursing a knee injury and remember being so upset because I wasn't fit to play as much as I wanted. I also remember playing hurt, which everybody was doing, and forcing myself thru the pain.
There was no way I was going to miss a game if I was called upon. Fortunately, we were very deep and talented and they didn't need me every night. The guys that can fight through are an example of being mentally tough. The next year ('92) in Boston I started every night and soon realized the difference in responsibility.
A playoff team needs the guys who play every night and got them there. Again, I was injured with a bulging disk and had to cover Larry Johnson. Even with my leg atrophied to half the size of the healthy leg, there was no way - after all the work I did - that I was going to miss that challenge. No way.
The point is, it took time to evolve into a mentally tough player. You don't know what you're capable of until you see others doing it and push yourself past you "imagined" limitations - rare to see debutantes possess that quality. Anything is possible.
What was it like playing under Rick Adelman in that kind of atmosphere? Was he quick to offer words of playoff wisdom or just let you go out and play?
The great thing about Rick was he had a great understanding of what players needed. He would talk when it was needed and leave you alone when you needed that silence. I believe it's just basketball. Go do it. Don't talk about it. He clarifies and encourages but doesn't put too much chatter in your head.
When he asked you to do something, he made you feel like he had confidence in you to carry it out. What I remember is being part of team that kicked a lot of butt. That was an honor. The leader of our butt-kicking tour of the states was none other than Rick Adelman. He's a player's coach who pays attention to detail and taught me what it was like to be a pro. For that I will be forever grateful and amazed that of all the teams I could've gone to, I wound up in Portland. I got the whole package: great city, great team, great teammates and coach. That's the ultimate hat trick. How lucky were we.
With the Blazers reclaiming Rip City, a renewed rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers is only expected. How did you guys approach the Lakers when you played in Portland?
We prepared for the Lakers with the knowledge that we had to stop Magic (Johnson). It was thru Magic that every happened. It was not easy to get the best of him. It was a different kind of team back then and a different kind of rivalry. There was never any kind of physical animosity. We were both veteran teams and cheap shots would have done nothing but motivate the other team to a higher level of play. It could've hurt us.
The way to beat them was by beating them tactically on the court. My first year, we just couldn't get past them. Magic was smarter than us in that series. The famous shot of him rolling the ball down the court to kill the clock to win -uh, still hurts a bit. This year’s rivalry should be fun if they both win.
photo: getty images
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