Plagued by a series of player arrests and team infighting since last season, the Portland Trail Blazers now have an angry commissioner to deal with.
Making matters worse, the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers are coming to town off their first loss in three weeks.
Portland, in the midst of a season high-tying three-game losing streak, has made more news for its off-the-court exploits than any other pro team in recent history. On Thursday, Rasheed Wallace drew the ire of David Stern after telling the Oregonian newspaper that the NBA’s white establishment is exploiting young black athletes to enrich itself.
“No. I see behind the lines. I see behind the false screens. I know what this business is all about,” said Wallace, who has never hidden his contempt for authority, as evidenced by his career-long penchant for drawing technical fouls.
“I know the commissioner of this league makes more than three-quarters of the players in this league.”
Stern issued a statement in response to the interview Friday.
“Mr. Wallace’s hateful diatribe was ignorant and offensive to all NBA players,” Stern said. “I refuse to enhance his heightened sense of deprivation by publicly debating with him.
“Since Mr. Wallace did not direct his comments at any particular individuals other than me, I think it best to leave it to the Trail Blazers’ organization and its players and fans to determine the attitudes by which they wish to be defined.”
On Thursday, Wallace scored 23 points but Portland fell to 0-8 on the road this season with an embarrassing 102-77 loss to the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
“It’s another road loss,” frustrated Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. “I kept trying to get the fight out of us and I couldn’t. We were very flat. We have guys who can play, we just have to find a way to play better. We know we can win 10 or 11 straight, but right now we’re not playing well.”
The Lakers roll into Portland after having a trio of extended streaks snapped in a 110-93 home loss to Dallas on Friday.
Gary Payton was ejected after angrily tossing a ball toward an official, and things got worse from there. Los Angeles, which suffered its first loss in 11 games, had a 27-game home winning streak come to an end and lost to Dallas for the first time in 27 home meetings.
Kobe Bryant finished with 15 points on 4-of-18 shooting for Los Angeles, which has not lost consecutive games since Nov. 7-10. Despite the defeat, the Lakers remained one-half game ahead of Indiana (18-5) for the NBA’s best record.