Friday’s 109-98 win over Minnesota marked Portland’s 12 consecutive victory, a streak The Oregonian’s Jason Quick credits to a highly contentious training session in a San Antonio gym on December 1. “The practice was basically set up for a fight to happen” claims coach Nate McMillan, who comes off as something of a mad genius for instituting a number of conditions recounted by Quick (“there would be no switching when screens were set, forcing the defender to fight through picks. And there would only be one dribble allowed by the ballhandler, a tactic designed to instigate more movement by the offense to get open.”)
The first sparks were ignited early in the practice, when the team was in the midst of executing a three-man weave against defenders. Joel Przybilla, the rugged, veteran center, set a pick on Maretell Webster, the third-year player out of high school. Webster cried foul, saying Przybilla set a moving screen. Przybilla, who later said he was in a foul mood that day, shot back and asked Webster why he complains about everything.
Flustered, Webster retorted with, “Why don’t you make a dunk for once?” inciting Przybilla’s bad mood.
With tempers simmering, the drills moved to a four-on-four format. Webster made a hard drive to the basket, where he was met by Przybilla. The center caught Webster in the air, bear-hugged him and threw him to the floor.
“That’s when your pride comes in and some ego gets in the way,” Webster recalled. “I started yelling at him, telling him, ‘If I get a shot at you . . . ,’ and I remember this: While I was arguing with Joel, I looked at coach, and he was just sitting there smiling. He was looking at me like, ‘Well, get into it then. Show me something.’
“And you know what, it seemed to ignite everybody, not just for me and Joel, but for everybody. The intensity of the whole practice changed.”
Soon, Channing Frye said he was “talking trash” to his teammates. And the normally stoic Brandon Roy was cussing and snapping at the teammates guarding him. And Steve Blake got so angry that he kicked a chair, prompting Nate McMillan to chastise him in front of the team.
“We were there as guests, that was not our furniture,” McMillan said. “So I told him to pick up the chair.”