PORTLAND — A rare winter snowstorm in Rip City that dumped more than a foot of snow on some parts of the region left two NBA teams tearing up their travel itineraries, as the Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers scrambled to play Wednesday night’s nationally televised game, which Portland won 102-86.
With the Cavs playing Tuesday night in Salt Lake City and the Blazers playing Tuesday in Los Angeles while snow started to fall hundreds of miles away in Portland, the first question became whether both teams would be able to fly into Portland International Airport, let alone play a game.
The Cavs’ team plane sat on the runway in Utah for nearly three hours before finally taking off without a destination guaranteed. The hope was that PDX would re-open for air traffic and let them land. If not, the Cavs would fly to Seattle, spend the night and then make their way to Portland on Wednesday morning. This involved Cleveland’s director of team operations, Mark “Cobra” Cashman, securing a block of nearly 60 hotel rooms at the last minute to accommodate the Cavs’ traveling party, as well as buses to and from the airport, should their flight be diverted to Seattle.
The contingency plan proved unnecessary. Cleveland made it to Portland after all, and the team settled into bed at its hotel shortly before 4 a.m. PT Wednesday.
The home team wasn’t so lucky. The Blazers didn’t make it back to Portland on Tuesday night, landing in Seattle instead. Like the Cavs, they got to their hotel around 4 a.m.; only on Wednesday, they had to catch an 11 a.m. bus from their hotel back to the airport so they could fly down to Portland.
“I thought we’d get here someway,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said pregame. “It was a little bit like the movie ‘Out-of-Towners’ that came to mind. That and ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles.'”
What did Stotts think about the Cavs making it to Portland while the Blazers couldn’t?
“They had all of the logistics planned,” Stotts said, who later praised Blazers athletic trainer, Jeff Clark, for doing Portland’s planning on the fly. “They had their hotel, they had buses there. So the logistics on the ground were already in place. Whereas once we set our flight plan, we weren’t able to make changes midflight.”
A league source confirmed to ESPN at approximately 12:30 p.m. PT Wednesday that the Cavs-Blazers game would indeed be played. Not long after, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in the area because of the weather.
“Not my place to evaluate,” said Stotts when asked about the league’s decision to stick to the schedule. “We adhered to the league rules as far as getting as close to Portland, within 200 miles. Other than that, I think everything was handled according to the letter of the law.”
“I thought we’d get here someway. It was a little bit like the movie ‘Out-of-Towners’ that came to mind. That and ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles.'”
Blazers coach Terry Stotts
The Blazers considered spending Tuesday night in L.A., as the Cavs contemplated staying in Salt Lake City, but beyond the logistical challenge of finding accommodations in those cities, both teams chose to stay in compliance with the NBA rule that requires a team to get as close to the city it is playing its next game during the day before.
With the streets still in bad shape, the Blazers chose to treat the game like a road trip when they got back to Portland on Wednesday. Rather than have everyone go their separate ways when they landed around 1 p.m. local time and reconvene at the arena for the game, all players and coaching staff members were bused to a hotel downtown, where they had a couple of hours to rest before being bused to the Moda Center for the game at 4:30 p.m. prior to the 7:30 tip.
Lue scratched any plans for a walk-through or film session on Wednesday, allowing his players to rest in their rooms.
Last season, the NBA rescheduled a Utah–Washington game three days prior to it being played because of potential adverse weather conditions. The discrepancy between that decision and Wednesday’s fiasco wasn’t lost on Cavs coach Tyronn Lue.
“I thought they postponed a game for potential weather, then they had bad weather and they didn’t cancel it,” Lue said before the game. “So I don’t know. Whatever. We’re here, so let’s play the game.”
A league source told ESPN that if the game was canceled Wednesday, it would have been rescheduled for Thursday, turning the Cavs’ game Friday in Sacramento and the Blazers’ game Friday against Orlando into new back-to-back scenarios.
“I really didn’t care one way or the other,” said Stotts. “If we postpone it until [Thursday], if we had done that, that would’ve meant a back-to-back with Orlando. So, I’m glad to play the game and get it over with and move on.”
Cavaliers veteran James Jones, who serves as the secretary-treasurer of the National Basketball Players Association, said the travel woes could cause the league to reassess future schedule-making.
“I know from history, it usually takes instances and anomalies and things like that to spur conversation where you actually look at changing things,” Jones said. “But for the most part with the scheduling, it’s always been at the league’s discretion to try to keep the season and things intact as much as possible.
“Evidently, this being a TV game had a lot to do with it, because whenever we have an opportunity to play in front of a national audience, we want to do that. And so, it’s a factor. As long as the players aren’t at risk or at increased risk, just like the league, we’ll try in every way to try to make sure that our fans get what they should expect when they consume our sport.”
Wednesday’s game was aired on ESPN.
Cavs forward Channing Frye, who makes his offseason home in Portland, said his family was affected by the storm.
“A branch hit an electric pole by my house and caught my bushes on fire,” Frye said. “So I don’t have no electricity down my street. So there are things that go on, life happens, but at the end of the day, nobody wants to hear that story. I’m not going to make any excuses.
“At the end of the day, life happens to everybody. Both teams.”
A reporter asked Stotts pregame if the travel ordeal could have any positive impact on his team’s camaraderie.
“Yeah sure, let’s say that,” Stott scoffed. “I think this group is already pretty cohesive and already has a pretty good deal of camaraderie. There wasn’t a lot of bitching about it. They just kind of accepted it and rolled with it.”