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PORTLAND FACES ABYSS THAT NONE HAVE CONQUERED

The Portland Trail Blazers spent all day Wednesday and most of the day today doing their best to talk themselves into a positive frame of mind. It hasn't been easy.

Heading into Game 5 of the 1990 NBA Finals tonight in the Memorial Coliseum, the Blazers find themselves down three games to one to the Detroit Pistons in their best-of-seven championship series.There are worse spots to be in. Downtown Tripoli, maybe.

But in the category of NBA Finals, being down three games to one is the equivalent of hearing "checkmate," or getting an audit notice.

That feeling Charlie Brown gets just before Lucy pulls the football away, that's the feeling NBA teams get when they're down 3-1.

For more than 40 years, NBA teams have tried to climb out of the 3-1 hole. They have never succeeded. It's happened 19 times since 1947, and every time the team with the commanding lead has wound up commanding.

All kinds of assorted franchises have given it their best shot. But Rocky never met the NBA Finals.

The Lakers tried four times to transcend the 3-1 abyss, to no avail. The Celtics tried it once, also to no avail. In all, 12 different franchises have been down three games to one for a combined 19 occasions.

On nine of those 19 occasions, the team down 3-1 has gotten it over with quickly by losing the fifth game. On eight occasions the series has ended in six games. Only twice has it gone to seven games, when the outcome everyone expected finally happened.

Other sports aren't like this. Teams have been down 3-1 in the World Series and come back to win. In football there have been some big upsets in the big games. When the Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III the pregame feeling was that the Jets were in a lot bigger trouble than being down three games to one.

But in the history of the NBA, beginning with the very first season, in 1946-47, when the Philadelphia Warriors jumped to a 3-1 lead and then polished off the Chicago Stags 4-1, nobody has ever beaten the 3-1 whammy.

It is the Portland Trail Blazer's current challenge to block all of this out as they look at what lies ahead.

First, they've got to win tonight in their own arena.

Then, they've got to fly to Detroit and win two games in The Palace against the defending league champs.

"I personally have already packed my bags," said Blazers center Kevin Duckworth at the team's practice session Wednesday. "I'm planning on going to Detroit."

"There is no after tomorrow if we don't win tomorrow," Duckworth went on.

Besides, he said that it's the Pistons with the monkey on their back.

"They want to get it over with," he said. "We feel their backs are against the wall because of that. The pressure's on them."

He said this with a straight face. At times like this you have to keep a straight face.

Blazers forward Clyde Drexler said Portland can take a lot of consolation in the way the series has gone to date.

"We weren't supposed to win there, and they weren't supposed to win here," he said. "Everything that was supposed to happen hasn't happened."

People down 3-1 tend to wax philosophical.

"We've been in all the games," said Portland Coach Rick Adelman, which was as philosophical as he could come up with at the time.

Adelman had other things on his mind, obviously.

Like how to stop Detroit's guards who have rang up points in buckets ever since they found the gym.

And like how to get some production out of his bench, which accounted for a grand total of eight points Tuesday night.

And like how to get a win at home.

And like how in the world to bounce back from a place nobody's ever bounced back from.

Namely, from down 3-1.

"Hey, it's not a nightmare," said Portland forward Buck Williams. "We know the percentages, but we have to be optimistic."

But, then, that's a contradiction in terms.

If the Trail Blazers know the percentages, how can they be optimistic?