NBA PLAYOFFS : Portland in Temporary Dilemma : But Lakers May Add Permanence to Adelman’s Status

Times Staff Writer

More immediate concerns occupy Rick Adelman’s thoughts these days than his interim status as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. Instead, his concern is how to prevent his team from being a victim of another Laker onslaught today in Game 2 of the National Basketball Assn. Western Conference quarterfinals in the Forum.

But, still Adelman wonders whether he will lose that interim qualifier or simply lose his job if and when the Trail Blazers are ousted from the playoffs.

A strong showing today (12:30, Channel 2), after an unimpressive performance in Thursday night’s opening-game loss, certainly won’t hurt.


On the other hand, quick elimination against the two-time defending NBA champions might have the opposite effect.

“The only thing they’ve told me is that they’re going to make the decision when the season’s over,” said Adelman, who grew up in Downey and played at Loyola Marymount. “That’s all that’s been said. I just try to take it one day at a time and do the best you can do. It’s something you can’t control at this point.”

After six seasons as an assistant and two months as a head coach, Adelman has the necessary coaching cliches memorized. He has also turned the Trail Blazers into a happier, more cohesive unit after a half-season of trade requests and friction under Coach Mike Schuler.

The players are seemingly playing as much for Adelman, 42, as for themselves, something that couldn’t be said during the latter stages of Jack Ramsay’s long tenure and almost all of the Schuler’s 2 1/2-season reign as head coach.

Adelman, who played for Portland in the early 1970s, is as flexible as Schuler was strident, as unflappable as Ramsay was intense. But players say he has taken charge and gained the respect of the team.

“We’re a lot happier under Rick,” said guard Clyde Drexler, who feuded with Schuler and barely co-existed with Ramsay. “The guys feel they can relax more and play the game. I think if we played well (against the Lakers) it would really improve his status.

“But either way, I think Rick deserves the job.”

Owner Paul Allen has remained noncommittal.

However, rumors are circulating that Charlotte Hornet Coach Dick Harter, formerly of the University of Oregon, or former Cleveland and Golden State Coach George Karl, will take over next season. Other names being heard are Dick Motta and Bill Fitch, who last held jobs at Dallas and Houston. Adelman’s case has not been strengthen by the fact the Trail Blazers were 14-21 under him after going 25-22 under Schuler. But Drexler and other players point out that Adelman took over during the roughest part of the schedule and that the team had a lot of injuries.

“It’s really unfair how he (Adelman) was thrown into the job,” Drexler said. “He had the toughest part of the schedule. Kiki Vandeweghe had just been traded (to New York). I think Rick deserves a shot at a full year, going into training camp with his way of doing things. Then, I think he’d prove he was a very good coach.

“When you think about it, we’ve had guys you don’t know whether they are going to play or not. We haven’t had this team together long enough to get any kind of consistency. That’s not Rick’s fault.”

Adelman, however, may not be absolved by management if the Trail Blazers lose the next two games to the Lakers and are eliminated.

Naturally, Adelman believes he should be rehired regardless of the outcome of this series. Adelman, unassuming even while stalking the sidelines, said he cannot prove his worth unless given time to implement his system.

“When you take over a team in the middle of a year, it’s really difficult because you don’t start the season, you have your own ideas of what you want to do,” he said. “We had a lot of things go on, and players out with injuries. It’s been a really tough year.”

It doesn’t figure to get much easier for the Trail Blazers today, although they have had two days to regroup after a 128-108 loss in Game 1. In that game, center Kevin Duckworth got in early foul trouble and eventually fouled out with only five points. Steve Johnson basically was ineffective against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mychal Thompson. Sam Bowie, who had 15 points, is doubtful today because of a flare-up of his right ankle injury. And power forward Caldwell Jones went without points and rebounds but managed to play strong defense against A.C. Green.

The inside game is perhaps Portland’s only advantage, but the Trail Blazers must make their outside shots to open the middle allowing Duckworth to post-up and Drexler and Jerome Kersey to drive to the basket. That didn’t happen in Game 1, when the Trail Blazers made just 46% of their shots.

Adelman said Saturday that the Trail Blazers have two troublesome areas--offense and defense.

“We gave them a lot of easy opportunities for shots,” Adelman said. “When you give the Lakers a chance to get the ball up court with Magic, they are hard to stop. We were also giving Byron Scott open shots. That’s a lack of (defensive) concentration.

“We also need to make sure we get decent shots and try to control the tempo of the game. If there’s a bright spot, it’s that I don’t think we played well (in Game 1) and we still closed to within five points a couple times. If we play to our capabilities, we can play with the Lakers.”

The Lakers said they would not take the Trail Blazers for granted after the Game 1 blowout. Forward James Worthy, among others, said he expects Portland to move the ball inside to Duckworth and try to establish an inside game.

Laker Coach Pat Riley reminded his players that, in terms of talent, the Trail Blazers are not a typical first-round opponent.

And Riley, who played with Adelman with the San Diego Rockets in the late 1960s, said he believes Adelman could turn the Trail Blazers around next season.

“I think Rick will be an excellent coach,” Riley said. “I always remember him as serious-minded as a player, very intelligent. He has a great demeanor to deal with players, and he deserves a full year to see what he can do.

“There was a lot of hidden baggage (dissension, rebellion) with that team that didn’t have anything to do with Rick.”

Laker Notes

Laker guard Byron Scott missed his second straight practice with a sore right wrist, and Scott said Saturday he is not sure whether he will play today. However, this is a chronic condition, and Scott most likely will play. “Hopefully, I can play,” said Scott, who had 29 points in Game 1. “But it’s so bad that I might not. We’re treating it twice a day, so maybe I’ll be all right for the game.” . . . Magic Johnson, who missed Friday’s practice with a bruised right knee, practiced Saturday and will play today. . . . Portland reserve center Sam Bowie did not practice again Saturday, and the Trail Blazers said they will not know until game-time whether he will be available. “The schedule, with two days off between games, really helps Sam,” Trail Blazer trainer Mike Shimensky said. . . . According to Coach Rick Adelman’s calculations, the Trail Blazers attempted 67 of their 95 shots in Game 1 after making only one or two passes. “When you’re shooting 38%, you can’t do that,” Adelman said. “We were playing right into the Lakers’ hands. We have to move the ball around more.” . . . Laker Coach Pat Riley on his team’s defensive strategy against Portland: “We can’t let them be a three-pronged team and give them the layups, post-up game and jumpers. So, you shut off one or two areas (the inside game) and make them beat you from somewhere else.”

Will the Lakers be overconfident after posting a 20-point victory in Game 1? “I’d love for that to happen,” Adelman said. “But they’ve been through this too many times to act like that.” Added guard Clyde Drexler: “That’s a possibility. They might take us lightly. But we still have the same mentality. We still think we can beat them.” . . . Trail Blazer players spent Friday night enjoying the diversities of Southern California. A few went to Disneyland and then to the Angels-Toronto Blue Jays game. And four players--Drexler, Kevin Duckworth, Terry Porter and Bowie--watched the taping of the Arsenio Hall Show in Hollywood. “I can’t control what the players are going to do,” Adelman said. “I think Utah (last spring) came in and saw the town and then won here. Maybe, go ahead and do it. Maybe we’ll win.” . . . Laker guard Michael Cooper, who had headaches after running into a railing in the Forum and requiring 21 stitches, said he is feeling no pain now. “Gary (Vitti, the trainer) gave me a little better headache pill than, uh, Advil,” Cooper said. “It certainly alleviated the headache.”