Overachieving Blazers winning despite injuries

By Anne M. Peterson

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 19 2011 2:35 p.m. MST

PORTLAND, Ore. — In mid-December the vibe around the Portland Trail Blazers seemed fairly bleak.

Center Greg Oden was already out for another season because of knee surgery, and something was wrong with All-Star guard Brandon Roy, too.

It was clear that Roy was in trouble on Dec. 15 against the Dallas Mavericks, when he had just four points in 30 minutes, well off his season average of 16.6 points per game. Portland lost 103-98.

Roy would sit for the rest of the month while questions swirled about the health of his knees. Finally, on Dec. 30, the Blazers announced that the former NBA Rookie of the Year was sidelined "indefinitely."

Roy had arthroscopic surgery on both knees on Jan. 17. He has said the problem is too little cartilage cushioning the bones in the joint.

The loss of Roy was a major blow to Portland, which had been banking on the trio of Roy, Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge to propel the franchise into the NBA's elite. To make matters worse, veteran center Marcus Camby, who helped get Portland to the playoffs last season, also went down with a knee injury in January.

But instead of dwelling on some incredible bad luck, the Blazers did what they became known for last season when a series of injuries struck.

They moved on.

Portland won six of its next eight games when Roy sat out following the Dallas loss. Now resting over the All-Star break, the Blazers (32-24) have won a season-high six straight games and are fifth in the Western Conference. Portland is a season-best eight games over .500.

Guard Andre Miller needed just two words to describe Portland's success: "Everybody contributes."

The efforts of Miller, Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum have kept Portland's season from a downward spiral.

Aldridge, in particular, has emerged as the focal point of the Blazers, who have run their offense through him in Roy's absence.

The 6-foot-11 Texan is averaging 26.3 points and 9.7 rebounds since Dec. 15. He has 10 games this season with at least 30 points, eight of those games coming since Roy left. Overall he's averaging 22.3 points and 8.9 rebounds.

"He's really evolved in his all-around play," Matthews said. "For most players that's the next revolution: Can he make others better? He's really doing that."

While Miller has been his usual steady force at the point, averaging 13.2 points and 7.4 assists, Matthews has stepped in to Roy's role. The Blazers acquired Matthews as a restricted free agent last summer from Utah, which did not match Portland's offer.

The move has certainly paid off with Matthews averaging 16.5 points per game.

Additionally, the Blazers have been sparked off the bench by dynamic playmaker Rudy Fernandez and Australian guard Patty Mills. In his second year, Mills has filled a morale-boosting role as the team's cheerleader with the invention of the team's popular "3 Goggles" gesture for 3-pointers.

"I like where we are right now as far as what has happened ," coach Nate McMillan said after a recent game.

The team dynamics could change quickly however, as trade rumors swirl around Miller, Fernandez and veteran center Joel Przybilla. General manager Rich Cho recently declared he wasn't going to talk to the media for the time being, telling The Oregonian newspaper that he didn't want to have to lie to anyone about possible moves.

Last season, Portland players missed a combined 311 regular-season games because of injury, second only to the Golden State Warriors and most among playoff teams. Only two players, Miller and former forward Martell Webster, were healthy for all 82 games.

The Blazers were hit particularly hard at center, when Oden and Przybilla both suffered season ending injuries in December. But Portland brought in Camby, and the Blazers won a surprising 50 games and made it to the playoffs.

This season it was much of the same. In addition to Oden and Roy, Camby needed arthroscopic surgery in mid-January to repair a partial meniscus tear in his left knee.

Camby, a 6-foot-11 veteran of 15 NBA seasons, was averaging 5.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.87 blocks in 39 games this season, all starts.

Additionally, second-year forward Jeff Pendergraph injured his knee in the preseason and required season-ending surgery, while rookie guard Elliot Williams has had surgery this season on both knees.

Roy and Camby have both returned to practice. Roy told reporters this past week that he hoped to play when the Blazers host the defending NBA champion Lakers on Wednesday.

Last season, Roy had arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee two days before the Blazers opened their first-round playoff series against Phoenix. He made a remarkable comeback and played in the fourth game of the series, which the Suns eventually won.

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