Posted Dec 20 2009 9:08PM
Portland coach Nate McMillan noticed his team feeling sorry for itself during the first half against Sacramento last week. The Blazers were down to nine healthy bodies and by 11 points to the Kings.
Something changed, both on the court and between the ears.
"The second half, we played better," McMillan said simply. "You get the win, so you feel a little better about yourself. We have to try to keep this group positive, believing they have a shot at winning games."
It's not that the Blazers are necessarily losing games. They're 16-12 and squarely in the Western Conference playoff pack. Portland did lose the opener of a four-game road trip Saturday night at Orlando and won't return to the Rose Garden until a Christmas Night date with Denver (10:30 p.m., ESPN).
It's those pesky injuries that have the Blazers questioning NBA life. The biggest hit is obviously losing Greg Oden for the season to a freak knee injury, another blow to the young center's star-crossed career. But also on the mend are: Rudy Fernandez (sciatic pain), Nicolas Batum (right shoulder), Patrick Mills (right foot), Travis Outlaw (left foot) and Jeff Pendergraph (left hip).
A whopping seven Blazers have undergone surgery already this season, including McMillan needing a ruptured Achilles repaired. The revolving rotation caused by more than 100 player-games lost has meant opportunities for those who otherwise might be buried at the end of the bench.
Jerryd Bayless, a non-factor last season, was huge in Friday's win over Phoenix. The second-year guard scored a career-high 29 and has taken a more prominent role off the bench. Bayless played 30 minutes Saturday.
"We're as ready as we're going to get," said Brandon Roy, one of five Blazers to play in all 28 games. "It's great to see Jerryd stepping up and giving us some confidence, knowing that we're going to play some really good teams. We have a guy coming off the bench who is not only playing well, but playing with confidence. It gives me confidence, and I know the rest of the guys see it."
That's all McMillan can ask for at this point.
"If the effort and connection is there, we'll have a chance to win some games," McMillan said. "It's a tall hill to climb. We have to play better, and some of those guys who were not in the rotation will get their opportunity, and they have to step in and help this team."
Unlike their Northwest Division neighbors, the Nuggets have been relatively injury free. Chauncey Billups is dealing with a sore groin, but it's nothing close Portland's sick bay. Denver (19-9) is leading the division and Carmelo Anthony is the NBA's leading scoring. About the only negative: 'Melo is also tied for the league lead in technical fouls.The Nuggets-Blazers rivalry is gaining some steam. The teams are meeting for the second time this season Friday. Denver won a close one (97-94) on Oct. 29 at Portland. The squads split four games last season.
"We like playing Portland," Denver coach George Karl said. "I think that's the good thing. I think we've kind of developed an attitude and an intensity toward each other the last few years.
"We're just going to hopefully have a good couple of days, spend one day with our family and fly up to Portland. We'll have to forget about missing our family, but hopefully we can take home a win for a Christmas present for our family. It's an interesting game."
Roy is already looking forward to getting back to the Pacific Northwest. The Blazers are at Miami tonight before finishing out the road trip at Dallas (Tuesday) and San Antonio (Wednesday).
"You know it's going to be a big one playing Christmas, with a national audience," Roy said. "And Denver's our division rival, so that makes it bigger. I'm glad we've got them at home."
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