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. . . A Look Back at December
Posted Jan 3 2008 11:27AM
A LOOK BACK AT DECEMBER
January 1, 2008 – It is the time of year for New Year’s resolutions and it would be hard to blame any Trail Blazer fan with making his or her’s to not rush to judgment. Then again, they have probably learned their lesson by now. The past six months has been a bit of a roller coaster and it all started with the bounce of some ping pong balls.
Once the Blazers won the NBA Draft Lottery and took Greg Oden with the top pick in June’s draft, it seemed like Portland had secured a future star and even if they wouldn’t be in the running for a playoff spot in the competitive West this season, the team’s fans would at least get to watch Oden develop this season.
It would have been easy for Blazers fans to give up on the season after Oden underwent season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee before even taking the court. After losing nine out of 10 games to fall to 5-12 on Dec. 2, it looked like Portland would once again be the frontrunner for the top pick. But then the roller coaster soared from its lowest point all the way to the top.
The Blazers won 13 straight games before falling at Utah on Dec. 31 – the second longest streak in franchise history behind a 16-game run in 1990-91 - and instead of thinking about lottery balls, Blazer fans are thinking about hanging a Northwest Division title from the rafters. In honor of Portland’s winning streak, I offer 13 reasons for their improvement in no particular order.
1. No Flash in the Pan - Brandon Roy proved he had plenty of potential when he could stay on the floor last season, taking home Rookie of the Year honors despite playing in just 55 games. The 6-foot-6 guard has emerged as a legitimate star and a team leader in his second campaign, averaging 19.2 points a game.
2. Youth Movement - Who said age is only a number? The Blazers have the youngest team in the league with an average age of 24, but they are not letting that slow them down. Nine of the 15 players on Portland’s roster have less than three seasons under their belts
3. Nate the Teacher - With such a young squad, the team needs a steady hand and that is exactly what coach Nate McMillan has provided. The eighth-year head coach stressed the fact that his team had to play together instead of going in different directions and once they bough in the results have been hard to argue with.
4. Pivotal Point - Steve Blake and Jarrett Jack competed against each other in the ACC when Blake was a senior at Maryland and Jack was a freshman star at Georgia Tech, but the two competitors have combined to form a terrific tandem. Blake has started 28 of 31 games, but Jack provides a burst off the bench.
5. Everyone’s Favorite Outlaw - Travis Outlaw is in his fifth NBA season, so it is hard to remember that he is just 23 years old. He has finally started to live up to the potential the Blazers saw when they took him in the first round out of high school in 2003 this season, emerging as a super sub and clutch player in the fourth quarter for Portland. The 6-9 forward is averaging over 12 points a game and had five 20-point games in December.
6. Mr. Jones - James Jones is with his third team in the last four seasons, but he may have finally found a home in the Pacific Northwest. The 6-8 sharp-shooter is averaging a career-high 10.1 points off the bench for Portland while leading the league at a .550 clip from behind the three-point line.
7. Seizing Opportunity – Zach Randolph was a terrific player for Portland, but the offseason trade that sent him, Fred Jones, Dan Dickau and the draft rights to Demetris Nichols to New York in exchange for
8. Versatility = Success – Portland’s roster is full of interchangeable parts and McMillan has made good use of them this season. Eight Blazers are averaging over 20 minutes a game and three more are over eight minutes a nght. There are rugged inside players like Joel Przybilla, three capable point guards and a host of dangerous outside shooters and swingmen.
9. The Biggest Cheerleader in the League – Of course Oden would like to be helping his teammates on the court. The 7-foot centerpiece out of Ohio State has been working out furiously to get ready for next season and is a regular presence on the team’s bench when his rehab schedule allows, clapping it up for his teammates. Despite his progress, Portland officials insist they will not rush him back to court this season.
10. Home Sweet Home – The Rose Garden has always been home to a strong fan base and it is no surprise that most of Portland’s success this season has come at home. The Blazers are 15-3 at home and 10 of the wins on their streak came in front of the home crowd. "They're a great bunch, this is a great place to play and a great place to coach,'' said former Portland coach and current Philadelphia coach Maurice Cheeks after falling to the Blazers on Dec. 30. "If you've got good guys and you're playing good basketball, it's going to be like this.''
11. Second-Year Sensation - The Blazers won all five games LaMarcus Aldridge sat out with plantar fasciitis during their hot streak, but they will all admit they are a much better squad with him on the floor. The second-year forward/center missed 19 games as a rookie, but has quickly established himself as a future star this season by averaging over 17 points and seven rebounds a game.
12. Taking Advantage – You play with the hand you are dealt. The Blazers had a favorable schedule during their surprising streak, but they have done their best to separate themselves from the lower-echelon clubs. Ten of the wins were at home and New Orleans, Denver, Golden State, Toronto and Utah are the only teams currently with winning records that Portland topped in December.
13. Real Men Wear Pink – General Manager Kevin Pritchard is definitely one of the most prominent reasons for Portland’s turnaround, but lately his wardrobe has gotten more attention than his personnel moves. Pritchard started wearing a pink tie early in the winning streak and kept it going throughout the run of success. Let's take a look back at some of the other teams and players making news in December.
The Best of the Rest
Have your own thoughts on the month that was? Disagree with my picks? Send an e-mail and let me know.