Sports

Oden-less Portland a-Blazing

I'd like to tell you I knew Portland would be the hottest team in the Western Conference heading into Christmas.

I'd also like to tell you that Brad Pitt can't hold a candle to me on a good day and that my net worth puts Blazers owner Paul Allen to shame.

But there are some comments no one will buy.

The Trail Blazers aren't about the make the top teams in the conference quiver in their tracks. But this team has turned a few heads with its play in recent weeks.

A team that was too young to be taken seriously, too bummed to recover from the loss of Greg Oden, has beaten Toronto, New Orleans, Golden State, Denver and Utah (twice) in a stretch of 10-consecutive wins.

"They've exceeded expectations," Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said. "We've got a couple of players with a chance to be special down the line. They are figuring out they can play in this league and are gaining confidence. Right now, our whole thing is we don't talk about wins and losses. We talk about getting better every day."

The Blazers began to get better the moment they put the ball in the hands of Brandon Roy. He now initiates the offense, and that allows starting point guard Steve Blake to find his spots. It gives everyone else on the court with Roy the comfort of knowing they will get the ball if open.

"What makes it difficult to guard him, he finds the open man," Pritchard said. "He's a willing passer. He could score a lot more points if he wanted to, but he's put trust in his teammates."

Don't take this the wrong way. In no way is Oden's injury a good thing for Portland. But it has allowed LaMarcus Aldridge to develop an inside presence he otherwise wouldn't have had.

"He has had a really special year so far," Pritchard said. "His talents are really starting to shine through. And he is not the player he will be in three of four years. His ceiling is very high."

Coach Nate McMillian has done a wonderful job of pulling this team together quicker than anyone expected. It's a far cry from where this franchise was just two years ago, when players seemed to be lined up at the police station and longtime fans began to develop other interests.

"We've gone through some pains, some tough times, but I didn't mind," Pritchard said. "It made me realize who I wanted us to be. This is a team that is easy to root for, even as a general manager, because of the character of the team."

Is it too early to talk about Portland contending for the playoffs?

"I think first of all, we're having fun," Pritchard said. "Second of all, we're only worried about our next opponent. Either it's going to happen or it's not."

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