Notebook: McMillan looks for more from Blazers’ second unit
PORTLAND — Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan is still trying to refine the team’s second unit. And the decision to recently move point guard Andre Miller out of the starting lineup partly stemmed from McMillan’s desire to give the Blazers’ second team new life.
Miller’s strengths — dribble penetration, passing, court vision and the ability to post up opposing guards — are needed more in the second unit than the first, McMillan said.
“I felt he could get guys involved, as well as involve himself,” McMillan said before the start of Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls at the Rose Garden. “And we need that. We need him to be the guy who he’s been.”
Miller’s dual ability to score but also involve and propel his teammates suits a second squad that features Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, Juwan Howard and Joel Przybilla.
Fernandez is a deep-range threat, and McMillan said Miller should team up well with the speedy second-year guard whose 23 made 3-pointers rank second on the team.
Meanwhile, Howard and Przybilla are big men who thrive in pick-and-roll situations — another one of Miller’s strong points.
In addition, McMillan is attempting to fill in for the loss of forward Travis Outlaw, who is expected to be out 3-5 months following foot surgery.
“We had one of the better second units last year,” McMillan said. “You lose your sixth man and 12 points, and you lose a big part of that. What you have to do is, somebody else has to fill in. And that’s where we are.”
McMillan added that Miller’s game did not translate as well when he teamed with point guard Steve Blake in the Blazers’ first unit. Portland went 7-2 while the two shared the ball. But the tempo slowed down at times, while ball movement stagnated. In addition, the paint clogged up when Miller attempted to drive the line while center Greg Oden and forward LaMarcus Aldridge stood in the middle.
“With that first unit, he doesn’t need to get as many of those guys shots, because they can get their own,” McMillan said. “That’s the balance. I’m hoping that our first unit — that offense has been together. They’ve got a feel. You don’t have to work as hard. I think it takes away from (Miller) some, because he can’t be as aggressive. You’ve got to be more of a set-up guy with that unit.”
Miller is not the only Blazer adjusting to coming off the bench.
Przybilla, a previous starter whose place in the primary rotation has been filled by Oden, is still trying to find a rhythm, McMillan said.
“I think he’s done some OK things,” McMillan said. “But he and everyone else knows that he can give more.”
Przybilla is averaging 3.9 points and 7.7 rebounds this season. He posted averages of 5.5 points and 8.7 rebounds in 2008-09.
“It’s a long season,” Przybilla said. “I’ve just got to be ready for whatever the situation brings. I think I’m handling it pretty well.”
News surfaced Monday that former Blazers forward Maurice Lucas has been hospitalized with bladder cancer. Lucas, a 57-year-old assistant coach with Portland, underwent surgery less than seven months ago to address the same illness.
McMillan said Lucas is “trying to fight off this thing.”
“We’re limited to what we know,” McMillan said. “And now that he has allowed it to come out, we’re praying for him and for a speedy recovery.”
Lucas, who played for the Blazers from 1976-80 and was a key member of the team’s 1977 NBA championship squad, was recently referred to as the greatest Blazer of all time by former teammate Bill Walton.
The news about Lucas’ illness follows the revelation last week that Blazers owner Paul Allen has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
McMillan said that he was not certain about the particular details of Lucas’ situation, but said he believed Lucas has been in the hospital several days.
“There is sports and there is a game, but we do have some close friends who are trying to fight some things,” McMillan said. “You have to handle it all.”
He added: “It’s life. It just puts everything in perspective.”