A dominant Oden takes the next step, and Blazers pound Bulls

PORTLAND — The promise and potential are turning into reality. And Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden has started doing things on the basketball court that only the best at his position are able to accomplish.

Strong, powerful and confident — and at times absolutely dominant — Oden continued to prove himself Monday night at the Rose Garden.

He tied a career high with 24 points on 7-of-8 shooting, while adding 12 rebounds and two blocks. And Oden’s impressive outing keyed the Blazers’ 122-98 victory over the Chicago Bulls before a sold-out crowd of 20,383.

“I’m not going to say that my game is where it should (be), at the best of its ability,” Oden said. “But I know me being able to overpower some people, I can get good, deep post position and get a hook shot up. And I definitely want to go at that and use that as my strength.”

Oden also shut down Bulls center Joakim Noah.

Noah came into Monday’s contest leading the NBA with 12.3 average rebounds per game. But he exited with just seven points and eight boards. And when the former University of Florida standout drew a technical foul midway through the fourth quarter — after Oden fought for and secured a tough rebound — it said everything about Oden’s dominance.

“I definitely tried to keep Joakim Noah off the glass. … That was my main thing,” said Oden, who faced Noah in the 2007 NCAA Championship game while playing for Ohio State. “And by me being doing that, I ended up getting a couple good putbacks myself.”

But power was not Oden’s only game. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft also sank 10 of his 12 free-throw attempts. And his ability to send crisp passes out of the paint while being double teamed set up several Portland baskets.

Portland (11-5) still runs through star guard Brandon Roy. But Oden’s emergence is changing the face of the Blazers, while positively altering the team’s offense and defense at the same time.

If there was any doubt as to whether Oden has officially ascended to the next level of his still-young NBA career, a chant of “Oden, Oden!” late in the fourth quarter announced his arrival.

“He’s getting a better feel every night,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “He’s playing against different guys. For him he’s seeing different types of defense where they’re fronting him. They’re double-teaming him on (the) dribble; they’re double-teaming him on the catch. Tonight, he saw them on the baseline. Those are the type of reads he will have to learn against. But he’s really patient, so I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge tied for a team high with 24 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds. Brandon Roy added 16 points for Portland, while Andre Miller scored 16 and Rudy Fernandez poured in 13.

The Blazers outrebounded Chicago 47-27 and outscored the Bulls 50-32 in the paint. In addition, Portland shot a season-high 57.5 percent (42 of 73) from the floor and 80 percent (32 of 40) from the free-throw line.

Factor in that the Blazers’ 122 points were a season high, and McMillan sounded proud of his team during the post-game press conference, while the Blazers’ locker room was once again filled with laughter and smiles.

“I just thought it was a solid game from start to finish with our guys,” McMillan said.
Luol Deng scored a game-high 25 points for the Bulls, while John Salmons added 22.
Down 66-51 at halftime, Chicago pulled within 80-75 with 3 minutes, 17 seconds left in the third quarter before the Blazers pulled away.

“They have a lot of weapons,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Oden is developing and Aldridge, and when you can control the paint, you have an opportunity. Because jump shots go up and down sometimes, but consistency in the middle obviously gives you an opportunity to be successful.”

Portland hosts the New Jersey Nets at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Rookie forward Dante Cunningham played his second consecutive strong game. Cunningham saw 14 minutes of action, recording four points and three rebounds. … Oden’s 10 made free throws and 12 attempts were career highs. … The Blazers are off to their best start since 1999-2000, when they team began the season 13-3. … Portland is 9-2 in its last 11 contests.

Best Blazer: Greg Oden, who tied a career high with 24 points and added 12 rebounds.
Big numbers: Portland’s 122 points set a season high.

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