As Oden ascends, Blazers make adjustments

TUALATIN, Ore. — Nineteen games have come and gone for the Portland Trail Blazers this season.

To an outsider, the team’s 12-7 record and second-place standing in the Northwest Division would appear as strong signs that this year’s team is following the path blazed by last season’s 54-win squad.

But guard Brandon Roy and coach Nate McMillan know otherwise. And after thinking for at least two weeks that a series of issues and concerns were mounting rather than falling away, two consecutive blowout defeats proved to Portland’s main duo that there is serious trouble in Blazer-land.

Primarily: What to do with center Greg Oden?

After struggling with inconsistency throughout his rookie year, Oden has emerged this season to become a significant offensive and defensive asset to the Blazers. He ranks third on the team in average scoring (11.6 points), and first in rebounds (8.2), blocks (2.3) and field-goal percentage (63.3).

But the rise of Oden is not all roses.

As Portland’s 7-foot, 285-pound center has ascended to become one of the most dominant big men in the Western Conference, Roy and forward LaMarcus Aldridge have at times felt left behind and out of touch in the Blazers’ new offense. And while each player’s scoring average is down when compared to last season, there is a bigger issue at stake.

“There’s a lot of plays where I just stand in the corner. And I can see the whole play just happening,” Roy said Monday, following a workout at the team’s practice facility. “Not that I feel lost. I just feel like I’m not really in rhythm; I’m not fully involved.”

McMillan said that the Blazers’ recent troubles have come down to “execution.” Portland’s coach stated that the addition of a stronger, more confident Oden in the starting lineup has significantly altered the Blazers’ offensive approach. Before, Portland had two main scoring options: Roy and Aldridge. Now, the Blazers have three. And the team’s top two scorers are still trying to adjust to the big man in the middle.

“It’s tough … it’s still a process,” Oden said. “We’re still working on it. We’re still trying to figure it out. More times than not, it hasn’t been all three of us clicking at the same time.”

McMillan said he saw the Roy-Aldridge-Oden issue arising, but thought the team would have been able to address and overcome it last season. However, Oden was a year removed from microfracture knee surgery, and his inconsistent play hindered him from becoming a dominant inside force.

Now, Oden has taken the next step. And Roy and Aldridge have been forced to alter not just their all-star caliber playing styles, but their overall approach on the court.

“We have to take the long-term perspective, if that’s what you want to call it,” McMillan said. “Because Greg is going to be there and LaMarcus and Brandon — those are the cornerstones of this organization. So that development has got to happen. We’re probably a year or two behind on it, but it’s got to happen.”

Roy went so far as to state that his rapid development from a questionable first-round pick into a second-team All-NBA player was ignited by Oden’s slow rise.

“I was forced to do a lot more because he was out,” Roy said.

He added: “I learned to play without a scoring center. I played with Joel (Przybilla), but he was defensive minded. So, I got the ball whenever I wanted. And now, I’ve got two good big men; I’ve got to get back used to playing with two guys on the inside.”

Roy and McMillan added, though, that the Blazers will become a much better — and harder to defend — team once the squad’s young big three learn how to add to each other’s game, rather than take away.

“If we can figure this out, where we can all get on the same page — yeah, that’s the great upside of it,” Roy said. “If we can get on the same page, with me and Greg and LaMarcus, then we can be really, really good. I think it’s just everybody trying to get there as fast as possible. … But it’s just us staying patient and understanding that, look, we’re going to get it.”

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Today’s Game
Heat vs. Blazers, 7 p.m. at the Rose Garden
TV: KGW (8)
Radio: 95.5 FM
Probable Starters
Blazers (12-7)
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Steve Blake 6-3 7.6
G Brandon Roy 6-6 19.7
F Martell Webster 6-7 8.4
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 14.9
C Greg Oden 7-0 11.6
Coach: Nate McMillan (5th season, 160-187)
Player to watch: Roy — The Blazers guard has talked about being more aggressive, and he could scorch the Heat and their inconsistent defense.
Key reserves: Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, Dante Cunningham, Juwan Howard
Heat (9-7)
G Mario Chalmers 6-1 10.4
G Dwayne Wade 6-4 27.1
F James Jones 6-8 4.0
F Michael Beasley 6-10 14.5
C Jermaine O’Neal 6-11 14.5
Coach: Erik Spoelstra (2nd season, 52-46)
Player to watch: Wade — Rivals Cleveland’s LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant as the top one-man show in the game.
Key reserves: Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, Carlos Arroyo, Quentin Richardson, Daequan Cook

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