Blazers, McMillan set new goal and attempt to stay united
“I’m going to sit down,” McMillan said Monday, following a morning workout at the team’s practice facility.
Once the Blazers coach found a little peace, though, he opened the floor to questions. And he proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes answering each one that was delivered, using the opportunity to stand up for his ailing team, while also analyzing just what has gone wrong in a season that began so right.
“We talked about where we are,” McMillan said. “And basically, for us, with so many changes and so many guys out, our focus is: We’re not going to quit. We’re not going to give in to all this that has happened.”
Injuries, setbacks and unexpected turmoil have rocked the Blazers (14-11) this season. Portland is 2-6 in its last eight games, and the Blazers are down to nine healthy players on a roster of 15. In addition, the team went 1-3 on its recent four-game road trip, playing without McMillan (Achilles tendon) and injured center Greg Oden, who is out for the year following knee surgery.
McMillan was realistic Monday. He did not attempt to play down Portland’s woes, and he did not try to shine a rose-colored light on what has at times been an unending stream of bad news.
“We’ve had a lot of bad breaks here early this season. And we just have to keep working and keep fighting and overcome this,” McMillan said. “I think things will turn around eventually. We can’t give in to what has been going on, or what is happening to us right now. We need stick together and continue to work to turn this thing around.”
Even the Blazers’ primary goal has been altered. When the year began, McMillan and his team were focused on winning the Northwest Division. And Portland’s vaunted roster — praised for its talent and depth — appeared to give the organization a window of opportunity that was among the widest in the NBA.
“Our focus is to try to get to the playoffs. And take it one game at a time, and see if we can win games here until we can start to get some guys back,” McMillan said. “But we’re not giving up on this season and quitting on this season. We do have nine guys. Let’s give it what we got. And try to get to the playoffs. And we get there and see what happens after that.”
But despite the black-and-white tone, there were also hints of optimism Monday.
McMillan sounded upbeat at times, and he said the time he spent away from the team gave him an opportunity to re-evaluate Portland’s troubles. At the top of the list, McMillan said, was a Blazers offense struggling to execute — one that had lost its identity due to the unexpected departure of Oden.
McMillan said “slippage” had occurred. Simple things, such as setting and playing off screens, communication, floor spacing and ball movement had fallen by the wayside. In addition, too many shots were being taken late in the shot clock, while players were favoring isolation moves rather than running through all of the options on a given play.
Primarily, though, Portland is a changed squad without Oden, McMillan said. And the Blazers’ initial move toward becoming an inside-out offense that relied on a big man putting up big numbers in the paint has been suddenly altered. In turn, Portland has reverted back to being a pick-and-roll team that lives and dies with the success of stars Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.
“He’s not out there. And we know that. And it’s a different team,” McMillan said. “And, once again, we’ve got to make adjustments. But that’s what you have to do.”
Adjustments and reinforcements could come tonight, when the Blazers host the Sacramento Kings (10-12) at 7 at the Rose Garden.
McMillan hinted that lineup changes are on the way, and the primary beneficiaries will likely be veteran point guard Andre Miller and second-year guard Jerryd Bayless. Both are expected to fill in for starter Steve Blake, who has struggled throughout the season and is shooting a team-low 36.4 percent from the field.
Bayless said he is ready for the opportunity. Meanwhile, Miller stated that the Blazers’ season — which is a little more than one-quarter complete — still has “hope.”
“Right now for me, it’s more of a self thing,” Miller said. “Look in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do to better myself and help the team.’ You can’t really worry about pointing fingers or everybody else. Just get myself together — quick. And keep it moving.”
Roy echoed Miller’s comments. He said there is no time for excuses. And Roy still believes the Blazers can come out ahead during a season that has put them in an early hole.
“People were like, ‘Keep your head up.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s up,’ ” Roy said. “This is good for us. This gives us experience that I feel like I can get better from. And hopefully the rest of the guys feel the same way.”
Bayless attributed recently published comments that he had made about playing time issues and his role on the team to a miscommunication. “I apologize. I’ll take the blame for it,” Bayless said. “That’s not what I was trying to say … Maybe I insinuated that. But that’s by far something I was not trying to say. I would never put down Steve or Andre, because both of them are great.” … Guard Rudy Fernandez attended Monday’s practice. Fernandez said he was feeling better following a microdisectomy last week to alleviate leg pain. He is expected to be out 3-5 weeks. … Forward Jeff Pendergraph practiced with the team for the first time this season since undergoing hip surgery. Pendergraph could be cleared to play in either late December or early January. … The 2010 Nike Hoop Summit will be held April 10 at the Rose Garden. A 10-man USA team composed of premier 19-and-under players selected by USA Basketball will take on an 11-man squad comprised of global athletes. Tickets for the event go on sale today, and range from $10-50. Call (877) 789-7673 or visit www.rosequarter.com for more information.
Kings vs. Blazers, 7 p.m. at the Rose Garden
TV: KGW (8)
Radio: 95.5 FM
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Steve Blake 6-3 7.2
G Brandon Roy 6-6 21.2
F Martell Webster 6-7 8.4
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 16.2
C Joel Przybilla 7-1 4.1
Coach: Nate McMillan (5th season, 162-188)
Player to watch: Andre Miller — The back-up point guard could be a late addition to the starting lineup.
Key reserves: Miller, Jerryd Bayless, Juwan Howard, Dante Cunningham
G Tyreke Evans 6-6 20.0
G Donte Greene 6-11 8.8
F Andres Nocioni 6-7 11.5
F Jason Thompson 6-11 14.9
C Spencer Hawes 7-1 11.2
Coach: Paul Westphal (1st season, 10-12)
Player to watch: Evans — The rookie point guard is rivaling Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings for early top honors.
Key reserves: Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi, Sergio Rodriguez, Ime Udoka
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