Miller takes on starting role for Blazers

“I just want the guys to be focused on the game, and not commenting on changes,” McMillan said.

Once the game began, though, change was evident for all to see: Andre Miller was the Blazers’ new starting point guard.

Miller took the court for the first time this season as Portland’s lone game-opening ballhandler. He replaced Steve Blake, who Miller shared the role with for a nine-game stretch earlier. The Blazers went 7-2 during the span.

Miller was signed by Portland as a free agent last summer, and was the team’s main offseason acquisition.

McMillan was willing to talk about Miller’s assets prior to tipoff, though. And the Blazers coach said there is “more there” when it comes to the 11-year veteran who many consider to be one of the best overall point guards in the NBA.

Miller was averaging 11.4 points, 4.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds before Tuesday’s game.

He came off the bench for 16 of the Blazers’ first 25 games, despite being a career starter. However, Miller had recently been given a more prominent role as Portland struggled with key injuries. And he had averaged 14 points during Portland’s last five contests, including a season-high 24 against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 5.

In discussing Miller’s attributes, McMillan said the veteran’s dynamic talents as a point guard had not been fully tapped since he became a Blazer.

“We need more,” McMillan said.

Meanwhile, Miller’s ascension marked a setback for Blake. The seventh-year guard has struggled since the season began, and his name figured heavily Tuesday in trade rumors.

Still, Blake had started all 25 of the Blazers’ contests heading into Tuesday’s game, and he was averaging 7.2 points, 4.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 30.5 minutes per contest.

But Blake’s 36.4 field-goal percentage ranked lowest on the team, and he was connecting on just 34.3 percent of his 3-point shots, despite taking a team-high 108 attempts.

“There’s times where it’s frustrating,” Blake said. “But people go through slumps. And right now, I’m in one of those things where it’s probably the worst I’ve shot in my career.”

Despite his struggles, Blake said he was attempting to keep a clear mindset. He stated that he is trying to shoot his way out of his slump, and he has not allowed himself to give in to negative thoughts.

“Just be thankful for the things I do have in life,” Blake said. “I can’t let all this stuff really get to me.”

More time
Blazers guard Jerryd Bayless should be the main Blazer besides Miller who sees a significant bump in minutes with Blake moving to the bench.

Bayless is averaging 5.8 points, 1.1 assists and 10.6 minutes per game this season. And the second-year guard has seen his role on the team increase as Portland has struggled with injuries and Blake has stayed cold.

Bayless is shooting 51.6 percent (32 of 62) from the field this season. He hit double figures in points twice in the past five games, while averaging 15.6 minutes during the span.

The former University of Arizona standout acknowledged that his time with the Blazers has been the toughest of his career. But Bayless said he has maintained his focus throughout his playing-time situation, and is ready to answer if called upon.

“It would mean a lot,” Bayless said. “Coach kind of gave an example of our situation today, but I think it also applies to me, personally. It’s working your way out of a situation. And that’s what I try to do.”

McMillan stated that any increase in Bayless’ minutes will be based solely on performance.

During Tuesday’s shootaround, McMillan said that Bayless, Miller and Brandon Roy have recently been the only players on the team able to penetrate and attack the lane with success.

“He’s done some good things,” McMillan said. “We need scoring, which is something that he can do.”

Almost ready
Blazers rookie forward Jeff Pendergraph could soon return to Portland’s active roster.

Pendergraph has missed the entire season thus far due to hip surgery.

He practiced with the team for the first time Monday, and McMillan estimated that the former Arizona State standout is at least two weeks away from action.

“Just the fact that he was out there live, I expect him to go with us on the next (road) trip,” McMillan said.

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