Bayless’ time arrives, and the Blazers hold the fort
PORTLAND — After more than a year of waiting, Portland Trail Blazers guard Jerryd Bayless’ time has arrived.
Playing with an energetic, scrappy style that is just what the injury-depleted Blazers require, Bayless poured in a career- and game-high 29 points while leading Portland to a 105-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday evening at the Rose Garden before a sold-out crowd of 20,559.
“What can you say?” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “I thought he had a great game. Jerryd can put some points on the board. And with all the guys that we have out, we need that. He’s getting opportunity to play, and he’s taking advantage of it.”
Brandon Roy scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds to help guide the Blazers (16-11), while LaMarcus Aldridge and Martell Webster added 15 points apiece.
Amar’e Stoudemire, whose dominating interior moves at times left the Blazers looking empty and powerless, topped the Suns (17-9) with 27 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Grant Hill added 20 points, while former Blazer Channing Frye recorded 17.
Despite being a team whose season has been wrecked by injuries, Portland is now 4-3 since center Greg Oden was lost to season-ending knee surgery Dec. 5 during a home victory over the Houston Rockets.
Down 81-70 at the end of the third quarter, the Blazers rode Bayless and Roy to yet another hard-fought victory. And Portland showed the fight and heart McMillan has often asked for since key players such as Oden, Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw went down.
A reverse layup by Bayless gave the Blazers a 94-92 lead with 3 minutes, 49 seconds left in the final period.
And Bayless scored 16 of his points during the fourth quarter.
“I like that we’re scrapping,” McMillan said. “And that we’re trying to play a 48-minute game.”
The Blazers shot 44.9 percent (35 of 78) from the floor and outrebounded Phoenix 41-36.
Portland coach Nate McMillan said prior to tipoff his team faced the first serious challenge of its 2009-10 schedule, as the Blazers prepared to face the Suns.
Portland passed its initial test.
“We’re doing a great job of weathering the storm,” Roy said.
And the Blazers now leave town as recharged, re-energized team as they prepare for a tough four-game, five-day road trip. Portland will face two of the premier teams in the NBA, the Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks, during the stretch. And a packed, top-heavy Blazers schedule will only get harder as December turns into January.
“It’s going to be tough,” Bayless said. “But hopefully we can pull through.”
Portland will be forced to match up against NBA championship contenders such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers during the next 12 games.
McMillan said the upcoming schedule will be a test of his team’s commitment and character, and added that the Blazers need to “hold the fort.”
Portland did just that Thursday.
“Everybody’s playing well right now,” Bayless said. “And if we can continue to do that, you never know.”
And in a positive sign that signaled the Blazers’ recent ability to adapt and adjust to adversity on the fly, Bayless has temporarily become the team’s third-best scoring option, behind Roy and Aldridge.
“Me and Brandon talk about it a lot,” Bayless said. “We feel like he’s the LeBron (James) and I can be the Mo Williams off him.”
His energized performance followed what was a season-high 14 points during Portland’s home win Tuesday over the Sacramento Kings. And the second-year guard’s confident, spark-filled game Thursday night highlighted a Blazers effort that saw five different players hit double figures in scoring.
But no one’s performance was more integral than Bayless, who has suddenly found a bright, positive outlet for what was previously a season filled with little more than frustration and regret.
Asked to put his year thus far in perspective, Bayless said: “Not happy. Kind of happy. Not happy. And now happy.”
He added: “It’s just been tough. But right now I’m getting the opportunity, and I’m just going to do whatever I can to try and help this team win as many games as possible.”
Former Blazers coach Dr. Jack Ramsay was honored by franchise president Larry Miller during the first quarter of Thursday’s game. … McMillan, who is recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, said there is a slight chance he will not join the team on its upcoming road trip. McMillan stated that issues relating to airplane travel could cause his right foot to swell up during flights. … McMillan said that injured rookies Jeff Pendergraph and Patty Mills will join the team on the road, but will not play. … McMillan stated that he does not expect injured forwards Travis Outlaw and Nicolas Batum to return to action until after the 2010 All-Star break. … McMillan said guard Rudy Fernandez (back/right leg) could begin running with the team in 1-2 weeks. Fernandez is expected to be out at least a month, though, following a Dec. 8 microdisectomy.
Best Blazer: Jerryd Bayless scored a career- and game-high 29 points.
Big numbers: Bayless recorded 16 of his 29 points in fourth quarter.
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