Blazers’ Bayless makes the most of his new opportunity

PORTLAND — Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan kept telling guard Jerryd Bayless to be patient.

Your time will come, McMillan said. And when it does, be ready.

Bayless waited more than a year for a chance to show McMillan, Blazer fans and the rest of the basketball world what he could do on the court once he got an opportunity to shine. And in Portland’s last two games, the second-year guard has done just that.

Bayless was the primary reason the Blazers shook off the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night, pulling out a 105-102 come-from-behind victory at the Rose Garden.

The former University of Arizona standout recorded a career-high 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Sixteen of his points came during a pivotal fourth quarter in which the Blazers (16-11) rallied from an 11-point deficit to outscore Phoenix 35-21 during the final period.

Bayless, who knocked down two fourth-quarter 3-pointers, was so hot that McMillan told star guard Brandon Roy to step back and take a breather.

“(He) came through,” McMillan said. “We ran the high pick and rolls; some sets that we wanted to get him involved in. And he executed and made plays.”

But long-range shots were not the only bright spot in Bayless’ game. He connected on 9 of his 12 free-throw attempts during the contest. And he sank three crucial free throws late in the fourth quarter, helping fend off a Suns rally.

“It felt great. I can’t even lie,” Bayless said. “You know, this last year and a half has been tough for me. Coach has given me an opportunity now, and I’m just trying to make the best of it so I don’t have to go through that again.”

The 11th overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft is doing just that.

While Bayless’ season averages of 7.4 points and 1.3 assists do not stand out, the statistics are deceiving.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Bayless has recorded 13 or more points in five of the Blazers’ last nine games. And his 53 percent field-goal shooting percentage ranks second only to Juwan Howard among all active players on Portland’s roster.

Moreover, when it is considered that Bayless began the season by recording five consecutive did not plays due to a coach’s decision, his recent ascension is a direct testament to a will and faith that were at times severely tested while McMillan forced him to watch and wait.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Bayless said.

Now, a renewed Bayless gives Portland three legitimate NBA point guards, along with Andre Miller and Steve Blake, on its injury-depleted roster.

“Obviously, it’s nice to have,” Blake said. “The thing is, we have three different styles of point guards, which is a good thing for a coach to have. If something’s not working one night, you can go to the other one.”

Bayless’ game is predicated on scrappy, energetic play. And McMillan has often turned to Bayless in the past when he wanted to shake up his rotation, or felt his team was going through the motions.

But Bayless used his downtime wisely, and his assets have multiplied. He can now pop out, pull up and sink jump shots, as well as knock down long-range 3-pointers. And while his ability to burn opposing defenders off the dribble and finish near the basket is still his strongest asset, Bayless’ still-evolving game is giving the Blazers the best of both worlds: Miller’s penetration skills and Blake’s soft touch, all wrapped up in a 21-year-old guard who has suddenly gone from trade bait to possibly untradeable.

McMillan recorded the 1,000 victory of his combined coaching and playing career during the Blazers’ win Thursday over the Suns, the team said. The victory total includes regular-season and playoff victories. As a player, McMillan participated in 536 wins. As an assistant coach, he was on the bench for 78. And as a head coach, McMillan has racked up 386 victories. Of the 1,000 wins McMillan has been directly involved in either as a player or coach, 166 have been with Portland, while 834 came during his 19 combined seasons in Seattle. … McMillan made the trip to Orlando to join the team on its upcoming four-game road trip. McMillan said Thursday there was a chance he would stay behind, due to health concerns about his surgically repaired right Achilles tendon. … McMillan stated that forward Anthony Tolliver, who the Blazers promoted Thursday from the NBA Developmental League, could see action during the road trip.

Jerryd Bayless
Position: Guard
Vitals: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds
Numbers: 7.4 points, 1.3 assists, 53.0 field-goal shooting percentage
College: University of Arizona
Draft: Chosen by the Indiana Pacers with 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft. Traded to Portland along with Ike Diogu for Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts, the draft rights to Brandon Rush and cash considerations on July 9, 2008.

Did you know? Bayless’ career-high 29 points during the Portland Trail Blazers’ 105-102 home victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday were the most recorded by any player in the NBA that night.

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Today’s Game
Blazers vs. Magic, 4 p.m. at Amway Arena in Orlando, Fla.
TV: Comcast Sports Network (37)
Radio: 95.5 FM
Probable Starters
Blazers (16-11)
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Andre Miller 6-2 10.8
G Brandon Roy 6-6 21.6
F Martell Webster 6-7 8.6
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 16.5
C Joel Przybilla 7-1 4.1
Coach: Nate McMillan (5th season, 164-191)
Player to watch: Przybilla — If he can hold Orlando’s Howard under 18 points and 12 rebounds, he will have done his job.
Key reserves: Jerryd Bayless, Andre Miller, Juwan Howard, Dante Cunningham
Magic (19-7)
G Jason Williams 6-1 7.2
G Vince Carter 6-6 19.1
F Mickael Pietrus 6-6 9.7
F Rashard Lewis 6-10 15.5
C Dwight Howard 6-11 18.1
Coach: Stan Van Gundy (3rd season, 119-60)
Player to watch: Lewis — The sharp-shooting power forward can stretch the floor and could give Aldridge trouble.
Key reserves: J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat, Matt Barnes, Anthony Johnson, Ryan Anderson

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