Notebook: Blazers' McMillan says questions about roles and minutes could reappear

PORTLAND — Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan has not been shy in attributing some of his team’s recent success and its ability to persevere through injuries to the fact that once-dominant issues such as minutes, touches and roles in the rotation have fallen away during the last 18 games.

Ever since Blazers center Greg Oden went down Dec. 5 with a season-ending knee injury, opportunities for role players and rookies have opened up. Factor in the loss of center Joel Przybilla, who suffered a season-ending knee injury Dec. 22, and injuries to Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum and Travis Outlaw, and a Portland
team that has been forced to do more with less has succeeded in rising to the challenge.

In addition, players such as Jerryd Bayless, Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, Juwan Howard and Martell Webster have all seen their minutes and roles increase during the past five weeks.

And the Blazers are not just treading water.

Portland is 11-7 since losing Oden, heading into Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Rose Garden.

But calm waters might again become choppy, McMillan said.

“It could,” McMillan said. “We’ll see.”

Fernandez is expected to return to action in about a week, while Batum should take the court by late January. Add in Steve Blake’s return to the lineup Sunday, and questions about who plays when and which Blazers control the ball might soon rise to the forefront.

“It goes back to what we said at the beginning of the year,” McMillan said. “If you’re open to sacrifices and a different role because of the numbers of players that we have, then it will work. If you’re caught up in me, then it can become an issue.”

Back to back

By facing the Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers in consecutive games, the Blazers have taken on the top teams in the Western and Eastern Conference based off winning percentage in back-to-back contests. In addition, Portland has been forced to deal with two of the top players in the NBA: Cleveland’s LeBron James and Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant.

McMillan said the NBA is tough no matter who is on the schedule.

But he added that the Blazers are riding a wave of confidence following Portland’s 107-98 home victory over Los Angeles on Friday.

“If there’s a time to see (Cleveland), it would be now,” McMillan said.

Equally good

Asked whether he would choose James or Bryant if both were available in a draft at this stage of their careers, McMillan smiled.

“You can’t go wrong with either,” McMillan said. “One right now is younger than the other. But as far as what they bring, (they are) very similar, very special to a team.”

McMillan stated that the way James and Bryant approach the game is their main separation.

To McMillan, Bryant is an absolute professional who is always focused on the task at hand. Meanwhile, James’ love for the game is evident for all to see, McMillan said.
“But either way, I don’t think you can really go wrong with those guys,” McMillan said.

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