Power forward's defense is one of the Blazers' soft spots this year

Quick takes as the Trail Blazers prepare for the invasion of Hall of Fame Central Ñ aka the Los Angeles Lakers Ñ Saturday night at the Rose Garden:

Though they were outrebounded in all three games on their recent road trip, the Blazers are still the No. 2 rebounding team in the NBA, behind Utah. That's a good thing.

But Portland is dead last in opponents' field-goal percentage at .463, which happens to be considerably better than the Blazers' shooting percentage of .433. That's a very bad thing.

Part of it is the residual effect of playing Zach Randolph huge minutes. The third-year power forward is below average defensively, and at times he's taken advantage of his opponent in pick-and-roll situations.

'Zach is getting better all the time defensively, and he wants to get better,' coach Maurice Cheeks says. 'He is guarding some major players at his position, and our defense is going -to take a hit there because he doesn't know all about it yet. But he's learning the nuances, and he's one of our best players, so we have to have him out there.

'Defense has been a big problem, and, really, we have to do it collectively by playing together. There are times when we play pretty well for stretches, but then we will be terrible for a spell, and it has cost us.'

Assistant coach Dan Panaggio says the Blazers must control penetration. 'A lot of time it's off the pick-and-roll,' he says. 'Other times it's just their guards getting past ours, and not getting enough help.'

San Antonio ran a clinic on the back door in its 102-77 rout of Portland on Wednesday. A Spur would pass to the post, and when the Blazer defending the passer took a peek at the ball, his man would scurry to the hoop and take a return pass for an uncontested layup. That can't happen at the NBA level.

Might the Blazers use more zone to hide man-to-man deficiencies? Cheeks would prefer not to, though he often does on side out-of-bounds plays. 'The more zone you play, teams adjust to it,' he says.

• • •

Portland goes into the Laker game 10-2 at home, 0-8 on the road.

'Unbelievable,' Houston forward Jimmy Jackson says. 'I don't know what has happened. There must be a lot of things going on with that team internally that take away from playing basketball. They have so much talent, you wouldn't think they could be 0-and-whatever on the road.'

Only one team in Portland history has gotten off to such a bad road start. The 1980-81 Blazers started 0-13 away from Memorial Coliseum but finished up by going 15-13 in their final 28 road games.

• • •

Rasheed Wallace is shooting .409 from the floor, a startling number when you consider he is a .503 shooter over his nine-year career. The volatile veteran has shot below 50 percent in 12 straight games and has been over that mark only three times in 20 games this season. Randolph, who is shooting .506 thus far, has done it 11 times.

Wallace has always loved to float out to the 3-point line Ñ he tossed up seven treys against San Antonio, making three Ñ and now that he is playing small forward, he evidently thinks that he has more of a license to do just that. The coaches have talked to him about it, but so far it hasn't sunk in.

'We have to get Rasheed more high-percentage shots,' Cheeks says. 'We have to force-feed him down low and not allow him to roam the perimeter as much.'

Beyond that, though, Wallace is simply missing shots he has made in the past. His take on the subject? It goes something like this: 'It was a good game. Both teams played hard.'

• • •

Randolph an All-Star? Consider that he ranks second in the league in offensive rebounding and third (behind Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan) in efficiency rankings that involve a combination of all statistics. He joins Garnett, Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal as the current members of the 20/10 club.

'There are a lot of good power forwards in the West, but Zach has the talent to be an All-Star,' Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said after Randolph laid 31 points and 11 rebounds on the Rockets on Tuesday. 'He's tough to guard. He's an improved shooter with range and a great offensive rebounder.' Randolph's All-Star prospects 'will depend on how much Portland wins,' Van Gundy says.

Randolph has the endorsement of his coach.

'I don't see why not,' Cheeks says of Randolph's All-Star chances. 'We just have to see if he can continue at this pace. Can he? I don't know. It's a hell of a pace he's setting. Nobody expected the development and growth in his game that we are getting this soon.'

Randolph collected 22 points and nine rebounds in the loss to San Antonio, which left Spur coach Gregg Popovich impressed:

'Zach is an amazing scorer. The guy has a great touch. He makes shots from the outside, he has nice moves inside, he stays on the boards. He keeps getting after it. He's a real exciting young player.'

In San Antonio's win, the Spurs used 6-6 small forward Bruce Bowen on Randolph much of the game but brought immediate help whenever Randolph received the ball in the paint. Ditto with Wallace on the rare occasions he stayed on the block. Wallace had 23 points, and Randolph collected 22 points and nine rebounds, but it wasn't nearly enough.

'We wanted to make it crowded -for them, so they couldn't do what they wanted to -do and make them find other people,' Popovich says. 'Because those are the two guys who need to score for Portland. We fronted Zach very successfully initially. Our guys were real active defensively.'

And Portland, evidently tired after the loss at Houston the night before, was woeful offensively, shooting .330 from the field. Starters Dale Davis, Damon Stoudamire and Jeff McInnis combined for 4-of-25 shooting.

• • •

Van Gundy's take on the Blazers: 'I look at them and see a very good team. They stomped us twice, including once in the preseason, and we barely hung on to win (Tuesday). Getting Wes Person will help their long-range shooting. Randolph and Wallace draw doubles, so their teammates are going to get a lot of open looks. I know Mo does a good job with his team in an extremely difficult, challenging situation.'

Will Portland miss Bonzi Wells?

'Bonzi is a very difficult guy to cover,' says Van Gundy, who was working as a television analyst during Wells' 45-point explosion in last year's playoffs. 'But unless you know the inner workings of the (Portland) team, you don't know, and I don't know. I do know he's a talented player.

'I would say this: Most teams besides the Lakers are very close in talent but very apart in attitude, chemistry and team spirit. That is what separates teams.'

Van Gundy says Minnesota coach Flip Saunders had a great quote: 'There are no bad players or mediocre players. There are bad teams and mediocre teams because of how they work together.'

• • •

Portland General Manager John Nash's cell phone has been active since the Wells trade with Memphis. 'As a result of the trade, I suspect other teams all of a sudden took that to mean the trading lamp has lit in Portland,' he says. 'Let's see what's going on. A number of teams have called to check the temperature the last couple of days.'

Nothing is imminent, Nash says. 'I don't know if we will do anything before the first of the year,' he says. 'We're anxious to see what things look like the next couple of weeks and whether Derek (Anderson) is able to come back and return to form.'

Nash says he has had the autonomy to make deals, even with team President Steve Patterson's background as a GM in Houston.

'I include Steve on a daily basis in everything that goes on,' Nash says, 'and together we talk with (owner) Paul Allen. But Steve is so busy on the business side, he has given me a free hand to do the GM stuff.'

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