On the NBA
by: JAIME VALDEZ, Blazer James Jones drives to the basket against Golden State on Wednesday, a game Portland won 109-91. After 176 wins playing with Indiana and Phoenix, Jones says his current team stands out in its completeness and all-around talent: “With us, you don’t know who it’s going to be to lead us that night.”

James Jones played on an Indiana team that won 61 games and on Phoenix teams that won 115 games the past two seasons. He has played with Reggie Miller and Jermaine O'Neal, with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

But Jones says the Trail Blazers are 'by far' the deepest team of which he has been a member.

'I've played on teams with some really great players, some established players who have done remarkable things in this league,' the sharpshooting small forward says. 'I've never played on a complete team like ours is, where you have 12 guys giving it up for each other, and someone new stepping up every night.

'Phoenix played eight or nine guys, but you knew the three guys who were going to get touches every night. With us, you don't know who it's going to be to lead us that night.'

• While playing 232 games - 55 as a starter - in his first four NBA seasons, Jones shot .395 from the field and .385 from 3-point range.

This season, the 6-8 Jones is .523 from the field and an NBA-best .539 on 3-pointers.

'It's about consistency of opportunity,' says Jones, who is averaging a career-high 23 minutes. 'In previous seasons, there were a lot of games where I would come in and get seven shots. The next game I might get one, or I might only get one shot for the next four games.

'Here I've been able to get five, six, seven shots every night. You get into a rhythm, and you can make four of seven shots. When you get inconsistent minutes it's kind of tough.'

Jones is shooting .896 from the foul line. If he had enough attempts to qualify, he would rank among the league's top five. His secret?

'Repetition,' he says. 'Shoot so many times, it becomes second nature and you feel like you can't miss. It's a routine. Walk to the line, dribble two times and take your shot. If you do that, it doesn't matter what the circumstance you're in, it'll be the same result.'

• Portland begins a seven-game road trip Sunday at Toronto. Coach Nate McMillan doesn't remember if he has ever had a seven-game trip before, either as a coach or player. The Blazers had a six-game trek in December last season and went 4-2, beating Detroit, Toronto, Philadelphia and Memphis.

'There are a few other teams with seven-game trips this season,' McMillan says. 'If everybody else is doing it, you have to do it. But a 12-day trip seems a bit long to me.'

The Blazers have their work cut out for them, with stops at Boston, Orlando and New Orleans. Portland has won 12 in a row at home and is 17-3 here, but only 5-10 away from the Rose Garden.

• Steve Blake is quietly enjoying a career season. The oft-reluctant-to-shoot point guard ranks fifth in the NBA in assist/turnover ratio (3.51) and is sixth in 3-point percentage (.473).

Over the past dozen games, Blake is 44 of 79 (.557) on treys.

• Grudgingly, the Blazers are gaining respect around the league.

'There's still no comparison when you're talking about a team like San Antonio,' Golden State guard Monta Ellis said after the Blazers laid waste to the Warriors on Wednesday night. 'But if they keep playing like they did tonight, they'll get there real soon.'

• Don Nelson admits to surprise that the Blazers have run off their 17-1 streak - second-best one-loss streak in franchise history - especially without the services of Greg Oden.

'I am surprised just a little bit,' Golden State's veteran coach says. 'It wouldn't have surprised me had their No. 1 pick not been out all year. Without him, to do what they've done is remarkable.

'They're right in (the playoff race). They've played a lot of home games, but they've won them all. The road is going to be a test for them, but I would expect them to do well.'

• Even after Martell Webster torched Utah for 24 third-quarter points last Saturday, he wasn't a household name with at least one member of the Jazz.

'It was tough when what's-his-name got hot,' reserve Matt Harpring said, intending no disrespect.

• When Nate McMillan was named Western Conference coach of the month for December, it was the second time in his eight years as a head coach he was been so honored. He won the award while with Seattle in November 2004.

• McMillan understands that the odds are against Brandon Roy being named to the All-Star game this year.

'But other than the Boston Celtics,' he says, 'you don't have a better story in the league (than Roy) as far as what a team has done and what a player has done for his team.'

Some players think Roy will buck the odds.

'The kid is very talented, playing like an all-star,' Golden State's Matt Barnes says. 'I'd be very surprised if he didn't make the team this year.'

• General Manager Kevin Pritchard predicts Roy will share his leadership role more in the coming years.

'Right now, it's Brandon's team,' Pritchard says. 'In the future, it will be Brandon, LaMarcus (Aldridge) and Greg (Oden) leading the team.'

Aldridge says at crunchtime, Roy's teammates are willing to defer.

'We all know it's his team,' Aldridge says. 'We do what we can do, and then we let him finish the games.'

• During each home game, Oden draws a large ovation from the crowd when he is shown on the Rose Garden big screen, usually wearing a sheepish grin during a timeout.

The fan support 'is nice,' the rookie center says, 'but I get embarrassed. I'm always doing something bad. They catch me off-guard.'

• Last season, Portland was last in the NBA in fastbreak points with 6.3 per game. This season, the Blazers rank 29th at 8.3.

An interesting breakdown: Through the first 17 games, when the Blazers won only five times, they averaged 10.1 fastbreak points. Over the last 18 games, when they have gone 17-1, they've averaged 6.6 and won the fastbreak-points battle with opponents only twice.

But the Blazers are winning, in no small part to strong perimeter shooting. Their field-goal percentage is .461, up from .450 a year ago. And their 3-point percentage (.389) is a big improvement over the .346 mark of last season.

While the Blazers rank only 27th in rebound percentage, they help make up for it with better defense. Opponents' field-goal percentage is .444, much better for Portland than last year's .471 figure.

• Channing Frye counts his blessings that he was included in the trade that sent Zach Randolph to New York during the offseason.

'I couldn't be more happy to be here,' the power forward says. 'It's a unique opportunity to be part of a team where everybody is a great guy.

'Somebody asked me, 'Who on the team don't you like?' I was like, 'Everybody is a legit human being, you know?' I would invite every single guy over to my house. It's a class organization. I want to do the best I can so I have the opportunity to stay here and help this team win.'

• Never say never, but it appears the Blazers won't make any trades this season.

'If we're offered an all-star tomorrow, who knows?' Pritchard says. 'But I don't see anything on the horizon. We have good young talent, good chemistry, and we're playing well. Why mess with it?

'A lot of people would like for us to trade for a bruiser or rebounder. We have one (in Oden). Unfortunately, he's not playing this year.'

• Pritchard has had several inquiries from other clubs about point guard Sergio Rodriguez, who is averaging fewer than 10 minutes per game. Not available, the GM says.

'You don't find players like Sergio very often,' Pritchard says. 'He's 21 years old. We can afford to be very patient with him. We were patient with Travis Outlaw; we're going to be patient with Martell (Webster). It's sometimes hard on the player, but I believe it's the right way.'

• As amazing as anything about Portland's recent surge is, through the 17 victories, only two have been blowouts - and one was 97-72 over Seattle in a game in which the Sonics led late in the third quarter.

In the 17 wins, the Blazers trailed at halftime seven times and after three quarters five times.

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