Let loose, Blazers play free and easy

On Sports

First off, kudos to Nate McMillan. I'm not sure it was easy for him to take the harness off his team Tuesday night - but he did it. And, wow, what a show.

It helps, of course, to have Zach Randolph out of the lineup. The Trail Blazer offense flows much better when the ball doesn't stop in the low post all the time while one player dances around trying to get up a left-handed shot.

There was a segment of play in the fourth quarter, when McMillan - with the game on the line - handed it all over to a unit featuring Martell Webster, Sergio Rodriguez, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. And I would say that was as much fun as Blazer basketball has been all season.

And it's Rodriguez who makes it all go. I'm not sure how much longer McMillan is going to resist that, but at some point he has to come to grips with the fact that this kid is the point guard of the future for this franchise and needs as much playing time as McMillan can give him.

It's no accident that Webster seems to play better - and make more shots - when Rodriguez is on the floor. It happens because of the great feel for the game that Rodriguez has - and his ability to get the ball to Webster, in rhythm and in just the right spot, so that shots become easier.

The rookie not only throws the lob well, he's about the only Blazer who looks for the opportunity to throw it. Or has the nerve to attempt it.

What we saw Tuesday was revealing. This is why you let the young guys play, you learn about them -and they learn things they can only encounter through NBA game experience.

By now, we already know how good Roy is. He's going to be a terrific player for years, if he stays healthy. We're beginning to see Aldridge as a future All-Star. Rodriguez could be something very special, and Webster, I still believe, will be a valuable contributor to a team always desperate for outside shooting.

We saw in the win over Washington how Aldridge can replace Randolph at the post and bring so much more to the team on the defensive end. At heart, he's probably a power forward, rather than a center.

Oh, man, if the Blazers get a lucky bounce out of a pingpong ball this June, Greg Oden would slide right into the middle - freeing the team to trade Randolph for a solid small forward -hopefully a greyhound who can get up and down the floor.

The Blazers have a terrific opportunity with this young group. As Roy, Aldridge and now Rodriguez continue to show how good they can be, there is so much reason to be optimistic about the Blazers. They will win games, sure. That's what people pay to see.

But more than that, this is a fun bunch of players who are going to be exciting to watch as they grow up.

Just trust them, Nate. Just turn them loose.

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