An even seasons not out of reach
- kerry eggers
- Portland Tribune - Sports
On the NBA
Even after five straight defeats and with a losing record (38-39) for the first time since mid-December, finishing with a winning mark - or at least at .500 - isn't out of the question for the Trail Blazers.
After tonight's home date with the L.A. Lakers, Portland visits Sacramento, plays Dallas and Memphis at home and ends the season with a game at Phoenix.
The Lakers might provide the toughest test. Sacramento and Memphis are below Portland in the standings. Dallas is fighting for a playoff berth but has lost six of its last 10 games. If the Suns are locked into a playoff spot on the final day of the season, they may rest some of their regulars.
Interesting, though, that Sacramento (36-41) has crept to within two games of Portland in the standings. The Kings have won two of three meetings with the Blazers and would claim the season series with a victory Friday. If the Kings pass Portland in the standings, it would move the Blazers into better lottery position for the draft.
• Portland hasn't had a winning record since going 50-32 in 2002-03. The Blazers were 41-41 in 2003-04. They would have to win three of their last five to reach that mark this season.
'We feel like we have a chance to win every game the rest of the way,' forward LaMarcus Aldridge says. Going at least .500 'would send us into the summer feeling good about what we accomplished this season.'
If the Blazers don't get that done, will they look at the season as a failure?
'Not at all,' guard Brandon Roy says. 'I won't think of it like that, and I'll urge the guys not to do that, either.
'This has been a really good season for us. There have been a lot of positives. I'm not going to look at the last two weeks. I'm going to look at the entire season and think, 'We won this amount of games.' And whatever that is, it's going to be more than most people expected us to win when this season started.'
• Aldridge and Roy have each missed only six games to injury this season. That's an improvement from last season, when Aldridge was sidelined for 19 games and Roy 25 games due to injuries.
Still, TNT analyst Doug Collins says the jury is out on whether durability is an issue for either of the young Blazer stars.
'It's a concern when you're building around guys who miss games with injuries,' Collins says. 'The one thing you want to do is know your stars are going to be out there for 75, 77 games a year. A big part of building around guys is their health. It's a little bit of a red flag. If you want success, just check games lost to injury of your stars. There's a direct correlation to what a team's record is.'
Health permitting, Collins considers Portland set for the future with Aldridge, Roy and rookie center Greg Oden.
'Those are three starting pieces of a championship team,' Collins says.
The rest of the current Blazers are best-suited as role players, he says.
'I like Steve Blake,' Collins says. 'He'd be terrific coming off the bench. I like Jarrett Jack as a backup guy. I like Travis Outlaw as a guy who can come off the bench and Joel Przybilla as a backup center on a championship team.'
General Manager Kevin Pritchard's mission, Collins believes, is acquiring 'a small forward who brings a toughness and a point guard who can get them easy baskets.'
• Houston coach Rick Adelman's Rockets have had the Blazers' number this season, winning all four meetings. But Adelman isn't so sure Pritchard needs to make a major acquisition.
'They have good young players,' Adelman says. 'It's all going to depend on how those guys develop, guys like Roy, Aldridge and Outlaw. They all need to step up and continue to make strides.'
Before Adelman's first full season as Portland's head coach - 1989-90 - the Blazers traded for veteran power forward Buck Williams.
'Buck was a perfect fit,' Adelman says. 'He was everything we needed. He made us a tougher team. But the other thing was, our young guys - Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth and Jerome Kersey - all made huge steps. That's what really made us a better team. This (Portland) team has all the ingredients right now, if the young guys continue to come along.'
• Any major moves may have to wait until after the 2008-09 season, when Portland could be in position to be a player on the free-agent market. That doesn't mean Pritchard won't consider making trades or a free-agent deal or two this summer.
'I try to keep an open mind,' he says. 'Until we have an opportunity to digest an entire season, we won't make any decisions. After the season, I'll sit in a room with my coaches and management team and plan what we're going to do.
'We've had a very successful season, but we'll look at every position - not just point guard or small forward.'
The Blazers can go into next season with 10 players on the final year of their contract. Only Roy, Aldridge, Oden, Przybilla and Sergio Rodriguez have longer deals. That offers Pritchard plenty of flexibility as he continues to tinker with the roster.
Don't expect Portland to attract New Orleans' Chris Paul or Utah's Deron Williams. Both point guards could become restricted free agents after next season, but they can be tied up long-term by their respective clubs beginning July 1. Both players are on good young teams, and they're likely to sign maximum-salary deals this summer. If not, Portland will be the preferred destination of neither.
• Roy is featured in a six-page fashion spread in the April edition of Dime magazine, but he's not sure if a modeling career is in his future.
'I'm not big on it,' the All-Star guard says. 'I don't really like posing. I didn't know it was going to be that kind of thing. It was cool - the pictures came out nice - but I prefer just to do an interview.'
Was Roy able to keep the clothes used in the spread?
'Just the Nike stuff,' he says with a grin. 'Next time I do it, that's going to be part of the deal.'
• San Antonio's Brent Barry has been limited to 29 games this season due to a calf injury.
'I was telling one of our coaches,' the ex-Oregon State star says, 'I've been in rehab this year more than Lindsay Lohan.'