Around the NBA: Portland successful despite Oden's absence

Chris Beaven

What looked like a lost season long before it began is starting to look good for the young Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland entered the weekend with a five-game winning streak and is rapidly approaching .500. Not bad for a team that was pretty much written off once Greg Oden was lost for the season because of knee surgery.

“I really think the whole team is getting a feel of what we want to do,” Head Coach Nate McMillan said after Wednesday’s win over the Warriors.

As expected, the Blazers started slowly, losing nine of 10 at one point. That left them at 5-12 before wins over Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Utah and Golden State.

“I think it’s just a contagious confidence,” guard Jarrett Jack said.

Jack, in his third year, qualifies as one of the team’s old guys. Twelve players on the roster have fewer than five years of NBA experience.

Second-year players LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy are the leading scorers, combining for 36 points a game. Third-year swingman Martell Webster is shooting 37 percent from 3-point range.

Athletic forward Travis Outlaw is playing well off the bench. He is in his fifth season, but since he entered the NBA from high school, he is actually younger than Roy.

Some of the veteran Blazers are point guard Steve Blake (fifth year), 7-foot-1 Joel Przybilla (eighth year) and forward Raef LaFrentz (10th year).

“It’s the same thing in all of our victories, we’ve got a number of guys coming to play,” said Roy, last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year.

When Portland beat Utah on Tuesday, Webster scored 25, making 5-of-8 3-pointers.

In a win over the Warriors the next night, the Blazers got it done without Aldridge, who was injured, and Webster, who left the game ill early. Off the bench came Outlaw for 22 points and eight rebounds and forward James Jones for 21 points and six rebounds.

Favorable schedule

After Sunday’s game at Denver, Portland plays its next six at home. The Blazers don’t go on the road again until a New Year’s Eve game at Utah.

“You come in here and you want to win, you’re going to have to take it from us,” Jack said.

Portland needs to make the most of this home stretch. Things get difficult in mid-January with a seven-game road trip East.

Road warriors

Golden State recently played one of its best stretches in history. When the Warriors beat the Spurs to go 12-3 in a 15-game span, it was their best 15-game stretch since the 1975-76 season.

But if the Warriors want to stay hot, they need to get it done on the road. They play of eight of 10 on the road starting today in Detroit.

Always happy

Miami won two straight this season for the first time, not that anyone would know after the brief streak ended Thursday with a home loss to Washington.

“I’m beyond disappointed in our team,” Head Coach Pat Riley said. “There’s no excuses. There are none. I have none. The players should have none. ... We didn’t hardly even try.”

The loss made Miami 2-7 at home. But home or away, the Heat simply have not aged well and lack the overall athleticism to deal with the improving Eastern Conference.

Showing toughness, eh

Steve Nash went old-time hockey on the Jazz in a Phoenix win and played on despite taking a first-half elbow that chipped a tooth.

Nash jokingly did a halftime interview for ESPN with an exaggerated toothless lisp. Then with a gap between his teeth, returned to finish off a 29-point, 11-assist performance. The former two-time MVP made 10-of-12 shots.

More impressive to Nash was how his team defended in the 103-98 win, limiting the Jazz to 43.8 percent shooting. The Suns had allowed at least 100 points in nine straight, and Head Coach Mike D’Antoni had challenged them to turn it up defensively.

“We’re capable defensively,” Nash said. “We’ve got to play with that energy and intensity ... against everybody.”

Not so tough

Yao Ming didn’t mince words after the Rockets got whacked in Philadelphia. The Sixers led by as many as 31 and won, 100-88.

“When you are soft yourself, everything will feel tough,” Yao said. “It’s not because they are so tough. It’s because of how soft we are.”

The Rockets bounced back two nights later to beat Detroit, 80-77, where they had anything but a soft touch at the foul line. They became the second NBA team ever to win despite shooting less than 30 percent at the line, going 6-for-22 (27 percent).

24-second clock

- Bucks guard Michael Redd nearly had his first career triple-double (27 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) in a win over Orlando.

- Boston rookie forward Glen Davis made his first start Wednesday. “Big Baby” responded with a career-high 16 points vs. the Kings, making all 10 of his free throws and grabbing 10 rebounds.

- Two teams on a slide: Utah and Orlando. The Jazz had their eight-game home winning streak snapped by the Blazers and entered the weekend on a four-game losing streak. The Magic came into the weekend with three straight losses and 61 turnovers in those games.

- Phoenix was 10-1 vs. teams .500 or better entered Saturday’s game at New Orleans.

Reach Repository sports writer Chris Beaven at (330) 580-8345 or e-mail: