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Rip City, Overachieving or Underachieving?

Whether the Blazers are winning, losing, overachieving or underachieving, fans continue to play coach and express their opinions as to what the Blazers have to do in order to make a playoff run. The Blazers have endured a season long bite from the injury bug, as key players have sat out a combined 226 games. It seemed like every week a new medical story erupted from the media and fans began losing faith in Rip City. But you know what? The Blazers didn't lose faith. Instead, they continuously shocked the non-believers as well as opposing teams.

Since Brandon Roy left the January 13th home game against Milwaukee due to a tight hamstring, the Blazers have managed to win six of eleven, including what many critics have called the biggest win of the season at Dallas this past Saturday. Andre Miller led the Blazers with 52 points, making 22 of his 31 shots from the field. Miller signed a three-year deal with the Blazers this summer, and is starting to show he can fit in with the team.

Nicolas Batum, fresh off of shoulder surgery, is showing signs of major improvement. In his five games this year, he has managed to average more points, steals, assists, and has a higher percentage in field goals and free throw shooting than last season. Monty Williams worked hard with Batum, and last year reported that Nicolas was the first person in the gym and the last one out every day at practice. He obviously works hard and in his first games back this year has shown amazing potential.

Batum and Miller play crucial roles in helping the Blazers overcome injuries from Roy and Greg Oden, as well as key backups Joel Pryzbilla and Travis Outlaw. Many teams don't know how to forecast a game plan against the Blazers. It's hard to look at game tape on the Blazers, when rookies Jeff Pendergraph, and Dante Cunningham have played more minutes than expected. Miller, Jerryd Bayless, and Juwan Howard also are hard to plan against, because only Bayless appears on minimal tape from last year.

Martell Webster is leading the NBA in three point shots made (42) in the month of January, and Lamarcus Aldridge is starting to meet expectations, averaging 19.8 points per game since Roy was injured. Roy told Blazers reporter Rebecca Harlow that he hoped to be back for Thursday's game vs San Antonio.

Coach Nate McMillan has confused opposing teams with constantly switching lineups, rotations, and strategy to gain any advantage possible. McMillan's Blazers are eight games above .500, and in a three way tie for fifth in the western conference playoff race and many critics would say that this is underachieving. However, Portland (29-21) is only one game behind last year's pace (30-20), when they finished fourth in the west. And without twin towers Oden and Pryzbilla, the Blazers are fourth in the NBA in opponents' points per game—they finished fourth last season as well.

Whatever the Blazers are doing is working. ESPN's Mark Jackson called the Blazers the deepest team in the NBA. He may be right, because those who are racking up quality minutes now, wouldn't be if everyone were healthy. But when playoff time comes, Portland's bench will be ready to compete, leaving any nerves behind in the regular season. The second team will feature Steve Blake, Jerryd Bayless, Nicolas Batum, Travis Outlaw and Jeff Pendegraph, all of whom have started many games for the Blazers and know how to play in crunch time. That's why I'm telling you not to give up on our team just yet. Sure, they've lost close games, but they're in every game. Even games where fans counted them out before the tip—recently at Boston and at Dallas—resulted in two overtime games, two moral victories, and one real one against the Mavericks.

Up next for the Blazers is a one game road trip in Utah. Portland lost the teams' first two meetings by a combined 27 points and will look to turn it around Wednesday.

~Jacob Rogers~


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