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News » Revenge is sweet in rookie showcase

Revenge is sweet in rookie showcase

Revenge is sweet in rookie showcase
Revenge is sweet

in rookie showcase

Przybilla says

rookies 'are



If by chance you take a perusal through the NBA standings today, you'll find the Trail Blazers tenuously perched with the fourth-best record in the Western Conference.

Not bad for the NBA's second-youngest roster.

But what makes this team, and its lofty standing in the West so different, is how they are doing it. Take the Blazers' revenge-motivated 106-92 victory over Oklahoma City on Wednesday at the Rose Garden for example.

Three of the Blazers' most productive players Wednesday were center Greg Oden (16 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks), point guard Jerryd Bayless (12 points, eight assists, one turnover) and shooting guard Rudy Fernandez (13 points, four assists, three rebounds). Oh yeah, and Nicolas Batum started at small forward and did enough defensively to throw off Kevin Durant, the leading scorer of the Thunder, into a 2 for 6 start from the field.

That's four rookies helping lead a team to victory --and not just any victory. These days, especially for one of the nine elite teams in the West like the Blazers, every game carries huge playoff implications. A win or loss can be the difference between two or three slots in the standings.

"I don't know if people realize what we are doing right now," said Bayless, a 20-year-old who was the No. 11 overall draft pick in June. "For us being such a young team and for us to accomplish what we are accomplishing, it's great. We are going to continue building on it. Everyone is contributing now."

Of course, the flip side to this rookie-dominated team is inconsistency, which produces bouts of stress, worry and questions, such as after last week's emphatic loss to the cellar-dwelling Thunder (13-40) in Oklahoma City.

"The things we are doing are quite amazing, really, if you sit back and think about it," said veteran center Joel Przybilla, who had 13 rebounds on Wednesday. "There are days after losses and the coaches, you can just tell are in bad moods. And so are the rest of the guys. But I sit back and look and see that we are in the fourth position in the West and are one of the youngest teams in the league. I know we can't be satisfied, but the way I look at it, you have to enjoy it at times. It makes you realize the sky is the limit with this team."

Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard has long said this team's goal of competing for a championship won't begin in earnest for another two to three years. It takes time to grow and mature, he said.

But as Wednesday night showed, there are glimpses through this season when the rookies come to realize a concept or a skill, and it clicks, producing results.

With the Blazers still unable to shake the Thunder in the third quarter, leading 77-72, Bayless ran a pick-and-roll with Przybilla. The Thunder switched, leaving 7-foot center Nenad Krstic on Bayless and 6-1 guard Earl Watson on the 7-1 Przybilla.

"Earlier in the season, I would have just went, and tried to go (at the basket)," said Bayless, who was playing in his 31st game. "But I just gave it to Joel and he got a layin. That's just something I've learned from watching film, that I've gradually gotten better with, noticing things and different matchups on the court."

Earlier in the third quarter, Durant made an aggressive drive toward the basket, the same kind of move that went unchallenged last week in Oklahoma City. On Wednesday, Oden rotated from the other side of the key and established his position in front of Durant. It produced a collision, with Oden drawing the charge on Durant.

"I can see it on a week-by-week basis, these guys are improving," Przybilla said. "It's little things the average person doesn't see. Little things like Jerryd making that pass to me. Or Greg coming over and taking that charge. Two weeks ago, he wouldn't have done that."

It's a process that the two leaders of the Blazers, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, can relate. Now in their third seasons, they remember how they learned how referees call games, defensive rotations, and how to identify mismatches.

"I think the biggest thing with rookies is learning the game," said Aldridge, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds. "It's learning what the game consists of. You might have a mismatch, but you have to take advantage of the bigger mismatch. A lot of guys in this league can play, but the great guys know the game, and it just takes time to know the game."

Right now, all the Blazers know is that they are heading into tonight's game at Golden State --the last game before the All-Star break --with a four-game cushion over Phoenix, the ninth-place team in the West. The top eight make the playoffs. What separates the Blazers from the other eight teams is their age. The Blazers entered the season with an average age of 24 years and 166 days. Only the Warriors are younger at 24 years and 54 days. As Roy points out, without 32-year-old Raef LaFrentz, who is injured and not playing, the Blazers would have the youngest roster in the NBA.

"When you look at what we have --rookies playing key positions --we are depending on a lot of young guys to be consistent every night," Aldridge said. "So I think what we are doing is amazing."

Jason Quick: 503-221-4372;

To read his "Behind the Beat" blog,

go to


Author: Fox Sports
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Added: February 13, 2009


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