Resurgent Blazers are ready for second half

PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers have cooled off considerably since their surprising 13-game winning streak, and at the All-Star break the question becomes whether the run was merely a fluke.

Theories abound about the young team's recent struggles, including midseason fatigue. Guard Brandon Roy recently opined that other teams aren't considering Portland an easy win anymore and are bringing their "A" games.

"We're not sneaking up on teams like we did early in the season, and we have to find a way to grind things out and get some wins," he said.

Since the NBA-high 13-game winning streak in December, the Blazers have gone 10-12, including a four-game losing streak heading into the break. Still, the Blazers are 28-24, putting them in position to do far better that last season's 32-50 finish.

Coach Nate McMillan implored his team to get away from basketball during the brief All-Star hiatus. Next up for the Blazers are the Sacramento Kings tonight at the Rose Garden.

"We're just not sharp right now — executing, offensively, defensively. We're having breakdowns in key situations and we don't have both units playing well," McMillan said.

It has been one wild ride so far.

Before the season started, the Blazers beat the odds and landed top draft pick Greg Oden. But hopes for what the 7-footer could immediately bring to the team were dashed when he was lost to knee surgery before his rookie season started.

Without Oden, there had been a wait-until-next-year vibe about the Blazers, the NBA's youngest team. Portland opened the season predictably, going 5-12.

But then the Blazers reeled off those 13 wins.

Roy was pivotal to the streak, and twice was named the Western Conference's player of the week. He averaged 22.8 points, 6.6 assists and 5.6 rebounds.

So impressive was his play that he was named an All-Star reserve by the Western Conference coaches. He is the first Blazer since Rasheed Wallace to be an All-Star, and the first sophomore to be named to the squad since LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in 2005.

Last season's NBA Rookie of the Year is averaging 19.7 points and 5.8 assists overall this season.

Despite bouts of inconsistency, LaMarcus Aldridge was averaging 17 points and 7.4 rebounds, ranking him near the top of the league's second-year players. He went with Roy to New Orleans, where both played on the sophomore team in the All-Star weekend's rookie challenge game.

The Blazers have also seen success from their bench, or what coach McMillan refers to as the "White Unit." Key to the group is Travis Outlaw, who seems to have settled into a role as the team's fourth-quarter go-to guy, and ranks third on the team with an average of 12.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.

The Blazers' bench did take a recent hit when it lost 3-point specialist James Jones, who has a sore left knee and could be out for five weeks.

Jones, acquired from the Phoenix Suns in the offseason, was the second-leading 3-point shooter in the NBA at 48.3 percent. He was averaging 9.1 points and 2.9 rebounds for the Blazers.

Portland, overall, remains an enigma. At some times the team plays well above expectations, other times they look like the youngsters that they are.

"I think we're just a young team trying to find our way," Roy said.

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