BRIAN T. SMITH: Amid injuries, Blazers just keep battling

By Brian T. Smith, Columbian Sports Writer

Published:

 

They should be an absolute mess. A wreck.

Bickering, whining, falling apart. Stabbing each other in the back all while keeping one eye on the first available option out of town.

Instead, the Portland Trail Blazers are standing strong. United like brothers with one common, high-minded goal. Persevering through severe setbacks disguised as absurdity, and laughing in the face of never-ending adversity.

LeBron James is not the best story in the NBA. Neither is Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony. Nor the Atlanta Hawks, the 2010 free-agent class, the plight of shrinking small-market teams, or that mysterious Russian guy who thought buying the New Jersey Nets actually meant you won something.

The best story thus far of the 2009-10 NBA season: Your Portland Trail Blazers.

Punch them, and they don’t fall. Kick them, and they’re still standing. Rip and tear their roster apart with more major injuries than most NBA teams deal with in multiple seasons, and what do they do? They just keep playing. And winning.

That the Blazers did not cave after Greg Oden fell Dec. 5 against the Rose Garden hardwood, shook the earth, and cried out in pain is astounding.

That Portland has gone 7-4 since Oden picked up crutches and Rudy Fernandez went under the knife is unbelievable.

However, the fact that Rip City’s finest hold a 19-12 record and are coming off a no-one-expects-anything-from-us 3-1 road trip, despite losing Joel Przybilla for the year, is simply surreal.

And inspiring.

So, tip your hat to Jerryd Bayless. Raise a glass to LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, Juwan Howard, Martell Webster, Steve Blake and the rest of those still standing.

Because, right now, the jack in the box doll-like Blazers deserve all the credit in the world.

Granted, this isn’t the season anyone expected. And this definitely isn’t how it was supposed to go.

Best-laid plans have been torched and burned, and figuring out how exactly everything will end up, who will still be around when it’s over, and how long the adrenalin will last are merely guessing games.

But what is certain is that this season’s Blazers have had every reason to give in, quit and fall apart. And they have not. And by playing through pain and adjusting on the fly, this year’s Portland team is building a foundation for the future while fighting to keep the organization’s window of opportunity wide open.

Moreover, the Blazers’ Serpico-esque resilience has completely changed the conversation.

Hot-air filled discussions about playing time, starting units, rotations and mutiny over minutes?

Meaningless.

Questions about whether coach Nate McMillan was wrapping his perfect present too tightly; queries about whether general manager Kevin Pritchard actually knew how to bake a cake, and if he could recognize when too many ingredients were too much?

Meaningless.

Andre Miller vs. Steve Blake?

Even more meaningless. And soooo October 2009.

All that matters right now is that the Blazers keep on keepin’ on. Stand ground, hold the fort and look to the horizon.

Will they still be playing better-than-.500 ball in February? Will the mad, fierce rush to cover for fallen comrades get them through a cold, hard winter? Is Portland playoff-bound or lottery-ready?

Time will tell.

This season was supposed to be about fulfilling high expectations, fitting together too many talented pieces and starting the initial process of turning the clock back to 1977.

Goodbye to all that. Hello to what remains.

And you know what?

Right now, the view’s really not that bad.

Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or brian.smithcolumbian.com. Read his Blazers Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter