Micah Rice: Blazers rally shows team's bonds are strong

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

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PORTLAND – The puzzle that is the Portland Trail Blazers keeps putting pieces together.

And you have to like the picture that’s coming into focus.

Like a scattered jigsaw array, nobody really knew how seven new players on this year’s roster were going to fit together. But the glue bonding this team seems to be growing stronger every game.

After a stinker of a first half Friday that saw Portland trail Chicago by 21, the Blazers could have packed it in, saved their energy for the next night’s game.

But Portland followed its worst half of the season with their best quarter thus far, a third period fueled by hustle, muscle and grit.

“We’re playing with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder,” coach Terry Stotts said. “We haven’t proven anything yet.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of a win streak that reached nine games on Friday. Winning does wonders for team chemistry.

But one Blazers veteran thinks this team has the alchemist’s formula to make gold for a franchise weighed down by mediocrity in recent years.

Earl Watson has been with seven teams in his 13 NBA seasons.

“This team is just unique,” Watson said. “I can’t compare it to any that I’ve been on as far as chemistry goes. This team, we’re at a point in our chemistry where many people thought we’d be in January or February.”

For Watson, it’s Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge who set the tone for role players to embrace the unflashy work of creating a winning foundation.

“Even our superstars are selfless,” Watson said. “If the best two players on the team are humble, who can stand out?”

Stotts said he’s surprised how quickly the team’s cohesion has developed, especially on offense.

“When you start camp and add seven new people to your roster you don't really know what to expect,” Stotts said. “But the fact that we had four out of five starters last year I think that helped with the transition with the new guys.”

Road trips can bring a team together or strain it. Portland’s recent four-game sweep through the Eastern Conference was like a company retreat that has players sounding as upbeat as those motivational posters on the walls of a human resources office.

“When you’re on the road, it’s just the guys you came there with,” Lillard said. “That brings everyone together.”

It’s not going to always come up roses on the Rose Quarter this season. There will be adversity. Pieces of the puzzle will loosen, as they did in the first half against Chicago.

If Friday’s comeback is a microcosm of how Portland will respond, then the Blazers have nothing to worry about.