Blazers come up short in final quarter

    With four major pieces stuck on the injured list for quite some time, the Blazers have had some trouble fitting the whole puzzle together this season. This “short" list of the walking injured includes center Joel Przybilla, guard Brandon Roy, and forwards Raef LaFrentz and Darius Miles. While Miles is lost for the season after undergoing microscopic knee surgery, there is still hope for the others.

    The first to make his return was Przybilla, who snatched 10 rebounds and added 2 points in 23 minutes in Tuesday’s 97-105 loss to Jermaine O’Neal and the Indiana Pacers.

    ”It’s nice to have that big guy back," head coach Nate McMillan said after the game. “I didn’t plan on playing him as many minutes as I did, but we needed a big body on Jermaine O’Neal. That’s what Joel gives us."

    After Miles and Przybilla, the situation with the Blazers remaining on the shelf, Roy and LaFrentz, gets more complicated. LaFrentz, traded to Portland from Boston for Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff, is sidelined with a left calf injury that has prevented him from playing a game in a Blazer uniform. He is practicing and is expected to return either Friday against Orlando or Sunday versus Atlanta.

    ”Raef gives us another big guy that can spread the floor. I think he has a good feel for the game. But, the main thing for him right now is to get in shape, get his conditioning right," McMillan said.

    LaFrentz and Przybilla provide the Blazers with more stability on the front line and their returns are welcomed, but the most crucial return is definitely Roy.

    Roy, the sixth pick in the NBA draft (also from the Celtics trade) and undoubtedly the future of this franchise, played like the leading rookie of the year candidate before suffering a left heel injury in early November. The rookie averaged 11.6 points and nearly four assists in five games this season, but it’s his unique calm and comforting presence the Blazers miss the most.

    In less than six months, Roy has gone from playing at pre-draft camps to being the face of a franchise. The expectations for this one player are so high that if he doesn’t return from injury and begin to contribute soon, this season will implode. All of the early buzz and good sentiments will vanish, just like the fans did on Tuesday after two straight losses, with only 12,714 in attendance.

    At this point, the Blazers’ biggest problem isn’t their 6-10 record, because that was expected. Their biggest problem is that their prized rookie is in the middle of an already overflowing injured list, and it is up in the air when he might return. It’s not the losses that are causing President Steve Patterson to worry or McMillan to force the media to wait nearly 30 minutes for post-game interviews. It’s the injuries, and it’s Roy’s injury in particular.

    Przybilla’s return is a start, and with LaFrentz the Blazers will have a big man capable of scoring from the perimeter. But, if Roy eludes going under the knife and returns within the next couple of weeks, look for Portland to make a serious run.

    The team captain is back, a new Blazer is set to make his debut and arguably the best rookie in the league’s return is just around the corner. Finally, the pieces are coming together for the Blazers.