ONLINE SPECIAL inside the Blazers

Effort was the key word at the Blazer’s practice facility in Tualatin today.

But there were some other words too. Choice words. For a certain seventh-year forward (who will remain unnamed) who played his college ball at Cincinnati.

“You come in here and (expletive) up practice,” screamed head coach Nate McMillan, as the day’s practice was winding down. “You come in here with that attitude, that (expletive). Not even moving up and down the court. If you don’t want to practice, don’t show up. Do not show up. Don’t show up. When it’s game time, you’re gonna tell me that you want to get in. You can’t guard nobody. You (expletive) off in practice. This is (expletive). This is (expletive) (expletive). You’re not even trying. You’re (expletive) up practice with your attitude.”

Then McMillan turned his words towards the team.

“We’re 2-3. We should be 4-1. We’re supposed to be 0-5. No one expects anything from us. So, you’ve got to expect it from yourselves. 2-3’s not good enough. Are you ok with that? We could be 4-1. We could’ve beat Minnesota and Detroit. We had those games. I want you to think about it. We execute in those two games and we’re 4-1. You beat yourselves. But we’re walking around like we’re ok with being 2-3,” he said.

As the Blazers were finishing off their end-of-practice free-throws, McMillan clarified what he was trying to get across to the team with his tirade.

“I want them to think about it. They could be 4-1. But they’re not. I think sometimes they get happy with, ‘We played well, we played hard-so what else does Coach want?’. Well, you know, we want more, we’ve got to have more. They can give more and we expect more. They can set higher goals for themselves. They can’t look at the fact that they’re 2-3 and say, ‘We’ve won two games’. They need to look at it and say, ‘Man, we could be 4-1, if we take care of the ball, if we execute’.”

Coach’s got a good point.

For a team that nearly every critic in NBA-land had counted out before the first game was played, the Blazers have held their own. Surprise: they’ve got skills. Surprise: Zach Randolph and Darius Miles can shoot the lights out with the best of ’em.

Throw in the quicker-than-Flash point guard duo of Sebastian Telfair and Jarrett Jack and the 13 boards a game from centers Joel Pryzbilla and Theo Ratliff and the Blazers are showing that their novel mixture of youth and still-proving-itself veteran talent are worth taking notice of. And McMillan is determined to have his Blazers realize their potential as soon as possible. He’s not one to rest on momentary laurels.

“The last two years here were struggles,” he said. “So, there’s a lot of explaining to do right now. We are an inexperienced team. There’s a lot of teaching to do. And guys are in different roles. Sebastian’s now a starter. Zach and Darius are now the go-to guys. Jack’s a rookie. Juan Dixon’s from Washington. I was watching Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison last week. Those guys, with what they do, they’ve got a code. They’ve got it down, with looks and reads. And it takes experience and it takes practice.”

McMillan’s right. The Blazers were at their best against the Pistons on Friday night when they played as one. When Telfair penetrated and kicked out to Miles or Randolph without looking. When Theo blocked a shot and then the loose ball was immediately passed on an up-court outlet to a streaking Dixon. When what they did as a team was automatic.

“It all comes out at practice. Some guys, they’re like, ‘Practice? What is practice?'” McMillan said, laughing to himself. “But this is where we’ve got to work on everything that we’re going to do during game time and this is where we’ve got to get it right.”