Scrappy Blazers not as bad as you think

Admit it: they’re surprising you. Admit it: they’re better than you thought.

The 2005-06 Portland Trail Blazers aren’t just showing up every night and collecting a paycheck; they’re holding their own. They’re competing. And they’re playing for keeps.

Out of the five games they’ve played thus far this season, the Blazers have been in every one (save for the blow-out to Denver). And the losses to Detroit and Minnesota were games that Portland easily could have won. The Blazers are using their youth to their advantage. They’re using their speed and their depth as assets. And new head coach Nate McMillan is already proving that he isn’t ready to settle for a season of rebuilding.

“We’ve got our strengths,” McMillan said, at a recent Blazers’ practice in Tualatin. “And most of the teams in this league are going to underestimate us, before we even set foot on the court. So, we need to turn that upside down and build off of it, make it into something that sets us apart.”

Everything that was supposed to create a 20-62 season is, at the moment, creating success.

The team’s chemistry is better than it has been in years. Veterans like Darius Miles, Zach Randolph and Ruben Patterson are shouldering the load, while youngsters like Sebastian Telfair and Jarrett Jack are providing sparks of excitement and vigor.

Against the Pistons on Saturday night, in a game that most expected the Blazers to be out of by halftime, Portland held the lead until the end of the fourth quarter, dominating the boards and the paint, while shooting 49.2 percent from the field.

“They didn’t beat us; we beat ourselves,” said rookie forward Martell Webster. “But, you know, we played better than anyone thought we would. Zach was huge tonight, so was Darius. And until the end of the game we were able to contain them.”

Against the Knicks, Portland came back from a 10-point halftime deficit, quickly putting a close game out of reach.

The keys for the Blazers thus far have been the scoring duo of Miles and Randolph, Patterson’s uncanny defense, and Telfair’s ability to drive, penetrate and kick out. Randolph is currently averaging a double-double (20.2 points, 11.2 boards) and Miles is leading the team with an average of 21.6 points a game.

Telfair and Jack are combining for 7.2 assists a game. And the center-tandem of Joel Pryzbilla and Theo Ratliff has come alive as of late, pulling down 13 rebounds a game.

With upcoming home games against Chicago and Golden State, the Blazers have a good chance to walk away from this home-stand at 4-3, surprising everyone in the league – maybe even themselves.