|Brandon Roy is at the crux of Portland's turnaround season|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 29 January 2008 13:44|
Portland guard Brandon Roy is at the crux of a resurgent team that few expected much from this season.
The Blazers finished last season just 32-50, and although they beat the odds and landed top draft pick Greg Oden, he was lost to knee surgery before his rookie season started.
The youngest team in the NBA, the Blazers opened the season predictably, going 5-12. But then they reeled off a surprising 13-game winning streak in December.
Having cooled off during a seven-game road trip, the Blazers are 24-19 but still have put up winning records for two straight months for the first time since 2004.
Portland and the Denver Nuggets were each a half-game back of Utah in the Western Conference's Northwest Division. Up next for the Blazers are LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Roy, last season's NBA Rookie of the Year, is directing the team's change. He's averaging 19.4 points and 5.6 assists to lead Portland. He's also averaging 4.4 rebounds.
His importance to the Blazers was demonstrated Sunday against the Hawks, when - despite being a game-time decision because of a fever - he scored 24 points and hit the game-winning free throw with 2.3 seconds left.
Portland was down 19 in the third quarter before Roy took over, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter alone.
Roy, in typically humble fashion, said he just wanted to give the home crowd something to cheer about.
``I was so disappointed in the first half in how we were playing. These fans fill this building up to see us play hard,'' he said. ``I was disappointed in our effort, and I think in the second we did a better job of giving them a big show.''
Stunned Hawks coach Mike Woodson had nothing but praise.
``He's been great for them all year. He's got all the necessary things on both ends of the floor,'' Woodson said. ``He's been fabulous for that team, and he's got a legitimate chance to make the All-Star team if he keeps playing that way.''
Roy is probably a long shot to make the All-Star game. With only 12 players invited from each conference, Roy would be competing with Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Baron Davis, Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili and others for two or three guard positions.
Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson will start in the backcourt for the West team, the NBA announced last week. Starters are selected through fan voting.
The Blazers nonetheless have pushed his name out there, sending each of the Western Conference coaches - who decide the reserves - a customized iPod, called the iRoy. It features videos of his more memorable performances.
In his favor, Roy has twice been selected as the NBA's player of the week this season, with the honors coming during that 13-game winning streak.
``What can you say about Brandon Roy? We have a special guy here,'' coach Nate McMillan said. ``We just hope he can stay healthy. He has the will and the heart to be a special player in this league, and we're still seeing him getting better and better.''
During a December game against the Toronto Raptors, Roy pulled off a stunning layup, switching the ball from his right hand to his left in midair. It left McMillan shaking his head in amazement.
``It was like Michael Jordan in the NBA finals,'' he said.
The crowd at the Rose Garden chanted: ``MVP! MVP!''
As a rookie last season, Roy became the face of the franchise, averaging 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and four assists. While Zach Randolph put up more impressive numbers, Roy's likable personality made him a fan favorite.
Roy was on stage for the Blazers when the team won the top pick in the June draft lottery. The Blazers took Oden, a 7-foot center who played one season at Ohio State.
With Oden, the Blazers looked to be turning a corner. Microfracture surgery on their big man ended those hopes.
No longer a rookie, Roy has taken over this season as the team's leader. He's also earning respect around the league.
``The thing about Brandon that I've always known is that he does what he wants to do when he wants to do it. He's never in a hurry, he's always patient,'' Atlanta forward Marvin Williams said. ``He seems like he's always waiting for someone else to mess up and he just takes advantage of it right there, and that's why he is so effective. He's tough to guard, and he's going to be tough to guard for a long time.''