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Couple of Links

In case you missed it in BustaBucket's Fanshot yesterday, Mitch Lawrence wrote a column about Greg Oden's future prospects, and they're pretty good.  You can read it here.

Also Sam Amico, the editor of the excellent Pro Basketball News sends out a weekly newsletter for free.  This week's version featured the Blazers heavily.  Normally I wouldn't quote so much of an article but it is a free subscription and I think Sam will consider this an advertisement for same.  Here's what he said:

Blazers a bundle of NBA fun

By Sam Amico

If you haven't been following the Portland Trail Blazers, it's time to stop calling yourself a basketball fan.

That may sound like a bit much -- but seriously. Have you seen these guys?

They're athletic and young and passionate and skilled. And how can you not have tons of respect for Blazers coach Nate McMillan? He's just so cool and so crafty, having turned the northwestern part of the country into his own personal coaching clinic.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Here goes Amico again, telling me what I should and shouldn't like about the NBA. How do I cancel my free subscription anyway?"

Well, hear me out first. The Blazers are worth it.

By now, you know the names. There's shooting guard Brandon Roy, forward LaMarcus Aldridge and rookie center Greg Oden. And I sure hope you haven't missed Rudy Fernandez, a 24-year-old rookie dynamo of a guard out of Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

I've also become a big fan of Travis Outlaw, a super-athletic swingman who gives this team exactly what it once hoped to get from Darius Miles (remember him?) -- a hard-working approach and lots of energy.

The point guard? Well, Steve Blake isn't really supposed to be anything special. He's supposed to be just another player who's somewhere between starter and bench player in ability. But know what? He fits PERFECTLY with this team. He's a distributor first, a guy who's not gonna do anything fancy except deliver a pass at the exact moment his teammates free themselves for a shot.

Blake in't Chris Paul -- but he's no scrub, either.

You could say the same about the entire roster, as the Blazers really are a TEAM in the truest sense.

As Jason Quick wrote in a story for the Oregonian, "The Trail Blazers have become the pick- your-poison team of the NBA, with a variety of weapons at their disposal to tease opponents."

I like that: To TEASE opponents.

Or as Fernandez told Quick: "I think we play together. On some nights it's Brandon. Sometimes it's LaMarcus. Sometimes it's Blake. Sometimes it's Travis. But we play together."

Amen, says anyone who has seen the Blazers win six in a row and make a case for already being the second-best team (next to the L.A. Lakers) in all the West.

Amen, says anyone who has watched Roy hit big shot after big shot, time and time and time again. Granted, Roy gets a lot of credit, but he still might be the most underrated guard in the league. Watching him just makes you feel good about the state (and future) of pro basketball.

And amen says anyone who's seen Oden -- finally, healthy.

I'll be honest, I could watch this kid play every night and not get tired of it. He doesn't have much to offer in the low post if you're talking about fundamental scoring moves. It's pretty much just slowly turning toward the basket, bringing the ball down to his chest, then fiercely throwing one down with two hands. It almost looks painful.

In other words, don't try this at home, young players. Keep the ball up high, above your head. But somehow, it works for Oden.

On defense, he's been everything that was advertised coming out of Ohio State two seasons ago. He'll dare you to take a shot, and just when you think you've got an inch (or even a foot) to release the ball -- SWAT!

Mostly, I appreciate Oden because he usually wears the subdued look of a man who's sitting in the waiting room just before a three-hour dental procedure, but plays with loads of intensity and is actually quite the comedian off the court.

Aldridge is another one. He has the ability to score 30, but the selflessness to defer. Like most of the other guys on the roster, there's not a lot of flash to Aldridge's game. He's big and athletic, but always under control.

Others like center Joel Przybilla, rookie forward Nicolas Batum, big man Channing Frye and guard Sergio Rodriguez have also displayed hustle and grit and an understanding of their roles. All of it makes you really respect the job done by GM Kevin Pritchard in such a short time.

Are the Blazers good enough to overtake the mighty Lakers? Nope, not yet. Could they run into trouble facing a more-experienced playoff team like San Antonio or Phoenix come May? Yep.

In fact, they're likely to learn a hard lesson or two tonight in Boston.

But there will never be any doubt about the Blazers' desire or confidence -- or eagerness to play the right way each and every day. In the process, they'll display hope for the future and be a joy to watch.

And if you like basketball as much as you say do, you won't want to miss it.

 If you'd like to sign up for Sam's newsletter just click here.  All you need is an e-mail address and a love for basketball.

--Dave (