NBA

Blazers struggling to find way in tough West

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)

After seeing a 25-point lead evaporate, two days removed from a 20-point rout, Nate McMillan was rightfully angry.

Portland's coach has guided his team through a minefield of injuries and changes this season to where sitting eighth in the Western Conference with 23 games remaining isn't necessarily a bad position.

But when his team fails to capitalize on a chance to strengthen its position in the loaded West, like Sunday night when Portland blew a 25-point lead in a loss to Utah, that's when the veteran coach lets his disappointment surface.

``If we are serious about making a run, we've got to act like it and we've got to play like it,'' McMillan said after the 93-89 overtime loss to the Jazz. ``... The moves we've made and having guys back, if we're serious about making a run down this stretch, that's got to show.''

There are plenty of built-in excuses for the Blazers' inconsistent play. Injuries are the most prevalent obstacle. Centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla are done for the season. All-Star Brandon Roy missed 12 games with a gimpy hamstring that's still not healthy. Promising young forward Nicolas Batum was out for 45 games with a shoulder injury.

But it was only a month ago that Portland matched its high mark of being nine games above .500 and was holding a solid spot in the Western Conference. Since that Jan. 23 win in Detroit, the Blazers have dropped eight of 13, capped by two brutal post-All-Star break setbacks. First was Friday's 20-point rout by Boston. Then came Sunday's loss, where Portland led 64-39 midway through the third quarter before the Jazz rallied for the stunning win.

``They just outfought us down the stretch of the game,'' Roy said. ``If we want to get into the playoffs we've got to do better.''

Portland went out at the trade deadline and addressed its most glaring need by acquiring center Marcus Camby to solidify a middle that was decimated by the left knee injury to Oden, followed by a right knee injury to Przybilla that had veteran Juwan Howard trying to hold down the post almost alone.

There is no set time to the acclimation process for Camby to gel with his new team and the offensive and defensive systems McMillan likes to run. Some veterans say it can take upward of five games for a new player to start fitting in following a trade.

Throw in Roy returning this week after missing a few weeks and McMillan said it was essentially a new unit trying to figure out how to play off each other.

``There is no set number of games. We're left with the situation of that group being out there and having to find the chemistry and learn to play off each other and learn tendencies on the court together,'' McMillan said.

For 2 1/2 quarters Sunday night it appeared seamless. Camby was an influence that seemed to fit with the Blazers, providing rebounding, and was a shot-altering presence in the middle on defense.

But the late collapse only added more questions for McMillan and his players to answer about the state of the team with two months remaining in the regular season.

Portland can answer some of its questions in the next two weeks. The Blazers start a five-game road trip on Tuesday in New Jersey, but have a better record than eight of their next 10 opponents - road games at Toronto and Denver the only exceptions.

``It real tough when you look around and see the teams around us like Houston and San Antonio losing ... and we come out here and lose, that's a lost opportunity,'' Camby said. ``Now we have to find a way to sum up some energy and win on the road.''

Tagged: Trail Blazers, Jazz, Juwan Howard, Joel Przybilla, Marcus Camby, Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Nicolas Batum

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