Blazers look to address inconsistency

(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)By ANNE M. PETERSONAP Sports Writer

The Portland Trail Blazers have a newly minted All-Star, the return of a familiar face and a week’s worth of rest. What they still need as the season resumes is consistency.

After eight days off because of the All-Star break, the Blazers get back to work on Wednesday night when they visit Denver.

Portland is 18-16 and in eighth place in the Western Conference, a game back of Memphis and a half-game up on the Nuggets, after a roller-coaster first half that was crazy even before it started because of the unexpected retirement of Brandon Roy.

After a 7-3 start raised hopes, Portland has gone 4-6 over the last 10 games, and coach Nate McMillan has twice made major lineup changes to address his uneven team.

Most recently, he moved point guard Raymond Felton to the bench and started former NBA Sixth Man award winner Jamal Crawford. Felton has struggled with a career-low average of 10.2 points this season.

Crawford has played in just one game since McMillan’s move, a 137-97 Portland victory over San Antonio before the extended break. Crawford had 20 points, but Felton also kicked in 16 against the Spurs, who rested Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.

Before that, McMillan promoted forward Nicolas Batum and made Wesley Matthews a reserve. Batum started against the Wizards on Feb. 14 and scored a career-high 33 points in a 124-109 Portland loss. He’s started ever since, averaging 21.3 points over six games.

”We’ve got to try to find a way to win games and I’ve got to put the best combination of guys out there to be able to do that – and that’s what I’m committed to do,” McMillan said.

The Blazers’ lockout-shortened season got off to a disastrous start on the first day of training camp, when Roy, the team’s leader, walked away from the game because of problems with his knees. Then it was announced that former No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden had suffered another setback with his surgically repaired knees. On top of that, forward LaMarcus Aldridge required a procedure to treat a heart condition.

But Portland rebounded, signing Crawford and adding free agent center Kurt Thomas, who helped the Chicago Bulls overcome injury last season. The Blazers got Aldridge back in time and opened the season with the team’s best 10-game start since 1999-2000. Included in that stretch was a 107-96 victory over the rival Los Angeles Lakers.

The Blazers were also helped early on by starting off 11-1 at the Rose Garden.

The team started to show some vulnerability when it won just two games on a six-game road trip midway thought January. Then they lost three straight at home.

As it stands, the Blazers are getting the most consistency out of Aldridge, an All-Star this year who is averaging 22.3 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. Their most inconsistent player is probably forward Gerald Wallace, who is averaging 17.2 points at home and 9.6 on the road.

McMillan’s assessment?

”We’ve got some making up to do. The second half, we’ve got to lock in and play much better basketball to get ourselves back in this race,” he said. ”The first half, we know there were a number of games we felt like we could have won, but we are where we are. We’ve got to lock in this second half and play better.”

The start of the second half should prove challenging. After Denver, Portland has home games against Miami, Minnesota and New Orleans before a seven-game road trip.

Portland addressed one need over the break by signing free-agent Joel Przybilla. The 7-foot-1 center spent more than six seasons in Portland before he was traded to Charlotte last season.

By bringing Przybilla back, the Blazers can spell Marcus Camby and shift Kurt Thomas over to give Aldridge a break. Przybilla hadn’t heard what his role might be.

”Play or not play, I want to be a voice for this team and help this team make it to the playoffs,” he said, ”and try to make a run deep in the playoffs.”