NBA: Even with Roy, Blazers might be on their last legs
By ANNE M. PETERSON
AP Sports Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. — While Brandon Roy's return may have given the Trail Blazers reason to hope, the Phoenix Suns have the more tangible advantage in their first-round playoff series: a 3-2 edge.
The series swings back to Portland for Game 5 on Thursday with the Blazers on the brink of elimination. Roy says he wants to start, less than two weeks since he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee.
The All-Star guard missed the first three games against the Suns, but made a surprising and dramatic return in Game 4 — electrifying the Rose Garden crowd with a key three-pointer in the fourth quarter that carried the Blazers to a 96-87 victory.
But the bravado-pumped Blazers could not overcome the quicker Suns back in Phoenix on Monday night in a sobering 107-88 loss.
Roy did not start in either game. Instead the Blazers went with second-year point guard Jerryd Bayless — the reasoning being that Roy was still rusty.
Roy had 10 points for his return on Saturday, then just five off the bench in a total of less than 19 minutes in Game 5.
At times on Monday night he clearly favored his knee, but he also got several quick fouls, and then was pulled by Portland coach Nate McMillan in the fourth quarter when the Suns' lead became insurmountable.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry said it is clear that Roy is not 100 percent. And, of course, Phoenix will exploit that. But he also conceded that the Suns cannot discount the emotional lift Roy's presence brings the Blazers.
"I just don't think his lateral movement is where it would be if he were completely healthy. But the fact that the guy's playing in an NBA playoff game eight days after surgery ... If he walks on the court and I'm his teammate, I guarantee you I'd give 120 percent if I know that he's out there playing that way," Gentry said.
McMillan said he had not made a decision about whether Roy will start — and probably wouldn't until game time on Thursday. The Blazers took Tuesday off and watched the film from the previous night's loss.
"They didn't beat us," McMillan concluded. "We beat ourselves."
Even with Roy — and regardless of whether he starts — the odds are decidedly against the Blazers. When a best-of-seven series is even at two games each, the winner of Game 5 goes on to win the series 83.4 percent of the time.
And that doesn't even factor in that the Suns have been among the NBA's hottest teams since the All-Star break.
Their latest victory over the Blazers was textbook. The NBA's highest-scoring team in the regular season dominated points in the paint 40-28 and had a 17-6 advantage in fast-break points. They made 27 of 29 free throws to the Trail Blazers' 17 of 24, and outrebounded Portland 41-29.
And they added an element with big contributions from reserves Channing Frye (20 points) and Jared Dudley (19 points), to complement starters Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.
But the Blazers seem to do best when the pressure is high. All season they've been dogged by injuries.
Starting forward and defensive specialist Nicolas Batum spent the first half of the season on the injured list after shoulder surgery. Centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla underwent season-ending knee surgery. Roy himself missed more than a dozen games with a hamstring injury.
In all, 13 Blazers missed a combined 311 regular-season games, second only to Golden State this season. Only guard Andre Miller and forward Martell Webster played in all 82 games.
As a result, no one expected Portland to win 50 games or make the playoffs. But they went into the series against the Suns without Roy and won Game 1 on the road.
McMillan said that, if anything, the trouble his team has seen has given him a kind of comfort going into Thursday night's games.
"We have a chance," McMillan said. "No doubt about it. We have a chance."