Injury-Prone Trail Blazers Wonder What Happened

This was a season of great expectations for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. The young and talented team was a trendy pick for the playoffs, maybe even a run at the championship. But the Blazers are limping into Indiana for a game Wednesday night — six players are injured and out of commission.

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This was a season of great expectations for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. The young and talented team was picked for the playoffs, and maybe even a championship run. But now that six players are injured, the talk is about rehab rather than titles.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: The irony is Portland fans were certain someone out there liked them a lot. Good karma was everywhere after management transformed the team from a collection of malcontent jail-Blazers, as they were called, into a group of hardworking, talented, good citizens. The Blazers won the NBA lottery, giving them the right to chose first in the 2007 draft.

Unidentified Man #1: With the first pick in the 2007 NBA draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Greg Oden from Ohio State University.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GOLDMAN: Greg Oden sat out his rookie season after surgery on his right knee, but then last year he came back and helped the team get to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. This season Oden blossomed. Up until last Saturday night, he was scoring more, rebounding more. He was near the top in the NBA in blocked shots, up until last Saturday night.

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, Greg, Greg went down, oh, his knee is - holy cow, Portland doesn't need this.

GOLDMAN: As Oden rolled around in pain on the arena floor, his left kneecap broken in half, Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard had one thought.

Mr. KEVIN PRITCHARD (General Manager, Portland Trail Blazers): Don't be permanent.

GOLDMAN: The injury isn't, but it will keep Oden on the sidelines the rest of this season. And it has unleashed a torrent of talk from local Portland radio�

Unidentified Man #3: What does Greg Oden's injury mean to the Blazers in the big picture, we'll break it down with ESPN.com NBA analyst John Hollinger next.

GOLDMAN: �to national TV sports shows like ESPN's �Pardon the Interruption,� where co-host Michael Wilbon gave voice to every Portland fan's worst fear, that Greg Oden is part of a sad, snake-bitten history.

Mr. MICHAEL WILBON (ESPN): It's incomprehensible that all three of these players, great talents, had their careers just sort of stopped in a way, even Bill Walton, by injury. Three Trail Blazers - Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Greg Oden.

GOLDMAN: Portland general manager Pritchard refuses to accept that Oden belongs in that group of done before their time Blazer big men. Says Pritchard, Oden is upbeat and looking forward to getting back into the gym to continue his career.

Mr. PRITCHARD: He's gone through it. He knows how to attack this, and he is going to.

GOLDMAN: Pritchard has a lot invested. The player he passed up in the draft to take Oden, Kevin Durant, is a budding NBA superstar. Pritchard knows Portlanders and NBA watchers everywhere are replaying the tape from 1984 when the Blazers selected Sam Bowie ahead of a guy named Michael Jordan. Worrying about repeating history, though, isn't at the top of Pritchard's or the Blazers to-do list. Patching together a team is. Along with Oden, three other key players are out with major injuries.

Unidentified Man #4: You're going to have to find out all over again, as the Blazers have all season, different ways to score and win. Remember, this New York team has given up 108 a game, and the Blazers now only have 81.

GOLDMAN: A dispirited Portland team lost to the Knicks 93-84 Monday night. Along with the five players on the court, there were only four Blazers in uniform on the bench, and one interim coach. Portland head coach Nate McMillan was home recuperating from surgery on a torn Achilles tendon. He hurt himself filling in at a practice because there weren't enough players.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Portland.

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