PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers, ousted from the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year, head into the offseason anything but bitter.
"I'm just proud of these guys for stepping up and not making any excuses," said captain Brandon Roy. "We did an unbelievable job of handling adversity this season."
The Blazers had adversity aplenty.
Portland had lofty hopes coming into this season. The team had the formidable 7-foot tag-team of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla at center, anchors Roy and forward LaMarcus Aldridge, and the addition of free agent point guard Andre Miller.
But bit by bit throughout the season, the Blazers' talented core was strained by injuries.
It started before the opener, when starting forward and defensive specialist Nicolas Batum required surgery on his right shoulder. He missed 45 games.
Then came Oden, who fractured his left kneecap during a game in early December, and required season-ending surgery. At the end of that month Przybilla blew out his right knee and joined Oden, gone for the season.
Along the way, forward Rudy Fernandez missed 19 games after a microdiscectomy on his back. Forward Travis Outlaw, later traded to the Clippers, missed 44 games after left foot surgery.
Roy missed 14 games with a hamstring injury.
Even coach Nate McMillan ruptured his Achilles tendon while trying to work with his shorthanded team during a practice and needed surgery. McMillan coached on the bench while assistant Monty Williams handled much of the pacing.
In all, Portland players missed a combined 311 regular-season games because of injury, second only to the Golden State Warriors and most among playoff teams.
Only two players, Miller and forward Martell Webster, were healthy for all 82 games and the team had 16 different starting lineups.
"It shows you a lot about our character," Webster said. "We could've thrown in the towel but we didn't. We kept fighting. Everybody stepped up."
Indeed, the Blazers did far better than anyone expected. They won 50 games — a benchmark that's hard to reach in even the healthiest of seasons. They clinched a playoff berth.
But even then Portland couldn't catch a break. Roy was injured again — this time it was a torn meniscus in his right knee — and had arthroscopic surgery two days before the opening game of the playoff series against the Phoenix Suns.
Almost in denial of their predicament, Portland went out and won Game 1 in Phoenix.
Roy made a remarkable comeback in Game 4 in Portland, which the Blazers also won. Many would say that they had never experienced an ovation quite like the once Roy received from the Rose Garden crowd that night.
But in the end the Blazers were overmatched by the Suns, one of the league's hottest second-half teams. After the deciding Game 6 loss, the Rose Garden fans stayed to applaud the home team. Some of the Phoenix players joined in.
"The could have easily called it a season when everybody started going down in November, December and January," Suns guard Jason Richardson said. "But they kept on fighting. Next year, when everybody's healthy, they'll be a very dangerous team. A healthy Roy, a healthy Greg, they'll be very tough to beat."
Afterward in Portland's locker room, there was a measure of disappointment but overall a sense of accomplishment. McMillan told the players he was proud of them.
Already, many were looking toward next season. Center Marcus Camby, acquired in a trade, said he wants to come back — imagining what can be built around Roy, Aldridge and Oden.
"I think this team has a lot of character. The last two months of the season it felt like a perfect marriage," he said. "I enjoy the guys. I enjoy the coaching staff and the fans here are definitely tremendous, so it's a no brainer for me to want to come back."