Young, fresh, and energetic—those are the best words to describe the Portland Trail Blazers this season.
Despite starting the year 5-12, Portland showed remarkable effort and hustle. It was obvious that these Blazers really cared about winning, and more importantly, really cared about each other.
Now that they're 12-12, that commitment is all the more obvious.
The Blazers could have easily folded after Greg Oden went down with a season-ending injury. Many fans believed they'd have another terrible year, get another high pick, and then be insanely talented in 2008.
But Nate McMillan and Co. had other plans.
The Blazers weren't going to sit around and sulk about their fallen star—they were going to learn to play together in his absence.
One of the biggest surprises in Portland has been the play of Joel Przybilla. While only averaging five points and seven rebounds per game, the big guy hustles for every loose ball.
Przybilla has bulked up considerably since his days in Milwaukee (George Mitchell, are you paying attention?), and his size has helped him become a force on the boards. Having two other solid big men around him in Channing Frye and LaMarcus Aldridge has also been a plus.
Portland's point guard play has been solid but not incredible. Neither Steve Blake nor Jarrett Jack has exceptional talent, but each makes good decisions and look to pass first rather than score.
The scoring is mostly left to Aldridge and Brandon Roy, who are both averaging near 19 points a game.
Martell Webster is primarily responsible for the outside shooting, with help from Travis Outlaw and James Jones. Outlaw and Jones have scored in double figures in each of the last three games, with Outlaw scoring over 20 in two of them.
Truth be told, it's hard to figure out what this team really does well. The Blazers average 95 PPG while giving up over 98—but then again a lot of those points surrendered came in blowout losses at the beginning of the year.
Portland is now 9-3 at home, and getting the fans involved is vital for a young team trying to find an identity. The Rose Garden was always rocking in the late 90s—and with a young core, the local faithful have plenty to look forward to.
Given the talent in the West, the playoffs are not at all inevitable for the Blazers. But given the way this team has been playing, don't be shocked to see Portland scratch and claw its way into a seventh or eighth seed come spring.