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Trail Blazers hope to break out of a funk

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 17, 2013 at 6:40 pm •  Published: February 17, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers' season so far could probably best be described as an enigma.

The Blazers have fared better than expected as a rebuilding team. But there are still so many questions — mostly concerning an inconsistent bench and the stamina of Portland's starters to make a push for the playoffs.

The Blazers are 25-28 and come off the All-Star break with a five-game losing streak. They are three games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and a half-game up on the Los Angeles Lakers.

They've relied heavily on their starting lineup: ever-steady All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, rookie Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and J.J. Hickson. All of Portland's starters are averaging in double figures, led by Aldridge at 20.9 points per game. Hickson is averaging 12.7 points and a career-high 10.3 rebounds.

Lillard leads the league in minutes played, with 2,038, while Batum is fifth and Aldridge is 10th. No other team has three players in the top 10.

Luke Babbitt and rookie Meyers Leonard are the Blazers' leading scorers off the bench, each averaging 4.2 points per game. Both are also averaging fewer than 15 minutes a game.

Obviously, the concern is that Portland's starters — particularly Lillard in his first NBA season — will hit a wall.

Lillard has easily been Portland's biggest surprise of the season. The sixth overall pick in last June's NBA draft out of Weber State is averaging 18.3 points per game, 3.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists. He leads all rookies in both scoring and assists.

He has won rookie of the month honors in each of the first three months of the season, joining Brandon Roy as the only Blazer to win the award three times. During All-Star weekend festivities, Lillard won the skills challenge.

Utah Jazz forward DeMarre Carroll is among those who have become fans of the 6-foot-3 guard.

"He's a complete player," Carroll said. "He's a young guy but you've got to give him credit, he plays hard and the team really relies on him. He's not afraid to take the big shot.

"The sky's the limit."

Lillard is the only rookie to have at 20 or more points in 25 games this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the only player in NBA history to score 900-plus points and make 100-plus 3-pointers in his ?rst 50 career games.

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