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Team play, better 'D' key to Blazers' success


Nate McMillan is proud of his team &

and it isn't just because the Portland Trail Blazers pushed their NBA-best winning streak to 11 games.

"I was proud of them before all this, to be honest," the Blazer coach said. "Even when we lost nine of 10, we were playing hard. In this streak, what we're asking of this team, they are starting to do."

The Blazers could tie their second-longest winning streak ever with a win over Minnesota Friday night. The record is 16, back in 1990-91.

That's nice, the coach says, but the real important thing is how the Blazers have gotten where they are &

with team play, improved rebounding and better defense.

Portland had season highs in rebounds (53) and offensive rebounds (19) in a Christmas night win over Seattle, and that helped make up for a season-low shooting night of 38.7 percent.

In other words, the Blazers are learning how to win games even on nights when they aren't at their best.

"We're continuing to play as a team," McMillan said. "We were getting stops when we needed to get them. And it seems every game we're finding ways of winning. (Against Seattle), when our shots weren't falling, we tightened up defensively."

McMillan said the next step for his team isn't necessarily keeping the winning streak going, but adjusting to playing with a target on its back.

Center Joel Przybilla isn't sure if the Blazers are really respected around the league.

"I think we're still shocking people even though we've won 11 in a row," he said. "They're still taking us lightly."

Counting the votes

Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge moved from eighth place to seventh place for Western Conference centers on the All-Star ballot second returns, which were released Thursday.

Brandon Roy and Jarrett Jack aren't among the top-10 Western Conference guards. Voting continues through Jan. 20 for the game, which will be Feb. 17 in New Orleans.

Green returns

Point guard Taureen Green rejoined the Blazers this week after a stint with the Idaho Stampede of the NBA Developmental League. The rookie from Florida averaged 19.3 points, 9.8 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists in four starts for the Stampede, after being sent down on Dec. 10.

Green has played just 24 minutes this season for the Blazers, who took him with the 52nd overall pick in the 2007 draft. Despite impressing coach Nate McMillan in training camp, Green has been buried behind Steve Blake, Jarrett Jack and Sergio Rodriguez.