Updated: February 21, 2012, 3:03 PM ET

1. Meal Tickets Missing, Blazers Pay Price

By Justin Verrier
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Portland coach Nate McMillan looked around the room and saw opportunity. He saw more than that. With LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy all sitting at his dinner table for the first time years ago, McMillan saw something special.

He wasn't the only one.

"I felt like we had championship caliber at that dinner," Aldridge said. "I felt like we had everything we needed: a dominant center, at that time I was a decent power forward, and you had an All-Star in Brandon Roy. I felt like we had everything that we needed. We just needed to put some pieces around it."

Now the Portland Trail Blazers are trying to duct-tape the pieces together long enough to keep their heads above .500 and carve out a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

With a 103-92 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, whose idea of disarray centers around whether to trade away their four-time All-Star to acquire some more highly decorated help, the 17-16 Blazers are currently on the outside looking in one game away from the All-Star break, with few solutions on the horizon in this frenzy of an NBA season.

"We've definitely got a lot of work to do," McMillan said before falling silent and staring off for almost three seconds. "We've got a lot of work to do."

The numbers aren't as bleak (well, aside from those seven first-quarter points scored Monday, the fewest in a quarter thus far in 2011-12). No longer the out-of-nowhere juggernaut they appeared to be after ripping off nine wins in their first 11 games, the Blazers still ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, 11th on the offensive side and fifth in scoring margin heading into Monday's jam-packed Presidents Day schedule.

If it can solve its woes on the road, where Portland sits a paltry 5-11 on the season, and its problems at point guard (Raymond Felton played only 19 minutes as McMillan searched for answers), things may be able to swing back the other way, at least to the point where making the postseason cut no longer feels like such an arduous task.

But they'll never reach the destination plotted at that table.

Roy is gone, a degenerative knee condition robbing all but five seasons of his brilliant pro career. After a third microfracture surgery, Oden may not be too far behind.

Aldridge remains. So too does McMillan, who said he signed a two-year extension this past March in part to finally see his star trio live out some of those wild fantasies he concocted. But as the power forward prepares for his first All-Star Game this weekend, a much-deserved nod that brings a smile to his face when mentioned, the fact that he's the only Blazer making the trip sucks some of the joy out of one of the few left at the Rose Garden.

Even if they did make a miraculous run to the NBA Finals this season, that dream of seeing this homegrown big three bring the Blazers its first title since the high times of the late 1970s is lying in a medical wastebasket somewhere.

The could've-beens weigh more heavily than anything they can accomplish now.

"That dinner was a big statement for me, like, 'We're as good as anybody in the league, so let's go do it,'" Aldridge said. "To be here now is kind of dumbfounding. To have Brandon not here no more, to have Greg come out of surgery, it's just one of those things."

Justin Verrier is an NBA editor for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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