March 8th, 2011 10:01 am | by HANK STERN News | Posted In: Sports

Tonight's Trail Blazer Game: Who Needs Hankies? (UPDATED with Nate McMillan signing contract extension)

Crying Baby

 Many NBA fans (or maybe just me) are more curious than usual about tonight's Portland Trail Blazers game at Miami against the Heat.

LeBron James' "Heatles" have lost four straight. A shocking development given the talent amassed in South Beach? Perhaps, though even good teams have some kind of losing streak during an 82-game season.

But what's made tonight's game stand out from the usual regular-season rigmarole is this is Miami's first game since Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (a Portland native) said after a loss Sunday to Chicago that a couple of his players were  "crying" (later amended to had "glossy eyes"). That's definitely not your run-of-the-mill post-game reaction to losing game #63 out of 82.

Enter the Blazers, who are playing their second game tonight of a back-to-back after beating Orlando last night. Whilst we wait to learn whether a tired Blazers team is walking into an epic blowout situation because the Heat will be focused—or the Heat will melt down again under even more scrutiny ... 

UPDATE: And this afternoon brings some news that should make Blazers fans smile. The team has extended coach Nate McMillan's contract by two years. McMillan has his flaws—not much imagination with offensive sets—but has done a good job dealing with a brutal run of player injuries.

Here's the news release:

The Portland Trail Blazers signed Head Coach Nate McMillan to a two-year contract extension, it was announced today by General Manager Rich Cho.

"With his NBA and USA Basketball track record, Nate has established himself as one of the premier minds in the game of basketball," said Cho. "What Nate has accomplished in the last few years is truly remarkable and getting his contract extended was a top priority for the franchise and me."

McMillan, 46, is currently in his sixth year with the Trail Blazers after signing with the team prior to the 2005-06 season. He has a 234-239 (.495) record with the Trail Blazers and a 446-422 (.514) overall mark in 11 NBA seasons with Portland and Seattle. He is the second longest tenured Trail Blazers head coach behind only Jack Ramsay.

"I'm very excited to have the opportunity to finish what we started," said McMillan. "Portland is home for me now and I greatly appreciate the bond between the fans and this basketball team. It's a very special place to be and it's the only place I want to be.

"I want to thank all the support that I've been shown along the way, especially that of our owner, Mr. Allen, who time and time again demonstrates his commitment to this franchise and winning basketball. I also want to thank Larry Miller, Rich Cho, my coaching staff and everyone in the Trail Blazers family as we continue on this journey of bringing another championship to Portland."

He became the 15th youngest coach in NBA history to reach 400 wins with a March 12, 2010 victory at Sacramento. Fifteen days later, he earned his 191st win in Portland, passing Mike Dunleavy for third among all-time Trail Blazers head coaches.

"Over the past 12 months we have made significant investments in this team, all keenly focused on assembling the right pieces to compete this year and in the future," Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen said. "We've done that by adding Marcus, Wesley and most recently, Gerald and, now, I'm glad that after productive discussions,  Nate is now committed to be our coach for two more years."

His first year in Portland marked a rebuilding season that saw the team finish with 21 wins, but McMillan developed the young talent on his roster to improve to 32 wins the next season, followed by a jump to 41 wins in 2007-08.

"Without question Nate has ascended into the upper echelon of coaches," said Trail Blazers President Larry Miller. "He's more than demonstrated his leadership and commitment to the team and this community and the time was right to demonstrate our commitment to him by extending his contract."

McMillan and the Trail Blazers vaulted to a 54-28 record in 2008-09 that earned the team a share of the Northwest Division title and landed Portland in the NBA Playoffs for the first time in six years. Portland finished the year with the best record by a Trail Blazers team since 1999-2000 and the sixth-best record in franchise history.

In 2009-10, McMillan's Trail Blazers overcame 311 games missed due to injury to finish with a 50-32 record and a second consecutive trip to the NBA Playoffs.

A member of the U.S. Men's National Team coaching staff since 2005, McMillan and Team USA took home the Gold Medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. McMillan and the coaching staff returned to the international stage in 2010 when they led a new-look USA squad to the country's first FIBA World Championship since 1994.

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