Joel Przybilla making progress

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Center Joel Przybilla is making surprising progress in his return from injury but his recovery couldn't come fast enough for the Portland Trail Blazers, who have been cursed at his position.

The latest to fall was Jeff Pendergraph, who was hurt last week in a preseason game and will have knee surgery. The 6-foot-9 second-year forward was backing up Marcus Camby at center while Przybilla and Greg Oden recover from their knee injuries.

But even as the Blazers were lamenting Pendergraph's misfortune, Przybilla was making strides in practice.

Coach Nate McMillan said this week he was encouraged and suggested Przybilla could be back in early November.

"I think the good thing is, each day, he seems to be getting better," McMillan said. "We haven't seen any setbacks in the sense of Joel practicing and the next day he's too sore to do anything. It's a good sign."

Although some would argue the Blazers' woes at center began with the injuries that hit both Sam Bowie and Bill Walton, the team was beset everywhere last season.

Oden was arguably having the best season of his injury-prone career when he broke his right kneecap during a game last December against the Houston Rockets. He was averaging 11.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks as a starter, but more than that, he was playing with an authority that had previously eluded him.

The Blazers selected the 7-footer with the top pick in the 2007 draft, choosing him over Kevin Durant. But injuries -- including knee surgery that postponed his rookie season for a year -- brought endless comparisons to Bowie, the frequently injured big man who the Blazers infamously selected ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft.

It was expected that Oden would be ready for the season opener, but he said at the start of fall practice that he wasn't that close. He wouldn't put a target date on his return, and neither would McMillan.

Przybilla is by far closer to coming back.

The 7-1 veteran ruptured his right patella tendon and required surgery twice last season -- once after the initial injury in late December and then again in March when he re-injured the knee after a fall in his shower.

But Przybilla dedicated himself in the offseason to getting back on the court and appears way ahead of schedule -- considering there were some who predicted he might not return this season until Christmas at the earliest.

When fall practice opened, Przybilla would not rule out a return by opening night. He had his first contact practice this past Sunday.

As a precaution and for practice purposes the Blazers this week signed 7-0 center Steven Hill, who has played for parts of the last two seasons in the NBA's development league.

The Trail Blazers went 50-32 last season but were ousted in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year. In all, Portland players missed a combined 311 regular-season games because of injury, second only to the Golden State Warriors. Only two players, Andre Miller and forward Martell Webster, were healthy for all 82 games.

The Blazers open this season on Oct. 26 when they host the Phoenix Suns at the Rose Garden.