Dwight Jaynes

Usually teams are good, bad or in between but the Blazers have been all three

Usually teams are good, bad or in between but the Blazers have been all three

It's been a very topsy-turvy season for the Trail Blazers so far. After a 4-1 road trip, I went to Moda Center Thursday night expecting to see a very good team. I did -- but it wasn't the Portland Trail Blazers.

I cannot remember a more unpredictable Portland team. Usually, a team is either good, bad or somewhere in between. So far, the Trail Blazers have been all of those things. And it's pretty mysterious. We're seeing things here we haven't seen previously with this same group of players.

And really, this is the same bunch we've seen for a few years now, other than the addition of Jusuf Nurkic, which should be a big help. But lately, offensive struggles have led to lineup and rotation changes on almost a nightly basis. Coach Terry Stotts has usually found his starting lineup and stable rotation by this point of the season but not this year.

Meanwhile, turnovers are coming in big embarrassing bunches -- a problem the Trail Blazers have seldom had under Stotts. On the other hand, this is one of the best defensive teams in the league and we haven't seen that very often, either. Portland is one of the best rebounding teams in the league but is horrific in turning those rebounds into fast breaks. The worst in the league in fast breaks. Also the worst in the league in field-goal percentage in the paint. The Trail Blazers have been prolific three-point shooters in the past but are now 27th in the league in three-point attempts.

What's going on? Well, I think part of the trouble is that opposing teams are loading up on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, figuring -- correctly, most of the time -- that if those guys don't score Portland is not going to be able to find offense anywhere else. There isn't a lot of firepower up front other than Nurkic, who has been up and down, too. The addition of Pat Connaughton to the starting lineup has helped, as it not only added another good three-point shooter but by his presence, it's opened the paint for Lillard and McCollum.

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It wouldn't hurt if another reliable scorer could be found but I'm not sure there is any way that can be done.

To be fair, the Western Conference outside of Houston's Rockets, has mostly not lived up to expectations. With all of the Trail Blazers' problems, they still sit fifth in the West, which is mind-boggling given how they have played. But it seems that Portland is squandering a chance to climb much higher if it played with more consistency.

The real question at this point is how owner Paul Allen feels about this. He's never been known for great patience and he's paying out a lot of money for this show. Would he make a coaching or front office change? Push for a franchise-altering trade? I don't know, but nothing would surprise me if this roller-coaster ride continues.

Jonathan Smith has the qualities needed at Oregon State

Jonathan Smith has the qualities needed at Oregon State

Somebody asked me the other day what qualities I thought the new Oregon State football coach needed to be successful.

After thinking a few seconds, a few traits came to mind: toughness, intelligence and personality.

You have to be tough to coach there, because so many things are working against you. There is that unfinished stadium, a low budget, low attendance, poor recent record and inconsistent recruiting that has led to a severe talent shortage, to name just a few of the road blocks. This is college football's version of "Mission Impossible."

It's a position where you are going to have to fight your way through troublesome situations. You better be smart, too. You're going to have to beat people with better talent than you have -- trick them, if you can -- and figure out a way to improve your talent on that low budget. And you better have some personality and be able to schmooze the people with money. You're going to need them to write some big checks.

Johnathan Smith, come on down!

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I remember covering some of Smith's games as a walk-on quarterback of the Beavers from 1998-2001. Undersized, he took a terrible beating on a lot of days. But he got up every time and just kept at it. In 2000 he was at the controls of the juggernaut that clobbered Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished the season 11-1. And I remember talking to him after some of the beatings he took during his career and he was always cool, calm and in control. He never flinched.

On the football field, this was one tough customer.

Can Smith return the Beaver program to what it was in 2000? I have no idea. When you give an assistant coach his first head coaching job, you're always taking a chance. But in this case, I love the hire. Smith knows Corvallis and the northwest. He knows what he's up against and I'm sure is well aware of how difficult it's going to be to get that program cranked up again.

He's going to need a great coaching staff and I hope his university supplies him with the money to go get it. And he's going to need time and patience. The Beavers won one game last season, a narrow win over Portland State, which went winless in the Big Sky Conference. If you're going to expect a miracle turnaround, you're not realistic.

But over the long haul, I'm partial to the tough guys. I'd bet on Johnathan Smith.

Trail Blazer defensive improvement a tribute to coaching staff

Trail Blazer defensive improvement a tribute to coaching staff

A few thoughts about the Trail Blazers after a dynamite 4-1 eastern trip, as I take a break from wading through the dozens of "Cyber Monday" emails still in my inbox:

  • Putting Pat Connaughton in the starting lineup was a very big boost in more than one way for Portland. Of course, it never hurts to have another reliable shooter on the floor -- he not only nails threes with regularity but the threat of him doing that keeps the floor spread for the guards to once again get some room in the paint. There has been no obvious decline in defense with him, either. And then there's those smart, hard cuts he makes off the ball, allowing Jusuf Nurkic to show off his passing skills at the post. I'd stay with it even when Al-Farouq Aminu returns from injury.
  • Now that Connaughton is getting extended minutes, I'd expect Portland's three-point attempts to go up. The Blazers are seventh in the league in three-point accuracy but 28th in the number of attempts. With the lack of fast-break points and points in the paint, I would think more three-point attempts will eventually be necessary.
  • So far, is this looking like Damian Lillard's best season? I hear people saying that but I'm not sure. He's had some very good ones. I would say this, too, the better this team plays, the better his chances of being an all-star.
  • CJ McCollum is soon going to be getting heavy all-star consideration, too.
  • I truly believe, even as well as they have been playing in the last few games, the Trail Blazers have a lot of room for improvement. Nurkic is still not quite in sync at the offensive end. He's shot above 50 percent in only three games this season and that's not appropriate for a man who gets most of his shots in the paint. When he gets it going the way he did last season, the Trail Blazers will take another step forward.
  • I don't think I've ever seen a team make a one-season defensive improvement -- with no coaching change and no real difference in personnel -- the way Portland has this year. It's ridiculous how much better they are. Of course it's still a relatively small sample size but as long as McCollum and Lillard continue their transformation into reliable defenders, the Trail Blazers should be at least a decent defensive squad.
  • Kudos to Terry Stotts and his coaching staff for engineering that defensive improvement. The Trail Blazers are a solid third in the league in defensive efficiency. Getting basketball players to defend hard every game is not easy at any level. Defense requires a lot of hard work that often goes unnoticed and many players would rather pay lip service to it rather than actually do it. In the NBA, it also requires intelligence and preparation. The coaching staff has made some technical and philosophical tweaks and some obvious changes in emphasis to pull this thing off.

Some wishes for the state's college football programs

Some wishes for the state's college football programs

Now that the regular-season is over, it's time for a few holiday wishes for this state's football programs:

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  • For Oregon State: Hire a coach as soon as possible but not too soon. You need to be as sure as you can about this one because the program cannot take much more of the kind of failure it experienced this season. It takes a lot of money to feed the machine that is big-time college football and I'm not sure how the Beavers are continuing to get contributions from boosters and sell season tickets with the kind of mess they put on display in that woeful campaign. Ideally, the new hire would be someone who would be able to generate excitement among Beaver Nation before he ever plays a game. As we all know, once the games start, that excitement can dissipate in a hurry.
  • For Oregon: Keep those assistant coaches! The Ducks have assembled a quality staff and the problem with that is that other schools are always going to be coming after their coaches. The Ducks must be on high alert in that regard and protect their family. I'd also say they need to keep an eye on all those blue-chip recruits they have commitments from. A lot can happen between now and the signing date and a lot of those SEC schools still haven't gotten as serious with recruiting as they'll get now. But if Oregon brings that whole staff back and signs all the prospects who have committed, next season is going to be a big one.
  • For Portland State: Keep the program alive. Honestly, with small crowds and no wins, I'm not sure how committed the PSU administration is going to be about football. Something dramatic has to happen there and I'm not sure what it's going to be. In a metropolitan area this size, it's hard for me to believe the school can't get enough people to care about its program to fund it on a higher level. But on the other hand, who wants to be associated with winless seasons?

A look back at Steve Jones, even before he became "Snapper"

A look back at Steve Jones, even before he became "Snapper"

In the days when he began work with the Trail Blazers as an on-air analyst – on television and radio – he was just plain Steve Jones, the former star at Franklin High, the University of Oregon and the ABA, where he was a three-time all-star.

He was, in fact, already well known for his basketball skills and later was inducted into the sports Halls of Fame for the Portland Interscholastic League, the University of Oregon and the state of Oregon.

But while working with Bob Costas at NBC, the “Snapper” nickname emerged, a reference to some secret story from the ABA, where Jones and Costas first met, the latter as the broadcaster for the Spirits of St. Louis. Soon, he was one of those one-name guys -- everybody in basketball knew who "Snapper" was.

Jones died Saturday at the age of 75, after battling a health condition for many years. Jones’ health problems began in 2006 when his appendix burst during a broadcast and he decided to finish the game before seeking medical help.

But the incident left toxins in his body that led to complications over many years that he could never quite overcome.

Jones played his final season of professional basketball as a Trail Blazer in 1975-76 and launched a 26-year broadcast career with the team after retirement as a player.

He worked with just about all the Trail Blazer play-by-play men -- Bill Schonely, Pat Lafferty, Pete Pranica, Eddie Doucette, Mike Barrett and even worked for one season with the Sonics in Seattle with current Portland broadcaster Kevin Calabro.

"I grew up watching and listening to Steve," Barrett told me Sunday. "It was always an education. I was humbled to eventually be able to work alongside him, He taught me so much in my early days as a play-by-play broadcaster -- about the league, the game, the road and so much more. I was so blessed to have known him."

I’ve always believed his brightest moments in broadcasting came when he was working alongside Bill Walton. The two forged a friendship and great chemistry as teammates with the Trail Blazers and Jones always had the ability to rein in Walton – something he did better than anybody ever has.

Their interchanges during broadcasts were priceless -- often either great basketball insight or just comedy gold.

At time he wasn’t easy to work with, as he wasn’t afraid to challenge his broadcast partners on the air. He was a guy who could pin a nickname on anyone (including me) and would bust your chops whenever he had the chance.

"He was a terrific guy," Schonely said. "He called me 'Pops.' Always upbeat with that big laugh. And he loved giving everybody a bad time -- and he loved every minute of it. He was a joy to work with and he laughed a lot. He was a good man."

And on the air, even though he loved the Trail Blazers, he was no homer. Of all the analysts the team has ever had, Jones was the one who most resisted over-selling the home team. He played it straight.

He’d often say, “The Trail Blazers just need to learn how they want to score the ball,” which was often code for “The right people have to be shooting.” He told it like it was -- and got away with it -- throughout his broadcasting career.

I believe, along with his attention to national network duties, his unbiased delivery may have eventually led to his quiet disconnect from the franchise in 2006, when his relationship with the organization ended without ceremony or tribute.

He was a noted contrarian. I had the opportunity in my many years of covering the team, to spend time talking basketball with him and what I remember most is his willingness to go against the grain.

If the talk, for example, would turn to the importance of defense in winning championships, Jones would boom his familiar laugh and shake his head.

“If your offense is good enough, nobody can beat you,” he said. “The team that scores the most points usually wins, right?”

The Trail Blazers brought him back from his home in Houston to honor him five years ago and it was a terrific gesture that seemed to lift his spirits. I had the opportunity to do one of my “Posting Up” shows with Steve during that time and it was a joy.

He became an icon in Portland and an important member of the NBA community. Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement Saturday night:

The NBA family mourns the passing of Steve "Snapper" Jones - former Portland Trail Blazer, ABA All-Star and one of the NBA's all-time great TV analysts. We send our deepest condolences to his family and many friends.”

I considered Steve a friend and enjoyed the telephone conversations we had during his retirement years in Houston.

Even in retirement, he was opinionated and speaking his mind about the league he loved.  He taught me a lot about the NBA and basketball in general. I mourn his passing, kick myself for not staying in touch with him more frequently in recent years and wish the best to his family.

We lost one of the great Trail Blazers Saturday.

Joe Morgan wins the MSP award -- Most Sanctimonious Player

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Joe Morgan wins the MSP award -- Most Sanctimonious Player

Joe Morgan recently wrote a letter on behalf of other members of baseball's Hall of Fame, he said, urging baseball writers not to vote for any players who in any way were associated with using steroids. I will invite you first to read the letter here:

The Hall of Fame is Special - A Letter from Joe Morgan

Dear Howard: 

Over the years, I have been approached by many Hall of Fame members telling me we needed to do something to speak out about the possibility of steroid users entering the Hall of Fame. This issue has been bubbling below the surface for quite a while. 

I hope you don't mind if I bring to your attention what I'm hearing. 

Please keep in mind I don't speak for every single member of the Hall of Fame. I don't know how everyone feels, but I do know how many of the Hall of Famers feel. 

I, along with other Hall of Fame Baseball players, have the deepest respect for you and all the writers who vote to decide who enters Baseball's most hallowed shrine, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For some 80 years, the men and women of the BBWAA have cast ballots that have made the Hall into the wonderful place it is. 

I think the Hall of Fame is special. There is a sanctity to being elected to the Hall. It is revered. It is the hardest Hall of Fame to enter, of any sport in America. 

But times change, and a day we all knew was coming has now arrived. Players who played during the steroid era have become eligible for entry into the Hall of Fame. 

The more we Hall of Famers talk about this - and we talk about it a lot - we realize we can no longer sit silent. Many of us have come to think that silence will be considered complicity. Or that fans might think we are ok if the standards of election to the Hall of Fame are relaxed, at least relaxed enough for steroid users to enter and become members of the most sacred place in Baseball. We don't want fans ever to think that. 

We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don't belong here. 

Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball's investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right. 

Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were users. That's why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white - there are shades of gray here. It's why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call. 

But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players who didn't cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That's not right. 

And that's why I, and other Hall of Famers, feel so strongly about this.  

It's gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they'll no longer come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can't share a stage with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn't bear. 

Section 5 of the Rules for Election states, "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player
played." 

I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids, his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness. 

Steroid use put Baseball through a tainted era where records were shattered. "It was a steroidal farce," wrote Michael Powell in the New York Times. It is no accident that those records held up for decades until the steroid era began, and they haven't been broken since the steroid era ended. Sadly, steroids worked. 

Dan Naulty was a journeyman pitcher in the late 1990s who admitted he took steroids, noting that his fastball went from 87 to 96. He told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci in 2012, "I was a full-blown cheater, and I knew it. You didn't need a written rule. I was violating clear principles that were laid down within the rules. I understood I was violating implicit principles." 

The Hall of Fame has always had its share of colorful characters, some of whom broke or bent society's rules in their era. By today's standards, some might not have gotten in. Times change and society improves. What once was accepted no longer is. 

But steroid users don't belong here. What they did shouldn't be accepted. Times shouldn't change for the worse. 

Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking steroids is a decision. It's the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of. 

I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame's standards won't be lowered with the passage of time. For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way. 

Sincerely, 
Joe Morgan

First, let me explan to you that I have personal experience that impacts the way I feel about Morgan's letter. And it's why I believe Morgan's missive to be the most sanctimonious pile of human waste I've read in a long, long time.

Is this the same Joe Morgan who has made the case for his former teammate Pete Rose to be admitted to the Hall of Fame? Yes, I believe it is.

And it's also the same Joe Morgan who played during what I've always called the "greenie" era of baseball.

As a high school and college kid, I worked as a clubhouse boy for the Triple-A Portland Beavers. I had intimate knowledge of what players did in their off time, what they talked about in unguarded moments and what they put into their bodies. The "clubby" always knows what's up in that room. And I can tell you that from the 1960s all the way past the end of Morgan's playing career, the use of amphetamines was rampant in baseball. It was everywhere.

Whether it was Willie Mays' famous "red juice" or the variations of red crosses, black beauties or greenies I saw all the time in the clubhouse -- they were everywhere. I'd see players carting around briefcases and I wondered why they needed them -- until I saw them opened up, revealing pill bottles of all shapes and sizes containing the amphetaminues so many of them used. I'd often have to run cups of hot coffee down to the dugout early in the game to help the players' pills melt quicker so they'd take effect.

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Once, while cleaning up the place, I was carrying on a conversation with one of the players I respected. Me, a high school senior, and he, a veteran Triple-A player then in his mid-30s. I asked him why so many players felt it necessary to use those things that made them so visibly jittery and on edge. Why cheat, anyway?

"You reach down and pick up that towel, it doesn't matter if you drop it once or twice," he said indignantly. "But we can't afford to drop anything. This is our job -- this is how we feed our family. We are going to use every edge we can and greenies help. They help some guys more than others but they give you confidence, too. They help."

Covering the Beavers in the late 70s and early 80s I saw the same thing. One veteran major-league player who signed on with the team could barely explain how he got to the ballpark but he could give me the full rundown on all those different amphetamines in his bag.

Joe Morgan, please tell me you didn't know about all those little pills. Oh, you can't? Well, then tell me they weren't as bad as steroids. Well, maybe not -- but they were the most serious form of cheating available at the tme. And in terms of fighting off fatigue, providing energy and confidence, they must have been pretty good because a whole lot of players were using them at all levels of baseball. Certain organizations even supplied them to their players.

So much for what Morgan called the "hallowed" halls of Cooperstown.

I'm sick, too, of people talking about the character and integrity clause in the Hall's qualifications. Seriously? The place has more than its share of scumbags.

And if you can keep players out for their lack of character, why can't that same trait help you get in? If it did, Dale Murphy would have walked in the front door on the first ballot.

Joe Morgan, you've got to be kidding me.

It's a college basketball feast -- but does Portland care?

It's a college basketball feast -- but does Portland care?

Everybody knows tomorrow is Thanksgiving. But it's also the first day of an interesting sports experiment in Portland.

The Phil Knight Invitational -- PK80 -- opens Thursday, running similtaneously in Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum. It's being billed as the greatest in-season college basketball tournament ever and it very well may be. You're talking about the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Ohio State, Texas, Florida, Gonzaga and Oregon -- to name just a few. It's the cream of the crop in college basketball gathered together inside two arenas for a holiday feast of hoops talent. I'm guessing a who's who of NBA general managers, scouts and personnel directors will be on hand.

But one question remains on the eve of the tournament:

Does Portland care?

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Serious question. A lot has changed since the days when the Far West Classic packed Memorial Coliseum with an eight-team Christmas tournament. College basketball just isn't the attraction it once was. And I'm not necessarily pessimistic about how this tournament will draw in Portland, I'm more curious than anything else. I just don't have any idea how this will be received.

A quick check of the secondary market today showed tickets for some sessions available for as low as $6, even though advertising for this event has been heavy. But that doesn't mean a lot. The actual crowd count at the games is what's going to tell the tale.

Is Portland now strictly an NBA town? Will fans want to watch games in the clunky old "Glass Palace" when they can go next door to Moda and watch in more comfort? Are people still interested in watching the college game, especially some of the very best college teams? Or would they rather save their money and watch the Trail Blazers play? Didn't Oregon's Final Four trip last season spark renewed interest in the sport?  If so, how much?

I don't know, quite honestly. But we will find out this weekend.

 

Plenty of heroes in a game that was critical for Blazers to win

Plenty of heroes in a game that was critical for Blazers to win

There were plenty of Trail Blazer heroes to go around Monday night in Memphis as Portland pulled out a 100-92 win over the Grizzlies. Here is my list:

  • Damian Lillard -- Come on, playing the second half on a badly sprained ankle? There are not a lot of players who would have -- or could have -- done that. And he came up big down the stretch. I just hope no further damage was done by playing on it.
  • Noah Vonleh -- The man played under 31 minutes and totaled 11 points and a whopping 18 rebounds. He played with confidence and toughness against a physical team. He's getting better with opportunity. And that's often what happens in the NBA. You need a chance and Vonleh has made the most of his chance this time.
  • Shabazz Napier -- His 16 points off the bench were critical, as was his cool playmaking under pressure. He's carving out a niche for himself on a team that already has two outstanding point guards. I really like the way he competes.
  • Meyers Leonard -- He was 4-for-4 from the field to spark a big second-quarter surge for the Trail Blazers. Against undersized defenders he did a lot of work inside and didn't even attempt a three-point field goal. He's playing well enough that I'd assume we're going to see a lot more of him.
  • CJ McCollum -- A total of 24 points and eight rebounds and a very big jump shot to all but seal the game. If he's not the very best shooter in the league he's right there near the top.

There are still four games left on this road trip with tougher games ahead, including perhaps the toughest Wednesday night at Philadelphia. But there is no question that a loss Monday would have been a brutal way to start the trip. Memphis without Mike Conley at point guard, coming in with a four-game losing streak, is a team you must beat.

Mission accomplished.

Conley, perhaps Evans, out for Grizzlies tonight vs. Trail Blazers

Conley, perhaps Evans, out for Grizzlies tonight vs. Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers open a five-game road trip this evening in Memphis and it's a journey that should tell us a lot about where this Portland team is at this point of the season. Following the game against the Grizzlies, the Blazers travel to Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Washington and New York.

Two wins on this trip are a must and three would have to be considered a good trip.

And Memphis just may be a very good place to open this journey. The Grizzlies will be without point guard Mike Conley (Achilles injury). That takes 17.1 points per game out of the lineup and his team is 0-3 without him this season. Even more critical, guard Tyreke Evans is listed as questionable. Evans is the leading scorer off the bench in the NBA at 17.7  points pet game and made big shots against the Blazers in the 98-97 Memphis win over Portland in Moda Center in early November. Evans tallied 21 in that game. He is nursing a sore right shoulder.

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The Blazers must also keep an eye on former Oregon Duck Dillon Brooks, a rookie who made key plays at both ends of the court in the earlier win at Portland. Brooks was a draft-day steal by Memphis with the No. 45 pick.

And don't forget, this is an early game in our time zone. Coverage begins tonight on NBC Sports Northwest at 4 o'clock with Rip City Live.

Trail Blazers lucky that loss to Kings was by only four points

Trail Blazers lucky that loss to Kings was by only four points

My first thought Friday night after watching the Trail Blazers' latest debacle, that 86-82 loss at Sacramento, was that Portland had lost a game it should have won. But I must correct that appraisal ever so slightly. The Blazers lost to a team they should have beaten -- but they certainly deserved to lose the game.

In fact, it's difficult to figure out how they kept it so close. Check it out:

  • The Blazers shot 37 percent against a team not known for its defense.
  • The Blazers allowed one of the worst rebounding teams in the league to get a 44-44 draw on the boards.
  • The Blazers got only 12 points out of their starting front court.
  • The Blazers made only 7 of their 25 three-point shots.
  • The Blazers got only 22 points off their bench.
  • The Blazers turned the ball over 18 times.
  • The Blazers got only four points to go with four turnovers from Jusuf Nurkic.
  • The Blazers had ZERO (0) fastbreak points. Again.
  • The Blazers got only 28 points in the paint and made just 14 of their 38 shots in that area.

Just how in the world could you expect Portland to beat even one of the worst teams in the league with stuff like that going on?

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And I haven't even mentioned that wacky lineup Coach Terry Stotts put on the floor in the second quarter that featured no starters along with Jake Layman and Meyers Leonard. I have no problem with either of those guys playing, by the way -- but just not together and not without a couple of starters out there helping them get their shots. Leonard and Layman came into the game having played a total of just 17 minutes apiece for the ENTIRE SEASON. Not that I think either of those players can't help this team -- they can at least make shots, as can Pat Connaughton, a career .404 shooter from three-point range who isn't getting enough looks right now.

Within a week, the local squad has lost to Brooklyn and Sacramento. But at least they got those losses the old-fashioned way -- they deserved them.

So here we are, headed into a Saturday night rematch with the Kings. Portland should win, of course. But the Blazers better make sure they deserve to win.