Dwight Jaynes

Two straight playoff losses at home?

Two straight playoff losses at home?

I had no idea...

... that the New Orleans Pelicans' defense could so thoroughly befuddle the Trail Blazer offense.

... that the combo of Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo would be the two most effective guards on the floor.

... that the Trail Blazers would lose two home games in the entire series, let alone the FIRST two games.

... that if there is a sweep it would more likely be the Pelicans with the broom rather than the Trail Blazers.

... that Damian Lillard would have so much trouble making shots. Not only from three-point range but from anywhere.

... that the Trail Blazer season has such a big chance to turn into a downer.

... that the No. 3 seed in the West and the division championship would look so much like cheap consolation prizes.

Sorry,  I did not see this coming. Not at all. I still can't believe what I'm watching. I feel bad for the players, the coaches, the front office, all the kind people working behind the scenes for this organization and, most of all, the fans.

It does not appear that this is going to end well.

 

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Baseball group has made offers on 2 sites for 32,000-seat ballpark and large-scale mixed-use development

Baseball group has made offers on 2 sites for 32,000-seat ballpark and large-scale mixed-use development

The Portland Diamond Project, the management group that is seeking to bring Major League Baseball to Portland, has made two formal offers on large parcels of land for the purposes of building a 32,000-seat ballpark and large-scale development.

Formal offers were delivered to “an industrial manufacturing company in Northwest Portland for the property including and immediately adjacent to the company’s headquarters” and to the Portland Public Schools for its Blanchard Education Center and the surrounding property, which is located north of the Rose Quarter.

The plans for the development include workforce and market-rate housing, retail and hospitality development, which PDP says will bring more than 4,500 new jobs to the city.

The management team says it does not intend to ask the city or legislature to create any new programs to fund the ballpark.

Craig Cheek, a retired Nike vice present and the president and managing director of the PDP. said, ”Our team has commissioned a comprehensive economic study of both sites, and preliminary reports indicate both possess the right mix of infrastructure and proximity to Portland’s downtown, which we believe serves us very well and is a best practice in other thriving MLB markets.

“Additionally, both districts have ample room for multi-family development, which can help alleviate Portland’s housing crisis. We’re planning to pave the way for 8,000 new workforce and market-rate apartments to create a vibrant, walkable community around the facility, wherever it lands.”

Others named as part of the PDP include former Trail Blazers announcer Mike Barrett, a managing partner, and former Oregon State Senator Jason Atkinson, who is also a managing partner and the group’s strategic business director.

The group has retained the Kansas City firm Populous Architects, which has designed more than 20 MLB ballparks, to design the venue in conjunction with Portland’s TVA Architects.

Irwin Raij, of New York sports and entertainment law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP, has been retained as a legal advisor.

The group says it commissioned an in-depth economic study from Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (CSL), a leading advisory and planning firm for the convention, sports, entertainment and visitor industries, and it found that an urban ballpark in Portland would create 800 construction jobs and 4,500 permanent jobs in the city, with an economic impact of nearly $10 billion over 30 years.

Barrett, the spokesman for PDP, said, “Over the past year we have exhaustively examined commercial properties where we can develop a ballpark for a Major League Baseball team. The social, economic and cultural impacts of having an MLB team here are overwhelmingly positive.”

It was a night when Trail Blazer fans brought it and their team didn't

It was a night when Trail Blazer fans brought it and their team didn't

On a night when the only thing in Moda Center representing Portland that was NBA playoff quality was Storm Large's rendition of the National Anthem, a few things should be pointed out about the Trail Blazers' 97-95 playoff-opening loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night:

  • I heard a lot of fans complaining loudly about two things after the game: The presence of Pat Connaughton and Meyers Leonard on the floor over the final 12.4 seconds of the game. Let me deal with those issues separately.
  • Connaughton's plus-7 tied with Ed Davis for the best plus-minus in a Portland uniform during the game. He played well and was part of a couple of his team's comeback efforts. Yes, he got a shot blocked late but the real problem with that play was his team was down by 3 and it was just too late to be inbounding to him for a two-point shot. The Trail Blazers are built around making threes and at that point of the game it's too late to play the quick-two-and-foul-game. It was either a faulty play or a poor decision by the inbounder to make that pass.
  • Leonard is a great screen-setter and a solid three-point shooter. The question in his case was this: If he's worthy of being on the court in the waning seconds of the team's first playoff game with the team down by three, why wasn't he on the court in similar situations during the regular season? I believe he should have been. And I believe to throw a guy on the court in a situation like that who has played minimal minutes all season and tell him, in a sense, "Go win us a playoff game for us," is absurd. And unfair.
  • The atmosphere in the arena was terrific. The Portland game-ops staff did a terrific job with the gimmicks and the place was wild. Too bad the patrons went home unhappy.
  • Nobody seemed to be talking about two fateful possessions prior to those last fwe seconds. With 44 seconds left and Portland bum-rushing the Pels to the finish with all the momentum the Moda Madhouse could provide, CJ McCollum turned the ball over in the lane with his team trailing by just a point. And then Damian Lillard, with the same score, misfired on an ill-advised "shot" wth 15.3 seconds to play. Lillard appeared to be trying to draw a foul from Jrue Holiday on that shot and it might have been better for him to find a real shot with his feet under him and squared up to the basket. A made basket on either of those attempts by Portland's two marquee players would have thrown the burden of pressure back on New Orleans after blowing a double-digit lead.
  • Lillard and McCollum were 1-15 from the field in the first half, which shocked me. I expected more from them. But at the same time, for the Trail Blazers to get an overall 13-41 shooting night from them and still lose by just a bucket could bode well.
  • But if I hear "We just couldn't make shots" or "We got the shots we wanted and just didn't make them," one more time I'm going to laugh. It's been the familiar refrain over this team's offensive struggles ever since the 14-game winning streak ended. And really, when that happens repeatedly you better examine those shots or the people shooting them. The law of averages won't work for you if the wrong people are taking the shots or the shots aren't good ones.
  • Losing the first game of a playoff series doesn't mean a team will lose a series. There are a lot of games left to be played. The Trail Blazers surely must have more to give than what we saw Saturday night. It was a terrific atmosphere, though -- a night when the fans brought it and their team didn't.

Win or lose, one of the great Trail Blazer finishes ever

Win or lose, one of the great Trail Blazer finishes ever

I can't remember enjoying a Trail Blazer loss as much as I did the one last night at Houston. By now, you know that Portland's reserves came off the bench with 3:57 to play and went on a 17-0 run to tie the game with six seconds to go.

Yes, they lost on Chris Paul's layup inside the final  second but it was an amazing game, just the same. A few things that must be pointed out about that game:

  • Almost all of the Trail Blazers who played in this game were effective -- other than the starting guards. CJ McCollum and Shabazz Napier combined to go 9-34 from the field. The rest of the team went 30-51.
  • The very end of Portland's bench was spectacular on defense and offense over the final 3:57. I think it spoke to what we saw in a couple of bad Portland losses recently -- late in the season and late in late-season games, reserves often have a lot more energy than starters. I believe the Trail Blazers' recent woes from three-point range have a lot to do with fatigue. Bench players' energy is a difference maker against tired teams. Fresh legs matter.
  • I'm so sick of James Harden getting over on NBA referees. The officials watch video of every call they make and I'm at a loss to figure out why they haven't learned Harden's tricks. He continues to draw foul calls when either barely touched or touched not at all. He flagrantly travels with frequency. It's an ongoing NBA joke that needs to end.
  • Neil Olshey may have made his greatest find ever in Wade Baldwin. Defensive players aren't easy to find these days, particularly in the backcourt and Baldwin's toughness and lack of fear are impressive. I'm also continually surprised by his ability to make shots. I also enjoyed how he got under Harden's skin.
  • The Trail Blazers threw a few random double teams at the Rockets, which I enjoyed immensely.
  • Pat Connaughton getting up off the deck after a brutal fall and contributing was not unexpected. He's one tough guy.
  • I love that Jake Layman made a clutch shot. He works hard to stay ready and just doesn't get many chances.
  • Should McCollum have gotten the last shot of the game after the bench brought the team all the way back? I wasn't surprised by it. It's what coaches normally do and he's usually the team's most reliable shooter. But he wasn't Thursday night.
  • A great effort by some unsung players -- and who doesn't identify with that?

 

My Blazers Pick 'Em team can beat your team

My Blazers Pick 'Em team can beat your team

My team can beat your team, I bet.

If you haven't taken part in "Blazers Pick'Em" yet, you should. Go to our website and find it here.

You get an opportunity to make up your own roster but with a twist. There's a limit, a kind of salary cap associated with your team. You have to be smart to pick up a few players on the cheap to supplement your stars -- just like a real NBA general manager.

Here's a look at my team:

  • Bill Walton -- my first choice. A former MVP of the Finals and a player who makes others better. At his healthy best, one of the greatest players of all time. If he isn't on your team, don't even talk to me.
  • Damian Lillard -- OK, this gives me two superstars to build my team around. A pick-and-roll with Lillard and Walton would be unstoppable and the ability of both players to play at clutch time would be tough to beat.
  • Buck Williams -- a bargain on the board. You go ahead and take Rasheed Wallace if you wish. Buck would pick him up and throw him in the Willamette River. A physical presence like no other.
  • Danny Ainge -- A tremendous competitor who knew how to win. A perfect role player alongside the stars of this team. And if you ever need a backup GM, he's your man.
  • Nic Batum -- Another bargain and a perfect fit on this roster because he can defend any position and would be happy with whatever shots he ended up with -- perfect fit.

 

The Grizzlies tried, but they just couldn't lose to Portland

The Grizzlies tried, but they just couldn't lose to Portland

I can't help but imagine a meeting in the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies this morning. The brain trust is assembled around a table as interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, shoulders slumped, shuffles into the room.

From the head of the table comes the big question, directed at Bickerstaff, about the 108-103 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers last night:

"J.B., I thought we made it clear to you -- we're so very close to having the worst record in the league, we're looking for ping-pong balls in the lottery, not wins in the standings. What the hell happened last night? Nobody would have blamed you a bit for losing to the No. 3 team in the Western Conference."

Bickerstaff squirms in his chair and offers his explanation:

"Look, I did all I could possibly do. Chandler Parsons was having a decent game so I pulled him out about halfway through the fourth quarter. Marc Gasol kills those guys so I didn't play him at all in the fourth. We were using the end of the bench down the stretch of the game and with everything on the line I gave the ball to the guy we signed yesterday to a 10-day contract out of the Chinese Basketball Association.

"What more could I do?"

Indeed, what more could he have done? The Trail Blazers turned the ball over five times in the fourth quarter and made just one of their six three-point shots in the final period. They ignored Jusuf Nurkic most of the night (he was 5-6 from the field and should have had at least twice that many shots) and fell in love with three-point shots they didn't make. Shabazz Napier, starting at the point in place of Damian Lillard, went 2-11 from the field and finished with two assists.

Yes, it was the second of back-to-back road games after two high-intensity battles with teams in the playoff hunt. Yes, Lillard and Maurice Harkless were missing. And yes, stuff like this happens in the NBA. But seriously, this was an all-out debacle.

Without Lillard directing the offense, things were disjointed. Instead of all those high pick-and-rolls for Nurkic, what about moving the play closer to the basket so Nurkic could just catch and convert? With Gasol on the bench who was going to stop him? Why not a few more mid-range shots for CJ McCollum? The guy had 42 points on 25 shots and probably should have had more shots. And free throws were a nightmare -- six misses in the final quarter.

And as far as that player out of China, MarShon Brooks, why not run him off the three-point line? The man had the game of his life, obviously. He was 5-5 from three-point range and scored 21 points. But really, after two or three in a row, you have to crowd him and make him put the ball on the floor. Don't let him have another three!

The Trail Blazers still have the inside track to the third seed in the West, but if they don't get it, Wednesday night's game will be the reason.

They lost to one of the worst teams in the league that wasn't even using its best players to beat them.

How good are these Blazers? Maybe better than we thought

How good are these Blazers? Maybe better than we thought

During this entertaining span of 13 wins in 15 games, the thought has popped into my head many times: How good is this team?

And at this point, I must admit that it seems to be a lot better than I thought.

How could this happen without adding a player at the trade deadline? How would it be possible? What happened?

All I can think of is what I always come back to with the Portland Trail Blazers. Their coaching staff is very good at developing players.

During the last 15 games, it's very appropriate to say that the usual starting front line -- Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless -- has played the best basketball of its career.

Over the last 15 games, Jusuf Nurkic has averaged 15.1 points per game, 10.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots. His career averages are 10.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 48.1 percent shooting. Harkless has played in 11 of those 15, is averaging 10.6 points and shooting 60 percent from the field, including 58 percent from three-point range. His career numbers are 7.3 points, 47.4 percent shooting and 33.3 percent from distance. Aminu is averaging 2.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per game more than is career numbers.

Of course, Damian Lillard has been other-worldly through much of those 15 games and CJ McCollum has been solid, too. But the improvement of the players up front -- particularly with their shooting -- is a direct product of the hard work of those players and their coaches.

There are no shortcuts to better shooting. You get a ball and go shoot. Thousands of times. Yes, you can tinker with your form a little, but sweat equity is the surest way to get better. And there is no doubt that hard work has led to individual improvement, which has led to team improvement.

You can talk all you want about injuries to players on other teams when the Blazers have played them, but all teams benefit from that during a season. The bottom line is that this has been an eight-team race for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and Portland has responded to that challenge and taken almost total command of that spot to this point.

This team has improved appreciably during the season and now a new challenge is in front of it -- playing a few weeks without Harkless, who has been a critical component at both ends of the floor. But during this streak, the team is undefeated in the five games Evan Turner has stepped into Harkless's starting spot.

And even though this season still seems a bit of a mystery to me due to some bewildering losses to teams that should have been wins, the Trail Blazers have made big strides during this season with the improvement of their frontcourt.

Yes, they are better than we thought.

After a magical run, the last six games have been a struggle for Lillard

After a magical run, the last six games have been a struggle for Lillard

It seems as if the magic of that 13-game Trail Blazer win streak vanished as quickly as it appeared.

Poof!

But why? What happened? Certainly there's nothing wrong with losing a couple of games. That loss to the league-leading Houston Rockets Tuesday was nothing to be ashamed of. That team is beating everybody.

But Friday night in Moda Center was a different story. The Boston Celtics limped into town with barely enough players to make a roster. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart were missing due to injuries and yet the Trail Blazers were outscored by 15 points in the fourth quarter en route to a nasty loss that is going to come back to haunt them in their quest for the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference playoff ladder.

Portland got virtually nothing off its bench. It defended poorly in the fourth quarter and it wasn't making threes. All of a sudden -- in a roller-coaster of a season if there ever was one -- the Trail Blazers looked an awful lot like the team they were prior to that win streak: Inconsistent and unpredictable.

But let me suggest there's one thing that's been going on recently that is making a difference, even toward the end of the win streak.

Damian Lillard hasn't been the superstar he appeared to be during much of that 13-game stretch. Lillard's play since March 12 -- a six-game span -- has been nothing like the 11 games prior to that. Those 11 were enough to have people talking about him as someone sure to get MVP votes and an emerging superstar. During that magical time he shot 48 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from three-point range on the way to averaging 34.7 points per game. He owned the fourth quarters and was carrying his team on his back.

He was, in a word, spectacular.

But in the last six games, he's shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from behind the three-point line while averaging 24.8 points per game -- a remarkable turn of events.

Could this be a product of an expectant father's normal worries about his significant other and their overdue baby? Is it just a normal fluctuation by a streaky shooter? Is it because opposing teams are throwing more defenders his way? Is he just getting worn down?

I don't know. Perhaps it's a little of all those things. But the Trail Blazers are going to need that superstar down the stretch of the season and in the playoffs if they are going to have any impact. Damian Lillard, Superstar, is what separates this bunch from the rest of those teams fighting for the No. 3 spot in the West.

From man to Superman over the final five minutes, Lillard does it again

From man to Superman over the final five minutes, Lillard does it again

All seemed lost and then he did it again. Damian Lillard took off on another rescue mission Monday night in Los Angeles and mission accomplished.

Lillard used to famously make the final, pressure-packed shot for the Trail Blazers... you know, "Lillard Time." But the Portland guard has gone from five special seconds to five mind-blowing minutes. He goes from man to Superman when his team needs it and during this seven-game Portland win streak he's been infallible. He was 5-5 from three-point range over the final five minutes, including a bomb from somewhere near Thousand Oaks.

He had 19 in the final quarter and sparked an 11-0 run to tie the game. In the end, it was a 22-6 streak over the last 3:18 of the game and his fingerprints were all over it. Prior to that, the Blazers appeared out of it. Lillard and CJ McCollum uncharacteristically combined to miss eight of their 25 free throws. Dame had earlier fired up a couple of airballs -- his quota for a month, usually.

Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu were fumbling passes near the rim and failing to finish even when they caught the ball. Aminu went 2-for-9 from the field with five turnovers and Evan Turner was 1-for-4. It was looking pretty grim.

But Lillard flipped his Super Switch and was locked in late. It was another MVP-level performance.

And it hasn't looked this easy in Portland since Clyde Drexler patrolled the backcourt for the Trail Blazers in the 1980s and '90s. Drexler is the only other Trail Blazer I can recall who was capable of sustaining such a domination for as long as five minutes. And of course, he's in the Hall of Fame.

Lillard finished with 39 points and even that doesn't tell the whole story.

This was some very special sauce.

 

Seattle is selling hockey tickets the way Starbucks sells coffee

Seattle is selling hockey tickets the way Starbucks sells coffee

So all of a sudden, Seattle is a hockey town? Seriously?

I must admit, I'm shocked. Deposits for season tickets for a potential NHL expansion team were taken for the first time Thursday at 10 a.m. online and in just 12 minutes 10,000 commitments -- at either $1,000 or $500 -- were recorded.  That crashed the system, but within an hour, it's been said that 25,000 commitments were received.

It took the latest NHL expansion franchise, in Las Vegas, about six weeks to sell 10,000 season tickets. Of course, ultimately the tickets are going to cost a whole lot more than those deposits and refunds will be given to those who aren't serious buyers or who aren't satisifed with ticket locations. And of course, there won't actually be 25,000 season tickets available. The renovated Key Arena won't be that big. To an extent, this was more a test of hockey interest in Seattle than it was an actual ticket sale. And to a greater degree, it was a publicity stunt.

I'm hearing it was done to help the team acquire a list of possible ticket buyers because the expansion team is going to be granted to Seattle as soon as next week. We shall see.

All I know is what I've heard from my friends in and around the NHL -- league commissioner Gary Bettman is nuts about getting a team in Seattle, even though Portland has been a better hockey town than Seattle for only about the last 50 years. You can talk about the professional WHL and the Buckaroos vs. the Totems or the junior WHL with the Winterhawks vs. the Thunderbirds.

In fact, I think I've figured out how all those ticket deposits came in so fast.

About half of them probably came from Portland.