Dwight Jaynes

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

I'm not big on moral victories. As I said last night on Talkin' Ball, this is big-boy basketball and winning on the scoreboard is the only thing that matters.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

But that's not to say we didn't learn some positive things from Saturday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, which finished off an 0-4 homestand for the Trail Blazers. What did we learn? Here's what I saw:

  • Meyers Leonard in the starting lineup worked. I don't care what you think, the guy can flat-out make shots. And this team needs more players who can do that. He probably should have seen fourth-quarter playing time but...
  • Coach Terry Stotts was busy trying to match up with the Rockets' fourth-quarter small lineup. However the problem with Portland's small lineup is that it usually contains more defenders than scorers. And the unfortunate part of that Saturday night was, even though it may have been the team's best defensive group, it was totally incapable of getting defensive stops. In fact, I can't remember a time when I've seen a team stack layup on layup down the stretch of a game the way Houston did to the Trail Blazers. Chris Paul and James Harden not only got to the basket whenever they wanted, they did so with their strong hand -- Harden from the left side and Paul from the right. So...
  • It wouldn't have hurt to have had some help in the basket area to at least harass those layups a bit. I'm not sure why that's so difficult for Portland to do when I see other teams doing it to the Portland guards quite frequently. And the real bottom line to all of that was ...
  • If you aren't getting stops while using your best defenders in that small lineup, forget about it! Face it, the Rockets can be impossible to guard. So...
  • Why not just go with your best offensive players, regardless of size or defensive ability? Make them worry about guarding YOU. Houston hit 15 for 18 from the field in the fourth quarter and murdered Portland from the foul line. Why not just put your best offensive players on the court and try to score with them? Because....
  • I may be obsessed with this -- well, I AM obsessed with this -- but I don't like it when the opposing team dictates Portland's lineups. Play the ones who got you the lead instead of the ones who are in the process of blowing a 14-point lead inside one quarter.
  • Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot their way out of slumps, which was a good sign moving forward.
  • Zach Collins did a terrific job during his time on the floor. He's not afraid to shoot an open shot and he's got a real instinct for blocking shots. I'd sneak him onto the floor as often as possible in the upcoming games to try to kickstart his development by getting him more comfortable. This team is in serious need of rim protection and he might be just the guy to provide it.
  • I don't envy Stotts with the lineup and rotation decisions he has to make on a nightly basis. He almost has too many versions of the same players and he is probably never quite sure what he's going to get from some of them on a night-to-night basis.
  • That said, I'd make sure to not only get Pat Connaughton on the floor every game, I'd make sure he got his shots. He's alert on defense and opportunistic on offense. And he is becoming a reliable scorer if he is allowed to be.
  • Ed Davis may be having one of his best seasons but he's going to struggle getting playing time because, all things being equal, some of the younger players are going to need developmental time and they are going to get it. I see Davis as a valuable trade piece at the deadline -- a big help to a contender looking for a rebounder off the bench.
  • Please, somebody in the league office, take a look at the way Harden is officiated. He often mixes in an extra little hop during his Euro-step and he deserves no extra benefits. And when he misses a shot, it's not always because he was fouled. Thank you.

Cristobal: He's a recruiter and isn't that the most important thing at Oregon?

Cristobal: He's a recruiter and isn't that the most important thing at Oregon?

Aaron Fentress scooped the college football world this morning with the first report that assistant coach Mario Cristobal will be named Oregon's next head coach.

The one thing that sticks out for me about this hire is that the Ducks are getting a big-time recruiter as their head coach -- which may well be the biggest part of Cristobal's resume. To win big in college football -- and Oregon is firmly in that group of schools that thinks winning a national championship is possible -- you need players. Big-time, blue-chip, NFL-first-three-rounds-of-the-draft players. And Willie Taggart aside -- because he cast himself aside so quickly -- the Ducks haven't really had a recruiting dynamo as the leader of the program. Ever.

Again, excluding Taggart, who departed prior to actually landing his first highly regarded class.

Cristobal has long been considered one of the top recruiters in the country and while at Alabama was instrumental in the Crimson Tide hauling in prized recruits year after year.

It's about time the Ducks brought in a premier recruiter, isn't it? For years, all I've heard is how difficult it is to bring top players to Oregon, which is so far from where all the top high school players live. So why not seek out one of the best recruiters in the country? Once you realize a top-flight sales job is needed, why not hire a very good salesman?

The Ducks have come close to a national championship a couple of times in recent years and I don't think they lost title games because of on-field coaching mistakes. I'm not saying the strategy and hands-on work with players isn't important. But I do think there are plenty of coaches capable of getting a team through a season without messing up the weight-room requirements, who to start at safety, defensive sets and third-down play calls.

Where the Ducks have usually fallen short is in the talent area. Frankly, they just haven't quite been good enough. Chip Kelly's schemes were great and I think his teams were disciplined, played hard and were well-coached. But they were always just a few big-time players shy -- especially up front on both sides of the ball -- from climbing all the way to the top of the college football world.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Cristobal may be able to rescue a majority of the recruiting class that Taggart put together this year. But if he doesn't, that's not the end of the world. The Ducks need big-time recruits EVERY season. And ie appears to me Cristobal is someone with the credentials to make that happen. At least it's worth a try. My only real concern about the hire is that he's another guy from the opposite corner of the country who may be, like Taggart, another candidate for an early exit.

Oh, his record as a head coach leaves something to be desired at first glance. But if you dive deeper into his situation at Florida International, you will find extenuating circumstances.

And recruiting to Nike U. will surely be easier than it was at FIU.

Coaches: cut out those silly slogans and catch phrases -- if you want to

Coaches: cut out those silly slogans and catch phrases -- if you want to

My favorite part of the news conference introducing Jonathan Smith as the head football coach at Oregon State probably went unnoticed by a lot of people.

Someone asked Smith what, as the new coach, his slogan is. It's become a thing lately. You know, You "Win The Day" or you "Do Something" or you "Row The Boat." I guess I'd even include "Have a good day -- if you want" in that category, which may be the silliest of them all.

My favorite part of this was Smith's answer -- or non-answer to the question. He seemed taken aback by it, almost bewildered. He then admitted he didn't have one.


That made me happy. I'm getting tired of these trite, worn-out little sayings that make coaches seem as if they're trying to sell me something on an infomercial. And I must admit I've always had some mistrust of people who toss them out at first opportunity. So often they seem like a substitute for something a little more valuable. Tell me something I can use. Give me something of value, in your own words, but don't throw out something that sounds like the title of a cheap self-help book.

[NBC Sports Gold "Blazers Pass" 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 - click to learn more and buy]

And then, for sure, don't try to sell that slogan to me a couple of weeks later on a T-shirt.

Willie Taggart got to Florida State and threw out much of the same jargon he used at Oregon. He reminded me of a vacuum-cleaner salesman going from town-to-town and using the same script on the local rubes everywhere.

To an extent, I could take Chip Kelly's "Win The Day." That works, I guess. But come on -- "Do Something"? That's meaningless. Might as well tell me "Stupid is as stupid does."

And I do think it's possible to win games without having to hang your hat on some sort of catch phrase. Just keep it real, please. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

See what I did there?

Hey Duck fans, just about every school is a stepping stone to somewhere


Hey Duck fans, just about every school is a stepping stone to somewhere

The bad news for the Oregon Ducks Tuesday afternoon was that they were jilted by football coach Willie Taggart. They were dumped. And just when it appeared he was about to bring in the best recruiting class in school history.

The good news for the Oregon Ducks is that this happens everywhere. And just because it happened to you doesn't mean you aren't the big-time football school you think you are.

You think it happens only to you?

Guess what? The only reason Willie Taggart got his dreamy Florida State job is that Jimbo Fisher fled it for Texas A&M. One man's dream job is another man's stepping stone. It happens all the time. Coaches, just like salesmen, day laborers, journalists and just about everyone else, leave for greener pastures. The day I heard Mike Riley was leaving Oregon State for Nebraska my first thought was "What? He left his dream job in his hometown?"

But I don't care what job you have, there's always a better one out there. And usually, you go for it.

Duck fans are more upset with losing that recruiting class than the coach. But that was still just a bit of a mirage with Taggart -- a slight-of-hand trick to take people's minds off the season his team was having. Look -- those players had committed verbally and were not yet signed. Until they sign, it means little. And they were coming from a warm climate a long way away, which means you can't ever be sure they'll stay once they find out what the weather is like here. Or what it's like to be so far from home.

Best thing to do is forget that recruiting class. Don't get so worried about it that you make a hasty coaching hire that's going to set you back for years.

I have no problem with Taggart chasing his dream job but I thought he could have handled his departure better. I'm still not sure what sort of game coach he was but there were signs he wasn't the best. The most laudable thing he did in Eugene was assemble a terrific coaching staff.

Naming a head coach as soon as possible should have a high priority. A new staff may be able to salvage some of those recruits.

The takeaway from this is simple. Just because you get dumped doesn't mean you aren't worthy. And even if you are worthy, you can get dumped. Sometimes you are the step and sometimes you are the stone.

Shake it off and move forward.

Get ready for betting windows on the concourse of your local pro sports venue

Get ready for betting windows on the concourse of your local pro sports venue

Not sure if you noticed that the state of New Jersey made arguments yesterday in front of the Supreme Court to try to get sports betting legalized in the state.

And the big news is that their odds are pretty good for a favorable verdict -- one that would then quite probably open the door to sports betting on a state-by-state basis.

Just a little insight into legalized gambling on sports: After years of opposing this, pro sports leagues are now coming out in favor of it. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been the most outspoken advocate for legalization:

But I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.

I think, though, what Silver is really saying is this:

We want to legalize sports betting so we can get our hands on a piece of what could be hundreds of millions of dollars for our league.

I'm told the league -- all of the pro leagues, in fact -- envision betting windows or lounges right there on the concourses of their arenas/stadiums. That would theoretically do two things for pro sports -- bring more people out of their homes and to games, where they can easily and legally make sports bets. And, of course, taking a big slice of the revenue from the action would be the biggest bonanza. The leagues would become bookies and have what could be a new billion-dollar revenue stream.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

We are talking HUGE money here, too. Silver himself estimated illegal wagering as a $400 billion business. A whole lot of states would love to make that a part of their revenue streams, too.

A verdict is expected in June. I would expect the stampede for other states to ratify legalized sports betting would follow shortly after that.

The night Meyers Leonard tossed out a bucket of "How do you like me now?"

The night Meyers Leonard tossed out a bucket of "How do you like me now?"

The Trail Blazers laid another big egg Saturday night in Moda Center, losing to New Orleans 123-116 in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The Pels, a .500 team playing without Anthony Davis and on the second half of a back-to-back, dominated the Trail Blazers over the final three quarters.

The roller-coaster ride continues for the Blazers -- the most enigmatic Portland team in many years. Exactly who are these guys?

But the sub-plot of the game was a story of vindication. It was the night Meyers Leonard dumped a big bucket of "How do you like me now?" on his detractors. Leonard, booed in the previous game by some of the home fans, came up big -- hitting seven of his nine shots from the floor, including both his three-point attempts, on the way to 17 points in 15 minutes and 45 seconds. He also went head-to-head with New Orleans behemoth DeMarcus Cousins and gave about as much as he received.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

There had to be a tremendous amount of pressure on Leonard Saturday. After Thursday's loss in Moda Center -- when Portland center Jusuf Nurkic came to Leonard's defense after the game  -- Leonard  became the center of an age-old debate: Should home fans boo their own players? Forget if they have the right to do it -- they do. But should they? What does it mean to be a fan? How are you supposed to react when you are unhappy with a player on your team?

They booed him. They booed him lustily as he got a short shift on the floor and missed a couple of shots, including an airball on a three-point attempt. I've always felt the big thing about the dissatisfaction with Leonard is his penchant for shooting three-point field goals. I run into fans every day upset about this -- as if a man seven feet tall shouldn't shoot be shooting from distance. Never mind the fact that he makes them more frequently than does Damian Lillard during their careers.

The trend in the league is that just about every good offensive player is shooting them, including Cousins -- a player Leonard has had some success guarding. Cousins, the most talented big man in the league, could torture people in the low post, but these days he spends a lot of time on the perimeter hoisting shots from distance. He took seven threes Saturday night in 34 minutes. He's not a particularly good three-point shooter (.325 this season so far) -- not even close to being in Leonard's league -- but he's taken 154 of them in 23 games. Leonard is a respectable .374 in his career from three (Lillard is at .367) and is hitting a sparkling 50 percent this season from behind the line.

Meanwhile, Evan Turner gets consistent minutes for Portland and throws up a couple of three-pointers in every game. So far this season, he's shooting .195 from distance -- but has the freedom to keep playing and launching threes. Without being booed, I might add.

But whatever, Leonard was almost in a put-up-or-shut-up situation Saturday night. It was time for him to make a statement and he did. And in the second quarter, after some physical defense on Cousins and making a few shots -- he had the home crowd in the palm of his hand. The arena was on fire.

Such is the life of a professional athlete. And if the previous stages of his career are any indication, Leonard will probably now go back to several games sitting on the end of the bench watching the others play. His biggest hurdle over the last couple of seasons has been a lack of consistent playing time. Even now, with the team's offense seemingly dazed and confused, I wouldn't expect him to find a regular role.

But it's pretty obvious he can play. He has had enough quality performances to show that.

He just doesn't always play. And that's not his fault.

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.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

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!

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

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:

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

  • 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?