Blazers at the Break: Amid injuries and distractions, Blazers brace for 'sprint' to finish

Blazers at the Break: Amid injuries and distractions, Blazers brace for 'sprint' to finish

Editor's note: With the arrival of the NBA All-Star Break, CSN looks at the five most relevant/pressing issues with the Trail Blazers. The final installation features a look at the Blazers' mindset heading out of the break as they prepare for the season's final 26 games. 

This is an uneasy time for the Trail Blazers, who are a battered, bruised and beleaguered bunch as they head out of the All-Star Break.

A winter spent dealing with frustrating underachievement has been compounded by recent injuries to Evan Turner (broken hand) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee sprain), and a nagging ankle injury to star Damian Lillard. And now there is the uncertainty of an approaching trade deadline that has already improved two of the teams in the playoff hunt with the Blazers.

 “We are in a tough place,’’ Damian Lillard said of the 23-33 Blazers. “I don’t think we have ever been in this position … even in my rookie year, I think we were at least playing good basketball. Right now, it’s very up-and-down for us. We’re not being consistent at anything.’’

The good news is the Blazers are only two games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot. The bad news is they are only a half-game ahead of New Orleans, which greatly improved its roster when it acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins in a trade this week.

When the Blazers reconvene in Orlando for a Wednesday practice, they will have 26 games remaining and what is mostly considered a favorable schedule that includes 10 of their final 12 games at home.

“You have two options: Either run from it, or … come back and man up,’’ Lillard said.

Of all the Blazers, Lillard has been the most visible in his unhappiness with how the season has transpired. After the Blazers went into the break with a 111-88 loss in Utah – the team’s third straight and fifth in six games – he stayed in the arena long after his teammates left and was last seen sitting under the bleachers talking with assistant coach David Vanterpool.

Lillard has long looked at the Blazers’ success as a reflection of himself, and he entered the break knowing his play has dipped since returning from his sprained left ankle in early January. But he said he would take the break to regroup and recharge and rejoin the team in Orlando ready to make a push.

“I don’t want to say I’m excited, because it’s not a good position to be in,’’ Lillard said. “But I’m excited for the opportunity to rise to this struggle. I’m looking forward to it.’’

Others, like CJ McCollum, said the team needed the break.

Why?

“Did you see what happened in the game?’’ he said after the Utah rout.

**

By the time the Blazers play their next game – Thursday in Orlando – the NBA trading deadline will have passed four hours earlier.

Portland appears to be gearing toward the 2017 NBA Draft, where they have three first round picks (10, 22 and 28 as of today) , while also stating it is prepping for a playoff push.

Coach Terry Stotts said his message after the Utah game heading into the break was to the point: “Enjoy the break and come back to Orlando ready for a sprint to the end.’’

The players went into the break uneasily awaiting word of their future while also wondering which direction top executive Neil Olshey is going to take with the NBA’s third-highest paid roster.

“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about (getting traded),’’ Ed Davis said. “Everybody thinks about it. I think everybody on this team, pretty much for the right price, is there for the taking except Dame, and possibly, CJ. If the right deal comes in that is best for the franchise, they are going to have to call that shot. That’s their job and what you are supposed to do.’’

Whether Olshey tries to acquire more picks, or whether he pairs one or more of the picks with a player to get some perimeter defense, or whether he chooses to stand pat, remains to be seen. The only insight Olshey has provided is that the league has been active in talks leading up to the deadline, with one blockbuster already going down.

New Orleans, a team that is 2.5 games out of the playoffs and just one-half game behind Portland, traded for DeMarcus Cousins. And Denver, which sits in the eighth spot, acquired Mason Plumlee from Portland in exchange for the less-accomplished Jusuf Nurkic, seemingly improving two of the teams Portland is battling with for the final spot.

The Blazers, rightfully so, are more concerned with themselves. Of their 26 remaining games, only 10 are against teams with winning records, which is a good thing considered Portland has only seven wins this season against teams with winning records today (Utah, Memphis twice, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Cleveland and Boston). Plus, with Turner out until mid-March and Aminu recovering from a knee sprain that kept him out of the last game, and Lillard still effected by his December ankle sprain, the Blazers know it will be an uphill march.

“I think of it as a test,’’ Lillard said. “It’s hard. Everybody has something to say about it, but it’s hard. I just tell myself that sometimes you have to go through a struggle. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had a good run. We’ve had good runs, and I always feel like when you go through tough things, you have a chance to make it special at the end.’’

McCollum said the Blazers’ standing could improve if they just close out games better. This year, the Blazers are 7-12 in games decided by five points or less. Last year, Portland was 9-11 in games decided by five or less.

“The year hasn’t gone as expected, however it’s not like we are out here getting shellacked,’’ McCollum said. “We’ve had some bad losses and we’ve had some good wins. But if you look at the difference of this year and last year, you can break it down to close losses. We are losing close games.  Against good teams and against bad teams, we are losing close games. The difference is buzzer beaters, one stop, one rebound, one missed assignment.’’

It has added up to the worst All-Star record in Stotts’ five seasons in Portland (25-28; 36-17; 36-17; 27-27; 23-33), which brings Lillard back to that scenario with two options: run or man up.

“Personally, I’m going to use this break, I’m going to go relax, and I’m going to man up,’’ Lillard said. “Period. That’s what has to happen.’’

Part 1: The Rise of CJ McCollum

Part 2: Can Blazers be a title contender with Lillard/McCollum backcourt?

Part 3: Health of Lillard's ankle central to team's playoff push.

Part 4: Can newcomer Jusuf Nurkic infuse some hope?

Woj: Trail Blazers sign Brandon Rush to 10 day contract

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USATI

Woj: Trail Blazers sign Brandon Rush to 10 day contract

A minor move for the Trail Blazers is being reported tonight from Adrian Wojnarowski:

 

Damian Lillard: 'I'm as good as any point guard in this league'

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Damian Lillard: 'I'm as good as any point guard in this league'

Posted today on ESPN's YouTube channel is a Rachel Nichols sitdown with Damian Lillard. From the YouTube description:
"Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard sits down with Rachel Nichols, saying "I'm as good as any point guard in this league," addressing his return to the NBA All-Star Game, and talking about meeting with team owner Paul Allen to talk about becoming a title contender."

Enjoy: 

 

Damian Lillard represents well in All-Star Game

Damian Lillard represents well in All-Star Game

Damian Lillard got some early run in the 2018 All-Star game, logging nine minutes of playing time for Team Steph in the first half where he put up seven points, grabbed two boards and dished out an assists. Lillard's lone made three pointer in the first half was a deep one from the logo.

In the second half, Lillard turned it up another notch including two more three pointers and a nice fadaway jumper. Lillard was taken out of the game with about six minutes to go and finished with 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting with three rebounds and two assists. His 20 minutes of playing time was a solid contribution and when he exited the game, his 21 points was tied for the game high with LeBron James. Team LeBron made a big come back late in the fourth quarter (when teams actually started playing defense)  and ended up with the 148-145 win. 

For a complete recap on Damian's All-Star journey, be sure to check out The Bridge (live 6pm) and Trail Blazers Outsiders (live 7pm) on Monday night!

 

Maybe Kerr should have let the players coach...

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Maybe Kerr should have let the players coach...

The Blazers head into the All-Star break with a huge win over the Golden State Warriors at Moda Center! Damian Lillard led the way 44 points as the Blazers came out hot in the 1st quarter and hung on for the win. 

Box Score: Portland 123, Golden State 117

Rapid Reaction:

The curious case of Jusuf Nurkic

The curious case of Jusuf Nurkic

It seems that suddenly Nurkic Fever has turned into Nurkic Flu. And it's spreading like wildfire.

Once the darling of Portland fans, Portland center Jusuf Nurkic has become a Twitter punching bag and a controversial figure. This seems to be sparked by his absence from both the Portland lineup and his recent media availabilities. And of course there is a growing wave of discontent based on Nurkic's recent play, too. His lack of consistency has been maddening and it seems to have finally worn out the patience of fans, coaches and media. Probably even his teammates.

Let's make a few things clear right off the bat. Nurkic is averaging 14 points, 8 rebounds and nearly 2 assists per game. That's not bad and I'm not sure where else the Trail Blazers could find a center who could chalk up those statistics. And oh yes, he's still just 23 years old.

But there is more, of course. He is shooting only .479 from the field this season, pretty terrible for a man who takes most of his shots in the paint. And he's at an incredibly terrible .442 within three feet of the basket -- a career low. The Trail Blazers often take great pains to go to him early in games in an effort to get him off to a good start but he often responds as he did against Utah Sunday -- by missing his first four shots, three of them virtual layups. That's a discouraging situation for Nurkic and his team.

Why is this happening? I don't think anyone knows. My guess is that his coaches are at wit's end trying to unlock the secret to finding the whereabouts of the Nurkic who looked so promising through 20 games last season. After a summer in which he lost weight and came back promising to be tougher and more effective he only rarely reaches the level of play we saw so briefly last season. He appears tentative and contact averse.

He often seems to be taking a casual approach to his game, not finishing easy shots and avoiding contact. There are times when he just doesn't seem to be into the whole thing.

He is listed as "questionable" for tonight's game in Moda Center against the Golden State Warriors and there couldn't be a more fitting description of him right now. He's become questionable on a lot of levels.

But if he's hurt, he's hurt. It's careless to question that. But he does seem to get injured frequently, which has led to many questioning his toughness. I must say, as the guy who was screaming "Nurkic Fever" so frequently last season, I've fallen into that category. He's also appeared pouty, which was his reputation in Denver.

Could nagging injuries be a part of his disappointing season? I have no idea. But I do know this, for a player heading into free agency -- even restricted free agency -- he's not doing himself a lot of good. In a summer when it appears the free-agent money pool will be shallow, next season he may not end up earning anywhere close to what he probably anticipated.

Who is Jusuf Nurkic? Right now, I don't think many people have a clue.

And he's running out of games this season to show us.

Greg Oden making a comeback...

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USA Today Images

Greg Oden making a comeback...

The BIG3 announced today that former Trail Blazer Greg Oden will be participating in the BIG3 Draft Combine.

Oden has agreed to join the BIG3 draft pool with the league getting set to enter its second season this summer.

The BIG3 league is a 3-on-3 pro basketball league that was founded by Ice Cube in January 2017 featuring All-Stars, Hall of Famers and a few World Champions.  The league currently features eight teams who travel from city to city with all eight teams facing off in tournament style play through the summer months.   

CBS Sports reporter Colin Ward-Henninger is reporting that Baron Davis, Metta World Peace, Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer are among a few other players that have signed up for the 2018 season.

How to stream Blazers vs. Jazz

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How to stream Blazers vs. Jazz

If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.

The Portland Trail Blazers (31-25) are coming off back-to-back wins, with the most recent victory coming against the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, 118-100.  The Blazers are now back home to host the Utah Jazz (27-28) on Sunday night.  

In Friday’s win, it was all about Damian Lillard.  Lillard scored 50 points in just three quarters of play.  He now joins teammate CJ McCollum and Warriors guard Klay Thompson as the only players in NBA history to score 50 points in under 30 minutes of action. Lillard went 16-of-26 from the floor and that included going 8-of-13 from deep.  He also had six assists.

Reaching the 50-point milestone on Friday was the fourth time in Lillard's career.

Moe Harkless got his third consecutive start on Friday and vs. the Kings, he had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 8-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99! Click to learn more and buy]

Utah is one of the hottest teams right now having won eight straight games, which is currently the longest active winning streak in the league.

The Jazz most recent win was on Friday night; a 106-94 home victory against the Charlotte Hornets. Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell had a team-high 25 points, while veteran Joe Ingles added 23 points, six assists and five rebounds.

For Sunday’s Blazers and Jazz matchup, the Blazers are not reporting any injuries, while the Jazz have listed Ricky Rubio (left hip soreness) as questionable and Thabo Sefolosha (right knee surgery) and Dante Exum (left shoulder surgery) are both out.

Sunday’s contest will be the second of four meetings between Portland and Utah this season.  The Jazz beat the Trail Blazers 112-103 in overtime back on November 1st in Utah. In the loss, Jusuf Nurkic had 19 points and 11 rebounds.

The Blazers are currently riding a nine-game home winning streak.

Our coverage of the Portland and Utah game starts with Rip City Live at 5:00pm on Sunday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, Orlando Williams, and our Blazer Insider Jason Quick get you ready for all of the action.

 


Quick Links:

Damian Lillard’s 50-point night brewing since flight home from Detroit

Lillard’s Top Plays in his 50-point performance in Blazers win over Kings

Stotts, Blazers’ newest dilemma: What to do with the resurgent of Mo Harkless?


 

Video:  Dame has dropped a 50 spot

Video:  Dame Dominates: 50 points in 3 quarters… sound familiar?

Video:  To whom much is given, much is expected.

Video:  ICYMI: Damian Lillard went off vs. the Kings  


 

Game Details:

Where:  Moda Center, Portland OR    

Tip-off: 6:00pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (5:00pm) and Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming of the game: Watch the game on your phone on the NBC Sports App.  Download the  app at http://www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile .  Or check out NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream online.

Live streaming coverage on Facebook: The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620