Mason Plumlee's memorable Sunday involves break-in and a trade to Denver

Mason Plumlee's memorable Sunday involves break-in and a trade to Denver

As fate would have it, Mason Plumlee was at the Trail Blazers practice facility earlier than normal on Sunday.

Players are required to be at the team’s facility by 10:15 a.m. for an 11 a.m. practice, but Plumlee on Sunday was there at 9:30 a.m. in order to expedite a pressing order.

Earlier that morning, as he approached his SUV in the parking garage of his Pearl District complex, he noticed someone had broken into his car.

His mind raced. Gone was his checkbook. His wallet.

“I went in early to the facility to start cancelling my checkbook, my credit cards,’’ Plumlee said. “And someone said, ‘Neil wants to meet with you.’’’

When Plumlee arrived at the office of Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations, coach Terry Stotts was also in the office.

“They told me I wasn’t going to practice today,’’ Plumlee said.

Plumlee, the Blazers’ starting center who was having a career season, had been traded to Denver for 22-year-old center Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first round pick.

Because the league office is not open on Sunday, the trade is expected to become official on Monday. Plumlee said he spoke with Denver representatives and he tentatively is planning to fly to Denver on Sunday night.

By the afternoon, the blur of the morning news distracted Plumlee from his task of cancelling his bank accounts. It was difficult reaching banks on a Sunday, and his phone has been ringing off the hook. One of his first conversations was with his brother, Miles, who 10 days ago was traded from Milwaukee to Charlotte.

“I was just talking to my brother. It’s very different getting traded in the season,’’ Plumlee said. “As a player, you always feel like you are in the fight. We were just talking as a team yesterday, that ‘We are in this … we have to get into the playoffs and come through …’’’

It would turn out to be his last team meeting.

“All of the sudden,'' Plumlee said, "the whole conversation changes.''

**

The day before he was traded, the Blazers had long ago finished practice when Plumlee walked into the gym, hoodie over his head and hands in his sweat pants.

He was headed toward the team’s video room to pick up film of the Saturday practice so he could study it at home. After picking up the video, he noticed Stotts and myself talking on a bench at the other side of the gym.

I gave him a peace sign, and after he waved back, he called out to Stotts.

“Have a good day, Coach.’’

Stotts turned to me and said, ‘What a great guy, huh?’’

I told him Plumlee was one of my favorite guys on the roster. He was personable, smiled easily, and was thoughtful in his responses. Plus, he played hard, and throughout this trying season he was never one to focus on the negative. His approach is best summed up by one of his favorite sayings: he would rather focus on a solution rather than dwell on the problem.

On Sunday, Plumlee was curious about the previous day’s scene.

“Let me ask you something,’’ Plumlee said. “Is (the trade) what you and Stotts were talking about yesterday?’’

I told him the truth – it was not part of our conversation -- and told him I didn't know whether Stotts knew something was brewing. 

Recently, Plumlee said he had conversations with his agent, Mark Bartlestein about his future. Plumlee is set to become a free agent this summer after he and the Blazers didn’t come to terms on a contract extension this fall.

Plumlee said his agent had talks with the Blazers, but the Blazers never made an offer before the Oct. 31 deadline, setting him up to be one of the more prized big men on the free agent market this summer. 

“As I talked to my agent (recently), he said he would be surprised if I was moved before trade deadline,’’ Plumlee said.

But there he was Sunday morning, sitting in Olshey’s office with Stotts.

“They really handled the trade in a classy manner,’’ Plumlee said. “They thanked me, and I thanked them. This organization has always been very good to me.’’

**

It was fitting that one of Plumlee’s final scenes in Portland was walking to the video room to get film of that day’s practice.

He was a student of the game and one of the smartest players on the team, which is one of the reasons why Stotts entrusted him to be the team’s primary inbounder, and why Stotts broadened the team’s offense to put the ball in Plumlee’s hands more often.  

Plumlee’s  study of the game was also why he bonded so closely with Lillard, the team’s captain. Lillard earlier this season called Plumlee a “servant” because he always put other’s needs before his own. In particular, he would often pull Lillard aside to suggest a play call to help get a teammate involved, or stop by Lillard’s locker after leaving the showers to talk review an aspect of that night’s game.

“Every flight you walk by Mason’s seat and he was watching film, guarantee you,’’ Lillard said. “You don’t find people that committed to being a better player and committed to our team.’’

When Lillard encountered Plumlee cleaning out his locker Sunday morning, he told him how he felt.

“I just told him how much I appreciated him as a teammate and let him know he was one of my favorite teammates that I’ve played with – not just in the NBA, but in my life, period,’’ Lillard said. “I will miss him.’’

**

As he prepared to leave Sunday for his new team and his new city, Plumlee couldn’t help but realize he was leaving more than his checkbook and wallet in Portland.

It is here where he blossomed as a player and forged lasting relationships, both personally and professionally.

“There are a lot of guys I learned from on those Portland teams,’’ Plumlee said. “And as I said last year in my exit interviews, Dame is the best player I’ve played with to date. And the staff there was really good. A good group of people. I was happy to say I could be a part of it.’’

He was traded to Portland from Brooklyn on draft night in 2015, and by the time he reported in September, Stotts envisioned great things. He saw an athletic and skilled big man who could not only bring the ball up court, but thread beautiful and heady passes.

He soon became an important cog in the Blazers’ flow offense, hitting backdoor passes to Lillard for layins and becoming an accomplished finisher around the rim, often times with his distinctive style: a back-to-the-rim reverse dunk.

“It was a great time for me as a player to establish myself as a starter in this league,’’ Plumlee said. “My whole thing coming over from Brooklyn was ‘I’m a starter in this league.’ And last year, I will always remember winning the playoff series, and this year … team wise it hasn’t gone as well, but I’ve improved. So the last year and half, I will look at it as a time of growth.’’

He said he hasn’t put much thought into his new team, the Nuggets, who are one game ahead of the Blazers for the eighth and final playoff spot.

“I just know they have a lot of talent, they are young – they are playing really well right now,’’ Plumlee said. “I’m excited to go there. I’m glad Denver is the place I ended up. It’s good to be wanted and the trade that happened show they wanted me.’’

How to stream Blazers vs. Kings

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How to stream Blazers vs. Kings

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 (8-7) get right back at it against the Sacramento Kings (4-11) on Saturday night after another inconsistent offensive night for the Blazers on Friday in Sacramento.  The Kings ended up beating the Blazers, 86-82 after only two Blazer players reached double figures.   

In the loss, Damian Lillard finished with 29 points and four assists, while CJ McCollum added 19 points, three assists, three rebounds, as well as three steals.  As a team, Portland shot just 37 percent from the field and finished with a 28 percent mark from deep.

Jusuf Nurkic, got into early foul trouble vs. the Kings and went 2-of-7 of the floor to score just four points. 

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

Friday’s win meant  that the Kings snapped a three-game losing streak.  Off the bench, Willie Cauley-Stein led the way for Sacramento with 22 points and 10 rebounds.  George Hill added 14 points and five rebounds.

The Blazers get a quick turnaround on the rematch as they host the Kings Saturday night in a home and away back-to-back series.

Looking at the recent history between these two teams, Sacramento has lost eight straight games in Portland.

For the Blazers, Al-Farouq Aminu (right ankle) will not play on Saturday night. Harry Giles (bi-lateral knee rehabilitation) and Vince Carter (kidney stone) are both out once again for the Kings.

Our Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams will help set the stage for Saturday’s Blazers and Kings game with a special hour-long Rip City Live on NBC Sports Northwest starting at 5:30pm.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming live on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

 


Quick Links:

Blazers offensive woes end in loss to Kings

From the shadows to the spotlight: Shabazz Napiers and his sudden ascent

 

Video:  Blazers uncrowned by the Kings

Video:  Blazers played down to their opponent

Video:  From the shadows to the spotlight: Shabazz Napiers and his sudden ascent

 

Game Details:

Where:  Moda Center, Portland OR

Tip-off: 7:00pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (5:30pm), 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 Pregame Show streams at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Blazers offensive woes end in loss to Kings

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USATI

Blazers offensive woes end in loss to Kings

It was a struggle all night offensively for both teams, though it was the Sacramento Kings who edged out a win over the Trail Blazers 86-82 Friday night at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. 

It is Sacramento's 4th win of the season, snapping Portland's three game winning streak.

The Trail Blazers got 29 points from Damian Lillard on 9-24 shooting. CJ McCollum added 19. The rest of the team scored just 34 points. 

BOX SCORE: BLAZERS 82, KINGS 86

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

QUICK HITS: 

From the shadows to the spotlight: Shabazz Napier and his sudden ascent

From the shadows to the spotlight: Shabazz Napier and his sudden ascent

In a Trail Blazers’ season filled with ups and downs, the latest ascent has been propelled by an unlikely source: point guard Shabazz Napier.

With dead-eye shooting, nearly mistake-free ball management, and pesky defense, Napier has in the last week evolved from spot duty to bonafide rotation player quicker than you can say “Shabazzle Dazzle.”

The surprise is not in his ability – teammates like Damian Lillard have called him a “handful” in practice – the surprise rather, is in his ability to carve out a niche in what was an already crowded backcourt.

With a two-time All-Star (Lillard), a future All-Star (McCollum) and an $18 million play-maker (Turner), Napier faced the most formidable of roadblocks with the Blazers.

But Napier this week said he has leaned on a quote by his mom, instilled in him from his youth: “The easiest thing to do in life,” his mother told him “is to quit.’’

This fall, knowing he faced a roster loaded with obstacles and after missing all of training camp with a hamstring injury, Napier worked.

And now, his coach is finding he can’t quit Napier.

It was the fourth straight game Napier has played 15 or more minutes, and against the Magic his playing time created one of the most intriguing lineups of the season – Lillard, McCollum and Napier at the same time.

From a defensive standpoint, it seems unlikely Stotts will feel comfortable playing the three point guards together for long stretches. And with Napier forging his way into the conversation, the rotation now sits at a robust 10, with injured starter Al-Farouq Aminu scheduled to return by the end of the month.

So what happens next?

Does the three-point-guard lineup become a thing?

Does Napier eventually go back to spot duty that has defined his first three NBA seasons?

Or does he fade into the considerable shadow cast by Lillard and McCollum?

It will be one reason to tune in Friday when the Blazers play in Sacramento in their quest for three consecutive wins.

And it will be one more reason for Napier to remember his mom’s quote. After all, as Napier says: “I’ve never been a quitter.’’

Where and how to watch the game: Trail Blazers at Kings

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Where and how to watch the game: Trail Blazers at Kings

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 (8-6)  hit the road for a quick road and home game against the Sacramento Kings (3-11).

Friday night will be the first night of the back-to-back between the Blazers and Kings.  Portland is coming off a 99-94 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.

Damian Lillard finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in Wednesday’s win, while Shabazz Napier was a bright spot off the bench adding a season-high 19 points to go along with three steals.

The Trail Blazers finished their six-game homestand going 4-2.

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

The new-look Kings have lost three straight and have only won three games on the season so far.  Sacramento lost to the Atlanta Hawks, 126-80 on Wednesday night. Zach Randolph scored 16 points and George Hill added 12 points in the loss.  As a team, the Kings shot just 35 percent from the floor.

As for the injury reports, the Blazers have listed Al-Farouq Aminu (right ankle) as out for Friday’s contest. The Kings have listed Harry Giles (bi-lateral knee rehabilitation) and Vince Carter (kidney stone) as both out vs. the Blazers.

Our Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams will help set the stage for Friday’s Blazers and Kings game with Rip City Live on NBC Sports Northwest starting at 6:00pm.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming live on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

 


Quick Links:

Napier sparks Blazers, Dame and CJ combine for 50

Trail Blazers No 3. In defensive rating – can they sustain that?

 

Video:  Napier showing us what his teammates have known all along

Video:  CJ know Shabazz can hoop!

Video:  The magic of the 3-guard lineup helps Portland beat Orlando

Video:  Double header, double the (Shabazzle) Dazzle


 

Game Details:

Where:  Golden 1 Center, Sacramento CA

Tip-off: 7:00pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (6:00pm), 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 Pregame Show streams at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Trail Blazers No. 3 in defensive rating -- can they sustain that?

Trail Blazers No. 3 in defensive rating -- can they sustain that?

Last night on Talkin' Ball, Dan Sheldon asked me if I was buying into the Portland Trail Blazers' defense at this point. Great question, difficult answer.

I checked defensive ratings this morning and the Trail Blazers still rank No. 3 in the NBA in defensive rating. Given this team's defensive shortcomings in the past, this is a pretty amazing rank, especially since Portland has been without its best defender, Al-Farouq Aminu, for the last six games.

Pretty incredible improvement, I'd say.

There is no question that all the work Terry Sttots, the Portland coaching staff and players have put in shoring up the defense has paid dividends. Some nights I cannot believe what I'm seeing. There is major improvement in defensive aggressiveness and physicality. The Blazers suddenly mean business at the defensive end. There has been more attention paid to contesting shots and sealing off the lane. Good shots are not coming as easy against the Trail Blazers this season. Deflections, steals and blocks -- we're seeing everything.

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

So yes, I'm buying into Portland's defensive improvement. But the real question is, is this sustainable? That's where I'm a little more cautious.

Being one of the best defensive teams in the league is an exhaustive job. There is physical and mental fatigue associated with playing consistent defense. The offenses are so good that many nights you still can't stop them. You have to accept that and move on. And you have to find motivation and energy to put in the effort every game. Usually, that motivation comes from seeing positive results. So far, the Trail Blazers probably haven't been rewarded as well as they should have for their quality defense.

After the win Wednesday night vs. Orlando, Portland was 8-6 for the season, after having lost a couple of very winnable home games. Contrast that with the best defensive team in the league, the Boston Celtics, who are 13-2. The Celtics are seeing plenty of reason to continue their efforts at the defensive end. But sometimes such things take time. Sample size must increase. The second-best defensive team in the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder, is 7-7 and the fourth best defensive team, the Los Angeles Lakers (believe it or not) are 6-9.

But when you look down that list of defensive ratings, you also find the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the top six. Obviously, good teams play good defense.We all know that.

Can the Trail Blazers sustain this high-quality defense? I'm still not sure. The schedule will get tougher, there will be more road games and more talented offensive teams to play. But I know this, if the Blazers can stay inside the top three -- or even the top six -- their record will eventually reflect their hard work and improvement.

And they will likely be one of the best teams in the league.

 

Napier sparks Blazers, Dame and CJ combine for 50

Napier sparks Blazers, Dame and CJ combine for 50

The Blazers kept the momentum going Wednesday night at the Moda Center with a five point win over the Orlando Magic. Damian Lillard led the way with 26 and CJ McCollum was right behind him with 24. Shabazz Napier had himself another great game and put up 17 points in the win. Next up, the Blazers travel to Sacramento for a Friday night game. 

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

Box Score Blazers 99, Magic 94

Quick Hits

Podcast

Where and how to watch the game: Trail Blazers host Magic

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Where and how to watch the game: Trail Blazers host Magic

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 (7-6) snapped its two-game losing streak on Monday night after beating the Denver Nuggets, 99-82.  Portland now concludes its six game homestand on Wednesday when the Trail Blazers host the Orlando Magic (8-6).

In Monday’s win, Blazers rookie Caleb Swanigan got his first career start in place of Noah Vonleh.  Swanigan finished with six points, five rebounds, and two blocks before fouling out in 20 minutes of action. Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum each scored 17 points to lead the way for the Blazers, while Damian Lillard added 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds. 

The Blazers’ second unit came up big on Monday, outscoring the Nuggets’ bench 42-14. 

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

As for the Magic, Orlando is set to wrap up a four-game West Coast trip with this contest against the Blazers on Wednesday.  Orlando started off the season going 6-2 and since then the Magic have gone 2-4.   

Orlando is coming off a 110-100 loss to the Warriors on Monday night.  In the loss, Nikola Vucevic finished with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists.   Evan Fournier added 16 points.

Fournier has reached double figures a total of 13 times this season.  Orlando definitely knows how to put points on the board.  The Magic rank fifth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 109.8 points per game.

The Trail Blazers will still be without Al-Farouq Aminu (right ankle) on Wednesday night, while the Magic will be without D.J. Augustin (strained left hamstring) and Jonathan Isaac (sprained right ankle) vs. the Blazers.

Portland has won four of the last five meetings vs. Orlando at the Moda Center. 

Our Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams will help set the stage for Wednesday’s Blazers and Magic game with Rip City Live on NBC Sports Northwest starting at 6:00pm.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming live on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.



Quick Links:

Revenge of Nurk strikes again

Shabazz Napier and the quote that keeps him going

Revenge? Nurkic took Jokic completely out of the game Monday


 

Video:  Shabazz Napier needs a nickname

Video:   Blazers bench comes up big, beating up starters in practice?

Video:   Rip City is loving them some Biggie

Video:  One big night for the Blazers second unit

 

Game Details:

Where:  Moda Center, Portland OR

Tip-off: 7:00pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (6:00pm), 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 Pregame Show streams at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Revenge? Nurkic took Jokic completely out of the game Monday

Revenge? Nurkic took Jokic completely out of the game Monday

The talk prior to Monday night's Trail Blazer matchup with Denver was whether it would be a revenge game for Jusuf Nurkic. The Portland center, a former Nugget, insisted it was not.

After watching the way the game played out, I'm certain Nurkic took great pleasure in the outcome of the contest and the way he dominated Denver center Nikola Jokic. But what happened Monday night -- the 99-82 Trail Blazer win -- had a lot more to do with Nurkic's knowledge of Jokic from all those practice sessions when they were teammates, than it did with simple revenge.

Nurkic manhandled Jokic. And it seemed as if he knew exactly what he was doing -- just as he did last season in their meeting. And what he was doing was being physical with his former teammate. He made it a rough night, which Jokic didn't seem to like. Jokic went 2-for-9 from the field and scored six points on the same day he was named the Western Conference's player of the week. Jokic finished the game lurking around the three-point line, looking like a man who had lost his way.

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

Nurkic's dominance was the story of the night. The Nuggets' best player and a rising star in the NBA was taken completely out of the game. That was enough for not many to notice that Nurkic finished with a whopping seven of his team's 22 turnovers. I have no idea why Portland is suddenly experiencing an uptick in turnovers. It's certainly not because the team is forcing the ball upcourt on fastbreaks -- since the Blazers are at the bottom of the league in that department.

Since Coach Terry Stotts has been here, there's never been much attention paid to fastbreaks, partly, I'm sure, to keep the turnovers down. Bu,t if  you're going to turn the ball over anyway, you may as well try to run a little more. I would think. Those easy baskets off the break can perk a team up and can wake up an offense.

But it wasn't an issue Monday. Nurkic took care of that.

 

 

Shabazz Napier and the quote that keeps him going

Shabazz Napier and the quote that keeps him going

If one ever wondered what an example of fight, a picture of determination or a testament to the virtue of hard work looked like, people on the Trail Blazers will point you to the locker of point guard Shabazz Napier.

“I don’t know how you would put it, or what the politically correct way to phrase it is, but  …  Shabazz is a dog,’’ guard Pat Connaughton said. “He fights. All the time.’’

Added captain Damian Lillard: “He’s an every-day guy. That’s 100 percent a fact.’’

It is that fight, and that relentless work ethic that is at the center of one of the developing trends on the Blazers in the past week: the emergence of Napier in the regular rotation.

In the last three games, Napier has played 20, 20 and 15 minutes, marking the first time in his two seasons in Portland that he has played 15 minutes or more in three consecutive games.

“He’s had three good games in a row,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “Getting him on the court, in various capacities, is something that will probably continue.’’

He has earned the minutes through practice, where Lillard says Napier is “a handful to go against,” and by way of his performance when called upon. Against Memphis, he went 5-for-8 and scored 12 points, and against Brooklyn he went 5-for-7 for 11 points.

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

Then Monday against Denver, he had eight points and three assists, and helped direct a rarity in the Lillard-McCollum era – a six-and-a-half minute shift where neither star was on the court – during which Napier and the Blazers increased the lead from two to 12.

But while his teammates see his dogged practice approach, and fans see his ready-when-called-upon game performance, it has been something behind the scenes that drives Napier.

It’s a single voice, from back in his youth.

“My mother instilled this quote in me,’’ Napier said. “She said, ‘The easiest thing you can do in life is quit.’ That has stayed with me since I was young. I never wanted to be a quitter. I always wanted to win.’’

**

After he was the 24th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, not much has gone Napier’s way.

He started seven straight games his rookie season with Miami after Dwyane Wade pulled his hamstring, but by the end of the season he was out of the rotation, needed a sports hernia surgery and was eventually traded to Orlando for a late-second round pick.

He never found a role in Orlando and after one season was traded to Portland for cash, where he found himself behind Lillard and McCollum, two rising stars in the backcourt who average around 35 minutes a game. His prospects for playing time didn’t improve when the team also signed Evan Turner, a play-making point-forward.

“My NBA career hasn’t panned out like I wanted it to,’’ Napier said. “But at the end of the day, I’m not going to quit.’’

It’s probably too early to say if Napier has secured a set-in-stone role on this Blazers team, but as the team tries to find its early-season footing, Stotts hasn’t been shy in turning to Napier to gain some traction.

On Monday against Denver, the second unit with Napier, Connaughton, Turner, Noah Vonleh and Ed Davis was instrumental in the comfortable 99-82 win over the Nuggets.

That included a seven-minute stretch to start the second quarter, when neither Lillard nor McCollum played, which Lillard figured was the longest time he has ever sat during a second quarter. It was also the first time in the past three seasons that Stotts has strayed from his security blanket of having either Lillard or McCollum on the court during a competitive game.

“It was something I actually toyed with going into the season … I wanted to give it a look,’’ Stotts said. “It worked out well tonight and we’ll see how it goes going forward.’’

If Napier and Turner become a reliable ball-handling duo, it could ease some of the wear-and-tear that Lillard and McCollum endure over a season. Last year, Lillard (36.2 minutes) ranked 9th in the NBA in minutes while McCollum (35.8) ranked 11th.

“He can do a lot of things, and he can definitely bring something to the game to give us a break,’’ Lillard said.

Part of Stotts’ willingness to experiment with the non-Dame-CJ lineup could be attributed to Napier’s steadiness. In 101 minutes this season, Napier has just two turnovers. Meanwhile, he is shooting 60 percent from the field (18-of-30) and has made 5-of-9 from three-point range.

“He’s in a tough position, because Dame and CJ play such heavy minutes,’’ Davis said. “But I think he should be in the rotation. He has proven that and given us a spark.’’

Napier would rather that spark turn into a fire, but in the meantime, he figures he will stick to his mom’s quote from his youth.

“I’m a competitor, and everyone wants to play. But this is not my first rodeo,'' Napier said. "This is my fourth year and it’s been like this the entire time, so I just keep working, keep pushing, and never lay on my laurels. I understand that if it’s going to come, it’s going to come. I just have to be ready for it.’’