Pat Connaughton looking on the bright side after a scoreless Summer League opener

Pat Connaughton looking on the bright side after a scoreless Summer League opener

LAS VEGAS – Pat Connaughton looked on the bright side Saturday after he went scoreless in the Trail Blazers’ opener at the Las Vegas Summer League.

“The good news is I can’t score any less points in the next game,’’ Connaughton said after missing all five of his shots.

Connaughton, whose Summer League performance will go a long way to determining whether the Blazers give him a guaranteed contract, left Cox Pavillion with mixed feelings.

“I’ve always been one with a winners-win mentality: If we get the win, I’m going to leave the arena happier than I came in,’’ Connaughton said. “Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be … I don’t want to say frustrated because that’s not the right word … but I’m going to be conscious of the fact that I want to play better.’’

If there was a bright spot to Connaughton’s play, it was his game-high six assists, which underscores a facet of what Connaughton has been trumpeting heading into Summer League: He is more than just a shooter.

“Obviously the shot was not falling and I’m not happy about it, but there are more things to the game of basketball,’’ Connaughton said. “The second half was a better judgment of playing the whole game. When I came into the league, I was known strictly as a shooter - now, I’d like to keep that going --  but to be able to handle the ball, make the passes, and at the end of the day we got the win and that’s what matters.’’

Summer League coach Jim Moran said Connaughton is the type of player whose stat line doesn’t always tell the story.

“From his standpoint, I didn’t even look at stat line; I was happy with the way he played,’’ Moran said. “Pat plays the right way, and that’s how we play.’’

Still, Connaughton knows that at his position he has to make shots, and Saturday’s performance notwithstanding, he feels like he has proven he is up to the task. Last season in 39 games he shot 37-of-72 from the field (51.4 percent) and 17-of-33 from three-point range (51.5 percent).

“Look, I’ve made shots throughout my career. Shots will fall. I’ve scored the ball throughout my entire life,’’ he said. “But this game is becoming a shooters game. So you absolutely have to make shots to play in the NBA.

“I don’t know that you have to make every shot you take in Summer League to make sure you are on a roster. I think it’s more important to play the right way and take the shots that come to you. Because at the end of the day a Summer League game is different than an NBA game. They are played at different pace and different frantic things go on. It’s just a matter of taking it in stride and building on it.’’

The Blazers have until July 25 to decide whether to keep Connaughton as the 15th man by guaranteeing his $1.4 million contract, and Connaughton has repeatedly said that he doesn’t feel pressure to impress.

That confidence is borne out of hard work and preparation, and the security of knowing a professional baseball career is also an option. He was selected by Baltimore in the fourth round of the 2014 Major League Draft as a pitcher.

“You have to look at the position I’m in: I try to make sure I always keep my options open, but when you want to play basketball, and want to play at highest level, you have to make sure you are confident in the work you’ve put in throughout the year,’’ he said. “I think it showed the last two games of (last) season and I think it showed in the playoffs. Now it’s a matter of making sure that you don’t get down because you had one rough shooting night. You still won and you were still able to facilitate and get other people the ball.’’

Connaughton was quick to emphasize that he is not nonchalant about his uncertain status with the Blazers and the NBA.

“You have to be smart in that you don’t want to make it look like you don’t care, because that’s not the case,’’ Connaughton said. “You just hope it’s on your terms and not someone else’s.’’

His next chance to impress will come Sunday at 5:30 when the Blazers play Boston.

“That’s the great thing about Summer Legaue,’’ Connaughton said. “You usually play the next day.’’

Blazers go Hollywood for lucky number 13

USA Today

Blazers go Hollywood for lucky number 13

If you see a member of the Trail Blazers in public, try not to get too close. There is a high chance you could burn yourself because this team is on fire! The Blazers went to Los Angeles on Sunday and dismantled the Clippers, 122-109 for their thirteenth win in a row. That’s right – 13 wins in a row! Portland continues to hold on to the three seed in the Western Conference, and now has a two game lead on No.4 Oklahoma City. 

Box Score: Blazers 122 – Clippers 109

Next up:  The Blazers play host to the league leading Houston Rockets (56-14) on Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 7:30pm at Moda Center. 

Quck Hit: 

Make it a dozen in a row!


Make it a dozen in a row!

You've heard it a lot lately, but it happened again. The Blazers have now won 12 straight after running the Detroit Pistons out of Moda Center on Saturday night. Damian Lillard played a complete game finishing with 24 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Up next, the Blazers go for a baker's dozen tomorrow night in LA vs. the Clippers. 

Box Score: Portland 100, Detroit 87

Quick Hits: 

With emergence of trust in teammates, Lillard Time expands for Blazers

With emergence of trust in teammates, Lillard Time expands for Blazers

While much of the glory has been given to Damian Lillard during the Trail Blazers’ 11-game winning streak, a subtle development has emerged on the fringe of the spotlight:

More than ever before, Lillard is trusting his teammates.

And they are delivering.

Lillard’s trust was on full display Thursday during the Blazers’ 113-105 victory over Cleveland, when he made two heady assists in the closing minutes that thwarted a LeBron James-led comeback.

“People during this streak have asked me about leading the charge,’’ Lillard said. “But I keep telling them that I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing unless everybody else was carrying their weight.’’

On Thursday, much of the weight was carried by fellow star CJ McCollum, who scored 29 points, but it was two late-game plays by Al-Farouq Aminu and Evan Turner that illustrates the team’s growth, and Lillard’s trust.

On the heels of a 14-2 run, Cleveland was within 105-102 with just less than three minutes left, which usually triggers that special trait in the Blazers’ point guard known as Lillard Time.

Sensing this, the Cavaliers put James on Lillard, and when Lillard took James to the basket, it drew Jordan Clarkson into the paint. But instead of forcing a shot, Lillard kicked out to Al-Farouq Aminu, who nailed a three-pointer with 2:38 left.

On the next Blazers’ possession, Lillard missed, but the rebound was tapped back to him in the corner with Cleveland’s Kyle Korver in front of him. As Lillard sized up the situation, James came to Korver and indicated he would guard the Blazers’ star.

Inside the Blazers, Turner is hailed as one of the team’s smartest players, and he instantly recognized that with James on Lillard, it meant Korver would be left to guard him.

“Personally, I thought they were trippin’,’’ Turner said. “I was like, this is the best thing that could possibly happen. They are really switching. I mean, Korver is a great player and a great shooter and all that, but I feel great in the post, and over the years I’ve had a decent amount of success against people his size and smaller.’’

So Turner slashed through the lane and immediately established post position on Korver.

Flashback to last season and think of a six-point game, less than two minutes left, in the middle of a playoff push  … would Lillard give up the ball there?

“No,’’ Lillard said. “It’s not that I wouldn’t have recognized that play, but I feel like  … ET has gotten comfortable and we’ve seen him go to the block and be successful.’’

So instead of taking it upon himself to seal the game, Lillard didn’t hesitate and fed Turner the ball. Turner immediately went to his bread-and-butter and backed Korver down into the paint, where he scored with 1:49 left.

“Very unselfish,’’ Turner said of Lillard. “It was huge. In that part of the game, a critical part, to trust me enough in a mismatch, and be aware of my strength … it was great.’’

Does Turner think Lillard would have done that last season, Turner’s first in Portland?

“I don’t really know,’’ Turner said. “Because I don’t want to take away from Dame. He’s smart and always tries to do the right thing. But I will say, one thing we have been doing great lately is moving the ball.’’

Blazers coach Terry Stotts said he didn't want to read too much into one play, but he liked what he saw late from Lillard.

"That was a sign of trust and recognition,’’ Stotts said.

Lillard says the two late-game plays – part of his nine-assist night - were an illustration of how the Blazers have become a more well-rounded and dependable team. Sure, during this streak he is averaging 31.7 points, and has willed this team to victories at Phoenix and the Lakers, but he no longer feels the burden to do it all himself.

This team, he says, thinks. This team communicates. And this team has different players elevate their play on different nights.

“Us leaning on each other is as big as anything,’’ Lillard said. “We have to lean on each other.’’

Not one, not two, not three... ELEVEN in a row


Not one, not two, not three... ELEVEN in a row

Another game night and another Trail Blazers' victim as Portland extends its winning streak to 11 games by taking down LeBron James and Cavs! Portland's dynamic duo did it again as CJ McCollum (29 points) and Damian Lillard (24 points, 9 assists) led the charge. LeBron James poured in 35 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Up Next: Detroit on Saturday night.

Box Score: Portland 113, Cleveland 105

Quick Hits:

Awaiting birth of his son, Damian Lillard eyes schedule

USA Today

Awaiting birth of his son, Damian Lillard eyes schedule

For Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers’ playoff push isn’t the only thing in a stretch run these days.

Lillard and his girlfriend are expecting a son, with March 19 as the projected due date. That could affect the star guard’s availability - the Blazers are in Los Angeles on March 18 for a game against the Clippers, and Lillard said he would fly home and miss the game if his girlfriend went into labor.

Lillard, who is enjoying the best season of his six-year career, said being a father has been on his mind throughout this season, but he said it hasn’t changed his play.

“I’ve always known it was going to happen; I mean, he’s going to come,’’ Lillard said.

The Blazers also have games March 20 against Houston and March 23 against Boston, but both are at home. The Blazers then go on a five-day, three-game trip to Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Memphis.


Tough Love: How Blazers' coach Terry Stotts is reaching Jusuf Nurkic

Tough Love: How Blazers' coach Terry Stotts is reaching Jusuf Nurkic

Throughout this Trail Blazers season, an important development has been unfolding on the sidelines: the coaching of Jusuf Nurkic by Terry Stotts.

In probably one of his more dogged and pointed undertakings in his six seasons as coach of the Blazers, Stotts this season has been relentless in his pursuit of excellence from the 23-year-old center.

“I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in practice. In huddles. He will get after him,’’ Damian Lillard said.

Stotts acknowledged that this season, and in particular the past two months, he has taken great effort to reach Nurkic.

“I think I’ve probably given him more attention than other guys,’’ Stotts said.

Sometimes it has been through film study. Sometimes it has been with a sharp reminder. And a few times, it has been a reduction in Nurkic’s minutes.

In all, Nurkic doesn’t dispute that Stotts has been hard on him.

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“He should,’’ Nurkic said. “I’m 23 years old. I’m still growing up. In basketball, it’s my fourth year, and almost like my second in the NBA. It’s a learning process for me.’’

Lillard, who does his own share of mentoring Nurkic, has watched Stotts deal with Nurkic with a curious eye. He says what Stotts has done with Nurkic underscores the most “underrated” facet of Stotts’ coaching – the ability to get the most out of a player.

“With Nurk, (Stotts) might raise his voice a bit, but it’s never like embarrassing him, or saying ‘That was soft!’" Lillard said. “It’s more, ‘Nurk! You are better than that!’ … or ‘Stop doing that! We need you to go up strong!’  And it’s stuff Nurk needs to hear at times.’’

For how dominating Nurkic can be – such as Monday, when he had 27 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in the Blazers’ win over Miami – he can also be frustrating.

Throughout the season, he has forgotten plays. Missed a bevy of close-range shots. And drifted mentally.

Nurkic said in his past – his first two seasons in Denver – those types of transgressions were met with benchings and the silent treatment.

With Stotts, they have been met with stern lectures that are centered around teaching.

“I never have a coaching experience like his personality,’’ Nurkic said. “I’ve never had a coach who has trusted me that much … I had a coach before (Denver’s Mike Malone) who never talked to me or play me; now I have a coach who talk to me about every play, and in the film room with me, to work on the stuff I need. He shows me how I can be better. That’s what it is all about.’’

It is at the core of Stotts’ coaching philosophy: teaching through positive reinforcement and challenging in a positive, rather than negative, manner.

“I don’t like to over-coach players,’’ Stotts said. “I think they get a lot of information from different people – other players, agents, their families – so I try to be to-the-point and helpful.’’

But make no mistake, Lillard says, Stotts challenges Nurkic. Stotts this season has probably been as forceful and pointed as he has been with a player in Portland, outside of Meyers Leonard. Lillard smiles when thinking about Stotts’ tactics with Nurkic, because he knows the perception is that Stotts is always Mr. Nice Guy.

“It’s underrated about Coach Stotts, because he is such a nice dude,’’ Lillard said. “Like, he’s not always screaming and being angry – you see him smiling and being happy all the time. But I think it’s underrated that he is willing to get it out of you.’’

Stotts, however, points out that it all starts with the player. A coach can push and prod all he wants, but ultimately it is up to the player.

“And I give Nurk credit,’’ Stotts said. “He has put in a lot of work with our assistants and in having a serious approach to improving. It always starts with the player.’’

But with Nurkic, there appears to be a key to unlocking his talents, as evidenced by his rocky time in Denver. Lillard says he thinks there is a certain way to handle the 7-footer and Stotts has found it with coaching that blends a nurturing style with moments of cracking the whip.

“I think we’ve all learned that Nurk will respond (to criticism); he doesn’t get in his feelings and all that stuff,’’ Lillard said. “So Coach, he understands that Nurk has the ability to float sometimes, and if you get on him, he will give you something. Coach is good about things like that – not being constantly on a guy’s back, but if something needs to be said, he will definitely say it.’’

Probably the most concrete coaching moment came around the All-Star Break, when the staff restructured his shooting workouts, which had devolved into a series of nonchalant and finesse shots. Nurkic says there is a new rule: He can only practice shots he will take in the game.

“It’s about getting away from the flip shots and staying in control,’’ Stotts said. “Him taking the time to steady himself and get game-like shots. And he has worked hard at it. That work he has put in is starting to pay off now.’’

Since the All-Star Break, Nurkic has seen improvement in every category: his shooting percentage has improved from 48 percent to 55 percent. His scoring from 14.1 to 15.0 and his rebounding from 8.2 to 10.3.

“If we can get that from him,’’ Lillard says, “we are a different team.’’

Nurkic says that point – his importance to the Blazers - has been one of the main themes Stotts has hammered home to him throughout the season.

“Just to point (out) how much I know this team needs me,’’ Nurkic said. “Everybody knows. My teammates they really know how much I can bring. So when I’m at my best, we have a great chance to win.’’

The scary part is Nurkic says he still has room to improve. And Lillard says with the way Stotts is pushing Nurkic’s buttons – by both being demanding but nurturing – that improvement will come.

“Once somebody like him sees they really believe in me, and that Coach is getting on him but it’s ‘You are better than that’  … he feels the love,’’ Lillard said. “He not crazy. He’s one of those guys who if he feels the love and he knows you want the best for him, he’s going to give you everything he’s got.’’

Blazer5 Gaming slots in at #6 in inaugural NBA 2k draft


Blazer5 Gaming slots in at #6 in inaugural NBA 2k draft

The NBA2K League held its inagural draft lottery today and the Trail Blazers franchise "Blazer 5 Gaming" came out with the No. 6 (out of 17) overall pick.

Dallas won the top pick in the draft while the Warriors will pick last.

The draft is scheduled for April 4th and will work in a 'snake' format, much like many fantasy leagues. 


You can learn more about the Blazer 5 Gaming team at their official website. 

W W W W W W W W W W - Make it 10!


W W W W W W W W W W - Make it 10!

The Trail Blazers are too hot right now, even for the Miami Heat who rolled into the friendly confines of the Moda Center Monday night only to take a L and head out of town. Damian Lillard finishes the night with 32 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds. Jusuf Nurkic finally had the game everyone was waiting to see again: 27 points, 16 rebounds. Up Next: LeBron and Cavs come to town Thursday night. 

Box Score: Portland 115, Miami 99

Quick Hits: 


Damian Lillard named Western Conference Player of the Week

USA Today Images

Damian Lillard named Western Conference Player of the Week

PORTLAND, Ore. (March 12, 2018)Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has been named NBA Western Conference Player of the Week for games played from March 5 to March 11, it was announced today by the league. 

Lillard was the leading scorer in the NBA for the week, averaging 34.7 points (46.9% FG, 56.3% 3-PT, 83.9% FT) to go with 3.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists. He also led the league in three-pointers made (18) and was second in free throws made (26).

The Trail Blazers (40-26) went 3-0 on the week with victories over the Lakers, Knicks and Warriors, extending the longest active win streak in the league to nine games.

Lillard scored 19 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter at the L.A. Lakers on March 5, including four consecutive three-pointers to lead Portland back from an 11-point deficit with 5:26 remaining in the game. He followed that performance with 37 points in the first three quarters against New York on March 6, passing Cliff Robinson for fourth place on the franchise scoring list in the process.

For the season, Lillard is one of four NBA players (Curry, Harden, James) to average at least 26 points, four rebounds and six assists per game. Lillard has surpassed 1,500 points for the sixth straight season, making him one of 13 NBA players to do so in his first six seasons.  

This is the second NBA Western Conference Player of the Week honor of the season for Lillard, who won the award for games played the week of Jan. 15 to Jan. 21. It is the fifth time Lillard has received the award in his career, having won twice in 2014-15 and once in 2016-17.