A pledge to Portland: Damian Lillard states his intentions to a city and organization

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A pledge to Portland: Damian Lillard states his intentions to a city and organization

In the wake of Friday’s thorough defeat to the Golden State Warriors, Trail Blazers captain Damian Lillard said something that should be noted.

He was asked about a rather non-descript accomplishment during the blowout loss – becoming the first Blazers player to amass 40 points and 10 assists in the 20-year-old Moda Center.

Tucked ever so nicely in his answer was a significant notion: He wants to spend his entire career in Portland.

First, some perspective.

This is a Trail Blazers franchise haunted by defection.

LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t feel he was important enough. Rasheed Wallace was never comfortable here. Clyde Drexler wanted to go home. Bill Walton didn’t like the medical care. And Maurice Lucas wanted more money.

So they all forced their way out.

The franchise has made bad decisions, like trading Jermaine O’Neal right before he blossomed into a star. And nobody has to be reminded about this organization’s bad luck, from Sam Bowie’s legs to Brandon Roy’s knees.

They were all gone too soon.

So when Lillard was asked that question Friday night, about becoming the first Blazer to have 40 and 10 in the Moda Center, his answer should catch your ear.

“It’s always good to be the first one to do something,’’ Lillard said. “Especially being part of an organization I plan on being a part of for my entire career. It’s an honor, but I would have liked for it to be in a winning effort.’’

“…part of an organization I plan on being part of for my entire career … “

 To this city, this fan base, and this organization, his sentiment should mean something. And so should the timing.

As the chill of this winter begins to settle on Portland, so too has the notion this Blazers team will be anything more than a lottery team. The losses have become more frequent. So too have the blowouts. Shoot, these days the team can’t even get its active list in order.

For Lillard, the slippage has been accompanied by a balky case of plantar fasciitis in his left heel, an injury whose long-term prognosis can scare even the most hardened athlete.

In other words, these are not the best of times for the Blazers. Typically, times like these are when you find out about people.

Do they quit? Do they place blame? Do they make excuses? Do they look for a way out?

Lillard on Friday stood and looked at the maelstrom with his familiar look-in-your-eye stare of seriousness, and calmly reminded he was going nowhere.

“Things get tough. It’s a tough league,’’ Lillard said. “You have ups and downs. We flipped our roster, man.  We completely flipped and got a brand new team. And I signed up to be a part of it. To be a part of the growth. I have to grow just as much as our team has to grow, and I’m excited about that, that’s why it’s not hard for me to say that’s what I want.’’

The cynics out there will say it is easy for Lillard to say he wants to be here. The franchise over the summer awarded him a $120 million contract extension.

But for Lillard, it goes much deeper than money.

He says the organization has embraced him as a person. Also, the city and fan base appeal to his core values.

“When I really like what a place is about, that’s what I want to stick to. I want to stick to things that click with who I am as a person,’’ Lillard said.

He lives year round in Portland, where he has championed causes like Special Olympics, inner city youth programs, anti-bullying campaigns and helping sick children.

And inside the Blazers’ walls, he feels the team has made the effort to know him, and his causes, and taken the initiative to show they understand him.

He likes that he comes to work in the morning and Coach Terry Stotts will playfully call him by his rap name “Dame DOLLA.” He likes that when he launched his adidas shoe line, players and coaches came to the release. He likes that the organization plays his rap songs in the arena. He likes that employees who sit behind desks at the practice facility take part in his 4-Bar Friday concept that challenges the public to rap on Instagram.

“It’s been like a hand-and-glove fit,’’ Lillard said. “The fact that they have embraced who I am, the person along with the basketball player … I don’t think there is anything more comfortable than that. That’s why I have no problem committing to something like that.’’

 The Blazers (15-24) have lost three in a row to fall to a season-low nine games below .500, with Oklahoma City up next on Sunday (6 p.m., CSN). The Thunder embarrassed the Blazers in the first meeting, which at the time was one of the rare blowouts Portland has suffered. Now, as the competition has improved, the Blazers’ have suffered blowout losses in four of the past five games.

Until his 40 and 10 night against the Warriors, Lillard had looked shaky in the two games after his two-week stint on the sideline. His season-long shooting slump continued, and his turnovers were unsightly and frequent.

That cozy embrace from the Blazers faithful was starting to feel a draft. Was CJ McCollum better equipped to anchor the Blazers? Had Lillard regressed after such a meteoric rise early in his career?

I asked Lillard if he would feel as comfortable in his commitment to Portland if the fans turned on him?

“If the fans turn ... I will say this: I think the real fans of this organization, the real fans of this city, I don’t think they ever will,’’ Lillard said. “I understand fans have emotions, just like we do as players, and they have a right to be like ‘Man, Dame … whatever’ … But I just don’t see that happening here.

“They are loyal to who is loyal to them, and I don’t plan on giving them a reason to turn.’’

He knows he can shoot better this season. And he knows he can take better care of the ball. But he also doesn’t hold himself above admitting he too needs to grow, just like Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard and the rest of the young Blazers. Part of that growth includes shouldering a more prominent leadership role, an area that Stotts says Lillard is exceeding.

“When he was injured,’’ Stotts said, “he was the best leader in street clothes I’ve ever been around.’’

So Lillard marches on, oblivious to the noise around him, unconcerned with the chill left by a season heading south. The franchise pillars before him all found a reason to leave Portland when the going got tough, but Lillard figures now is the time to dig his heels in, even if they are sore.

“(Wanting to leave) is the easy thing to do. It is. That’s the easy thing to do,’’ Lillard said. “I have always been the type of person, when things are hard, to not think about how hard it is now. I think about what it will be like when we get through this, and how it turns into what I want it to turn into. Then, that will be the ultimate satisfaction.’’ 

 

Hot of out the gate: Blazers play a complete game en route to a route

Hot of out the gate: Blazers play a complete game en route to a route

The Trail Blazers were able to withstand the runs from Utah Friday night to hold off the Jazz, snapping their 11-game win streak.

The Blazers backcourt dazzled once again. CJ McCollum led the way with 26 points on 11 of 21 shooting, while Damian Lillard dropped 24 points on 7 of 18 shooting. 

Maurice Harkless led the way defensively, recording 6 steals as the Blazers shut down the Jazz. 

From home court advantage to going home: The final 24 games

From home court advantage to going home: The final 24 games

The theoretical beginning of the second half of the NBA season begins tonight for the Portland Trail Blazers in Utah as they take on the Jazz, although 70% of games have already been played. Nevertheless, the match-up against these two Western Conference teams will be a crucial game for each team as it relates to playoff-seeding and potential tie-breakers. 

In fact, every game will seemingly have that implication as just 2.5 games separate a team from having home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs to being out of the them altogether. 

Currently, the 10th place Jazz, winners of 11 straight before the All-Star break, are just 4 games behind the Minnesota Timberwolves from hosting a playoff series. The 6th place Trail Blazers are just two games from holding home court and just 1 game from being out of the playoffs.

"I can't remember a race this tight, this late into the season," Terry Stotts said as the Trail Blazers began their preparations for Utah Friday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. "It's a sprint... every game has a little more importance, a little more magnitude to it."

And while the remaining games are about the same for each team, with Memphis and Philadelphia having the most (26) left to play, Golden State (.460), Utah (.484) and Minnesota (.507) have the the easiest schedules among Western Conference playoff teams based on teams' opponents' combined win percentage. San Antonio (.551), Oklahoma City (.526) and the LA Clippers (.522) have the hardest. 

The Trail Blazers have the 4th toughest schedule in the Western Conference among teams vying for a playoff spot, according to tankathon, with their remaining opponents combining for a 52.0 win percentage.

So, it begs the question, with so much at stake: How will the Trail Blazers do down this stretch run? And what are reasonable expectations for Portland? 

Will they sprint to the finish and do well enough to host a playoff series, are they going to be set-up to face Golden State or Houston in the first round and likely see an early exit or find themselves out of the playoffs entirely?

Dan and Nigel broke down the Trail Blazers remaining schedule and are of two different minds.

Dan sees the Blazers as a 48-win team, going 16-8 in the final 24 games. 

Nigel is not as optimistic, saying Portland will go 12-12 and will finish 44-42.

Here's how they predict it game by game: Who do you agree with?

Feb. 23- Trail Blazers at Utah

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

Feb. 24- Trail Blazers at Phoenix

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

Feb. 27- Trail Blazers vs. Sacramento

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 1- Trail Blazers vs. Minnesota

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

March 3- Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Win

March 5- Trail Blazers at LA Lakers

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 6- Trail Blazers vs. New York Knicks

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 9- Trail Blazers vs. Golden State

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 12- Trail Blazers vs. Miami

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 15- Trail Blazers vs. Cleveland 

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 17- Trail Blazers vs. Detroit

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 18- Trail Blazers at LA Clippers

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

March 20- Trail Blazers vs. Houston

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 23- Trail Blazers vs. Boston

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 25- Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 27- Trail Blazers at New Orleans

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

March 28- Trail Blazers at Memphis

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 30- Trail Blazers vs. Clippers

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

April 1- Trail Blazers vs. Memphis

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

April 3- Trail Blazers at Dallas

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

April 5- Trail Blazers at Houston

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

April 7- Trail Blazers at San Antonio

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

April 9- Trail Blazers at Denver

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

April 11- Trail Blazers vs. Utah

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

 

Who do you agree with more?

Trail Blazers make Brandon Rush deal official

Trail Blazers make Brandon Rush deal official

The Portland Trail Blazers have signed guard/forward Brandon Rush to a 10-day contract, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.  

A nine-year NBA veteran, Rush (6-6, 220) holds career averages of 6.8 points (42.6% FG, 40.2% 3-PT, 70.6% FT), 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 481 games (163 starts) playing for Indiana, Golden State, Utah and Minnesota. Rush played 47 games (33 starts) for the Timberwolves during the 2016-17 season, averaging 4.2 points (37.4% FG, 38.6% 3-PT, 72.2% FT), 2.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 21.9 minutes.

Rush was originally selected by the Trail Blazers with the 13th pick of the 2008 NBA draft before being traded to the Indiana Pacers.

He will wear No. 21 for the Trail Blazers.

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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USATI

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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USATI

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.