A Rip City Rebirth: The stories behind the Blazers' resurrecting careers

A Rip City Rebirth: The stories behind the Blazers' resurrecting careers

When the playoffs begin Saturday in Portland, the games will mean a little more to three Trail Blazers.

After they were doubted, labeled and discarded early in their careers, something happened when Maurice Harkless, Shabazz Napier and Wade Baldwin arrived in Portland.

Their careers were resurrected. 

“Rejuvenated,’’ star Damian Lillard noted of the three players.

All three were former first round picks who had one foot out of the NBA after their teams gave up on them. Baldwin was waived by Memphis after one season. And in separate trades, Orlando sent Napier and Harkless to Portland for next to nothing. 

All three are expected to play a role in the Blazers’ first round series against New Orleans. Harkless, an energetic starting forward, is hopeful to return from knee surgery sometime next week. Napier, a jitterbug guard, has become one of the team’s top scoring reserves. And Baldwin, a barrel-chested guard, late in the season emerged as a defensive weapon that coach Terry Stotts said could be an option in the playoffs. 

While each player’s Rip City rebirth took different paths, and included much of their own work, each ascension spawned from what have become the defining traits of the Blazers’ franchise: astute scouting, nurturing and hands-on coaching, and an inclusive locker room culture. 

And of course, there is timing.

[WATCH: The Blazerlist - '77 Champions]

“What we have tried to do is get guys when we know they are ready for basketball to be the most important thing in their life,’’ said Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations.

Here are their stories, and the background to how Olshey, Stotts and his staff have become one of the NBA’s best player development success stories.

**

When Maurice Harkless flew to Las Vegas in the summer of 2015 he was anxious.

He had just been traded to the Blazers from Orlando, where he was trending toward being a first-round bust, and he was scheduled for a workout in front of the Blazers’ coaches. 

 “I was like … over excited,’’ Harkless remembers. “It was almost nerve-wracking.’’

His emotions were on tilt because he knew he was getting a fresh start. Three seasons into his NBA career, two teams had traded him, and he was coming off a season in Orlando where he sat the bench more than he played. 

“Any time you can get a fresh start, it’s motivating, because it’s like you can create your own destiny at that point,’’ Harkless said.

In the Vegas gym, Harkless was a ball of energy. In fact, he and assistant coach Nate Tibbetts recently chuckled at the memory of how amped he was in the workout.

“I was just bouncing all over the place,’’ Harkless said. “I was … yeah, I was pretty good.’’

To Olshey and the Blazers’ coaches, Harkless’ impressive workout wasn’t a total surprise.

[RELATED: 1st Round Playoffs on NBCS Northwest]

Olshey said he nearly drafted Harkless in 2012 with the 11thoverall pick, but after much deliberation he instead selected center Meyers Leonard. Harkless went to Philadelphia at No. 15, then was later traded to Orlando as part of the massive three-team deal that included Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala.

 “The big takeaway from the first workout was that he had far more potential as a shooter than he had shown,’’ Olshey said. “And he was thrilled to be given a new lease on his basketball life.’’

Harkless has a hard time talking about his time in Orlando, mostly because he doesn’t fully understand what happened. 

“It was a weird situation in Orlando – brand new coach, whole new front office – they were trying to figure things out,’’ Harkless said. “And for some reason in my third season, I couldn’t get on the court, no matter what. We had guys playing, starting games, that aren’t even in the league anymore. Rookies, second-round picks, starting games.’’

In his three seasons in Portland, Harkless has averaged 71 games a season and he has started 120 times. He is widely credited this season with helping turn the Blazers’ season around with his defense and three-point shooting after he recovered from an early season benching. 

[RELATED: Top Storylines of the Season, Part 1]

“The way they run things here, as long as you work hard, eventually your opportunity is going to come,’’ Harkless said.

Harkless’ emergence also underscored one of Olshey’s most consistent traits since becoming the team’s top executive in 2012: scouting. 

“I think the one thing that has to be recognized is Neil has an eye for talent,’’ Stotts said. “There are a lot of players you can take a chance on; you just can’t pick anybody. You have to have an eye for a guy who is worth taking a chance on.’’

And in the summer of 2016, nobody wanted to take a chance on Shabazz Napier. 

Except Olshey.

**

Napier’s once proud resume as a two-time NCAA champion at Connecticut, which garnered him much ballyhooed praise from LeBron James, had been tarnished two years into his NBA career.

His rookie season in Miami, he admits he was headstrong and difficult.

“In Miami, I was very stubborn. Very stubborn,’’ Napier said. “I guess they felt I was entitled to something, but I never felt entitled. I just never felt I got an opportunity. I was being told different things, and I became moody, and they didn’t appreciate it. And looking back, I couldn’t agree with them more.’’

After one season, the Heat traded him to Orlando, where he played sparingly. Then, after acquiring D.J. Augustin, it became clear to Napier he had no future in Orlando.

The former first round pick was traded to Portland for $75,000.

[RELATED: Top Storylines of the Season, Part 2]

When he arrived in Portland, he found a coaching staff different from his previous two stops. They listened to him, and they didn’t judge his past. 

“The staff here understands different stories. It’s not about just one guy. They understand Dame’s story, Pat’s story, Shabazz’s story … and they all want to not comfort, but support and push you,’’ Napier said. 

One of the tenets of Stotts’ coaching philosophy is giving everyone a chance, which requires an open mind.

“I don’t like having preconceived notions of guys coming in,’’ Stotts said. “There are situations that are created and everybody has a history – but you don’t know the whole story. So when I get a player, I don’t even want to call a previous coach … because now you are getting a bias. Whatever it is with a player – their personality, their character – it’s going to come through sooner or later. So why not start out with a clean slate?’’

What they found with Napier was a strong work ethic, a tenacious playing style, and a player who had learned from his past mistakes. 

This season, he emerged as a game-changing reserve whose offense played an instrumental role in keeping the team afloat during a trying early season. 

And to think, two seasons ago, he was worth $75,000 to an NBA team.

“This league is all about having an opportunity,’’ Napier said. “Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t.’’

And as Wade Baldwin found out, sometimes it’s how you handle that opportunity.

**

When Memphis raised eyebrows across the league in October by releasing Baldwin, one year after they selected him 17thoverall, Olshey decided to take a chance, with one stipulation: Baldwin would have to prove himself in the G-League.

“There’s a reason why we didn’t just bring Wade right to Portland,’’ Olshey said. “We made him go to the G-League for two months. It was to humble him. And it was an important lesson.’’

In the weeks before he was released by Memphis, coach David Fizdale said Baldwin needed to “be a better teammate” and veteran Mike Conley said Baldwin was “too cocky” as a rookie.

“My attitude might have been misconstrued,’’ Baldwin said.  “That’s all I can really say.’’

Still, the reports were enough to give Olshey pause.

“I wouldn’t have traded for him,’’ Olshey said. “I wouldn’t have given up a second-round pick because I don’t know if that humbles him to the point where he is broken down and you can build him back up.’’

Olshey said the first step in Baldwin’s reclamation was “showing him love.’’

He needed thumb surgery, and the Blazers flew him to New York for the procedure, then guided and monitored him through six weeks of recovery.

After a 17-game stint in the G-League, when he averaged 18.2 points, 4.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals for the Texas Legends, it was time to call him up to Portland.

On his first day, a Jan. 31 game with Chicago, Baldwin said he knew things would be different with the Blazers.

Veteran Evan Turner was one of the first to approach him.

“He invited me over after the game,’’ Baldwin said.

They sat on Turner’s couch and watched television, and shot the breeze. 

The next day, the team flew to Toronto, and when the team landed, Baldwin was asked out to dinner by the team’s two stars, Lillard and CJ McCollum.

And when they returned to Portland, Lillard again invited Baldwin to dinner, this time at Lillard’s home.

“That’s coming from starters, you know, seasoned vets. And I’m coming in as a two-way player from the G-League,’’ Baldwin said with a chuckle. “That’s not really supposed to happen. But it did.’’

Turner, for one, was keyed on the attitude of the second-year player. He figured attitude problems led to his release in Memphis.

“I was actually waiting to see it, to tell you the truth,’’ Turner said of Baldwin’s attitude. “I mean, it had to be something if they cut their lottery pick. But I was a guy who got the bad rap too, so I had sympathy. I know how it can be: The right (jerk) made the wrong decision and said it loud enough.’’

From the rap sessions on the couch, to the dinners on the road and in Portland, Baldwin had become accepted, something he said he never really felt in Memphis.

“The initial feeling I got here … like when I got drafted it was totally different feeling than joining the team here. I was welcomed, invited, and it kind of makes you want to give back,’’ Baldwin said. “What you receive you want to give back. It makes it easy.’’

Baldwin’s comfort became another layer in the Blazers’ storied culture. The players, led by Lillard, are about inclusion, and the coaches are dedicated to development.

“When Wade came here, nobody looked at him like a two-way player,’’ Lillard said. “That first day coaches were pulling him to the side, going over film, and he was being invited to dinners … it’s almost like a family. When players come here, they feel like they are being looked after, and that somebody actually cares about you. And I think you get more out of them when they feel like that.’’

**

As the playoffs start today, perhaps no team is getting more production for so little. Between Harkless, Napier and Baldwin, the Blazers had to give up a grand total of $75,000.

How do they do it?

While Olshey points to the Blazers’ exhaustive scouting, the development skills of the assistant coaches and Stotts’ ability to utilize and maximize that development, another factor is at play.

Maybe more so than any other NBA power structure, the Blazers can relate to the underdog story.

In their own careers, Olshey and the Blazers coaching staff know what it feels like to be a Harkless, Napier or Baldwin. They’ve been doubted, fired, and deemed not good enough for the NBA. 

Olshey admits he has an “underdog mentality” because he went from soap opera actor to player development coach to front office executive. And Stotts notes that every coach on his staff either coached or played in the minor leagues. 

“I think that is very unique,’’ Stotts said. “If you’ve spent time in the minor leagues, there is an appreciation for what you have, what it takes to get there, and what it means to be a guy who has to get better to take root with a team.’’

Added Olshey: “There’s an empathy here. What we have built, and what we take great pride in is we are a team, and we want to be in the gym helping guys get better.’’

It’s one reason why amid the rain clouds and Douglas Firs so many players have found an oasis of opportunity in Portland. Some, like Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum, Mason Plumlee, JJ Hickson, Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland have had career years. And others, like Tim Frazier, Will Barton and Allen Crabbe used the chance to springboard to bigger and better things.

What will be the final verdict of the Blazers’ latest reclamation projects? Neither Harkless, Napier nor Baldwin wanted to say. 

“All I know is I love it here,’’ Napier said. “But I don’t call it resurrection or reclamation, because it’s just starting.’’

Report: Blazers assistants linked to Atlanta Hawks vacancy

Report: Blazers assistants linked to Atlanta Hawks vacancy

Could the Trail Blazers lose an integral part of their coaching staff this offseason?

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, that's a possibility.

 

The Atlanta Hawks mutually parted ways with their head coach Mike Budenholzer Wednesday, which sparked immediate speculation as to who his replacement might be. 

The Trail Blazers have one of the longest tenured coaching staffs in the NBA, with Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool both part of Terry Stotts' original coaching staff along with Dale Osbourne.

Both Vanterpool and Tibbetts have been linked to head coaching vacancies in the past.

Vanterpool, who has been key to the development of Damian Lillard, was connected to the Orlando opening before they eventually hired Frank Vogel in 2016. Vogel has since been relieved of his duties. In 2013, Vanterpool interviewed with Philadelphia and in 2015 he was a candidate in Denver. 

Nate Tibbetts has garnered attention from other head coaching vacancies, as well. In 2016, Tibbetts reportedly interviewed for the head coaching vacancy in Memphis, which was eventually inherited by David Fizdale. Memphis is in the midst of another head coaching search after Fizale was relieved of his head coaching duties mid-season. Tibbetts, a former assistant of the Cavaliers, was the head coach of the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Development League.

Following a 49-win season, the Trail Blazers enter an offseason after a quick first round exit, dropping four-straight games to the New Orleans Pelicans. They have key decisions to make in restricted free agents Jusuf Nurkic and unrestricted free agents Pat Connaughton, Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier.

Check back for more updates as the situation evolves.

Blazers exit interviews: No controversy, no conflict, no fractures

Blazers exit interviews: No controversy, no conflict, no fractures

Player after player marched into the auditorium one by one at the Trail Blazers' practice facility Sunday to meet the media one last time this season. It was a part of their final official day of the season that also included physicals and then exit interviews with Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts..

You can find those Trail Blazer media sessions all in one spot right here on this website, if you choose.

The main event of the day, of course, is always the sessions with the brass.  Stotts and Olshey met the media together, seated side by side at a table behind microphones. I think it would be possible to take that appearance as a not-so-subtle symbol of solidarity. A united front. Everybody on the same page, if you will.

The session lasted 26 minutes and 50 seconds and Olshey -- one of the NBA's great orators -- used the first 15 minutes and 51 seconds to answer questions. Stotts got a few minutes here and there, but most of the audio came from the team's president of basketball operations.

While he admitted that the team has "A lot of issues that need to be addressed as the result of the very abbreviated postseason," Olshey also expressed a preference for judging his team on the 82-game regular season, rather than the four-game playoff sweep.

He also mentioned that he felt the media missed an important storyline of the past season -- How important the character and chemistry of his players was to the success of the team. "The way they stayed together," he said. "We never fractured. You never heard that narrative. We stuck together."

So there is that.

And there was no fracture Sunday, either. The real story from exit-interview-day was that there was no real story. The players all said the right things and so did Stotts and Olshey. If you were expecting conflict, controversy or even just a few fireworks, you came to the wrong place.

Look, if I missed that story during the regular season I'm certainly not going to miss it now, at season's end:

No fracture. They stuck together.

My best advice to Blazers: Chill awhile before making hasty decisions

My best advice to Blazers: Chill awhile before making hasty decisions

Well, at least the Portland Trail Blazers are now going to get plenty of help with planning their future. When you get swept out of the first round of the playoffs by a team seeded lower than yours, everyone has an opinion.

And often it’s an angry or shrill one.

Almost immediately after the Game 4 loss Saturday on social media there were the demands to fire somebody (or everybody) or trade somebody (usually someone important).

But as hard as it is to be calm at a time like this, that’s what I’m advising.

I remember the words of the Trail Blazers’ very first general manager, Stu Inman, who told me once that best practice is to “take some time away from it. You need to find the time to take the emotion out of it and make rational decisions.”

In other words, chill. As hard as that sounds.

Look, this team isn’t going to be playing another real game again until mid-October. There is no rush.

I still recall the aftermath of that painful loss to the Lakers in the seventh game of the Western Conference finals in 2000. Portland could have won that series and with it, the NBA championship. It was so close.

But the immediate thought coming out of that series was that the Blazers needed more bulk to deal with Shaquille O’Neal. In reality, so did everyone else in the league. But that summer, Portland dealt young Jermaine O’Neal to the Indiana Pacers for Dale Davis in a trade that hurt the franchise for a decade, while Jermaine was making six all-star games.

So all I’m saying is to be careful before charging ahead full of anger or spite. Make sure that what you want to do is going to be better than what you already have.

Do I think changes are in order here? Yes, of course. But after watching every single game this season, I’m still not sure of how to go about fixing this thing.

You want the coach fired? Better make sure you can find a better one out there and also make sure you don’t cause a player mutiny in your locker room.

You want the general manager fired? Well, for every mistake he’s made, there’s been a good move, too. You want to trade a good player? OK, make sure you’re getting something good in return and that the deal isn’t going to come back and haunt you for years to come.

There have been a lot of people fired here over the last several seasons. A lot of trades executed, too.

There have certainly been a lot of general managers here since Geoff Petrie, and none of them has been as successful. A lot of coaches since Rick Adelman, too, but I don’t see any NBA Finals appearances.

Change for the sake of change is never good. Be patient until you have a clear plan for the future.

Then do whatever you think is right because something should be done. But in the aftermath of that first-round debacle, it’s no time to make irrational decisions.

Live Streams: Trail Blazers Exit Interviews

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USATI

Live Streams: Trail Blazers Exit Interviews

Sunday was Exit Interview day for the Trail Blazers at their practice facility and you can watch any of the interviews in their entirety right here.

Keep tabs on Jason Quick and Dwight Jaynes on twitter as well as here on our website for full off-season coverage of the team. 

 

Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts

Exit Interviews: Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts

"I thought we had a very good regular season; I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season. It's as simple as that." -- Terry Stotts

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Damian Lillard

Exit Interviews: Damian Lillard

"Just like I can accept the credit when I do great things, I accept the criticism and all the bad things that people might have to say about me when it doesn't go well because that's part of my responsibility as the franchise player." -- Damian Lillard

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

CJ McCollum

Exit Interiews: CJ McCollum

"My expectations for myself are high. My expectations for this team are high and will continue to be. And regardless of how it finishes I can live with failing, I can live with losing because I know I'm putting my heart and soul into this game." -- CJ McCollum

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jusuf Nurkic

Exit Interviews: Jusuf Nurkić

"The way I finished the season, I feel shame. The way we had a season like a team, a group, be in position to be third in the West and finish like this, it’s not good. It’s not something you should be proud of because all you do through the year is fight for playoff, to be in position to have good postseason… Right now, it stings." -- Jusuf Nurkić

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Meyers Leonard

Exit Interviews: Meyers Leonard

"I came in this building every day with the goal of working as hard as I could, and have everyone hopefully recognize my willingness to be a good person, a good teammate and always willing to work and be a pro." -- Meyers Leonard

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Moe Harkless

Exit Interviews: Moe Harkless

"They stressed to me how important I am to the team's success, and that next year I need to hit the ground running because when we went on a run this year is when I was playing really well." -- Moe Harkless

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Evan Turner

Exit Interviews: Evan Turner

"We definitely have to be more consistent...and build our identity outside our two strong scorers." -- Evan Turner

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pat Connaughton

Exit Interviews: Pat Connaughton

"I got a taste of it, and I'm looking forward to building upon it this summer, instead of being satisfied with it, really making sure I put in even more work." -- Pat Connaughton

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Shabazz Napier

Exit Interview: Shabazz Napier

"It's definitely great what we did, don't get me wrong, but all 15 of us plus the staff, the men and women in this organization will tell you we only play for one thing." -- Shabazz Napier

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Wade Baldwin

Exit Interview: Wade Baldwin

"Playing minutes, that was the happiest thing for me. I didn't care if it was one minute, if it was three minutes, 20 minutes. I was just glad to be on the court." -- Wade Baldwin IV

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Al-Farouq Aminu

Exit Interviews: Al-Farouq Aminu

"Good season. Getting the third seed should be something that we not forget." -- Al-Farouq Aminu

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Ed Davis:

Exit Interviews: Ed Davis

"I’ve been here three years, so the comfort level is there. Since I’ve been here, the fans supporting me… The guys in the locker room. I enjoy it here. I still think this team has a lot of potential. We still can get some places." -- Ed Davis

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Zach Collins:

Zach Collins Exit Interview

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, April 22, 2018

 

'Shocked' Trail Blazers get swept, now face crossroads

'Shocked' Trail Blazers get swept, now face crossroads

NEW ORLEANS – The Trail Blazers over the years have experienced the pain of playoff loss, but it’s been a while since a series left a mark like this one to New Orleans. 

“I think this one probably hurts a little more because we had such a great season, and we came in with really, really high expectations,’’ Damian Lillard said. 

 Unable to stop Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, and unable to solve the defensive schemes of New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, the Blazers were swept Saturday after a 131-123 loss at Smoothie King Center. 

“They were the better team for four games,’’ Maurice Harkless said. “They outplayed us, they outhustled us, they were more physical.’’

The 13-game winning streak, the Northwest Division title, the three seed and hosting a first-round playoff series were all erased with the ease of a Holiday layin and the force of a Davis follow dunk.

“I felt like coming into this playoffs, there was no way you were going to tell me we weren’t going to have a Game 5. You know?’’ Blazers big man Ed Davis said. “I mean, you can tell me, somebody was going to beat us in six or seven, but no way swept.’’

Davis surveyed the quiet locker room, with players cutting tape off their ankles for the final time.

“I mean, we are all shocked right now that we got swept by a team that we really felt like we were better than,’’ Davis said. 

Perhaps most shocking was the inability of the Blazers to free Lillard from the layered Pelicans defense that used two and sometimes three players to trap him.

After having his best overall season in his six-year NBA career, Lillard had his worst playoff series, being held to 18.5 points while shooting 35 percent from the field and amassing 16 turnovers to his 19 assists.

“You have to give them credit for how well they executed offensively and they came in with a great defensive game plan, threw something at us we haven’t seen, and it worked out for them,’’ Lillard said. “We just didn’t play great. We didn’t have our best series.’’

The loss brings the Blazers to a crossroads: Continue full speed ahead with the NBA’s youngest roster to make the playoffs? Or break up a core that has lost 10 consecutive playoff games?

“Ultimately, you are defined by the postseason,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “I think it’s a little early to say what direction we are going to go and what needs to be done moving forward, but one thing is Neil (Olshey) is really good. We’ve been to the playoffs five straight years and he continues to change and build the roster. I’m pretty confident with that.’’

Lillard, who in January met with owner Paul Allen to discuss the direction of the franchise, said Saturday that he believes the franchise is doing all it can. 

“I feel like to this point, we have,’’ Lillard said. “We’ve done what we can, but obviously there is room for improvement, especially when you come up short in the playoffs and get swept. Obviously there are a lot of things that can be done better on our part as an organization and as players. 

“But for me, the same thing remains: I’ll go back to work and do my part,’’ Lillard said. “Everybody has a job to do and I’ve got to focus on what my job is.’’

Al-Farouq Aminu, who had a standout series with averages of 17.3 points and 9.0 rebounds, said he hopes the team is allowed to grow together.

“The core of the team is still really young and these are some of the lumps we will have to take in order to get better and continue to grow,’’ Aminu said.

The Blazers have four free agents – starting center Jusuf Nurkic; Davis, the NBA’s top reserve center; reserve Pat Connaughton; and reserve Shabazz Napier. 

Davis, for one, says he wants to return. 

“Like I’ve been saying since Day One: I hope I’m back here,’’ Davis said. “I hope July 1 at midnight we have something done and it’s over with. That’s what I’m hoping and banking on.’’

For now, the Blazers will lick their wounds and try to forget the dominance of Anthony Davis (33 points, 12 rebounds, 2.9 blocks), the two-way play of Holiday (27.8 points) and the masterful game-management of Rajon Rondo (11.3 points, 13.3 assists) and look ahead to the future of Zach Collins and what should be the prime years of Lillard and CJ McCollum’s careers. 

“I think we should be proud of what we did in the regular season,’’ Harkless said. “And then just learn from what happened in this postseason.’’

Watch: The Scoop Postgame tries to make sense of the 1st round sweep

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NBCS NW

Watch: The Scoop Postgame tries to make sense of the 1st round sweep

Join me and the rest of Scoop Nation try to make sense of what just happened in the playoffs on the final Scoop Postgame show of the season...

Scoop Postgame Show

That’ll do it from Smoothie King Center… Blazers drop Game 4, 131-123. The Pelicans are moving on… Let’s hear from YOU, #RipCity right now on The Scoop.

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Saturday, April 21, 2018

Pelicans fight off Trail Blazer rally to finish off 1st round sweep

Pelicans fight off Trail Blazer rally to finish off 1st round sweep

The Trail Blazers battled back from a double digit deficit but came up a few points short in their bid to avoid a 1st round sweep. The Pelicans duo of Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis proved to be too much for the Blazers' defense combining for 88 points.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers in scoring with 38 points. 

Box Score: New Orleans 131, Portland 123

Quick Hit:

Scoop Postgame Show:

Scoop Postgame Show

That’ll do it from Smoothie King Center… Blazers drop Game 4, 131-123. The Pelicans are moving on… Let’s hear from YOU, #RipCity right now on The Scoop.

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Saturday, April 21, 2018

 

 

 

Game 3 disrespect has become snapshot of Blazers-Pelicans series

Game 3 disrespect has become snapshot of Blazers-Pelicans series

NEW ORLEANS –If there is a snapshot that captures this first round series, it was taken in the third quarter of Game 3, and later framed for all to see around the NBA.

Anthony Davis soaring in, untouched, and grabbing a rebound with his left hand and flushing it for a dunk. Trail Blazers’ center Jusuf Nurkic was literally floored, knocked to his hands and out of the way by Davis’ athletic and physical play.

In the aftermath of the play – which gave New Orleans a 79-60 lead – Pelicans’ guard Jrue Holiday stood at Nurkic’s feet and pointed in wide-eyed dismay at him. For a long time. Too long. 

It was everything this series had become: a laugher, an embarrassment for the Trail Blazers. And it underscored why it had become so lopsided: the Pelicans beating Portland to another ball, a Pelicans’ star shining while the Blazers remained frustrated. And overall, another example of New Orleans being more aggressive, more physical and more … everything.

“Outplayed us in every way,’’ Lillard would say after the Game 3 blowout. “Every way, man.’’

But what about that show of disrespect by Holiday? The pointing. The posing. The mockery of it all?

Fittingly, the Blazers were apparently oblivious to Holiday’s actions, even though they had a front row seat for it, and even though it was splashed across the internet Thursday night.

 “Huh?’’ Nurkic said when asked about it Friday. “I didn’t see it.’’

Damian Lillard?

“Did he? I didn’t see it,’’ Lillard said. “When things going well for you, you do stuff like that. That’s I guess kind of something you do when you are feeling really confident, you are feeling yourself a little bit. It’s not like we’ve done anything about it .’’

CJ McCollum was shown a clip of the play. He shrugged his shoulders and chose not to comment. 

And if the Blazers’ coach took offense to it, or thought anything of it, he didn’t say Friday as Terry Stotts was strangely made unavailable to the media even though he was 10 feet away from the camera and microphones, talking to Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations. 

According to a team spokesman, there wasn’t enough time for Stotts to talk, because the team had to practice, which ignored the fact that the team was more than 15 minutes late in arriving.

In all, Game 3 magnified what in this series has been a strange display by a team that prides itself on culture, hard work and accountability.

At least Lillard on Friday showed some spunk and fight as Saturday’s Game 4 neared. When asked about making adjustments, he said he wanted to see the Blazers adjust their physicality.

“They were up into us a lot. A lot more aggressive than we were and we didn’t dish it back out,’’ Lillard said. “I think in the playoffs and a situation like this, when a team is coming for you like that, you have to maybe go out of your way to do it back. Even if that means some foul trouble or some altercations happen out there or whatever, but when a team comes from you like the way they did after last game, maybe we just need to make it a point of emphasis to go back and get back at them.’’

The Blazers have tried talking about adjustments to counter the Pelicans’ traps and gameplan against the backcourt, but their plans are both not working and not being executed fully. 

“It’s easy to draw up and say this is what we want to do after you watch film,’’ Lillard said. “Then when you get out there and they are playing so disruptive … they’ve got their minds set on what they are going to do – it’s hard to execute it.’’

Defensively, the Blazers are in the spin cycle. Three different Pelicans have scored 30 or more points in the first three games – Anthony Davis (35 in Game 1), Holiday (33 in Game 2) and Nikola Mirotic (30 in Game 3) – all while Rajon Rondo has played the defense like a yo-yo.

So maybe there was nothing for Stotts to say, and no change in the game plan needed. 

“Coaches can only do so much,’’ McCollum said. “They are not guarding Mirotic, they are not guarding Jrue holiday, or Rondo, or any of these guys. So it’s on us. We just need to play better.’’

If they don’t, Game 4 will bring a sweep and more finger pointing in their faces.