Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard winning Magic Johnson Award only half the story

Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard winning Magic Johnson Award only half the story

Since entering the NBA five years ago, Damian Lillard has maintained two streaks of which he is proud:

He has never declined to sign autographs before games, and he has never skipped out on speaking with the media after games.

“Never,’’ Lillard said. “Not once.’’

On Tuesday, the Professional Basketball Writers Association announced Lillard as the 2016-2017 Magic Johnson Award winner, which is awarded by writers who cover the league to the player who best combines excellence on the court with cooperation with the public and the media.

 “It comes with the job,’’ Lillard said. “There will come a day when people won’t want my autograph … and there will come a day when the media doesn’t care what I have to say. So I think you have to appreciate it, and that’s what I try to do. I don’t take either for granted.’’

Lillard was a finalist for an unprecedented third consecutive year. This year, he beat out Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, Indiana’s Paul George, Atlanta’s Paul Millsap and Golden State’s Draymond Green. Last season, Stephen Curry of Golden State won, and the year before Pau Gasol, then of the Chicago Bulls.

Lillard becomes the second Trail Blazers player to win the award, joining Brandon Roy, who won in 2008-2009.

The award is not just a reflection of how accessible Lillard is with the media, it’s also a recognition for what he has to say. He has become one of the more thoughtful and transparent players in the NBA, both unafraid to tell it like it is while also maintaining a grounded and reasoned tone.

He could be blunt, like in November after a blowout loss in Houston, when he said “We kind of suck right now. It’s that simple.

He could be inspiring, like in February, after his late turnover contributed to a home loss against Atlanta: “Sometimes I just tell myself that you have to go through a struggle. Sometimes it has to be hard on you … and sometimes you have to grind it out and stay with it, and it will come back to your favor as long as you stay true to what you’ve been doing.’’

And he could be prophetic, like in Salt Lake City, when he succinctly captured the Blazers entering the break: "You've got two options: You can either run from it or ... man up. I know, personally, I'm going to … man up. Period. That's what has to happen."

He is, as writers like to say, locker room “gold” … a player whose candid remarks can carry your story … a can’t miss interview.

Keep in mind, this is a league where some players decline to be interviewed after a poor performance or a painful loss. And more in more in all pro sports, players are increasingly viewing the media as the enemy.

In Portland, the players treat the media with respect, and only rarely – Maurice Harkless in playoff frustration and CJ McCollum escaping out the door while everyone interviews Lillard -- does a player skip out without talking. Lillard, meanwhile, answers every question after every game, regardless of his performance or the outcome.

“It’s my opportunity to share what is going on, or what I think about something,’’ Lillard said. “That way, I can limit people having to assume things, or make things up. I can explain myself, or share my thoughts. It’s my opportunity to take the stage, so to speak, to say my part.’’

For the Blazers’ organization, the award likely doesn’t come as a surprise. Lillard has been serving as the team’s unofficial spokesman since his rookie season. But to those around the franchise, how Lillard handles the public and represents the organization through the media is only half of the story.

Lillard over the years has established what can best be described as a culture inside the Blazers. It is a culture rooted in hard work. In accountability. In relationships. And in caring.

You have heard his interviews, and read his quotes which have earned him the Magic Johnson Award.

Here is a deeper look at what you don’t see or hear when the microphones and cameras have gone away. They are little moments that stand for big concepts, and it is where Lillard separates himself.

**

The day after the Blazers were eliminated from the playoffs with a disappointing sweep at the hands of Golden State, Lillard still had one task to perform: Getting the rest of the team to sign off on donating their playoff checks.

When a team makes the playoffs, they are awarded a bonus check. This season, any team participating in the first round of the playoffs was given $223,864 to be divided among players. For the Blazers, that is roughly $16,000 per player.

As captain for the past two seasons, Lillard has made it clear to his teammates that their playoff checks should be donated to the Blazers’ support staff, which consists of everybody from massage therapists to the trainers at the practice facility.

With some Blazers teams, the locker room leadership was not always as generous. Three seasons ago, when veteran Chris Kaman joined the team, he became appalled that the Blazers were keeping their playoff checks. Kaman, who became close with Lillard, told him if he ever led a team he should insist on getting the guys to donate to underscore the importance of unity and having one’s back.

Once again this season, with Lillard going from player to player to assure they followed through, the team voted to give up their full shares. The money was divided among 25 support staff, with some getting more than others depending on their role.

“We divide our playoff shares to give to the people who we work so closely with because they spend as much time away from their families as we do, and they are just about as invested as we are,’’ Lillard said after the season. “They also do as much as possible to make our lives easier, even if it makes theirs more difficult – all while making far less. So it’s a further way of showing appreciation beyond a thank your or a handshake.’’

**

In October, both Lillard and CJ McCollum paid a surprise visit to the home of a Portland cancer patient. At the time, the Blazers requested the visit be kept private because it wasn’t made for publicity.

But the day after, the patient posted a picture on social media of himself with Lillard and McCollum, and the two players were peppered with questions. Both seemed taken aback at why it was such a big deal.

“I mean, I do stuff like that all the time,’’ Lillard said in October. “But I do it because I want to, not because the team says I should, or because I think it looks good. I understand in this position I can help people, and I try to do that as much as I can.’’

He has stopped at a young boys’ birthday party in West Linn, he has visited people in the hospital and he has donated everything from backpacks to tickets to shoes.

“We have to realize we are in position to make an impact on people’s lives,’’ Lillard said.

One of the bigger impacts has been made with Portland teenager Matty Vachter, who has cerebral palsy.

A partial season ticket holder, Vachter has formed a special bond with the Blazers players, coaches and front office. When he attends games, the team allows him backstage access. Positioned in the tunnel that leads from the locker room to the Moda Center court, Vachter slaps high fives with each player as they head and from the court, with each player knowing his name and some stopping to chat. The coaches went as far as charting how often they won with Matty in attendance after they noticed a spiked in wins when he attended.

Lillard, who is a global ambassador for Special Olympics, spends the most time with Vachter.

“I care to make him feel part of our team,’’ Lillard said. “Every guy shakes his hand on the way to and from the court, and he’s as big a Blazers fans as anyone. He was even at a road playoff game this year.’’

**

When Evan Turner arrived for his first tour of the Blazers’ practice facility after signing a free agent deal this summer, he got a first-hand view of what it meant to play for the Blazers.

It was just past 9 a.m., and in the gym, covered in sweat on a July morning was Lillard. And his workout still had another hour left.

Later, as the team struggled and teetered on falling out of the playoff picture, it was Lillard setting a different example.

In interview after interview, often times with his teammates pausing at their lockers to hear what he had to say, Lillard persisted in keeping a positive outlook. He kept reminding that the struggle would make the reward more meaningful, and he kept urging for personal accountability.

In a day and age when stars want to leave teams for the comfort of success, Lillard continues to relish playing in Portland, embracing the challenges and the fight it takes to build a winner.

Lillard can’t say how close the Blazers are to becoming a championship team. He figures it will take some development from some players, probably some key moves, and likely some time. But he knows the first step of the foundation – the team’s culture – is secure.

“Our culture is great and beyond solid,’’ Lillard said. “From the relationships, to the work ethic, and that is not one bit fabricated.’’

Magic Johnson Award winners
2000-01 Ray Allen, Milwaukee Bucks
2001-02 Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers
2002-03 Jalen Rose, Chicago Bulls
2003-04 Jermaine O’Neal, Indiana Pacers
2004-05 Antawn Jamison, Washington Wizards
2005-06 Grant Hill, Orlando Magic
2006-07 Shane Battier, Houston Rockets
2007-08 Derek Fisher, Los Angeles Lakers
2008-09 Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers
2009-10 Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors
2010-11 Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
2011-12 Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
2012-13 Shane Battier, Miami Heat
2013-14 Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
2014-15 Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
2015-16 Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

 

 

Al-Farouq Aminu and his 'monster' start propelling Blazers

Al-Farouq Aminu and his 'monster' start propelling Blazers

INDIANAPOLIS – As Al-Farouq Aminu dressed quietly, and away from the cameras and microphones that surrounded his more high-profile teammates Friday, his name was being attached to several adjectives around the Trail Blazers locker room.

Maurice Harkless called him a “monster.”

Coach Terry Stotts called Aminu an “unsung” player.

And CJ McCollum called him the “glue” that keeps the Blazers together.

Pick any of those descriptions, and Aminu has been that and more in the first two games of this Blazers season.

On Friday, he was a steady force in helping the Blazers dispatch Indiana 114-96, amassing 16 points and 16 rebounds while playing his usual steady defense.  That came on the heels of a five-point, 12-rebound performance in the season-opening win at Phoenix.

“If we get him to play like that all season,’’ McCollum mused, “we will be special.’’

Aminu has long been one of the more under-appreciated players on the Blazers, in part because he is a quiet sort, and in part because often his contributions are not adequately measured by statistics.

He is one of, if not the best, defenders on the Blazers. He is able to switch liberally from guards to forwards and he offers probably the best help defense on the team. 

So far this season, the 6-foot-9 Aminu has also been an elite rebounder. His 14 rebound average through two games is sixth best in the NBA, but he is the only rebounder in the top 10 who is shorter than 6-foot-10.

So how does a 6-foot-9 player dominate the boards?

According to Aminu, much of it mental.

“You have to think every shot is going to be off,’’ he said. “Then go after everything.’’

Another aspect, Aminu says, is to go into a game with a defensive approach, something he has adopted since he signed a four-year, $30 million free agent deal in 2015.

“If I go into a game thinking I’m going to score 100 points, then that’s all that’s on my mind, ‘’ Aminu said. “But if I go in thinking I’m going to hold my guy to zero points, then that’s what is on my mind. You have to challenge yourself defensively; that’s half the battle.’’

And it was a battle on Friday that Aminu won more often than not. His 16 rebounds were the most he has recorded in his two-plus seasons as a Blazer and four off his career high.

“It seemed like every time I looked up, he was grabbing a rebound,’’ Damian Lillard said.

His final stat line didn’t go unnoticed around the locker room.

“That was crazy. Crazy,’’ Evan Turner said. “He is balling out. His energy is at a high level and we need it. Most of those are defensive rebounds, and if we don’t get those, we are in big trouble. You give any NBA team more than one possession and it will be along night.’’

It’s not like Aminu’s value is a revelation. Last season, when he missed 19 games with calf and back injuries, the Blazers’ defense nose-dived to the worst in the league. While much of the Blazers’ late-season turnaround was credited to the arrival of Jusuf Nurkic, a nuanced reason was also Aminu rounding back into shape to shore up the defense.

“He’s the glue. He is awesome,’’ McCollum said. “He does a lot of the dirty work and doesn’t get a lot of credit. Gets a lot of rebounds. Plays defense. Switches … makes threes for us. He’s big.’’

He will have to be big Saturday night for the Blazers in Milwaukee. Aminu figures to be one of the Blazers’ wings who will be charged with slowing down the Bucks’ do-it-all star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is leading the NBA in scoring at 35.5 points a game to go along with 10.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists.

Today's Blazers' links:

The Talkin' Ball panel discusses Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler being dropped from the Top 50 list. 

Casey Holdahl of the Trail Blazers' writes about the post game of Evan Turner

The Indianapolis Star writes about Caleb Swanigan being a steal in the draft.

Bleacher Report takes a look at whether Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best in the game. 

 

How and where to watch the game: Trail Blazers at Bucks

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How and where to watch the game: Trail Blazers at Bucks

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

On Saturday night, the Portland Trail Blazers (2-0) will conclude its three-game road trip to start the season.  Saturday’s contest is a back-to-back game for the Blazers as Portland gets its toughest test yet taking on the Milwaukee Bucks (1-1).

The Blazers are coming off a 114-97 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night. It was the 2017-18 season debut for CJ McCollum in Friday’s win after serving a one-game suspension in the season-opener.  McCollum led the way scoring 28 points.  McCollum also pulled down seven rebounds. 

Damian Lillard added 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while Al-Farouq Aminu finished with a double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds.   Off the bench, Evan Turner added 17 points.

Portland held the Pacers to under 100 points after Indiana had scored 140 points in its season opener vs. the Nets.

The Bucks will also be playing in the second leg of back-to-back when Milwaukee hosts Portland.  The Bucks lost their home opener to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, 116-97.  

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals in the home loss on Friday.  Malcom Brogdon added 16 points.  Antetokounmpo and Brogodn were the only Buck players to reach double-figures.

Through the first two games of the Bucks season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 35.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and three steals.

For Saturday’s injury reports, the Blazers will again be without Noah Vonleh (right shoulder).  The Bucks are going to without Jabari Parker (left knee surgery rehabilitation).

Last season, Portland dropped both games against Milwaukee and the last time the Trail Blazers won in Milwaukee was back in November of 2013.

Our Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams will help set the stage for the Trail Blazers and Bucks contest with Rip City Live on NBC Sports Northwest starting at 4:30pm.

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 5:00pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.
 


Quick Links:

Welcome Back CJ! Blazers roll to 2-0

Trail Blazers beat Pacers and the talk once again is defense


 

Video:  CJ McCollum: The Return

Video:  CJ being CJ and all hail The Chief

Video:  McCollum says Aminu is the glue + rookie D is about not vomiting

Video:  Jason Quick: Hello 2-0


 

Game Details:

Where:  BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee WI

Tip-off: 5:30pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

CSN Programming:  Rip City Live (4:30pm), 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 of NBCS programing: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 5:00pm 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 beat Pacers and the talk once again is defense

Trail Blazers beat Pacers and the talk once again is defense

INDIANAPOLIS – The Trail Blazers rolled past their second straight opponent Friday night, this time a 114-96 dusting of the Indiana Pacers, and once again all anyone wanted to talk about was the Blazers’ improved defense.

Portland is 2-0 in the regular season, and dating back to the preseason has won seven in a row, all of the games examples of a connected, alert and active defense.

“We’re playing defense,’’ Al-Farouq Aminu said when asked what he likes most about the Blazers’ start. “I mean, in the past it hasn’t been one of our strongest suits, and this year, top to bottom, everybody is playing defense.’’

So how can a roster where 12 of the 14 players are the same as last season make what appears to be such a dramatic turnaround?

The answer is layered, but may best be explained with two simple concepts: The Blazers, Aminu says, are talking more on defense; and that communication is happening, CJ McCollum says, because the players are finally seasoned enough to know what to talk about on defense.

“Early on in your career you don’t talk because you don’t know,’’ McCollum said. “What do you say? If you don’t know what is going on, what do you talk about?’’

When teams bring up defensive communication, it could be anything from recognizing and then anticipating another team’s play, to calling out screens, to letting teammates know where they have help.

They are subtle developments that come through film study, game experience and repetition.

McCollum, for example, says as he begins his fifth season, he is talking more than ever.

“A lot more,’’ McCollum said. “My rookie year, I didn’t say anything, I was just trying not to vomit on myself … going down the court just trying to stay in the right spot and try not to mess up.  Think about it, you are young, you don’t know. All I know is: ‘Go score.’ That’s it.’’

The Blazers for the past three seasons have been among the youngest in the NBA. But that youth has experience. Damian Lillard has been a starter going on six seasons. McCollum is going on his third season as a starter. And Aminu and Harkless are beginning their third season where they are paired as interchangeable defensive forwards.

So even though Portland starts this season with the fourth youngest roster in the NBA (24.317 years), it is a roster that has not only played a lot of games, but done it together.

So now, Lillard and McCollum can recognize a team’s play call and can better anticipate where they need to be. And Harkless and Aminu are doing a better job communicating where and when their help is coming from the weakside.

“The big change that I’ve noticed is just how much we are talking,’’ Aminu said. “Guys are saying the coverages … and it becomes contagious.’’

After two games, Blazers' opponents have combined to shoot 37.7 percent from the field.

But that doesn't mean the Blazers’ defense is a finished product, or that there still aren’t lapses.

On Friday in Indiana, on the Pacers’ second offensive play, forward Bojan Bogdanovic went backdoor on Maurice Harkless for a layin. Irritated he wasn’t alerted to a back screen, Harkless motioned with his hands that his teammates needed to talk to him.

Still, coach Terry Stotts was pleased Friday with the overall defensive effort, particularly the team’s transition defense, which has been a point of emphasis.

And while nobody is going to confuse the Blazers’ first two opponents – Phoenix and Indiana – with a playoff-caliber team in the West, they are both teams that last year put up 118 points on the Blazers. That fact wasn't lost on Lillard.

"We came in here ready to guard,'' Lillard said. "We’ve had a lot of fun actually playing defense; we see what it can do for us.''

 

Welcome Back CJ! Blazers roll to 2-0

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Welcome Back CJ! Blazers roll to 2-0

Early on in this young season the Trail Blazers defense looks much improved and is a big reason they are 2-0 following a 114-96 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday. Portland scored 62 points in the first half, and defensively was giving the Pacers fits. The second half started sloppy, but then CJ caught fire, scoring the final 12 points of the third quarter. Once The Closers checked in, it was all over. 


Final Score: Portland 114 - Pacer 96

Trail Blazers' defense to get biggest test to date tonight against Pacers

Trail Blazers' defense to get biggest test to date tonight against Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS – So is this Trail Blazers’ defense for real, or what?

Portland on Friday night will get its best answer to date whether its defense is indeed new-and-improved when it plays at Indiana, which is coming off a 140-131 win over Brooklyn on opening night.

The Blazers’ defense looked great during the preseason, but Toronto played without DeMar DeRozan, the Clippers without Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers, and the Kings without four of five starters.

Then in the season opener, a 124-76 win at Phoenix, the Suns looked like a team that will vie for the worst record in the league.

It’s why coach Terry Stotts and the players have taken a cautiously optimistic approach when it comes to crowning the Blazers’ D as rehabilitated from last year’s disaster.

“It’s one game,’’ Damian Lillard cautioned after the Suns win. “I was happy to see it carry over. From camp, to preseason, then come the first road game, we did it again. We showed what we can do if we are committed to the defensive end.’’

While the Pacers figure to be a middle-of-the-road team in the East, they will be a better test than the rebuilding Suns. Plus, behind guards Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo and Corey Joseph, the Pacers are emphasizing a fast-paced approach under coach Nate McMillan.

“Nate has done an unbelievable job of letting us take the onus as point guards, and kind of let us run the show,’’ Collison told the Indy Star. “He was a point guard himself. He knows what it’s like to let us see the game, instead of micromanaging every single play. If we can play like that, call a guard game, play with one another, we will be all right.’’

The Pacers’ 140 points was the franchise’s opening night record, and if there has been a soft spot in the Blazers’ defense during the preseason and the opener, it has been in transition.

But the Blazers have been as active and connected as we’ve seen since the days when Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez vaulted Portland into the Top 10 in defense.

Stotts has repeatedly referred to this defense as “alert” and “focused” and on Wednesday in Phoenix the trio of Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu on the perimeter was as imposing collection of arms and length as I can remember from a Blazers team.

So another game, another test to see whether the Blazers really are ready to defend. Should be interesting. NBC Sports Northwest will carry the game at 4 p.m. with Rip City Live pregame show starting at 3 p.m.

Today's Blazers' links:

I wrote about Evan Turner and his defensive job on Devin Booker.

The Indy Star previewed tonight's game.

It's an Indiana homecoming for Pat Connaughton and Caleb Swanigan.

 

How and where to watch the game: Trail Blazers at Pacers

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How and where to watch the game: Trail Blazers at Pacers

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

The Portland Trail Blazers continue its three-game road trip with a stop in Indiana on Friday night to take on the Pacers.  Portland is coming off a 124-76, opening night win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. The 48-point victory was the largest margin of victory on any opening night in NBA history.

The big story of the opening night was Pat Connaughton and his career-night of 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting all coming off the bench for the Blazers. Damian Lillard was the one to lead the charge, though, with 27 points, five assists and five rebounds.

Friday night against the Pacers will mark the first game of the season for CJ McCollum after McCollum was suspended for opening night for stepping foot on the court during an October 11th preseason game when Blazer rookie Caleb Swanigan got in an altercation with Suns big man Alex Len.

Looking at the injury report for Portland, rookie Zach Collins (gastroenteritis) is listed as probable after missing the season opener on Wednesday night and forward Noah Vonleh (right shoulder) is still out for Friday’s game.

As for the Pacers, Indiana beat the Brooklyn Nets, 140-131, on Wednesday night.  Friday’s contest will be the second game for the new look Pacers (minus Paul George).  This is an obvious rebuilding time for Indiana, as the Pacers returned just five players from last season. 

In Wednesday’s win over the Nets, Myles Turner scored 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.  And, in their debuts as Indiana Pacers, Victor Oladipo had 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and Domantas Sabonis added16 points and had seven rebounds.

Last season Portland and Indiana split the season series with each team winning on its home courts.

Our Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams will help set the stage for the Blazers and Pacers contest with Rip City Live on NBC Sports Northwest starting at 3:00pm.

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 3:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.
 


Quick Links:

It was just one game, Blazer fans – but what a game it was

Evan Turner helps lock down Devin Booker, then praises Suns’ rising star

Report: Blazers sign Wade Baldwin to two-way deal

 

Video:  Highlight: Blazers 124, Suns 76

Video:  Connaughton: Be the same guy day in and day out

Video:  Lillard: You couldn’t ask for a better effort

Video:  Dwight doubles down on Pat Connaughton

 

Game Details:

Where:  Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis IN

Tip-off: 4:00pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

CSN Programming:  Rip City Live (3:00pm), 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 of NBCS programing: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 3:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Report: Blazers sign Wade Baldwin to two-way deal

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Report: Blazers sign Wade Baldwin to two-way deal

The recently released Wade Baldwin has found a new home with the Portland Trail Blazers, this according to reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski

Baldwin failed to make the final 15-man roster this season with the Memphis Grizzlies, and was waived back on October 16.

Baldwin, the 17th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, spent most of last season jumping between Memphis and the Iowa Energy of the D-League. He has played in 33-games during his short career, averaging 3.2 points and 1.8 assists per game.

Stay tuned to NBCS Northwest for all the latest information on the Baldwin signing.

Evan Turner helps lock down Devin Booker, then praises Suns' rising star

Evan Turner helps lock down Devin Booker, then praises Suns' rising star

PHOENIX – If the Phoenix Suns were “embarrassed” Wednesday by the Trail Blazers, as coach Earl Watson suggested after the 124-76 defeat, Evan Turner says they can take solace in something: the will of Devin Booker.

It was a big night for Turner, who earned the spot start in place of the suspended CJ McCollum, an assignment that pitted him against Booker, of the NBA’s most promising offensive stars. The marquee defensive assignment was what Turner wanted, and it was a spotlight start to his quest to become All-NBA Defense this season.

“I think I did great,’’ Turner said matter-of-factly after Booker was held to 6-of-17 shooting and 12 points – more than 10 points below his season average last season.

But Turner wasn’t boasting. In fact, he wanted to talk more about Booker than himself.

What stood out to Turner was the way Booker kept fighting on a night that was frustrating both on a personal level and a team level. The Blazers led by as many as 58 and Booker could never get anything going, constantly running into the swarming arms of Turner, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu, or the mobility of big man Jusuf Nurkic.

“Sometimes when you have young kids who don’t win ever, it seems like they become content with it,’’ Turner said. “But I think he has a next level, where he wants to win.’’

Turner could sense the frustration of the 20-year-old throughout the night, and it impressed him.

“He cares. I think that’s what I respect about him the most,’’ Turner said. “You go up against certain young guys in the league and they are … they get (an) NBA (attitude) … but I think that kid genuinely cares.’’

Turner said before the season he wanted to publicize his NBA All-Defense aspirations, much like Draymond Green did, in order to draw attention to his work on that side of the ball.

“I think it would be cool, and it’s an attainable goal,’’ Turner said. “Obviously, you have to put it out there first so the masses can get the idea to watch you play defense. You saw Draymond lobby for Defensive Player of the Year for four years, and he just finally got it.

“But sometimes, when it comes down to it, I think I’m an underrated defender. I will slide from guarding a 5-foot-9 guy to a 6-9 guy. So, I don’t know what it takes to be called elite, but I think I can be an elite defender in this league,’’ Turner said.

Wednesday against Booker and the Suns was a nice addition to his defensive portfolio, but Turner wanted to make sure his satisfaction with his defense wasn’t taken as a slight on Booker.

“I mean, not to knock the kid … he is super talented, super good - everything people think,’’ Turner said. “And he has a bright future because he can score in several different ways, and I think he is going to get even better. I just hope they are able to turn the corner. He has to understand there are going to be nights like this, where nothing clicks. That’s just how it goes. But I definitely respect the skillset he has as well as his knowledge of the game. You don’t see that much.’’

It was just one game, Blazer fans -- but what a game it was

It was just one game, Blazer fans -- but what a game it was

OK, Blazer fans, you know the drill.

Keep repeating this to yourself: "It's just one game. It's just one game. It's just one game"

And there are 81 yet to play. But I must admit, that 48-point win on opening night on the road was very impressive. And I don't care how bad the Suns are, it was quite a game for the Trail Blazers.

Let's talk about it:

  • The defense was obviously very solid. The Suns are a guard-oriented offensive team and the Blazers took those guards -- Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe -- out of the game, holding them to 11-for-35 shooting from the field and Phoenix had nothing left. And shortly after intermission, the overmatched Suns pretty much quit.
  • You can give several individual players their due for the defense, but what I liked best was the cohesion by the entire team at the defensive end. Pick-and-roll defense was improved and so was the interior stuff. Jusuf Nurkic makes a difference in the paint with his ability to leave his own man and intimidate drivers. Mostly, I saw a new alertness and aggression at the defensive end -- and that was special.
  • Pat Connaughton showed what he's capable of doing and it was plenty. Maybe it was just because this game was in Phoenix but he reminded me a lot of Dan Majerle, except he's a better three-point shooter than the ex-Sun.
  • Damian Lillard was, well, Damian Lillard. That leadership he provides is as important as his talent. He's a rare one, folks. A special player.
  • This was another illustration of Portland's overall talent level. Coach Terry Stotts played everybody and they all can play. This isn't a season when the Blazers will have two or three players at the end of the bench who are "projects" or merely players happy to be there. These guys all belong on an NBA court.
  • It's on to Indiana for a matchup against the Pacers, who amassed 140 points in their opening win over Brooklyn, so it should be a better test for the Portland defense. And remember, it's just the second of 82 games.