Trail Blazers limp into the All-Star Break after lopsided loss in Utah

Trail Blazers limp into the All-Star Break after lopsided loss in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY – Coach Terry Stotts says the All-Star Break comes at a good time for every team in the NBA, but perhaps no team will welcome  the break more than the Trail Blazers.

Portland limped into the All-Star break Wednesday with its third straight loss and fifth in six game with a 111-88 loss to Utah at Vivint Arena.

Portland (23-33) fell to a season-low 10 games below .500 and will resume play Feb. 23 sitting two games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Utah (35-22) ended a three-game losing streak as All-Star Gordon Hayward had 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds and fill-in starter Joe Ingles added 18 points.

Lost in the numbing end to Wednesday’s game, when Utah led by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter, was the successful debut of  Jusuf Nurkic, the 7-foot center acquired from Denver on Sunday in a trade for Mason Plumlee.

Nurkic finished with 13 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes and he showed a little of everything from passing, to defense to being an inside presence. He first entered with 4:22 left in the first quarter and immediately lost the ball while trying to make an offensive move, but he later made a nifty touch pass to Allen Crabbe, blocked a Derrick Favors shot at the rim, and scored off an offensive rebound. All told, he made 5-of-5 shots, 3-of-4 free throws and added two steals, two blocks and an assist.

The Blazers also used a new starting lineup, with Ed Davis replacing Noah Vonleh at power forward and Meyers Leonard starting his second straight game at center. Leonard hit his first two three pointers in the opening minutes of the game, but was quiet thereafter, finishing with 10 points and one rebound in 24 minutes. Davis finished with seven points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.

The Blazers made a 15-0 run at the end of the first half and into the third quarter, erasing a 40-26 deficit to take a 41-40 lead with 11:31 left in the third.

But Portland could never get a sustained offensive push as its two stars – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum – had off shooting nights. Lillard went 3-for-19 and finished with 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

McCollum picked up three fouls in the first quarter, anchoring him to the bench for all but the final 2:42 of the half. After missing his first five shots, he came in and made his next three to ignite the 15-0 run, but he suffered through an 8-for-19 night despite leading the team with 18 points.

Both teams struggled shooting in the opening quarter, with Utah missing its final 10 shots, allowing Portland to get within 18-17. Utah shot 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) in the quarter and Portland made 30.4 percent of its shots (7-of-23) as McCollum (0-for-5) and Lillard (1-for-7) were uncharacteristically off.

Next up: Blazers at Orlando, Feb. 23, 4 p.m. (CSN)


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.

Trail Blazers sign Wade Baldwin IV to standard NBA contract

NBCS Northwest

Trail Blazers sign Wade Baldwin IV to standard NBA contract

Trail Blazers retain Baldwin IV through 2018-19 season

PORTLAND, Ore. (March 12, 2017)The Portland Trail Blazers have signed guard Wade Baldwin IV to a standard NBA contract through the 2018-19 season, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

Baldwin, who was originally signed to a two-way contract on Oct. 19, has appeared in one game for the Trail Blazers this season and holds NBA averages of 3.1 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 12.0 minutes in 34 games (one start) over parts of the past two seasons with Memphis and Portland.

The 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft out of Vanderbilt, Baldwin, 21, posted averages of 18.2 points (42.2% FG, 23.6% 3-PT, 79.8% FT), 4.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.18 steals and 33.8 minutes in 17 games with the NBA G League’s Texas Legends this season.   

From cursed to charmed: 2017-2018 Blazers riding wave of luck, success

From cursed to charmed: 2017-2018 Blazers riding wave of luck, success

By now, it’s getting hard to deny that something special is happening to the 2017-2018 Trail Blazers.

The Blazers are the hottest team in the NBA, having won nine in a row heading into tonight’s game against Miami. But there is a more subtle trend that has become a part of this season:

For once in their tortured franchise history, the Blazers have been favorably affected by injuries.

From teams around the Blazers in the standings, to players being sidelined when facing Portland, the Blazers this season have gone from cursed to charmed.

A franchise that has watched injuries end careers – from Bill Walton to Sam Bowie to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy – and had late-season injuries ruin seasons (Bonzi Wells, Wesley Matthews), the Trail Blazers this season are seemingly catching a break at every turn.

In the hotly contested Western Conference, every team around the third-place Blazers has weathered a significant injury.

Fourth-place New Orleans lost All-Star DeMarcus Cousins for the season.

Fifth-place Minnesota is without All-Star Jimmy Butler for two-months of the season’s stretch run.

Sixth-place Oklahoma City lost Andre Roberson, it’s defensive anchor, for the season.

Seventh-place San Antonio has played nearly all season without All-Star Kawhi Leonard.

And the trio of remaining contenders – Denver (Paul Millsap), the Clippers (Patrick Beverley) and Utah (Rudy Gobert) – have played long stretches with key players out.

But it’s not just the teams around Portland that have been impacted.

In an uncanny trend, the Blazers this season have often benefitted from playing teams without either a star player or key players.

It started in the season opener, when Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe was held out while the team tried to facilitate a trade and has continued through tonight, when Miami will be without starting center Hassan Whiteside and guard Dwyane Wade.

In between, the Blazers have missed Stephen Curry twice. John Wall twice. Jimmy Butler twice. Whiteside twice. James Harden. Kyrie Irving. Blake Griffin. Draymond Green. Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony. Myles Turner twice.

And that list doesn’t include this season’s chronically injured, like Leonard (twice), Mike Conley (twice), Tony Parker (twice).

If you think the Blazers are going to apologize for having to play teams that are short-handed, think again. History has been too cruel.

“For us,’’ Damian Lillard reminded, “luck hasn’t always been on our side.’’


On March 5, 2015 the Blazers beat Dallas to improve to 41-19, where they sat in third place in the West. But it was a night their season changed.

Matthews, their starting shooting guard and the heart-and-soul of the locker room, ruptured his Achilles tendon during the game and was lost for the season.

Without Matthews down the stretch, the Blazers’ defense disintegrated, and some of the team’s grit disappeared. The Blazers limped to a 10-12 record, finished fifth and were dispatched by Memphis in five games.

It marked the end of one of the most popular and encouraging Blazers cores in years. LaMarcus Aldridge left for San Antonio. Matthews signed with Dallas. Robin Lopez signed with New York and Nicolas Batum was traded to Charlotte.

Players on that team were left to wonder what would have happened had Matthews’ Achilles stayed in tact? Not only that season, but the future?

It wasn’t the first time an injury derailed the Blazers late in the season.

In April of 2001, the Blazers were trying to stave off an epic late-season collapse when Bonzi Wells went up for a dunk at Golden State.

Moments later, Wells was pounding the court in agony, his left knee blown out. He had torn his ACL and would be lost for the final six games and the playoffs.

After beginning March in first place in the Western Conference, the team started to unravel amid the tantrums of Rasheed Wallace and internal strife amid late-season additions Rod Strickland and Detlef Schrempf.

Coach Mike Dunleavy made a controversial move during the spiral: he moved Wells to the starting lineup in place of Steve Smith, who was coming off an appearance on the Olympic team.

The move was starting to reap benefits as the team headed into April. Wells, who would finish second in the NBA in field goal percentage, was demanding double-teams on the post. And Smith began to flourish as the No. 1 option off the bench.

Coming off the Western Conference finals appearance the season before, the Blazers never got to see how the new lineup would fare in the postseason, and they were swept by the Lakers.


Of course, the injury curse has long been a part of Portland’s history.

After leading the Blazers to the 1977 title, Walton broke his foot in Game 60 at Philadelphia. The Blazers were 50-10 at the time, which included a 30-1 record at home, including 26 straight.

Portland finished 8-14 and lost to Seattle in the conference semifinals.

Then there was Bowie … and Oden … and Roy … all promising careers cut short by injury. Even last season, the Blazers’ late-season flurry to the playoffs was tainted by Jusuf Nurkic’s broken leg, which kept him out of all but one playoff game.

But this season, outside of Al-Farouq Aminu missing 13 games with an ankle sprain, and Lillard missing seven games with hamstring and calf injuries, the Blazers have been healthy.

Around here, people figure it’s about time the breaks went Portland’s way.

“People ask me why I’m always so optimistic, why do I always believe?’’ Lillard said. “I know that a lot of things go into an NBA season, and injuries are part of it. Bad stretches are part of it. Some guys don’t have the season you expect them to have … you just never know what is going to happen.’’

So, luck? Sure. Every team needs it.

“If that’s considered outside luck, then so be it,’’ Lillard said. “It’s part of it … Right now, things are going well for us. But we are doing the right things to give ourselves a chance to win these games and take advantage of the fact that other people might be going through things we are not.’’