Trail Blazers made right move taking Swanigan over Bell

Trail Blazers made right move taking Swanigan over Bell

LAS VEGAS -- The Trail Blazers have moved into the second round of the summer league's tournament and will face top-seeded Toronto tonight at 7 o'clock in what I like to call "The Tourney Nobody Really Cares About Winning."

Unless you win it, of course. Then you can tell your fans that it's a sign their franchise is on the right track.

And that could possibly be true, of course. But winning the title could also just mean that you got a team together quickly and went to either Orlando or Salt Lake City summer leagues before coming here and so your team has spent a lot of time playing together. Or maybe you have four or five players from your regular-season team here. Or perhaps you just had good luck picking up some experienced free agents to play for your summer team. Or even more rare, that you actually care about winning the tournament -- which isn't common.

As you can see, I'm not big on this tournament, which seems to me more of a money grab than anything else. Most teams have already had enough games to get what they want out of this little carnival of turnovers and would prefer to not risk further injury to key players.

But it is a chance to see some of the new players heading into the NBA this season. I haven't had enough opportunity to see them all for a long enough period to make any major judgments but I have a couple of thoughts I'll share:

The first thing I want to talk about is Jordan Bell, because a lot of Ducks fans are already going off the deep end about how Portland should have drafted him instead of Caleb Swanigan. Um, no. I don't think so.

Bell is probably going to be a very nice off-the-bench contributor for the Golden State Warriors. He'll rebound, block a shot or two, hustle all over the floor and he's going to profit from playing in a great system alongside some terrific players who will probably make him look a little better than he is. But after watching both Bell and Swanigan here, it's hard for me to say Bell should have been picked ahead of Swanigan.

Swanigan is the more skilled player. More well-rounded. He can do most of the things Bell can do and also make shots from distance. And he's more than two years younger than Bell -- which means he probably has more room for improvement and a couple of more seasons in his career. He's also bigger than Bell and the one question left with Bell is how he's going to operate against bigger, more experienced players once he reaches the NBA.

Nothing against Bell. I like him. I think he was a very good choice for the Warriors, who will make good use of him. But in terms of eventually being a starting player and major contributor I think most people here would take Swanigan.

More Thoughts From Summer League

I'm anxious to see more of Lonzo Ball. He's such an interesting player and, I think, difficult to assess at this point. Yes, he can pass -- but he's not the clever, tricky sort of passer I expected. He is not flashy to any great degree. And that's not a knock on him. He makes the right reads and delivers the ball appropriately.

But he also seems just a little slower than I expected. It will be interesting to see what tempo the Lakers will play with him at the helm. And yes, his shooting form is terrible. His old man, LaVar, seems to act as if he's created the perfect player in Lonzo but I can't believe that's the best he could do with the the kid's shooting mechanics. It is more of a set shot than a jumper and takes a little while for him to load.

That said, he seems to have the "it" factor they love in LA. He's got a star quality about him. And it's going to be fun to see if he can make good on all the expectations the Lakers have for him.

And maybe he will even add a summer-league championship ring to his resume. As if there is such a thing.

What's hotter than the Sun(s)? The Blazers offense, that's what

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What's hotter than the Sun(s)? The Blazers offense, that's what

The Blazers offense was on fire Tuesday night en route to a 118-111 victory over the visiting Phoenix Suns. The Blazers came out of the gate with perhaps the best stretch of offense we have seen all season. Portland hit its first 8 shots, and 11 of its first 15. No one could miss, and by halftime it looked like a blowout was in the works. The third quarter was much of the same, as the Blazers extended the lead to as many at 25 points, but then it go interesting. Devin Booker caught fire in the fourth, scoring 21 of his 43 points, and cut the once giant Blazers lead to single digits. But the Blazers offense answered when it mattered most, and although they left it open for a second, they slammed the door shut when they needed to. 

Final Score: Blazers 118 - Suns 111

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Minnesota hands Portland its third loss in a row

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Minnesota hands Portland its third loss in a row

The Blazers hit the road on last Tuesday and picked up an impressive win over the Thunder. It looked like the Blazers may have been readt to turn the corner and grab some big wins on the road. That was not the case. The Blazers dropped their third game in a row on Sunday, a 120-103 blowout to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Portland led 33-31 after the first quarter, but it quickly fell apart. The Blazers scored just 10 points in the second quarter, at one point going more than seven minutes without a bucket. In that same time the T’Wolves went on a 14-0 run and blew the doors open. The Blazers never recovered.

Final Score: Timberwolves 120 – Blazers 103

Next up: The Blazers return home to play the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Coverage begins at 5pm on NBC Sports Northwest and on the NBC Sports App

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Nothing easy for the Blazers in NOLA

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Nothing easy for the Blazers in NOLA

The Blazers traveled to the Big Easy on Friday, and the trip was anything but easy. The Blazers came out of the gate strong, but found themselves down by as many as 16 points in the second quarter. Portland was able to claw back and head to the locker room tied 61-61 at halftime, but were unable to get over the hump in the second half. The Blazers took a season high 42 three-point shots, but only hit on 12 of them (28.6%). You live by the sword, you die by the sword, and tonight's poor shooting from deep killed the Blazers.  

Final Score: Pelicans 119 – Blazers 113

Next up: The Blazers wrap up this four-game road trip with a stop in Minnesota on Sunday. Coverage begins at 5:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest, and on the NBC Sports App.  

Lillard's return can’t down the Rockets

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Lillard's return can’t down the Rockets

The Blazers fell victim to the dreaded second night of a back-to-back, and their tired legs couldn’t keep up with the Houston Rockets. The bright side was that Damain Lillard finally returned to the lineup, but it just wasn’t enough to beat the Harden-less Rockets. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon were unstoppable, combining for  67 points on the night. And in his return Lillard showed no signs of rust, scoring a team-high 29 points. Now it’s on to New Orleans to see if they can get back in the win column.

Final Score: Rockets 121 – Blazers 112

Did Damian Lillard being injured help the Trail Blazers? Star guard thinks so

Did Damian Lillard being injured help the Trail Blazers? Star guard thinks so

OKLAHOMA CITY – Damian Lillard knows it sounds crazy, but the best thing that might have happened to the Trail Blazers this season is his recent bout with hamstring and calf injuries.

With Lillard forced to miss seven of the team’s past nine games, a funny thing has happened to the once struggling Blazers: the offense has found its groove, role players have emerged, and the team has gone 6-3.

Blessing in disguise?

“Definitely,’’ Lillard said of his time on the sideline. “The last two years that’s what it seems to be the case. I get hurt and guys have to step up.’’

The latest and most emphatic example came Tuesday in Oklahoma City, when the Blazers routed the Thunder 117-106 behind an All-Star-like 27 points from CJ McCollum, an efficient 20-points from Jusuf Nurkic, and another steady fill-in performance from Shabazz Napier (21 points). Topping off the best performance of the season was sterling bench contributions from Pat Connaughton (10 points), Zach Collins (nine points) and Maurice Harkless (nine points).

It was another affirmation that the team’s dormant offense was awakening. In the last five games, the Blazers have scored 124, 110, 110, 111 and now 117 – outputs that have been punctuated by rapid ball movement, crisp cutting and a blend of inside and outside play.

“We are forced to play that way because I’m not playing,’’ Lillard said after the Thunder win. “Because we have to lean on each other. That’s not to say we don’t when I’m playing, but there’s so much more opportunity out there.’’

Around an already smiling Blazers locker room, nothing caused players to laugh more than to suggest Lillard’s theory that his absence may turn out to be a good thing. 

“I don’t think Damian Lillard getting hurt is ever a blessing,’’ Connaughton said. “However, I think it has allowed guys to at least see what an extended role in their NBA career would look like. And that has value. There’s validity to the fact that guys have stepped up and have shown things they can do that they might otherwise not.’’

Added Ed Davis: “Obviously, we want him out there, but when your star player goes down, other guys have to step up and there is going to be more shots, more movement and that helps us in the long run. Confidence wise guys like Pat, Bazz is playing well, Moe … it has helped them. So sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise.’’

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Lillard said he is unsure if he will play Wednesday in Houston. On Tuesday, he had a morning workout, then an extensive pregame workout where he pushed himself, followed by a conditioning session that left him drenched in sweat and catching his breath.

The next hurdle, Lillard and his teammates say, is keeping the same rhythm and momentum when he does return to the lineup.

“The biggest thing is making sure when he gets back, that things don’t change,’’ Connaughton said. “In the sense of guys are still being aggressive, guys are still moving without the ball, and things that we can and have done in the past.’’

Napier, who has been a star in Lillard’s absence, said he thinks the Blazers were beginning to find their offensive footing even before Lillard became injured.

“No one person can make up what he does, so it has to be a collective group, everyone has to pitch in,’’ said Napier, who in six starts is averaging 18.7 points. “But I always felt like we were trending that way when he was playing.’’

Lillard agreed, saying the Blazers’ loss at Cleveland and home rout of Atlanta were the first steps to show the offense was coming along.

“So I think (when he does return) I just have to play the same way as always – make the right plays,’’ Lillard said.

Right now, that once sputtering offense that had a devil of a time making layins and close-range shots, is starting to cook. Nurkic is starting to make more of his layins, McCollum has found a better balance of passing and shot-making, and the team has made more cuts and dunks in the past week than seemingly all season.

“The shot making is the biggest thing,’’ Lillard said. “You make shots and you keep defenses honest. Tonight, we were running offense and (Oklahoma City) didn’t know what to do. CJ and Bazz were hitting, Nurk was finishing, Moe was cutting … now you get down the stretch, and they are trying to make a run, and we are picking them apart. Because we had been doing it all game. It’s not like this is a flash in the pan.’’

So maybe, just maybe, the player the Blazers could least afford to be injured was a good thing. Or maybe the team was already trending in this direction. Either way, it was symbolic of the Blazers offense that McCollum left the locker room feasting on some bread.

The Blazers’ offense is back, eating up opponent’s defenses once again.

“We have been saying so much about our offense: ‘It’s going to come around … It’s going to come around ‘… and y’all like, When?’’ Lillard said with a smile. “And now, it’s happening.’’

Road trippin' done right in OKC

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Road trippin' done right in OKC

The Blazers hit the road for a four-game road trip, and it started with a bang in Oklahoma City. The Blazers played well in the first half, taking a four-point lead into the locker room at halftime. But in the second half it went from good to great. The Blazers outscored the Thunder 34-26 in the third quarter, and pushed the lead to 20-plus in the fourth. It was a great way to start the road trip, and it may just be one of the Blazers best wins of the year.

Final Score: Blazers 117 – Thunder 106

Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard wakes up to good news

Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard wakes up to good news

OKLAHOMA CITY – Good news greeted Damian Lillard when he awoke on Tuesday morning: His injured right calf felt markedly better.

“It felt better today than the first game that I came back,’’ Lillard said, noting the Jan. 2 game at Cleveland, when he returned from a right hamstring injury.

It was during that Cleveland game that Lillard felt a twinge in his right calf, which was later iagnosed as a strain. He played one more game – Jan. 5 against Atlanta – but unexpectedly sat out Sunday’s  game against San Antonio, then again is being held out Tuesday in Oklahoma City.

Lillard said he still considers himself “day-to-day” and wouldn’t speculate on his availability for the Blazers’ next game, Wednesday in Houston.

“I mean, I’m not going to say much about it because I don’t know,’’ he said. “I think it’s day by day. I felt really good today. I did a workout this morning, worked out (pregame) again, did some conditioning, and felt good.’’

On Friday, the usually optimistic Lillard was dejected and short in describing his health. He had a dramatically different outlook on Tuesday after going through his extensive pregame workout.

“It’s weird, usually when I get the most frustrated or discouraging coming back off an injury, that’s usually when (the pain) quits,’’ Lillard said. “When I had plantar fasciitis (two seasons ago), they cleared me to practice after I missed like five games, and I tried to run up the court, and I couldn’t do it.

“So the next two days, I was like ‘Damn.’ And I was pouting,’’ Lillard said. “Then a couple days later, it was right. That’s kind of how this felt … a couple days went by and I’m feeling like, damn, then I woke up today feeling better.’’

Shabazz Napier will continue to start in Lillard’s place. While filling in for Lillard, Napier is averaging 18.2 points, 5.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from 3-point range.

Lillard said Napier’s play has helped him not rush back to the court, but he admitted Tuesday that sitting out Tuesday’s game against the Thunder was killing him. The Blazers (21-18) and Thunder (22-18) are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

“I live for this type of stuff. These matchups,’’ Lillard said. “It’s early but it’s a big game. Division game. We win this game, we are in 5th place and 2-0 against them.’’

Lillard this season is eighth in the NBA in scoring at 24.9 points and is averaging 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 33 games. 

Health issues to once again sideline Blazers radio announcer Brian Wheeler

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Health issues to once again sideline Blazers radio announcer Brian Wheeler

For the second time this season health issues will force Trail Blazers’ radio play-by-play voice Brian Wheeler to the sideline.

Wheeler continues to struggle with health issues related to scrotal lymphedema, a condition that forced him to miss the first 12 games of the season, as well as four games during the 2013 season.

Our Jason Quick learned that Wheeler will miss Portland's upcoming four game road trip, and could sit out longer road trips in the future.

Wheeler once had a string of 1,359 consecutive broadcasts. A string that came to an end when he missed those four games in 2003.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and stay tuned to NBCS Northwest for the latest updates.

Dame who? Blazers take down Spurs anyways

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Dame who? Blazers take down Spurs anyways

Even without Damian Lillard in the lineup, who was a late scratch, the Trail Blazers battled all night and eventually took down the San Antonio Spurs for the win thanks to a CJ McCollum runner in the lane with 5.9 seconds left in the game. The Spurs had a chance to win it but a LaMarcus Aldridge mid-range jumper was a brick at the buzzer (how fitting!). 

Box Score: Portland 111, San Antonio 110

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