Utah Jazz

Blazer guards' 11 turnovers lead to overtime loss at Utah

Blazer guards' 11 turnovers lead to overtime loss at Utah

Another close game, another lost opportunity.

The Trail Blazers had a road win in their hands Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, but fumbled it away and lost in overtime. As I've said many times, when you lose a close game, you can always point to many reasons for the defeat. I mean, Portland had the ball for the last shot in regulation with the score tied and didn't score. On the road, you better take advantage of that last shot. Especially when you send the other team to the foul line a dozen times, miss all five of your three-point attempts and allow 75 percent shooting during the overtime.

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This was an unusual night because the two players who normally carry the Trail Blazers let them down. Damian Lillard (who had a nightmarish night from three-point range) and CJ McCollum (who had a horrendous night with the ball) were a combined 18 for 47 from the field, including a 6-for-23 effort from three-point range. On top of that, they combined for 11 of their team's 17 turnovers. Ouch.

The starting Trail Blazer guards are the mainstays -- the foundation of this team. They are responsible for a lot of wins and on the rare occasions when they don't play well, they must take responsibility for the losses, too. I don't expect that to happen very often, but it did Wednesday against the Utah Jazz.


Caleb Swanigan leads Trail Blazers' opening win with double-double

Caleb Swanigan leads Trail Blazers' opening win with double-double

LAS VEGAS – It didn’t take long for the Trail Blazers rookies to make an impact Saturday in the Blazers’  72-63 win over Utah in both team's Las Vegas Summer League opener.

Caleb Swanigan, the No. 26 overall pick in last month’s draft, scored the first basket of the game on what figures to be his signature play – an offensive-rebound putback in traffic.

One offensive possession later, Zach Collins – the No. 10 overall pick – threaded a nice backdoor bounce pass to Jake Layman, who dunked. Collins, a 19-year-old 7-footer, followed up the pass with a polished turnaround jumper from the baseline on the next possession.

By the end of the game, it was Swanigan who made the biggest impression as the 6-foot-9 power forward finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds and several hustle plays that ended up with him on the court or saving balls from going out of bounds. Half of his points came from the free throw line as he punished Utah inside, even as he struggled through 4-of-12 shooting, which included one three pointer. 

Collins, meanwhile, had a sputtering debut as he went 3-for-13 from the field and had five turnovers. Most of his turnovers came as he struggled to secure the ball in traffic, resulting in him being stripped or losing control. Collins finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

Pat Connaughton, the Blazers player with the most at stake at Summer League, struggled with his shot – missing all five, including three three-pointers – but he finished with a game-high six assists. Connaughton needs a solid showing in Las Vegas in order for the Blazers to guarantee his $1.4 million contract before the July 25 deadline.

Jake Layman, who started at small forward, had 13 points and five rebounds while making 4-of-8 from the field, including 2-of-6 from three-point range.

Utah was led by guard Donovan Mitchell, the No. 13 overall pick, who had 19 points.

Next up: Blazers vs. Boston, Sunday 5:30 p.m. (CSN, ESPN2)

The Trail Blazers have done everything possible to avoid Utah's Hayward calamity

The Trail Blazers have done everything possible to avoid Utah's Hayward calamity

Yes, it was too bad Utah couldn't have held on to Gordon Hayward instead of losing him to Boston in free agency. The Jazz had something good percolating in Salt Lake City but lost an all-star player with no compensation, a monumental setback for a small-market franchise.

But in analyzing what happened to Utah, it's easy to see how the Trail Blazers have taken a much smarter approach to building a franchise in a market that's not likely to attract premium free agents.

The Jazz messed up with Hayward. They blew it. And forget market size and all those alibis, Hayward should still be in a Utah uniform. Back in 2014, the Jazz had the chance to sign him to a five-year rookie extension and did not do that. Sure, Hayward had not yet shown he would become an all-star, but his career arc was on the rise. I'm not certain whether the Utah front office was simply penny pinching or just didn't know how talented Hayward was -- but really,  a big underrated skill for those operating a team in the NBA is knowing your own players and their potential better than anyone else does.

And when you draft and develop players with all-star potential, you better be 100 percent, rock-solid sure they don't blossom someplace else. You just cannot afford to make mistakes with players you have drafted and had on your roster for multiple seasons.

Utah could have signed Hayward to that extension at five years and $80 million but sat back, hoping to re-sign him on the cheap. However Charlotte came in and offered him a four-year, $63 million deal with the final season a player option. Of course, Utah matched the offer -- but as you can see, it cost the Jazz two years of Hayward and those two seasons could have turned out to be successful enough to convince him to stay in Utah even longer.

Now do you understand why Neil Olshey took no such chance with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum? They are tied to the Trail Blazers for as long as contractually possible, though the 2020-21 season. And oh, by the way, all those other contracts Portland signed last summer -- Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner -- that people complain about, had strategic value. The Trail Blazers preserved cap space by making those deals before signing McCollum to his extension. Had they not made those deals when they did, very little cap space would have been left to fill the roster after CJ's deal was signed.

And seriously, do you think Portland could have signed a free agent this summer as talented as McCollum? No way. In a situation like Portland's, it's best to draft wise, trade smart and make sure your key players don't get away.

Because replacing them can prove to be very difficult.


After record night, Damian Lillard delivers final assist to Utah locker room

After record night, Damian Lillard delivers final assist to Utah locker room

Inside the Trail Blazers’ locker room, after he secured the top scoring performance in franchise history, Damian Lillard on Saturday had one final statistic to add to his record night.

It wasn’t another point to add to his 59-point outburst that propelled the Blazers to an ever-important 101-86 victory over Utah, but rather an assist.

As the Blazers broke their team huddle inside the locker room, Blazers equipment manager Eric Hallman approached Lillard with the game ball. But instead of taking the keepsake for his trophy room, Lillard sent it down the hall to the Jazz locker room and veteran Joe Johnson.

During Saturday’s game, Johnson became the 42nd player in NBA history to amass 20,000 career points.

“So I told them to give it to him,’’ Lillard said. “That’s an accomplishment for him as well.’’

Lillard instead said he would keep his jersey to commemorate the night, which was different from the start. After all, it was Lillard who chose to outfit the Blazers in their road black uniforms for the home game, an idea that came to him after seeing an old picture of Terry Porter and the Blazers in black.

For a night at least, Lillard and these Blazers had more than just the look of Porter and the most hailed era of Blazers. They played like it, too.

Going against one of the NBA’s top defenses, the Blazers tied a franchise record by committing just three turnovers. And going against a Utah team that was trying to lock down homecourt advantage in the playoffs while securing their 50th win, the Blazers played what coach Terry Stotts and Lillard said was their best defensive game of the season, holding Utah to 40.3 percent shooting.

It all put the Blazers (40-40) on the cusp of clinching the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Portland needs to beat either San Antonio on Monday or New Orleans on Wednesday, or have Denver lose one of its three remaining games – Sunday at home against Oklahoma City, Tuesday at Dallas, or Wednesday at Oklahoma City – and the Blazers will clinch a postseason berth and head to the Bay Area for a first round matchup at Golden State.

If the Blazers make the playoffs, many will look back to Lillard’s record performance and the Blazers’ victory Saturday as one of the defining moments.

But to understand the entirety of what is transpiring here, and to appreciate the greatness of Lillard, you will have to go back to the dark days, in February.

It was a night that Lillard left the Moda Center with a distinct feeling.

He was thirsty.


It has been a long road back for the Blazers since the night they left Detroit on the last day of February. Portland was 24-35, a season-high 11 games below .500, and it was on that night Lillard missed a free throw with 10.8 seconds left that could have prevented the game from going to overtime, where the Blazers eventually lost to the Pistons.

If the ending of February was the nadir, Lillard never let anyone feel it. Inside the locker room he kept preaching about embracing the struggle of the season, and reminding his teammates that success is not easy.

On Feb. 13, after another bitter defeat in overtime to Atlanta, which came after Paul Millsap hit a last-second shot to force the extra period, Lillard lamented the team seemed snakebit.

“It just feels like when we are in those situations, the worst possible thing happens … It just feels like we haven’t had great luck,’’ Lillard said after the Atlanta loss.

Nobody wore the losses more than Lillard. But never did he seem defeated, and never did he let the team’s hope waver.

“I’m anxious,’’ Lillard said after the Atlanta loss in Portland. “Anxious to be like, man, we are getting it going … I’m thirsty for that moment.’’

That thirst led him to look at what seemed like a crumbling season and see opportunity.

“I think of it as a test,’’ Lillard said that night. “It’s hard. Everybody has something to say about it, but it’s hard. Sometimes I just tell myself that sometimes you have to go through a struggle. Sometimes it has to be hard on you. I always feel like you go through tough things but you have opportunity to make it special in the end.

“Right now, we are just having a hard time. That’s not to say we accept it, but 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,’’ Lillard said.

On Saturday, after his 59-point effort that all but completed their comeback, Lillard was reminded of his sermons in February,  and before his quotes were recited, he was finishing them.

“…. going to make it sweeter in the end,’’ Lillard said. “But we are not there yet. We’ve climbed, done a lot of climbing to get in this position, and now we are one game from accomplishing what we wanted to get done – and that’s get a playoff spot. That struggle makes us enjoy this – working our way back and feeling some success – it make it feel that much better. Especially when we get this next win and lock it up. We will be feeling good about ourselves and we will appreciate those hard times even more.’’

That Lillard kept not only his outlook, but the team’s focus, on reaching this point is a testament to his leadership and his will to win.

Like Lillard’s assist to Johnson and his 20,000-point milestone, it’s something that won’t show in the boxscore, but goes a long way in defining who Lillard is as a player and person.

And it’s why the Blazers are now one victory, or one Denver loss, away from the playoffs.

Up next: San Antonio at Blazers, 7 p.m. Monday (CSN).


Damian Lillard sets franchise scoring record, puts Blazers on cusp of playoffs

Damian Lillard sets franchise scoring record, puts Blazers on cusp of playoffs

A record-setting performance by Damian Lillard has put the Trail Blazers on the cusp of a playoff berth.

Lillard on Saturday scored 59 points, setting the franchise mark for points in a game, as the Blazers beat Utah 101-86 at the Moda Center to reduce their magic number to one for clinching the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Lillard made 18-of-34 shots, including 9-of-14 three-pointers and 14-of-16 free throws. He added six rebounds and five assists and played 42 minutes.

Lillard broke the franchise record of 54 held by Damon Stoudmaire (2005) and the Moda Center record of 52 held by Brandon Roy (2008).

"Damian was phenomenal,'' coach Terry Stotts said.

The performance couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Blazers played without Allen Crabbe (left foot soreness) and endured an off-night from CJ McCollum, who went 4-of-20.

“I realized what time it was for our team,’’ Lillard said. “We’ve worked too hard, and came too far … we have to win … we gotta get it done.’’

Lillard’s big night also moved the Blazers 1.5 games ahead of Denver with two games left. Denver plays at home Sunday against Oklahoma City. The Blazers can clinch with a Nuggets loss.

The Blazers also tied a franchise mark with only three turnovers. 

The Blazers next play Monday at home against San Antonio and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after Saturday’s game that he would not rest any Spurs players for the final two games because he has been unhappy with the team’s physicality recently.

Lillard tied his franchise record by scoring 26 points in the first quarter, leading the Blazers to a 34-20 lead. The big start by Lillard and the Blazers didn’t carryover in the second quarter as Utah clawed to within 48-42 by closing the half on an 18-8 run. The run was keyed by a stalled Blazers’ offense that went nearly five minutes without scoring.

“I knew it was important for us to get off to a good start,’’ Lillard said.

Stotts also called the game the Blazers' best defensive effort of the season. He credited the switching abilities of Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Noah Vonlehon pick-and-rolls to holding Utah (49-31) to 40.3 percent shooting.

Next up: San Antonio at Blazers, 7 p.m. Monday (CSN)


Playoff race tightens as McCollum's 25 not enough for Trail Blazers in Utah

Playoff race tightens as McCollum's 25 not enough for Trail Blazers in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY – Buckle your seat belts, Portland, the Trail Blazers’ pursuit of the playoffs is looking like it will be a wild ride.

Portland had its lead over Denver reduced to a half-game Tuesday when Utah pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 106-87 win at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Coupled with Denver’s 134-131 win at New Orleans earlier in the night, the Blazers (38-40) and Denver (37-40) look like they will take the race for the final playoff spot in the West into the final week of the season.

Portland will have its four remaining games at home, where it has won five in a row. The Blazers will close against Minnesota, Utah, San Antonio and New Orleans. Denver has five games left: at Houston, at home against New Orleans, at home against Oklahoma City before finishing the season on a road back-to-back at Dallas and Oklahoma City.

The Blazers might have the favorable schedule, but they will have to do it without starting center Jusuf Nurkic, whose absence was felt again Tuesday in his third game out with a broken right leg. One game after Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns went for 34 points and 12 rebounds, Utah center Rudy Gobert had 20 points and 11 rebounds and reserve center Jeff Withey added 10 points and two rebounds.

The Blazers are 1-2 without Nurkic, and against Utah coach Terry Stotts shuffled his starting lineup, putting Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward and moving Noah Vonleh to center. The move never had time to materialize, however, as Vonleh picked up two early fouls and headed to the bench with 8:57 left.

Vonleh’s early foul trouble was just the start of the Blazers’ troubles. They missed their first seven shots and fell behind 11-0 as Rudy Gobert hurt them inside and Gordon Hayward from the outside.

It didn’t help either that star point guard Damian Lillard had a rare off night, making just 5-of-20 shots for 16 points, tied for his third lowest output of the season.

But behind some offensive spark from McCollum and Meyers Leonard, and a defensive jolt from Evan Turner, the Blazers scrapped back and took a 31-30 lead in the second quarter. The lead was short-lived, however, as Utah called timeout and responded with a 13-2 run that helped them take a 47-41 halftime lead.

Portland was within 72-64 near the end of the third quarter, but Joe Johnson hit a three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left – the second of four consecutive three-pointers he hit in a three minute span that turned a 65-58 game into an 83-68 blowout in the fourth.

Utah (48-30) stretched its lead to as many as 20 in the fourth quarter, even though they were playing without three starters – point guard George Hill, shooting guard Rodney Hood and power forward Derrick Favors. Gordon Hayward finished with 30 points, and Johnson  13 off the bench. Utah is now one game ahead of the Clippers for the fourth seed in the West.

McCollum led Portland with 25 points while Aminu had 11.

Next up: Minnesota at Blazers, Thursday 7:30 p.m. (TNT)

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)


Jusuf Nurkic practices with Trail Blazers, will play Wednesday against Jazz

Jusuf Nurkic practices with Trail Blazers, will play Wednesday against Jazz

Fresh off his first practice with the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, newly acquired center Jusuf Nurkic will make his debut Wednesday at Utah, coach Terry Stotts said.

Stotts ran the 7-footer through 4-on-4 drills during practice to introduce the team’s plays, and said he liked what he saw.

“Very skilled young guy. Nice touch around the basket, good feel for the game,’’ Stotts said. “And, he needs to get in better shape.’’

Nurkic, who was acquired from Denver for a 2017 first round pick and Mason Plumlee, fell out of the Nuggets rotation in the past month. In the last 17 games, he did not play in five and had five others where he played less than eight minutes. Only twice in the last month has he played more than 20 minutes.

This season he is averaging 8.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 18 minutes a game, but he says he is capable of more.

“I’m able to do a lot more stuff,’’ Nurkic said. “(Denver) kind of hold me down. I wish them good luck. I’m here to show the coach I can work hard. I’m going to be in gym all day and work, and be patient.’’

CJ McCollum said he studied film on Nurkic and likes his ability to post-up with his back to the basket – a facet the Blazers haven’t had since LaMarcus Aldridge left in 2014 – as well as his ability to contest shots on defense.

“It was good to see him get up and down. He’s very skilled,’’ McCollum said. “He can move. He’s strong as an ox. I look forward to seeing him play.’’

McCollum said it will likely take time for Nurkic to become acclimated to the Blazers’ plays and players, but both said it should help Nurkic that the All-Star break starts on Thursday, allowing more time for film study.

“Obviously, it will be a process,’’ McCollum said. “It’s not going to look perfect overnight, but I think he will help us right away.’’

Nurkic repeatedly said he is “all about winning” and that he will do whatever Stotts asks when it comes to his role. He also said he is excited to play with All-Star level guards like Damian Lillard and McCollum, noting that he has never played with such a high-caliber backcourt.

“First time in my life I get to play with those kind of guards,’’ Nurkic said. “I can’t wait.’’

His first chance will be Wednesday at Utah against a Jazz team that is 34-22 and a half-game out of fourth in the West and features one of the premier defensive centers in the NBA in Rudy Gobert.

Down the road, though, Nurkic said he hopes his stay in Portland will be long term. He is under contract through next season.

“I think it’s the perfect place for me,’’ Nurkic said.  “They need me; I need them.’’

Next up: Blazers at Utah, 6 p.m. Wednesday (KGW).

Damian Lillard's 'secret' coach: Meet former Central Catholic standout Brian Barkdoll

Damian Lillard's 'secret' coach: Meet former Central Catholic standout Brian Barkdoll

After Damian Lillard scored 39 points Tuesday in the Trail Blazers’ season-opening win over Utah, he noted that summer workouts with a special, mystery coach played a role in his performance.

A large part of Lillard’s success Tuesday involved attacking the rim, and 7-foot-1 Utah center Rudy Gobert, who is among the NBA’s premier shot blockers.

Lillard went 7-for-8 at the rim, and he said some of his effectiveness could be traced back to his summer workouts, when the Blazers stationed what Lillard called a “huge” player/coach underneath the basket with the sole intention of blocking his shots.

“That’s my special secret,’’ Lillard said Tuesday night when pressed for the name and background of the coach. “I will tell you guys at a later date.’’

Turns out, the mystery coach might not be much of a mystery to Portlanders.

His name is Brian Barkdoll, a 27-year-old video assistant for the Blazers, who graduated from Central Catholic in 2007 after being named the MVP of the Mt. Hood Conference.

The Blazers would not make Barkdoll available to the media on Wednesday, even as he was among the last to the leave the practice courts after a session with Meyers Leonard.

Barkdoll is 6-foot-10 and about 260 pounds and played for Blazers assistants Dale Osbourne and Nate Tibbetts for the Tulsa 66ers in the NBA Development League during the 2011-2012 season.

Barkdoll, who after Wednesday's practice had a sweat-soaked shirt, was unexpectedly if not mysteriously put into the spotlight Tuesday when Lillard was asked about his aggression in attacking Gobert during his 39-point performance.

“Over the summer, we got a guy working out with me every morning. He is huge,’’ Lillard said, adding that he estimated he was at 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9. “He blocked some of my shots. But the whole summer, I was finishing (at the rim) around him.’’

Over his career, Lillard has never struggled with beating his man off the dribble and getting to the rim. Finishing, however, has been an area he has worked to improve upon. This summer included.

“I walked in the gym one morning and (coaches) were about to grab the stick with the hand on it,’’ Lillard said Tuesday night.

But before they used that traditional method to simulate a big man, they looked at Barkdoll and pushed him into action.

“Me and CJ (McCollum) would do our regular workout, and he would be waiting at the rim,’’ Lillard said. “He didn’t have to guard or anything, he was just waiting there to try and block us. And there were a couple days where it wasn’t our day … he was getting it.’’

Lillard said his daily workouts with Barkdoll improved his body control and his ingenuity in creating shots off the backboard. Also, it helped his timing and how to best use angles.

“Knowing when to attack this way, and cross over the other way to turn his hips, cause when you turn the hips he can’t get off the ground as quick,’’ Lillard said. “Also, laying the ball up ‘off time’ … bigs are great at timing  your jump, so instead of me timing it perfect, I would do it off rhythm. Like when I get on the wrong leg, I would get the (ball) in the air.’’

Another skill he worked on was initiating the contact with Barkdoll. Lillard found that if he went into Barkdoll, it helps ground the big man.

All of it was on display Tuesday against one of the best in the NBA, thanks to some summer workouts with the old Central Catholic and Northwest Nazarene standout.

“You have to be crafty to get it around guys like Gobert,’’ Lillard said. “I was able to get to those spots and do it tonight.’’

Blazer opener: What did we see that is sustainable? And what isn't?

Blazer opener: What did we see that is sustainable? And what isn't?

Yes, it was just one game. The first of 81 to come. And you certainly don't want to overreact to just one game. But did we see anything Tuesday night in Moda Center that we can expect to continue? Maybe. Let's take stock:

  • Damian Lillard came to the rescue of the Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter. Is he going to have to do that often? Better hope not. Not that he isn't capable of it but it's a lot to ask. And if he needs to score 39 for Portland to win, it's going to be a difficult year. But he's primed for a monster season and I don't think there's any doubt about that. His ability to finish at the basket has taken a leap forward. If you can get to the basket, get to the foul line frequently and make threes, you're going to be a big-time scorer at any level. Lillard has arrived at that level.
  • The Trail Blazers had trouble with their defense through much of this game. Utah put Portland's guards in a blender in the first quarter, bouncing them off rapid-fire screens and it was effective. And the Jazz hit those mid-range jump shots Portland encourages. Early in the game, too many of those jumpers were uncontested. There is a sincere effort to improve the defense but it will take time. More shots must be contested.
  • When Portland went to small lineups, the Jazz -- to their credit, I believe -- stayed big. Center Rudy Gobert played more than 40 minutes, in fact. And more than most teams do, Utah made a real effort to post up smaller players. It will be interesting to see if other teams attempt to do that because the size did give the Trail Blazers' small lineup trouble on the boards and on defense.
  • Don't forget, by the way, that Utah played without Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, two critical starters, and acquitted itself very well considering those absences. Make no mistake, Utah is good.
  • The Portland bench is going to be a very big regular-season factor. That unit is going to be more potent than nearly every team Portland will play and have a big impact on results. As you know, that advantage isn't nearly as impactful in the playoffs, where starters often play much longer minutes and rotations are shortened.
  • Noah Vonleh? Still not sure. There's always been talent there but I want to see if he can sustain the confidence he seems to suddenly possess. Where did this come from? How did it happen? He's gone from a nonentity to being a force. And it happened suddenly. Can he sustain it? I'll need to see more of it to promise it's for real.