Dwight Jaynes

Zach Collins, 30 pounds heavier, is stronger and has a medal to prove it

Zach Collins, 30 pounds heavier, is stronger and has a medal to prove it

Zach Collins emerged from the Trail Blazers’ weight room at their practice facility Wednesday afternoon to meet the media wearing a very heavy, round gold medal with a spinner on it, attached to a gold chain around his neck.

Is this man doing a lousy Flavor Flav impersonation or did he just get some sort of recognition from his team?

“We’ll have lifting sessions sometimes the day after a game instead of going through a two-and-a-half-hour practice. We’ll just go in there and lift and get our bodies right,” Collins said after removing the medal prior to his interview. “The H and P staff will pick whoever they thought worked the hardest or, they told me I was here a lot during the summer working with them, and they just gave it to me at this time. Last year they didn’t give it to me a lot and I was kind of mad about it. But the first time they brought it out this year and I got it.”

Certainly, it would appear Collins deserved some sort of medal for improving his bulk and strength.

“I definitely feel stronger,” he said. “Being able to take multiple hits and still go after a ball.”

And the facts would seem to back that up.

“I was weighing between 244 and 248 last year,” Collins said. “Now I’m between 252 and 256.”

A big improvement from what he weighed when he was drafted out of Gonzaga after his freshman year.

“The strength coaches will tell you I came in at 215 but I was about 220 to 225,” he said.

How much of that was work in the weight room and how much was a change in diet?

“I did get a chef,” Collins said. “My rookie year, I had trouble trying to figure out what I was supposed to eat after a game. It’s not like in Vegas (his hometown) where everything’s open past midnight.

“So, it was tough for me to find a healthy meal after a game my rookie year. Last year and this year I had the same chef and they’re going to do a good job of just getting me pre-game meals, post-game meals, non-game-day meals and they work with our nutritionist here so everybody’s on the same page.”

Collins started at power forward Tuesday against Denver and played the most of any Trail Blazer. He went 23:54, hit five of 12 shots, scored 10 points while collecting six rebounds. He said his injured left middle finger didn’t hurt, after it kept him out of practice for a few days.

“Offensively, it was our first preseason game and there are some kinks we’ve got to work out,” Collins said. “There are some details on offense we’ve got to get worked out. But I was really happy. I was encouraged.”

Trail Blazers, Nuggets walk and foul their way through exhibition opener

Trail Blazers, Nuggets walk and foul their way through exhibition opener

If you like missed shots, fouls and turnovers, Tuesday night’s opening exhibition game in Memorial Coliseum was for you.

The Trail Blazers played host to the Denver Nuggets and paid homage to the old days of the NBA when players didn’t shoot well and got called for traveling once in a while.

The result was a 105-94 Denver win over Portland that was billed as a throwback game but should have been a throw-it-back game, the way you do with a fish that doesn’t measure up.

The Blazers shot 34.1 percent from the floor and missed 60 shots. They were 6 for 30 from three-point range and had 22 turnovers and 24 fouls. The Nuggets forced some of those turnovers and fouls but were just 9-29 from three while making 44.7 percent of their field goals overall. Denver had 29 fouls and 24 turnovers.

“It looked like a first exhibition game,” said Portland Coach Terry Stotts. “First half was not bad, the third quarter was pretty sloppy with turnovers. We didn’t shoot the ball well for most of the game. Kind of to be expected for the first exhibition game.”

A lot of those turnovers were traveling calls, a point of emphasis for the officials this season. “Points of emphasis” in the NBA usually means they make those calls in the exhibition games but once the season starts, things return to normal.

Some of the walking violations called in this game were almost invisible. It will be interesting to see if players named Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden will be whistled for those violations.

“Point of emphasis,” CJ McCollum said. “We’ll see when the regular season starts. They call it early to get you used to it. Set a precedent. Like the ‘freedom-of-movement’ thing in past years.”

Stotts said, "They said they were going to look to clean up the travel, so we are going to have to adjust."

Stotts managed to get all 17 of his players who were wearing a uniform into the game, which was an achievement. Portland trailed by only 52-50 at the half but the game got away in the second half as the bench cleared.

Damian Lillard and McCollum played 15 minutes apiece in the first half and watched the rest of the game from the bench. They were only 5-15 from the field and 1-8 from three.

Some of the new Blazers made a good first impression, particularly if you ignore the shooting problems.

Kent Bazemore had a whopping seven steals and was all over the court, but he was just 1-7 from the floor. Mario Hezonja had a team-high 12 points to go with six rebounds and two assists but was a team-worst minus-10 for the game. Anfernee Simons had 10 points but was 3-11 from the field and Zach Collins had 10 while making 5 of 12.

Paul Millsap scored 14 points to lead the Nuggets, who rested their best player, Nikola Jokic.

Officially, the game was called a Memorial Coliseum sellout at 10,942.

“It was a good experience, Fan Fest and tonight,” Lillard said. “Hopefully, some of that magic rubs off on the team.”

Trail Blazers, Nuggets renew rivalry in games that don't count -- or do they?

Trail Blazers, Nuggets renew rivalry in games that don't count -- or do they?

Just think back to last season’s playoffs and that seven-game cage match between the Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets to get to the Western Conference finals. Portland had to win two games – including Game 7 – in Denver to capture the series.

It was a brutally competitive series that took a lot out of both teams. And they don’t waste any time meeting up again this season. Ironically, because exhibition schedules are made about a year in advance, the teams play a home-and-home preseason series that begins Tuesday night with a game in Memorial Coliseum.

And then, believe it or not, they open their regular season with a game against each other on Oct. 23 in Moda Center.

It’s pretty certain that neither head coach is wild about playing twice in the exhibition season and then opening the regular season against that same team.

Will the competitiveness from that playoff series carry over to these exhibition games? Will players and coaches be able to keep perspective on what are meaningless games?

“That’s a good question; I don’t know,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “Certainly, it is there. It didn’t go away. They might be a little more bitter about it. It might stick in their gut a little bit more.”

Oh yes. In fact, when the Nuggets had their dinner meeting on the eve of training camp, the players were shown a highlight video from last season.

With, for them, an unhappy ending.

“The last clip on our edit last night that we watched was Portland celebrating on our court,” (Denver Coach Mike) Malone said of last season’s second-round playoff exit. “That was it. After that, I don’t think anything needs to be said.”

Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray said the clip will provide plenty of motivation for his team.

“Just know how good we are, knowing we should have won the game and could have won the game,” Murray said. “The only thing we can do about it is go back the next year and be better. That starts right here.”

Stotts doesn’t expect either team to be giving away many secrets during the exhibition season.

“I would not expect either team to show too much in either game,” said the Portland coach. “I would expect both teams to keep it pretty vanilla.”

And it all begins – even thought it doesn’t really count – Tuesday night in Memorial Coliseum.

Kent Bazemore steals the Trail Blazer show at annual Fan Fest

Kent Bazemore steals the Trail Blazer show at annual Fan Fest

The Fan Fest is quite obviously for the fans. And 7,336 of them showed up for the free show. But the Trail Blazers, too, got something out of it Sunday night in Memorial Coliseum.

They played the intrasquad scrimmage hard, played it straight and had fun along the way. We assume the fans did, too.

“I thought everybody played hard,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “It was competitive and they executed. I told them before the game to play it serious and I thought they did. I didn’t want it to be like an all-star game.”

Indeed, as they say, both teams played hard.

And in a building that is showing signs of age – including a public address system that seems to be left over from 1970 – it was an upbeat night with the noise level that the building was famous for in the old days, as the home court for this franchise.

“The energy was amazing out there tonight,” said Kent Bazemore, who was named the game’s MVP after hitting six of his nine shots and scoring a game-high 14 points. “I fed off it. The presentation was of being a part of Rip City now. I played hard – it’s what I do. Every time you get out there you want to get better. We had a good time. We had fun.”

Asked about the arena, Bazemore offered, “As long as there’s a ball and a rim and a net I’m ready to go. I’ve played in a lot worse.”

Stotts said, “I’m glad people got to see (Bazemore) play a little bit. What he did tonight is the way he plays. He can get his shot, he’s a good three-point shooter, he’s an active defender and he’s got a lot of experience.”

Bazemore's solid showing did not surprise Damian Lillard.

I predicted that. He was a little more aggressive tonight, getting to play in front of the fans for the first time. 'They haven't seen me play,' he said. He's been playing that way since September.

For the record, if anyone is keeping such a thing, the Gray team – featuring Lillard and CJ McCollum – won 48-44 over the Black team. McCollum and Lillard played every minute of the first half but no longer. McCollum scored 10 points and Lillard had four. Both looked ready for the regular season.

Jaylen Hoard, a two-way player this season with the Blazers, meaning he will spend time in the G-League, scored 12 in a nice off-the-bench performance for the Grays.

Zach Collins, Paul Gasol, Hassan Whiteside and, of course, Jusuf Nurkic sat the game out with assorted injuries.

It is not yet known if Collins or Whiteside will play in Tuesday’s first exhibition game in the same venue, vs. Denver.

Who is in 2nd place behind the Ducks in the Pac-12 North? For now, it's OSU

Who is in 2nd place behind the Ducks in the Pac-12 North? For now, it's OSU

In spite of another lackluster offensive effort Saturday against California, expect Oregon to climb in the college football polls this week.

Who else in the Pac-12 are people going to vote for? And it seems there is some sort of unwritten rule that they have to vote for somebody because the conference has had way too many teams appear in the Top 25, given how weak it is. Last week, Washington, Utah and Arizona State joined the Ducks, who were ranked 13th. California, by the way, was 26th.

That’s a lot of teams getting respect for a conference that doesn’t appear to be in line for a berth in the postseason playoffs.

In the Pac-12 North, Saturday’s results led to a curious situation. If I asked you who was in second place in the division behind the undefeated-in-conference Ducks, who would you say?

Well, it’s Oregon State, which, after its convincing win in the Rose Bowl over UCLA, is 1-1 in conference play. Washington, California, Stanford and Washington State now already have two losses.

In the Pac-12 South, the surprising leader is Arizona, the only other team aside from Oregon that’s undefeated in conference play this early in the season. And remember, that’s a Wildcat team that gave up 45 points to Hawaii in a road loss and then allowed 41 to Northern Arizona in a home win. Arizona beat UCLA by just a field goal, by the way.

So if you’re a pollster looking at this conference and you seemingly have to put someone from the Pac-12 up there, it’s got to be Oregon, right? Even though the Ducks were not impressive in that 17-7 win over the Bears in Autzen Stadium.

My take on all this:

Congrats to the Beavers for getting that road win and in this conference, they have a shot at a few more. And Oregon? Keep plugging along, relying on that defense, which is probably going to throttle most of the conference teams it plays. But don’t get too carried away with it.

Folks, this conference is just not very good and on a given weekend, anybody can seemingly beat anybody else. And that's not because they're all great teams.

Skal Labissiere may be only Trail Blazer center available for Fan Fest

Skal Labissiere may be only Trail Blazer center available for Fan Fest

Sunday evening’s Fan Fest in Memorial Coliseum will be Trail Blazer fans’ first look at several new players – but probably not a chance to see most of the team’s impressive stable of big men.

As of Saturday, most of Portland’s corps of centers were still on the sidelines.

Hassan Whiteside is nursing a sprained left ankle, Zach Collins has missed two days with a sprained finger while Pau Gasol is not expected to play until much closer to the start of the regular season, if at all during the exhibition games. And of course, Jusuf Nurkic is probably going to be out several more months while healing a broken leg.

That leaves Skal Labissiere as the one roster center who is ticketed for action Sunday in the free event that begins at 5 p.m. But don’t sell 6-11 Haitian short – by all accounts Labissiere has had a very good training camp so far.

He is a skilled offensive player, who can shoot from distance, handle the ball and pass. In that final regular-season game last year when he had his only starting opportunity of the season, he scored 29 points on 12-17 from the field, including 2-2 on three-point attempts and was 3-4 from the foul line while hauling down 15 rebounds.

Portland acquired him Feb. 7 in a trade with Sacramento for Caleb Swanigan and he’s been at the practice facility since before camp, working on his game.

“Coming back in early September, I’ve been figuring out my role on this team,” he said after practice Saturday. “I know I’m not going to be trying to score all the time. This team has plenty of people who can score. I’m trying to focus on ways to impact the game, you know, like rolling hard, setting good screens, talking on defense.”

Labissiere was intending to play summer league but suffered a shoulder injury a couple of weeks prior and was not able to suit up.

“I was going to get some reps with 'Ant' (Anfernee Simons) and 'GT' (Gary Trent Jr.), which would have been good,” he said.

Labissiere is excited about the opportunity to work alongside veteran Pau Gasol this season.

“He’s somebody I used to watch all the time, growing up,” Labissiere said. “I watch him work out now and all that stuff is still there at a high level. I’ve told him already – I want to work out with him.”

Labissiere hasn’t had much of a chance to play in Portland after getting into 93 games his first two seasons with the Kings. He played in just nine for the Trail Blazers last year and is largely unknown to Portland fans.

But they will get a good look at him during Fan Fest, which will be telecast on NBC Sports Northwest. The only other center available will be training-camp invitee Moses Brown, 7-1 out of UCLA.

”Whatever is needed from me I will try to do,” Labissiere said.

Hassan Whiteside is constantly amazed at his new Trail Blazer teammates

Hassan Whiteside is constantly amazed at his new Trail Blazer teammates

Hassan Whiteside sat on a bench after practice and was raving about his new Trail Blazer teammates when he actually interrupted his own narrative and pointed to Damian Lillard shooting on a practice court on the other side of the team’s practice facility.

“Do y’all see this?” he said to a teammate walking in front of him. “He’s shooting left-handed threes off his left foot and he’s making ‘em!”

Indeed, Lillard drilled three in a row from the corner, imitating a shot James Harden missed in an exhibition game two nights ago.

“Dame and CJ are unbelievable talents,” Whiteside said. “They never cease to amaze you.”

Whiteside is one of those people with an easy smile who seems constantly amazed. And he continued to rave about the talent around him on the Portland roster.

“It’s been amazing, just watching these guys work,” he said. “I’m glad we’re all on the same team. Everybody has surprised me. Just seeing how they come out here and work and get better.

“(Gary) Trent’s practice yesterday was unbelievable. He was controlling the game, knocking down every three, dunking the ball… I didn’t know much about him when I got here. Zach (Collins) has been playing really well. He’s a lot more athletic than I thought. He can shoot, too. Skal (Labissiere) is knocking down threes and blocking shots. Everybody here is exceeding my expectations."

And what about the veteran, Hall-of-Famer-to-be Paul Gasol?

“Talking to him, he’s a great guy,” Whiteside said. “We’ve always been going against each other and it’s so different to be able to sit down and talk to him. He’s got so much knowledge. There are so many big guys on this team.”

Whiteside sat out Thursday morning’s practice but said he expected to be on the floor for Thursday night’s workout. He “tweaked” his left ankle on the first day of camp and has been taking it easy since then. But he insists it isn’t a problem.

“I just came down on it,” he said. “I’m OK, though. It’s just day-to-day. Not a serious thing. I’ve sprained my ankle enough times that I come back pretty fast.”

How did Anfernee Simons get the nickname 'Ant' and why is it perfect?

How did Anfernee Simons get the nickname 'Ant' and why is it perfect?

When somebody has the nickname “Ant,” you have to wonder where that came from. I mean, it’s not one of the more common names you hear for people. And in the case of Anfernee Simons, it kind of sounds like his first name but it would be a lot more like that if his first name was Anthony.

So where did that whole “Ant” thing come from?

Simons says: “My mom.”

Really?

“Yeah, a lot of people couldn’t pronounce my name," he said.  "And she just said, ‘Ant.' It’s much easier. When someone asks me for my name at a restaurant, I always use someone else’s name. I just tell them, ‘John’ or something. An easy name.”

So even though he was named after the famous NBA player, Anfernee Hardaway, people still don’t get it?

“They don't,” he said. “But a lot of people knew him as ‘Penny.’”

True. And Penny quit playing a dozen years ago, too. In fact, Simons has known Hardaway’s son, Jayden, since fifth grade. Jayden has since gone on to play for his father, now the coach at his alma mater, Memphis.

Simons is going to be called upon to accept a lot of responsibility with the Trail Blazers this season as a combo guard, expected to handle things for the second unit when Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum leave the floor.

And that’s going to be a big job for a player who played only 141 minutes last season as a rookie, over just 20 games.

“I am going to have more responsibility,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s more pressure. I just go out there and play my game and don’t talk about what I’m going to do.”

He’s a very confident player, that was obvious during his rookie season. And he has terrific explosiveness and scoring skills. The team’s president of basketball operations, Neil Olshey, has called him “The most gifted player I’ve ever drafted.”

“That was good for my confidence,” Simons said. “I just want to go out there and play hard, show what I can do and get better.”

He will have some point guard to play with the second unit, but he’s comfortable with that.

“I just go out there and play free,” he said. “I play my game and choose which shots are the right ones and when to pass. Pretty much everyone here can shoot. Everybody’s real versatile. It’s not hard to know who to pass to and when.”

And granted, he’s going to be carrying a heavy load in that new role. But that’s what ants do, right? It's perfect, but in case you didn’t know it, ants can lift 5,000 times their body weight.

Shaq O'Neal or Damian Lillard? Let Mystikal be your guide

Shaq O'Neal or Damian Lillard? Let Mystikal be your guide

OK, so I get up this morning to find, to my delight, a rap battle going on between Shaquille O’Neal and Damian Lillard.

My first thought, of course, was that Shaq is a very big man – and a lot of times those big guys are accustomed to intimidating people and not really ever having to fight anyone.

My second thought was, I don’t care who you are, you won’t intimidate Damian Lillard.

Not gonna happen, Big Fella.



Now, I’m not a rapper. I can write that stuff but I can’t spit it the way the real guys do it. So I look to my favorite rapper, the great Mystikal (and be sure to enjoy my back and forth with Lillard about Mystikal in the video at the top) in his hit “Bouncin’ Back,” to express my thoughts for me – in regard to trying to knock out Dame D.O.L.L.A.:

The one that be handling they business, be sharper than a thumb tack
The one that be dropping these albums, showing 'em how to come back
And you gon' respect me and appreciate where I run at
You ain't gone piss me off, cause you sorry that you done that
I gets meaner, badder, stronger and ferocious
You don't even much wanna see the rest
I'm coming back mo' fearless, mo' determined to fold the set
I ain't even started yet
So if you ain't ready you better get ready
I know I do it better when I'm being opposed
Ah stick ya chest out, keep your chin up
'Cause sometimes you gotta get knocked down to get up.


This one is a mismatch. You can knock Damian down, but as we all know – he gets up… meaner, badder, stronger and more ferocious.

Or as an old song (approximately) said, “Hit the Road, Shaq… and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more.”

How Mario Hezonja's admiration for Drazen Petrovic fuels his journey

How Mario Hezonja's admiration for Drazen Petrovic fuels his journey

Like all young basketball players growing up in Croatia, Mario Hezonja knew all about Drazen Petrovic, the ex-Trail Blazer who died in an auto accident at the age of 28 in June of 1993. After all, there are some big-time athletes from Hezonja's home country – and then there is Petrovic, who is still known as the Croatian Mozart, on another level from the rest for his skills on the court.

So when Hezonja signed to play for the Trail Blazers this season, he wanted to carry on Petrovic’s memory and perhaps set some things straight in Portland. Petrovic was a seasoned and renowned international star when he came to the Trail Blazers as an NBA rookie for the 1989-90 season. He did not get immediate playing time behind Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Danny Young and was disappointed. In the following season, after Danny Ainge was added as the team’s third guard off the bench, Petrovic wanted out and was traded to New Jersey, where, with regular playing time, he became an all-star.

Since that time, then-Portland Coach Rick Adelman was vilified in Croatia for not putting Petrovic in the starting lineup and the Trail Blazers were not a favorite team.

“When I realized that Portland could be an option for me, I knew that Drazen was drafted here but the team was stacked, or whatever the story was,” Hezonja said Tuesday after the Blazers’ first training-camp practice. “I talked to people back home and his brother, who was my coach, and Drazen never wanted to be on the bench, right? Regardless if there were better players than him.

“An amazing player and our best of all time. In Croatia, we don’t treat any of our athletes like we do Drazen, because he’s not with us anymore. He’s like a legend for us. I never had a thought of wearing my number here. Out of my heart, and the hearts of all Croatians, I decided to continue his journey and finish what he couldn’t.”

So this season, Hezonja will become the 13th player to wear No. 44 for the Trail Blazers.

And it could actually be Petrovic’s career in reverse.

While “Petro” never got a real chance to show what he could do in Portland, Hezonja might find his own personal salvation with the Trail Blazers, after a struggling start in Orlando and New York.

He arrived early in Portland and has been a regular at the team’s informal pre-camp workouts at its practice facility. And he’s been a big topic of conversation because of his speed, his movement, and his playmaking ability. It appears he may be a point-forward on the team's second unit, perhaps making that group more uptempo than the starting lineup.

“I can run,” said the 6-8, 225-pounder. “I can get out.”

And in Portland, he’s going to get a chance to run, make plays and do the things that made him the fifth pick in the 2015 draft.

“Where I’ve been before, you’re always bothered by something,” Hezonja said. “There was always so much negative. I am so happy coming to practice here. There is no negativity here. Other places, there was ‘Watch out for this guy – he’s weird.’ I don’t have that here. I have been here for the month and I can’t think of one bad detail. I don’t have a bad feeling about anything or anybody. The is the first time in many years when I’m happy – happy with what I’m doing, happy with where I’m at and happy with my teammates around me.

“We’re all here for one thing – to win a championship. But we don’t talk about that. It’s in our minds, our goal is to do that. But slowly. We don’t talk about it.

“The coach lets us do our own thing but we have to be on the same page.”

And for Hezonja, that will be page No. 44.