Dwight Jaynes

Celtics' hot 3-point shooting too much for short-handed Trail Blazers to overcome

Celtics' hot 3-point shooting too much for short-handed Trail Blazers to overcome

A lot of games in the NBA these days turn out just the way Portland’s 118-106 loss to Boston Tuesday night did.

“We look at the box score, we outscored them in the paint, outscored them in second-chance points, outscored them on the fast break, outscored them from the three-throw line and still lost by 12,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said.

The difference in the game? The same as so many other games in the league -- the three-point line.

The Celtics went 19-39 (48.7 percent) from three while the Trail Blazers were 13-31. You not only need to shoot a fairly good percentage from long range, you often need to do it in high volume.

And Boston made them from all over the floor, many of them backbreakers to stall Trail Blazer comebacks.

“They made the open ones, they made the contested ones, they made a lot of them tonight,” said CJ McCollum, who once again led his team with 28 points and 10 assists. “They are a good team. We have to be better than we played tonight against teams like the Celtics to win.

“I think that was the difference. They played better than us. They’re a deep team. They made shots, they got stops. They ran on our turnovers and they played like a playoff team.”

And with Damian Lillard out with a groin injury, the Trail Blazers do not have enough healthy NBA players right now to play like a playoff team. And until they get healthier, there is little chance of looking at all like a playoff team.

Portland shot a respectable 44.7 percent from the field and played one of its better games of late. But 17 turnovers turned into 19 Boston points and that three-point shooting was lethal.

“Boston’s a really good team,” Stotts said. “Even without Kimba (Walker) out there, their experience, they are talented offensively. “They’re well-coached, so hats off to them. Jayson Tatum got in a groove in the second half, he’s just in a heck of a rhythm with his shot.

“I liked the way our guys competed. We didn’t take advantage of some of our opportunities, but other than that, I thought we gave a good effort.”

Lillard’s availability is still in question and Stotts said he wasn’t sure if his star guard would be making the upcoming three-game road trip that starts Thursday night against the Pacers in Indianapolis.

“At this point, I’m not sure,” Stotts said. “I think we’re discussing that.”

That doesn’t make it sound as if his return is imminent.

Hassan Whiteside for Defensive Player of Year? 'Let's talk about it'

Hassan Whiteside for Defensive Player of Year? 'Let's talk about it'

The political season is upon us and the Trail Blazers’ Hassan Whiteside is all set to launch his own campaign.

The “Whiteside for Defensive Player of the Year” express is ready to leave the station and make stops all over the NBA.

And why not?

Just because his team is struggling to stop its opponents doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a very big year in the middle for Portland.

Whiteside is averaging a league-leading 3.1 blocked shots per game and the next closest to him is Brook Lopez, with 2.5.

Is Whiteside worthy of consideration for the award? Well, he certainly believes so.

“I think so. I think so,” he said Sunday night. “Gobert won it because he was leading the league in blocked shots. This is going to be my second time (leading the league). Let’s talk about it.”

Davis, Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetokounmpo have all been mentioned as candidates for this season’s award and they all play for teams with winning records. But historically, the player who leads the league in blocked shots -- particularly if it's by a wide margin -- gets major consideration.

Rim protection is still important in this era of a long-distance shooting.

The Trail Blazers have struggled due to their injuries but Whiteside has provided their only rim protection on most nights.

“The team doesn’t get the award,” he said. “It’s a player award. And as far as blocking shots, there isn’t anybody even close.”

Some might say he’s blocked so many shots because his team’s perimeter defense is porous -- but his block percentage -- the percentage of blocks based on his opportunities -- of 64.8 is one of the best in the league.

Whiteside is actually having a much better overall season than a lot of people know about. He’s flown under the radar, in part because he plays with another superstar and also due to his team’s struggles.

But he ranks 12th in ESPN’s player efficiency ratings, ahead of many of the NBA’s more well-known stars.

Will he win the DPOY? It’s probably not likely, but as he said, “let’s talk about it.”

And he certainly belongs in that conversation.

Tyson Fury reminds you that the name of his sport isn't 'punching,' it's 'boxing'

Tyson Fury reminds you that the name of his sport isn't 'punching,' it's 'boxing'

I‘d be remiss if I let another day go by without mentioning the Wilder-Fury fight Saturday night.

I have strong opinions about the way the spectacle turned out and it’s based on many years of watching the sport.

And it all comes down to the name of the sport:

It’s not called “Punching,” it’s called “Boxing.” And don’t forget that if you are wagering on a fight.

I’ve seen ferocious, fearsome punchers come and go over the years and many of them were dominant. Until they ran into skilled boxers -- people who mastered the art and science of the game. And then it turned quickly.

People were terrified of Sonny Liston and Mike Tyson. And then Liston met then-Cassius Clay and Tyson ran into Evander Holyfield

And Deontay Wilder had to face Tyson Fury. Wilder, accustomed to chasing frightened fighters around the ring while trying to land his devastating right hand, had all kinds of trouble getting his offense together as he was forced to move backward.

Fury was unafraid. He stalked Wilder. He became the aggressor and every commentator immediately jumped on the “bullies don’t like to be bullied” scenario. Which is true. But in the heavyweight division, punchers can have a very successful career because at their weight, that punch can be almost lethal. And they often don't need as many boxing skills because many of the people they fight won't be boxers, either. The big guys often aren't capable because of their inability to move as well as fighters in lower weight classes.

Fury is a surprising fighter. He’s not sculpted as many fighters and is probably carrying a few pounds too many on his 6-9 frame. But he can handle it, at least at this point of his career.

He is not a big puncher and doesn’t move with the skill of a Muhammad Ali. And he’s a bit crazy, but seemingly in a harmless way.

The main thing about him is that he’s a smart, well-trained boxer. He knows how to avoid being hit, slipping punches while delivering his own shots. He has all the tricks, knows when to clinch and how to maximize the clinches by forcing his opponent to feel his weight.

What I took away from the two Fury-Wilder fights is that both men know how to sell a fight. That matters in today’s crowded entertainment business. They are promoters.

That’s why I believe there will be a rematch and the boxing hype machine will find a narrative to make it attractive. The puncher vs. the boxer has usually been a compelling story.

And maybe between now and then, Wilder can find a trainer who can help him become more of a boxer.

His punching power is real. He just has to learn how to box well enough to make it a factor against Fury.

Trail Blazers bench outscored by 60 points and Portland still manages to win

Trail Blazers bench outscored by 60 points and Portland still manages to win

Injuries have been the story for the entire season as far as the Trail Blazers are concerned. And it’s gotten to the point now -- with Damian Lillard sidelined with a groin injury -- that Coach Terry Stotts can’t go to his bench without causing some serious damage.

The Trail Blazers jumped to a 19-point lead just eight minutes into Sunday night’s game with the lowly Detroit Pistons but then Stotts went to his bench.

The lead was still 16 after the first quarter, but with four reserves on the floor at the same time in the second period, bad things began to happen for Portland.

Detroit rattled off 18 of the first 21 points in the quarter and the game was tied and a dogfight the rest of the way.

It took some major heroics -- and major minutes -- from CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside to pull the Trail Blazers out of a 10-point, second-half deficit and into a 107-104 win.

Granted, Detroit got terrific play from its reserves, but the facts were the facts when this one ended:

The Pistons’ bench outscored the Portland bench 70-10.

That was 70-10!

To make up for that, McCollum needed to get 41 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds while playing 43:15. Anthony scored 32 in 37:21. Whiteside totaled 16 points, had 17 rebounds and four blocked shots in 38:26.

McCollum played the entire second half and Whiteside played most of it. And throughout the second half, Stotts kept two starters on the floor at all times, rather than just one, as he did in the first half.

“CJ played the whole second half,” Stotts said. “I don’t like doing that -- it was just one of those games where it was vital he stayed in the game. I don’t plan on doing that. Obviously, the rotation changed the second half.”

Does he plan to make a practice of that?

“Well, if I play them the whole second half I can do that.”

To win against the better teams, he may have to do that.

It was a crazy game in another way, too.

Throughout the first three quarters, Detroit was parading to the foul line and Portland just wasn’t getting there.

After three quarters, the Pistons were 19-20 from the line while the Blazers were a puny 5-9. But it was if somebody flipped a switch and either Portland suddenly started playing much better defense than Detroit or the referees just noticed the imbalance and decided to do something about it.

In the fourth quarter, Portland was 7-10 from the line -- more attempts than the entire game to that point. Meanwhile, the Pistons were 0-0. That’s right, they didn’t get a foul shot in the fourth quarter.

Such things help.

And right now, the Trail Blazers need all the help they can get.

It was 40 years ago, and it still stands as sports' biggest miracle

It was 40 years ago, and it still stands as sports' biggest miracle

It was 40 years ago today and I don’t remember an awful lot of that day. Many of the facts have escaped me over the years.

What I remember most, though, is the emotion I felt just sitting on the living room sofa watching the USA’s 4-3 win over the Soviet hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. In fact, I still get goosebumps while watching highlights of that game and listening to the great Al Michaels belt out his iconic “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” as the clock drained to :00.

It was unlike anything else I can remember in sports -- an event that lifted an entire country amidst the cold war, the Iran hostage crisis and President Jimmy Carter’s announcement that our country would boycott that year’s Summer Olympics.

And it was an upset of epic proportions, an incredible feat for the underdog American team. Consider:

  • This was prior to “Dream Team” stuff, when pros could participate in the Games. So that left the USA team with mostly college players -- average age 22 -- against the much-older, veteran Soviet team that had won four straight Olympic golds with the same cast of what were actually professional players.

  • Just three days before the Games began in Lake Placid, N.Y., the Soviets clobbered the US team 10-3 in Madison Square Garden and nobody was even surprised by the score. The gap between those teams was considered that large.

But the Americans were coached by enigmatic Herb Brooks, a tough taskmaster who had a plan to beat the Soviets with a disciplined passing attack, intense conditioning and the kind of rough checking the European teams weren’t accustomed to facing.

Brooks’ team got through the preliminary round with four wins and a tie and advanced to the medal round against the top-seeded Soviets.

And to be fair, the U.S. team was dominated through most of the game, getting outshot 39-16 and trailed by a goal heading into the final period. But Jim Craig was terrific in goal and made sensational save after sensational save.

The USA team took the lead with 10 minutes to go and held on for the win, to set up Michaels for the greatest call of his wonderful career. That wasn’t the gold-medal game, of course. The American team bounced back two days later to defeat Finland 4-2 to capture the gold.

Brooks quickly retired to the bowels of the arena as his players celebrated on the ice. His plan had worked and a nation celebrated what was as close to a sports miracle as I’ve ever seen.

If you get a chance, watch the movie “Miracle” with Kurt Russell playing Brooks and you can pick up on the emotion of it all.

And if you've ever played on a team that was an underdog or felt like one in life, listen to the “It’s your time!” pep talk he gives his players prior to that fateful game.

And it was their time. Forever.

New Orleans outside shooting upstages Zion as Blazers fall at home

New Orleans outside shooting upstages Zion as Blazers fall at home

A whole lot of people came to see rookie sensation Zion Williamson Friday night in Moda Center as his New Orleans Pelicans hit town to meet the Trail Blazers.

Williamson gave them a 25-point show, hitting 10 of his 17 shots on the way to 25 points. It wasn’t spectacular, though, as he claimed only four rebounds, hit just half of his 10 free throws and finished with a zero in his plus-minus column, while his team posted a 128-115 win over the Trail Blazers.

The more spectacular show was the New Orleans outside shooting. The Pels were 18-34 from three-point range and every time Portland mounted any sort of rally, somebody stepped up to knock down a three to kill the momentum.

“That’s always tough,” Carmelo Anthony said. “You play a whole possession of defense and they get an offensive rebound or a kick out for a three. We make a run and they silence that with a three. Those are always momentum killers, right there.”

The starting New Orleans guards, Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball, were a combined 7-11 from three-point range, Brandon Ingram was 3-4 and Josh Hart 3-3. The Trail Blazers never led in the game and were tied just once.

And while the Pelicans were firing away at a 52.9 percent pace from the outside, Portland just couldn’t keep up, hitting 10 of 27 -- meaning the Blazers were beaten by 24 points from the three-point line.

The Trail Blazers didn’t defend well enough to win and it would be difficult to blame their offense for this loss.

The Pels got pretty much what they wanted, when they wanted it. The game was as close as it was only because New Orleans managed to make just 20 of its 33 free throws.

It was Portland’s first full game after Damian Lillard’s groin injury and the Trail Blazers were very short-handed even before that happened. But with Lillard out, nothing is going to come easy.

“I know it’s going to be tougher for everybody,” said Hassan Whiteside, who had 19 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks for the Trail Blazers. “It’s going to be tougher for me, tougher for CJ -- because we’ve been playing a lot through (Lillard). And he makes a lot of decisions out there,

“But like I said, we’ve got to come out here and keep competing. We’ve got the first one under our belt, let’s move on to Detroit (Sunday night in Moda) and get a win. That’s a must-win.”

At this point, you could call all of them must-wins.

There are only 25 games left in the season and nobody knows how many of those will be played without Lillard. Portland still trails Memphis by four games in the loss column for the final playoff spot and must hold off the Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs in their rearview mirror.

It’s not going to be easy.

Paying college athletes for their likeness could bring a calamity of unintended consequences

Paying college athletes for their likeness could bring a calamity of unintended consequences

Now that the Oregon legislature is busily pushing through a bill that would allow college athletes in the state to be compensated for their image, name and likeness, it’s a good time to remind everyone that the NCAA has already made a major shift to allow that very thing in its three divisions.

In October, the major governing body for intercollegiate athletics announced a plan for compensation and asked its three divisions to come up with their own rules about how to implement the compensation.

There were two basic precepts to its proposal:

  • The organization’s top governing board voted unanimously to allow college athletes to be compensated, though the NCAA’s three divisions must still craft their own rules and detail the specifics.
  • Student-athletes must be treated similarly to non-athlete students, must not be treated like employees of their respective universities, and there should be a “clear distinction between college and professional opportunities,” the NCAA said. 

A big concern of both parties in this situation is whether to actually make athletes employees of their universities. Doing so would allow them to unionize and probably make them eligible for other benefits, but at the same time possibly make their scholarships and cost of attendance taxable.

Cost of attendance was given to athletes a few years ago and it has allowed them to receive money for incidental expenses of attending college that can rise up to several thousand dollars. And by the way, for all those people out there still saying athletes don't have money in their pockets, this stipend does make a difference.

While the NCAA is always portrayed as the villain that continues to exploit college athletes, it’s important to point out there are legitimate reasons for having strict rules and enforcement of such rules in regard to payments of athletes.

A level playing field is critical to competition and when the big-time football and basketball schools are enabled to funnel money to their athletes, it will open revenue streams that may be impossible to regulate.

What would an Alabama football player -- not just a star quarterback, but a lineman -- be able to earn on his likeness compared to one at California or Washington State? And what is the potential for abuse of this situation?

This thing sounds like something the University of Oregon athletic department would love and the rest of the Pac-12 would not. That Nike connection might come in handy for likeness and image purposes.

This could lead to some very distinct recruiting advantages that I’m not sure all colleges -- including the ones in Oregon -- would want to sign off on. I think there is an answer somewhere to how this could be fairly handled but I haven’t seen it so far. What I see is a hot mess made even hotter by the participation of state governments all over the country, with each state passing differing laws.

Bottom line: if athletes are to get money out of their participation in college sports, fine. But let’s have uniform rules -- not something done state-by-state -- for all of those universities and figure out a way to enforce them. 

If not, we’re talking about ushering in an athletic calamity of unintended consequences.

A new analytical era begins with Beaver baseball, but the tradition remains

A new analytical era begins with Beaver baseball, but the tradition remains

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It’s a new era of Oregon State baseball. But there is still a lot of the previous era around, too.

Sunday afternoon at Surprise Stadium, the Beavers upped their record to 2-1 with a 5-1 win over Gonzaga under new head coach Mitch Canham, a former OSU catcher and minor-league manager. Canham knows what has worked at OSU through three national championship runs under Coach Pat Casey, because he was there for two of those championships.

But the new coach is mixing in some cutting-edge stuff, too. Or perhaps you haven’t heard about the Dam Analytics Squad, which has become an integral part of the program? Oregon State is compiling statistics that most professional baseball teams are using now, analyzing many parts of the game that can’t be measured without high-tech equipment and the expertise to use it properly.

“Brad Brown currently runs our Dam squad,” Canham said. “We have five other analytics managers as well. They do a great job collecting data and presenting it to us so we can use it and help our guys develop.”

It’s possible, for instance, to measure the spin rate on pitches, launch angle and exit velocity on batted balls and all sorts of other things that can make you dizzy if you don’t know how to use it.

“We measure quite a few things,” Canham said. “It can all be noise. You just have to know how to use it, how to deliver it. But it’s used specifically for helping our pitchers have better stuff and understand their abilities better. And for our offensive guys to understand what they hit really well, (and) command the strike zone.”

Those are the type of stats that have led to the use of more curveballs and more focus on home runs in the major leagues. Can we expect the Beavers to go deep a little more often this season?

“Obviously, you swing at good pitches and you’re on time, it comes off hotter,” Canham said. “So as long as we do a good job at swinging at ‘our’ pitches, and leaving the bad ones alone, those kinds of things will happen more often.”

Canham hasn’t totally sold out to analytics. Like most college coaches, he’ll still call for a sacrifice bunt once in a while. And he isn’t going to generalize about strategy or how his team is going to play.

“There’s a blend,” he said. “You have to understand that analytics can be very useful and it also goes to, do guys know how to deliver it to them? Because you can know all these numbers but unless you know how to communicate them, they don’t do any good. And they can actually create more noise.”

After Sunday’s win, Canham said, “I feel great. We’re constantly getting after it and learning. Guys are getting a chance to get out there and compete and are doing it together.”

The Beavers used outstanding pitching to beat the ‘Zags Sunday. Starter Jake Pfennigs allowed just one run on five hits over the first five innings and then freshman left-hander Cooper Hjerpe picked up a big-time, four-inning save, allowing no hits, one walk and striking out five.

“It’s exciting to see Hjerpe go out as a freshman and pound the zone,” Canham said. “He has great stuff and he’s in the (strike) zone all day.” 

The Beavers are very young, with a pitching rotation that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

But it’s a good bet the program will continue to attract quality players from, well, all over the world.

Freshman Micah McDowell has started and batted leadoff in each of the team’s games this season and has hit safely in all three. And he hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

How in the world does a centerfielder from Nova Scotia end up in Corvallis, Oregon?

Well, it goes back to what went on in the past. This operation has been going on for a while and that doesn't go unnoticed.

“The Beaver family has a large reach and people all around the world are paying attention to our program and to what ‘Case’ (Pat Casey) and everyone has built over the years,” Canham said. “There’s a lot of tradition and people want to be a part of something special -- and that’s what we have here.”

Still.

Fatigue, as much as the Grizzlies, vanquished the Trail Blazers

Fatigue, as much as the Grizzlies, vanquished the Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers had nothing left in their tank Wednesday night in Memphis against the Grizzlies.

Tired legs neither defend nor shoot well.

“A lot of short shots,” CJ McCollum said. “This year, it seems like we’ve had a lot of our division games on back-to-backs, like Utah. But no excuses, it’s part of the game, you just go hoop.

“We were a step slow. It’s normal. Having two or three days off before this game (as the Grizzlies did), that’s life.”

It was just too many back-to-back games recently against teams that were fully rested.

“Disappointing two-game trip,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Six games in nine nights is a tough stretch. (Memphis) had a lot of energy. They were rested. A tough loss.”

The schedule would be difficult enough for a team with a full complement of players, but the Trail Blazers are trying to make do with a solid starting lineup, two second-year guards behind them and mostly G-Leaguers in the front court.

It’s not working.

And when the group is worn down, things get a whole lot worse. It’s always going to cause fatigue as the starters need to be on the floor for more minutes to compensate for not much help from the reserves.

Certainly Anfernee Simons (young, fresh legs) stood tall in this one, hitting six of his seven threes on the way to 22 points. The other four reserves who played combined for six points.

“A lot of shots weren’t falling,” said Hassan Whiteside, who made six of his eight and finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds but no blocked shots. “We came off a tough back-to-back. Next time we won’t be coming off a back-to-back.”

The story of this season is always going to start and end with injuries. There is no healthy backup center on the roster. There are backup forwards, but most of them are inexperienced or just flat-out not good enough to play at the NBA level yet.

“We’re down a lot of bodies,” McCollum said. “We’ve been down bodies. We’ve gone through a lot this year. We don’t know what the timetable is going to be with Dame (who suffered a groin injury in the fourth quarter) but the more bodies we can get back, the better.”

No Portland team in recent memory has needed the All-Star break as much as this one, There is hope that Jusuf Nurkic could return in a few weeks and perhaps Zach Collins could be back, too.

But with Portland now five games behind Memphis in the loss column, there is reasonable doubt they can get back in time to save a playoff berth.

Slumped in his locker afterward, facing the fact that he won’t be able to play in this weekend’s All-Star Game, Lillard would not concede anything about his team’s postseason chances.

“It’s far from over,” Lillard said. “Believe that. It’s far from over.”

The 3rd quarter and 3-point shots doom Trail Blazers in New Orleans

The 3rd quarter and 3-point shots doom Trail Blazers in New Orleans

The number three was a big problem for the Trail Blazers Tuesday night in New Orleans.

The third quarter was the turning point of the game, where Portland was outscored 41-21 by the Pelicans. And three-point field goals? Mission impossible.

Between them, Damian Lillard and Gary Trent split a 0-8 shooting night from distance and their team was an anemic 7-29.

Three strikes and you’re out. And Portland, which led by 16 points during a furious first quarter, by nine when the quarter ended and by two at the half, were steamrolled in the third quarter and Zion Williamson was driving that machine.

It was a downright brutal 12 minutes.

“Transitions for the most part,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Offensively, I don’t know what we shot in the quarter, but we gave up a lot of transitions. Some of it was them and some of it was us. I think the boxscore had them for 17 fast-break points.

“When we didn’t score, they were getting out and running. In the third quarter, we missed some shots and gave them momentum.

“We made our run in the first quarter. That minute and a half where we got a lot of turnovers and converted them in transition. That little minute and a half stretch was kind of an anomaly.

“Other than that run, the first half was kind of even, as well.”

The Pels made 18 of their 28 third-quarter shots and Portland hit just 6 of 18. The rebounds were a ridiculous 17-4 and the assists were 13-3.

Talk about getting slapped around -- the Trail Blazers were the JV team playing against the varsity in the third quarter, when the Pelicans did have 17 fast-break points to Portland’s 2.

That won’t work.

“Our energy wasn’t there,” Lillard said. They made all the effort plays. They just outplayed us. We lost that quarter by 20. When you have that kind of quarter, it’s tough to win on the road.”

And on Wednesday, the team travels to Memphis for a big contest against a team the Blazers trail in the standings by guess how many games?

Three.