Dwight Jaynes

Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts after Utah win: "We really played well"

Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts after Utah win: "We really played well"

SALT LAKE CITY – As far as preseason games go, Wednesday night’s contest against the Utah Jazz was just about all the Trail Blazers could have asked for -- and more.
So many things went well, it’s hard to know where to start in what turned out to be a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 126-118 win over the Jazz.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were terrific – in mid-season form -- against the Jazz backcourt of Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. Lillard had 25 points with five rebounds and four assists and McCollum scored 28 while shooting 11-15  from the floor, including 5-7 from three.

“I felt good,” Lillard said. “Playing at altitude, we knew that was going to be a challenge. We came out in attack mode and played it like a real game. We challenged ourselves and our conditioning, trying to get into regular-season form and we just had a good run tonight. These are the kind of games you want to have at least one time going into the regular season.”

McCollum, continuing to show signs he’s going to be shooting more from long range, did a nice job of showcasing his varied offensive arsenal.

“This was going to be our last preseason game and so we wanted to get some good conditioning in with the altitude,” McCollum said. “Go compete. They’ve got some good guards and we wanted to see where we’re at.”

Zach Collins started at power forward and Hassan Whiteside started at center and the duo has a chance to be a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams. They are both aggressive rim protectors and Collins hit his first three-point field goal of the exhibition season and a handful of tough shots under duress inside. He finished 6-6 from the field.

“I love playing with Hassan,” Collins said, “We’re both rim protectors and he’s very good at it. Both of us being at the rim it’s going to be tough for other teams to score.”

Whiteside played well, getting 11 rebounds in 16 minutes but provided the only downer of the night when he reinjured his left ankle, spraining it again after leaving the game in the first half when he cut his right hand on the rim.

“I don’t think it’s serious,” said Whiteside, who sat out 10 days during the exhibition season after spraining it the first time. “First time I’ve ever had to go to the back twice in one game.”

Several rotation players had solid outings and Rodney Hood was reliable as the starting small forward. Mario Hezonja made five of his eight shots, including a couple of three-pointers, on the way to a dozen points, four rebounds and three assists. Kent Bazemore was solid at both ends and Anthony Tolliver got some significant time at center, forcing the Jazz to go to a smaller lineup.

Portland led 117-100 when Coach Terry Stotts pulled the last of the starters off the floor in the fourth quarter.

Stotts hasn’t been concerned with getting a win – this was his team’s first over an NBA team in the exhibition season – but he did want to see the group play better. And it did.

“We really played well,” Stotts said. “Offensively, the first half was fun to watch. We moved the ball, Dame and CJ were in a really good rhythm. All in all, it was the best game we’ve played so far.”

Stotts had praise for Whiteside, whom he said, “played well in both halves. He had an impact on the game. It was good to see for him.

“And I thought Zach, in particular, made two or three very impressive plays at the rim. He had two or three blocks that could have been scores and they really ignited us going the other way.”

Portland wraps up its exhibition schedule at Denver Thursday night but it’s anybody’s guess who will be on the floor for the Blazers. Stotts wouldn’t commit after the game about it, but he’s indicated he would not use his key players much – if at all.

Here's how the Trail Blazers plan to approach exhibition game vs. Jazz

Here's how the Trail Blazers plan to approach exhibition game vs. Jazz

The Trail Blazers take on the Utah Jazz Wednesday night in Salt Lake City and it could be about as close to a regular-season game as you can get in the exhibition season.

Coach Terry Stotts plans to make it pretty close to a dress rehearsal for his team and it may be the final opportunity to do so. Portland finishes the preseason schedule Thursday night with a game in Denver, but because the Trail Blazers open the regular season against the Nuggets next week in Moda Center, Stotts isn’t expected to use his regulars for extended minutes, if at all.

Damian Lillard was asked what he expected to get out of the game against the Jazz.

“Closer to a real game,” he said. “We’re going to play closer to our normal minutes. Obviously, having to face that altitude, seeing a division opponent and they’ve added a lot of guys, first road trip. It’s going to be a good thing for us.”

Lillard, like so many other veteran players, is finding the preseason more difficult than he did when he was in his early years as an NBA player. It becomes much tougher to find the same intensity usually reserved for a regular-season game.

“I think you should,” he said. “But it’s hard to, when you know it’s not going to count. It gets harder every year. But I think this is as close to a regular-season game as you’re going to get to it.”

Coaches have the same sort of issues. They want to get their team ready for the regular season, yet they know they can’t risk injuries and they don’t want to give away insight into their team for regular-season scouting reports. But there are rotation and substitution questions to answer, too.

And in the case of Stotts, he won’t be too concerned with the team’s record in the non-counting games.

“I look at it as, ‘How are we playing? Are there more positives than negatives?’ Ultimately, I don’t think preseason wins and losses are an indication of your season,” Stotts said.

And then there’s the psychological aspects to a game like this.

Stotts was asked if he’d chase a win in this game if he found the score tied with a few minutes to go or just let it go.

“Over the years, there have been games where you don’t think it’s going to go that way,” he said. “But at some point, in the third or fourth quarter, both coaches say, ‘Let’s go for it.’ Both teams realize, this is how the games are going to go. I can’t say how the next two are going to go. But I’ve seen games where both teams, all of a sudden, decide, ‘Let’s go for a win.'”

But there’s the other side to that. There have also been games where one coach decides he’s going for it but then the other coach decides he doesn’t want to take a chance of losing a non-counting game and just goes to his bench and gives up on chasing the win. Better not to give a team some sort of psychological advantage by beating you in a game it knew you wanted to win.

“Yeah,” Stotts said, with a laugh. “Oh yeah. That happens. Honestly, that’s kind of a fun part of the preseason -- you can do those things without repercussions.”

Wednesday night we’ll likely know more about the Trail Blazers – and Utah Jazz – than we knew Tuesday. Or maybe we won't.

How did Hassan Whiteside do the last time vs. Rudy Gobert? Look it up!

How did Hassan Whiteside do the last time vs. Rudy Gobert? Look it up!

Hassan Whiteside was asked Monday about how he has done against Utah’s 7-1 center, Rudy Gobert, an outstanding defender said to have a massive 7-9 wingspan, as the Trail Blazers travel to Salt Lake City this week for a Wednesday night exhibition game against the Jazz.

“Go check out my last game against him,” Whiteside said. “It was in Miami. Check it out and let me know.”

More on that later. But for right now, Whiteside says he’s finally feeling comfortable after an ankle sprain that caused him to miss 10 days of practice. And looking ahead to the Wednesday game, he’s particularly concerned about one thing:

“Conditioning,” he said, “I missed about 10 days with my ankle sprain. Get back to game shape. Feel like myself. Getting my wind back and building up that spring that gives me the dunks and the blocks. I just want to keep progressing.

“I want to get to moving even faster. I couldn’t move like I wanted to move.”

It helps that the lingering pain is gone.

“Pain free as of about two days ago.,” Whiteside said. “We had a tough practice today. We scrimmaged. A lot of live work. Like a real game. I love it.”

The Blazers don’t call a lot of set plays, but in fact use particular sets that allow players to read and react to the defense. That makes it imperative that players spend more time playing together so they can accurately read situations. And it makes it more difficult for the players who came from very structured systems.

“We’re getting better,” he said. “I’m still learning. A lot more read and react.”

Whiteside is being counted on to be an anchor for the team’s defense and at least a moderate threat to score at the basket so he will be a focal point heading into the regular season.

OK, and about that last time he met Gobert in a game… Whiteside last squared off against Gobert Dec. 2, 2018 and, as you may have guessed by now, Whiteside had a big game. He scored 23 points on 11-17 shooting, hauled in 20 rebounds and blocked three shots. Gobert had 12 points and. 18 rebounds. Miami won the game by two points. When the teams played each other again a few days later, Whiteside did not play.

Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, we get the matchup again.

Trail Blazers aren't ready for primetime yet, but it's only preseason

Trail Blazers aren't ready for primetime yet, but it's only preseason

After being buried under a barrage of three-point field goals by the Phoenix Suns Saturday night, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard – as they usually do – summed up the Trail Blazer situation very aptly,

“We’ve got 11 days, so it’s a good thing we don’t play tomorrow,” McCollum said. “We’ve got a lot we need to improve on and work on but that’s what the preseason is for -- Tighten up, figure out how you can better for the regular season. I don’t think there are any finished products out there right now so championships aren’t won right now, but we’ve got to tighten up and get ready for the regular season."

Is he more worried about his team’s offense or its defense?

“Neither,” he said firmly. “We’ll be OK.”

And after watching the Suns hit 24 of their 45 three-point field goals on the way to a 134-118 win with stars Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Ricky Rubio sitting the game out, Lillard had a similar handle on the situation.

“Room for growth,” he said. “The easy thing to say is ‘It’s the preseason,’ which it is. They made a lot of shots but we had a lot of areas we need to clean up. We had a lot of miscommunications. To start the game we allowed them to get their confidence early. Sometimes that happens but I think it was a little too comfortable for them. Once they got it going, it stayed that way for the rest of the game.

“That’s why you have the preseason – get the rust off and work through it. We’ve got two more. There are a lot of things we should have done better. When a team makes that many threes you’ve got to start running them off the line.”

The prevailing opinion out of the locker room was that the game was a good thing – a wakeup call of sorts.

“It’s good that it happened and it doesn’t count against us,” Lillard said. “We can see what happens when we don’t come out and do what we’ve been doing the entire time (in camp). We don’t have the luxury of going out there and just trying to outscore teams. It’s good to see how it went down tonight. Take what we can from it and move forward.”

And as Lillard walked away from his interview, he couldn’t resist an additional comment.

“But ... it is only preseason,” he said with a smile.

The Suns are going to be another one of those teams buying into shooting threes by the dozens. They took them every chance they got and nailed more than half of them. Portland shot 53.2 percent from the field but couldn’t get on top in this game because of 22 turnovers and being outscored by 39 points from the three-point line.

It was not a good night at either end of the court for Portland. Was it an indication of where this team is at this point of the preseason?

“Maybe,” said Coach Terry Stotts. “I don’t know. Look, Dame and CJ played a lot of minutes for the first three quarters and we didn’t have enough to get over the hump, so certainly, it shows that we’re not a finished product by any means.”

But, lucky for Portland, there is still time to finish the product.

Damian Lillard: 'Time to start tightening up and getting it ready"

Damian Lillard: 'Time to start tightening up and getting it ready"

The Portland Trail Blazers head into Saturday night’s exhibition game against the Phoenix Suns (5pm on NBCS Northwest) with a clear objective of playing this one more like a regular season game than the previous non-counters the team has played in the past week.

The Denver exhibition game Tuesday in Memorial Coliseum had a weird vibe to it because of the locale (Memorial Coliseum) and most of the starting lineup for that game played only about 15 minutes together. Thursday night in Moda against Moccabi Haifa, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside did not play at all. There are three exhibition games remaining on the schedule but the final one, at Denver next week, will probably not feature many minutes for the starters, given the Blazers will open the regular season vs. the Nuggets.

That means the heat is turned up for the next two games.

Coach Terry Stotts said he expects Lillard and McCollum to play about 25 minutes Saturday and then probably more than 30 at Utah Wednesday.Those games figure to be dress rehearsals for the regular season.

Lillard and McCollum stayed after practice for an extended period of time, getting up an extra 250 shots apiece Friday afternoon.
“Play more minutes tomorrow,” Lillard said. “I know we’re going to play more so we have to get ready for that. Time to start tightening up and getting it ready.”

The Blazers, 1-1 in preseason games, open the regular season Oct. 23 against the Nuggets in Moda Center.

Anfernee Simons delivers on night with no Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum or Hassan Whiteside

Anfernee Simons delivers on night with no Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum or Hassan Whiteside

Let’s start off our discussion of Thursday night's events at Moda Center with a random suggestion, OK?

In the future, if the Trail Blazers choose to play host to Maccabi Haifa in an exhibition game, why not make it a Fan Fest game? Seriously. Let the fans get this one for free and see an entire game. Haifa has now played 20 games vs. NBA teams over the last several seasons and lost them all. By an average just above 30 points per game. Obviously, this would be one of those games that season-ticket holders give to the friends who never get to see games. And they didn’t see much of a game on this night, either.

Portland won Thursday night, 104-68, holding the visitors from Israel to just four points in the fourth quarter. And the Trail Blazers played without Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside. But the other 14 players on the training camp roster all got serious playing time and the least amount of time anyone played was 8:17.

Anfernee Simons played the most and delivered as the starting point guard. Simons played 30 seconds shy of 30 minutes and hit 8 of his 15 shots, including 4 of 8 three-point shots en route to a game-high 22 points. He was aggressively looking for shots, particularly after he saw a couple in a row go in during the third quarter.

“They encourage me to keep shooting, especially if I hit like two in a row,” Simons said. “I just kind of get in the rhythm. It was fun. I think I did good, especially in the third quarter. kind of being aggressive and picking up full (court) defensively and picking up defensive intensity. That just helped us push the lead out a little bit. The thing I need to work on most is probably scoring when I’m tired. So that’s probably the one thing I’ve got to get better at.”

Simons appreciated the extended time on the floor.

“I’m working on how to be a point guard when I’m tired,” he said. “And kind of directing everybody when I’m tired. Just getting better in that area. So that was good for me.”

Simons has worked hard to become more verbal, talking to his teammates on the court and even the media afterward. It’s been noticeable, considering he’s a quiet person by nature.

“I’m not the most talkative person,” he said with a smile. “We talked more out there in the third quarter and I think it helped us out.”

The Blazers didn’t need too much help. Out-manned Haifa shot just 30.9 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from three-point range. Portland won the rebound battle 56-37, with Skal Labissiere hauling down 15 boards in 23:27.

The attendance was listed at 12,157.

 

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Listen here for a special Trail Blazers edition of The Bridge Podcast with Kevin Calabro:

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.