Pat Connaughton and his 'important' Summer League: Nobody has more at stake

Pat Connaughton and his 'important' Summer League: Nobody has more at stake

Nobody on the Blazers has more at stake at the Las Vegas Summer League than third year guard Pat Connaughton.

The Blazers have until July 25 to decide between keeping Connaughton at $1.47 million next season, or let him pursue his NBA and Major League baseball dreams elsewhere.

How Connaughton does in Las Vegas will go a long way in that decision for the Blazers, as a source inside the team said Summer League will be “important” for Connaughton.

Internally, the Blazers are hoping Connaughton has an emergence similar to that of Allen Crabbe in 2015, when Crabbe in Las Vegas averaged 15.5 points in four games, which included a 9-of-12, 24-point game against Dallas.

At the time, Crabbe was in a similar position as Connaughton – playing for a guaranteed contract – and Connaughton took note how Crabbe handled himself.

“I’ll take a similar approach to the way A.C. did my rookie year,’’ Connaughton said. “He didn’t really come out and try to score 35 points a game. He just made sure he played his game. He showed the things he had gotten better at … and he put himself in position to play well during the regular season.’’

Crabbe, of course, was picked up that season for just under a million dollars, then after a breakout NBA season he signed a four-year, $75 million contract last summer.

Connaughton will start at shooting guard for the Summer League Blazers when they open play Saturday against Utah (3 p.m., CSN), but he said he will be under little pressure to prove anything.

“I wouldn’t say anything is at stake. For me, it’s more about playing well and building upon the things I’ve worked on for the last two years, building upon the end of last season,’’ Connaughton said.

Connaughton says he is confident that all he is missing is an opportunity, a feeling based in part off his showing in two spot-starts at the end of last season and in part off his off-season workouts.

Last season, after the Blazers clinched a playoff spot, Connaughton started the final two games against San Antonio and New Orleans. He had 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting against the Spurs and against the Pelicans he had 19 points, seven assists and seven rebounds while making 7-of-13 shots.

He says he wants to show that he is more than a catch-and-shoot guard – and presented that seven assist, seven-rebound performance against New Orleans as proof . Ultimately, though, he knows his defining trait is shooting, a facet he struggled with at last year’s Summer League, when he made 34 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range.

“I was a little disappointed in the way I shot the ball, particularly from three,’’ Connaughton said. “With that being said, I think I was able to make an impact in a lot of the games and go up and, not just hold my own, but have some success against touted rookies and second year guys that were in summer league last year. I’m trying to build upon that. ‘’

Whether Connaughton indeed builds on that could have an impact on how the Blazers’ roster looks come October. Portland is carrying the league-maximum 15 players right now, but if Connaughton doesn’t impress enough to guarantee him, the Blazers could explore using their mid-level exception ($5.192 million) in the free agent market.

Assistant Jim Moran, who will coach the Blazers’ Summer League team, said Connaughton has been one of the hardest workers this offseason and that has translated to him playing confidently.

“The stuff he has been working on all summer … we want to see it translate,’’ Moran said. “His confidence is very high. I’m really hoping he plays well because he has put in time and developed his game and work ethic.’’

Allen Crabbe undergoes successful foot surgery

Allen Crabbe undergoes successful foot surgery

PORTLAND, Ore. (May 11, 2017) – Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe underwent successful surgery to repair a stress reaction of the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

Crabbe is expected to be ready for the start of training camp in September.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

In 79 games (7 starts) this season, Crabbe averaged 10.7 points (48.8% FG, 44.4% 3-PT, 84.7% FT), 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists. The NBA’s second most accurate 3-point shooter at 44.4%, Crabbe posted the highest percentage from beyond the arc in franchise history by a player with 100-plus 3-pointers.

Allen Crabbe to undergo foot surgery

usatsi_9997689.jpg
USA Today

Allen Crabbe to undergo foot surgery

PORTLAND, Ore. (May 8, 2017) – Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe will undergo surgery Thursday to repair a stress reaction of the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

The surgery will be performed by Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

In 79 games (7 starts) this season, Crabbe averaged 10.7 points (48.8% FG, 44.4% 3-PT, 84.7% FT), 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists. The NBA’s second most accurate 3-point shooter at 44.4%, Crabbe posted the highest percentage from beyond the arc in franchise history by a player with 100-plus 3-pointers. 

Allen Crabbe makes a Game 2 guarantee: He will play better

Allen Crabbe makes a Game 2 guarantee: He will play better

SAN FRANCISCO – Allen Crabbe has a Game 2 guarantee.

After a nondescript 22-minute performance in Game 1, during which he had three points on 1-for-5 shooting, the Trail Blazers’ wing says he will be more aggressive and be more of a factor in Wednesday’s Game 2 against Golden State.

“I understand how important it is for me to come off the bench and bring something to the table,’’ Crabbe said.  “Game 2 for me, I know is definitely not going to be like Game 1. I can guarantee that.’’

One of the lingering questions out of the Trail Blazers’ 121-109 loss to Golden State in Game 1 was who could provide some production outside of  Blazers’ stars CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard.

Crabbe, who in the regular season was the Blazers’ fourth leading scorer behind Lillard, McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, believes that production could come from him.

He says the game plan doesn’t need to change, and coach Terry Stotts doesn’t need to call plays differently. He says it all starts with his mindset.

“It’s me,’’ Crabbe said. “I have to take things into my own hands and be aggressive and go get shots.’’

If you feel like you’ve heard or read this from Crabbe before, you are right.

Much of this season, Crabbe has been battling consistency, a problem that for him is rooted in his aggression. When he shoots, he is productive. When he doesn’t, he becomes anonymous.

The value of an aggressive Crabbe has become obvious this season. When he shoots 10 or more shots, the Blazers are 18-9 (.667 winning percentage). When he scores in double figures they are 25-16 (.609 winning percentage).

“I know a lot of people are saying, like,  ‘You scored this one night, then you go back to scoring this’… well, I feel like it’s me being just having to be in tune with the game and not feeling out the game,’’ Crabbe said.

Crabbe said that Blazers captain Damian Lillard in Game 1 was again in his ear, both on the court and from the sideline. Throughout the season, Lillard has repeatedly told the media that he tells Crabbe to shoot it every time he touches the ball.

“During Game 1, he was like ‘Shoot the ball’ and even when he was on the bench, he was telling me ‘be aggressive, be aggressive,’’’ Crabbe said. “He tells me when I’m aggressive like that it helps the team more and it helps him. And I know I can’t just be out there on the court and not doing anything.’’

Crabbe says he can’t make the mistake of letting the game come to him.

“I can’t wait for certain moments to be aggressive,’’ Crabbe said. “I have to come out and when I step on the floor look for ways to put some points up.’’

He said maybe that means instead of waiting in the corner for a three he goes and sets a pick instead of the power forward or center. Or maybe he cuts to the basket more often and tries to get an easy score.

“I just can’t wait. I can’t wait to feel out a game. I just have to go in with the mindset of getting them up early. The more and more I get the shots up, the more I will be able to produce,’’ Crabbe said.

Stotts on Tuesday was quick to defend Crabbe, noting that it was his first action in 10 days after missing the Blazers’ final three regular season games resting his sore left foot.

“We need him, that’s obvious,’’ Stotts said. “But just because he had one rusty game coming back off injury is a little early for that narrative, to be honest. But yeah, he’s a big part of what we need.’’

In Game 1, McCollum had 41 points and Lillard 34. But the rest of the Blazers went 12-for-39 from the field.

Stotts said the key will be getting production not just out of Crabbe, but also Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless. Aminu went 0-for-5 and Harkless 5-for-13.

Last season, Crabbe had a slow start in the playoffs. In the first three games against the Clippers he went for six points, zero points and zero points before going 5-for-5 in Game 4. After that, his last eight playoff games he went 36-of-61 from the field (59 percent) and 15-for-30 from 3-point range.

Whether his mental reset for Game 2 sparks a change figures to be central to the Blazers’ chances of scoring an upset.

“I’m pretty sure for Game 2 there will be a different story,’’ Crabbe said. 

Blazers announce Jusuf Nurkic is questionable for Game 1 at Golden State

Blazers announce Jusuf Nurkic is questionable for Game 1 at Golden State

On the eve of their opening playoff game, the Trail Blazers on Saturday listed center Jusuf Nurkic as questionable on their injury report.

Nurkic has missed two weeks with a fractured fibula in his right leg, during which the Blazers went 4-3. He has been re-evaluated this week -- he had an X-Ray on Wednesday -- but the team on Friday said his status for Sunday's Game 1 was undetermined. 

The injury report, which is required to be filed by 5 p.m. the night before a game, has four designations - probable (75 percent chance of playing); questionable (50 percent chance); doubtful (25 percent chance) and out. 

Nurkic was not made available to the media after Saturday's practice. He was in full practice uniform and was shooting with Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh when the media was let into practice.  Coach Terry Stotts said Nurkic "was not an active participant" during the team's workout, but said he was present and absorbing the team's game plan. 

The Blazers went 14-5 with Nurkic in the starting lineup. In 20 games in Portland, he averaged 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 blocks in 29 minutes a game. He suffered his injury in the March 28 game against Denver, and played 32 minutes the next game against Houston, when he had 19 points and 11 rebounds and played to the buzzer.

Damian Lillard, the Blazers' captain, was asked what Nurkic did during Saturday's practice. He smiled.

"No comment,'' Lillard said.

The Blazers also listed Allen Crabbe (foot) as probable and Tim Quarterman (concussion) as questionable. Ed Davis (shoulder) and Festus Ezeli (knee) are out. 

Trail Blazers finish regular season with loss to New Orleans, turn focus to Sunday's Game 1

Trail Blazers finish regular season with loss to New Orleans, turn focus to Sunday's Game 1

This time, there was no dramatic finish for the Trail Blazers.

The Blazers finished the regular season with a 103-100 loss to New Orleans after it couldn't recreate the late-game magic from its last game. One game after Noah Vonleh beat the Spurs with a last-second layin, the Blazers twice had a chance to go ahead in the final minute but Meyers Leonard he missed a hook shot with 37 seconds then lost the ball out of bounds with 10.6 seconds left and Portland trailing 101-100.

The loss ended an eight-game home winning streak for Portland, which finished 41-41 and as the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers will play at Golden State in Game 1 on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on ABC. The first playoff home game with be April 22 at 7:30 p.m. for Game 3.

With several key players resting -- including Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum -- the Blazers had as much as an 11-point lead behind the shooting of Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton. The loss prevented a winning season but didn't put a damper on the Blazers' strong close to the season, which included an 18-6 run through March and April.  

The Blazers started Napier, rookie Jake Layman, Evan Turner, Noah Vonleh and Meyers Leonard as coach Terry Stotts elected to rest starters  Lillard and McCollum as well as key reserves Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe. New Orleans (34-48) played without stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins and finished the season on a six-game losing streak.

Napier, who started and scored a career-high 32 in Monday's win over San Antonio, finished with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting while Connaughton added a career-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting as well as a career-high seven assists. Layman, in his first career start, added 10 points and Vonleh had 12 points and a career high 19 rebounds for his fifth career double-double. 

Maurice Harkless, who vowed not to take a three-pointer in order to secure a $500,000 bonus, finished with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting - all two-point attempts -- in 22 minutes. 

The Blazers now turn their attention to Golden State in a best-of-seven series in the first-round of the NBA playoffs. Game 1 is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Golden State. 

On Wednesday, the teams were tied at 53 at halftime before Portland pushed to an 85-78 lead behind Napier, Layman and rookie Tim Quarterman. New Orleans however went on a 15-0 run to take a 99-93 lead in the fourth.

Notes: Allen Crabbe, who has missed the last three games with a sore left foot said he will "for sure" be ready for Sunday's Game 1 at Golden State. "I'm not in as much pain in the mornings, so that's a good sign,'' Crabbe said before Wednesday's game. 

Up next: Blazers at Golden State, Game 1 best-of-seven series, Sunday 12:30 p.m. (ABC).  Full Schedule Here

Podcast: Special edition which includes Terry Stotts' entire time on Talkin' Ball from tonight

Lillard: Blazers making playoffs is 'biggest accomplishment of my career'

Lillard: Blazers making playoffs is 'biggest accomplishment of my career'

Once written off for dead, the Trail Blazers are going to the NBA playoffs, and on Sunday the man who drove them there didn’t mince words on what it meant to him.

“Biggest accomplishment of my career,’’ team captain Damian Lillard said. “Lot of fingers were pointed at me from the outside when we struggled, and people said a lot of things about me. I didn’t make excuses or cry about it. I said I would be better and I would man up – and I did just that.

“Now we stay locked in and go try to shock the world,’’ Lillard said.

The Blazers (40-40) will play Golden State (66-14) in Lillard’s hometown of Oakland in a best-of-seven series that will start next weekend.

The Blazers were 11 games under .500 as they entered March and overcame as much as a three-game deficit to the Denver Nuggets. But behind a torrid March – during which Lillard was named Western Conference Player of the Month for averaging 29.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists – the Blazers went 13-3 and overtook the Nuggets.

The final steps of their comeback came this weekend, when Lillard scored a franchise-record 59 points in a 101-86 win over Utah on Saturday, then watched Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook eliminate Denver with a three-pointer at the buzzer on Sunday afternoon.

"This season has had its challenges,'' Coach Terry Stotts said Sunday. "But the players never stopped competing. We had some difficulties along the way. I am so proud of our players and staff for grinding it out, believing in themselves and never quitting on the season.''

The season turned in mid-February with two major events: The Feb. 12 acquisition of center Jusuf Nurkic in a trade with Denver, and the All-Star Break, which allowed Lillard to rest a nagging sprained ankle and clear up some consuming personal issues. 

It was heading into that break, in a locker room in Utah after the Jazz blowout, where Lillard vowed to man up and play better when the team would regroup a week later in Orlando.

In the first game, Lillard scored 17 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter to lead a come-from-behind win and the resurgence began to take life.

While Nurkic become a cult hero in Portland – his passing, shot blocking, and late-game pick-and-roll magic causing “Nurkic Fever” --  it was often Lillard who was setting the tone. During a season-defining 4-1 road swing, Lillard averaged 12.3 points in the first quarter of those games, leading coach Terry Stotts to alternatively say Lillard “willed” the team or “set the tone” or “carried the responsibility.”

There were other contributions along the way, of course. Lost in Nurkic’s big night against Denver was CJ McCollum’s 39 points. Allen Crabbe scored 10 points in 48 seconds to resurrect the Blazers from the dead in the fourth quarter against Minnesota. Al-Farouq Aminu got hot just enough and played some yeoman’s defense, and Noah Vonleh became a solid rebounder and valuable perimeter defender.

But more than anything, it was Lillard, who is averaging a career-best 27.0 points with two more regular season games remaining.

Of all his accomplishments – Rookie of the Year, two All-Star appearances, two-time All-NBA, the shot to beat Houston, the 59-point night – Lillard now has his favorite: leading the Blazers back from dead and into the playoffs with a chance to shock the world.

The night Allen Crabbe may have saved the playoffs for the Trail Blazers

The night Allen Crabbe may have saved the playoffs for the Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers seemed overmatched from the start of their game Thursday night against Minnesota. The Timberwolves led 12-2 and 20-9 to open the game and you had to wonder how Portland could get off so poorly in such an important game. Minnesota would stretch the lead to 15 with 9:39 to go in the third quarter and this game looked lost.

But in the fourth quarter, Portland's defense became more aggressive and a friendly officiating crew allowed it to get away with some roughthouse tactics at that end of the floor. The Timberwolves suddenly couldn't score and forgot their best option on offense -- getting the ball to Karl-Anthony Towns at the low post against the little Portland guys who were trying in vain to defend him.

But that wouldn't have mattered much -- the Trail Blazers probably still would have lost this game -- if Allen Crabbe hadn't suddenly gone nuts on the Timberwolves from three-point range.

Crabbe scored 10 points in 48 seconds early in the fourth quarter. Up to that point, Portland's offense was flat-out broken and had disintegrated into a lot of one-on-one stuff that proved largely ineffective. Damian Lillard had another troubling shooting night (7-21 from the field, including 1-9 from three-point range to go with four turnovers) and there was little ball movement or player movement.

A loss in this game, I believe, would have signaled the end of Portland's late-season dash for a playoff spot -- obliterated by Jusuf Nurkic's leg fracture. And make no mistake, Nurkic -- and really not a lot else -- was the reason for the Trail Blazers' sudden late-season turnaround. He made his teammates better to a shocking degree and the evidence, before he arrived and after his injury -- is clear.

But Allen Crabbe rode to the rescue with those three-point shots Thursday night in Moda Center. He won them that game just about single-handedly. And I believe that was probably enough to get Portland the eighth seed in the West. The magic number is down to 2 and even if the Blazers can't win another game, it's highly possible Denver has a couple more losses coming its way.

The good news is that now we really know how important Nurkic is. What a find he was. What a future he brings. How much better he makes this team. And we also know that without him, this team doesn't appear to be very good.

Crabbe gets cooking, rescuing Blazers in comeback victory over Minnesota

Crabbe gets cooking, rescuing Blazers in comeback victory over Minnesota

In the span of 48 seconds on Thursday, the Trail Blazers playoff hopes went from bleak to promising, all thanks to Allen Crabbe.

In probably his greatest moment as a pro, Crabbe scored 10 points in a 48-second span turning an 87-82 deficit into a 92-89 lead, pushing the Blazers to a 105-98 win and onto the brink of clinching the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Crabbe scored 25 points and hit eight three pointers – three of them coming in the decisive 48 second span, including one while being fouled by Tyus Jones that resulted in a free throw.

"I love seeing a shooter get on a roll like that,'' Coach Terry Stotts said.

The win increased Portland’s lead over Denver to 1.5 games with three games remaining. Denver plays at home Friday against New Orleans. Any combination of Portland wins or Denver losses that equals two will earn Portland the final playoff spot.

Damian Lillard added 22 points, nine rbeounds and eight assists and CJ McCollum had 18 points and five assists.

Portland trailed by as many as 15 in the third quarter and 87-80 entering the fourth quarter, but Minnesota missed its first 13 shots of the fourth and 19 of its first 20 shots. When it was all said and done, Minnesota scored 11 fourth quarter points and went 3-for-23 from the field in the fourth. The fourth-quarter meltdown included the abandoning of Karl-Anthony Towns, whose inside play was dominant through the first three quarters. Towns had 22 points and 12 rebounds entering the fourth, but attempted only two shots, one of them a rebound put-back with 16 seconds left.  Towns finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds.

Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 36 points, went 1-for-8 in the fourth, and Ricky Rubio, who started 6-of-7, missed eight of his final nine shots.

"We struggled most of the night, but the fourth qaurter was terrific,'' Stotts said. "There was a lot of great defensive play, and obviously A.C.'s shooting was terrific.''

The Blazers erased a 15-point deficit in the third quarter, making their push after Towns headed to the bench after picking up his fourth foul. After Towns left, Portland went on a 12-2 run to draw even at 72 with 6:05. But that’s when Towns returned and the Blazers and Minnesota regained its footing, taking an 87-80 lead into the fourth.

Minnesota led 61-53 at halftime after leading by as many as 14 in the first quarter and 12 in the second quarter. Wiggins was dominant, particularly with post ups against McCollum, Lillard and Crabbe. Wiggins made 9-of-12 shots in the half and had 21 points.

Crabbe prevented the Timberwolves from running away in the first half, hitting his first three 3-point attempts.

Minnesota jumped to a 12-2 start and eventually took a 34-20 lead after the first quarter. They rode post ups by Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins early, then the outside shooting of Rubio late in the quarter. Meanwhile, Portland shot just 32 percent, with Lillard missing his first six shots before scoring on a driving layin with 32 seconds left.

Al-Farouq Aminu, who started for the second straight game in the Blazers’ small-ball lineup without injured center Jusuf Nurkic, had 15 points and seven rebounds and Noah Vonleh added nine points and seven rebounds.

Next up: Utah at Blazers, 7 p.m. Saturday (KGW).

Podcast:

Lillard, Trail Blazers stay hot, with big win over Houston

Lillard, Trail Blazers stay hot, with big win over Houston

The NBA’s best team in March was in Portland, and on Thursday the red-hot Trail Blazers capped a sizzling month with an impressive 117-107 victory over the Houston Rockets that left the Moda Center buzzing.

Damian Lillard had 31 points and 11 assists and the Blazers won their fifth straight to complete March with an NBA-best 13-3 record.

The Blazers closed the game on a 10-2 run in which Houston’s MVP-candidate James Harden repeatedly came up empty.

Harden, who entered as the NBA’s second leading scorer at 29.3 points, scored 30, but he had only three in the fourth quarter while going 1-for-4 from the field and committing two turnovers.

Portland (37-38) moved 1.5 games ahead of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot with seven games remaining. Houston (51-24) has locked up the third seed in the Western Conference.

Jusuf Nurkic continued his resurgence in Portland, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and he scored two late buckets to help seal the game.

But more than anything, the Blazers got huge nights from their role players, none bigger than Maurice Harkless, who had 17 points, six rebounds and three blocks while guarding Harden for much of the game. Harkless made a key play on Harden late in the fourth with the Blazers clinging to a 103-101 lead, poking the ball away for a steal, then later finishing the possession with a driving dunk to put Portland up 105-101 with 3:37 left.

Allen Crabbe also added 17 points, and his strip of Harden, which he took the length of the court for a dunk, gave the Blazers a 113-105 lead with 1:12 and sent the Moda Center into perhaps its loudest decibel of the season.

"We are the sum of our parts,'' Coach Terry Stotts said. "When we get contributions up and down (and) we're not relying on Dame and CJ, it just makes us a better team.''

Lillard scored 11 in the first quarter and 12 in the third and broke the Blazers franchise record for points in the month of March (465), eclipsing Clyde Drexler in 1989 (439 points).

The Blazers led 65-56 at halftime as they rode the play of Lillard and Nurkic and got sizeable contributions from their role players. Lillard had another strong opening quarter, hitting his first three 3-pointers en route to 11 points, but he was complemented by Harkless, who also scored 11 while also being tasked with the defensive assignment on Harden.

The Blazers took advantage of Harden on the bench to start the second quarter, extending a 32-31 lead to 54-42 before Harden returned with 6:21 left. The Blazers’ spurt was led by Allen Crabbe and Al-Farouq Aminu, with Crabbe hitting three 3-pointers and Aminu scoring eight.

Next up: Phoenix at Blazers, 7 p.m. Saturday (CSN)

Podcast: