LeBron James

Opening night could be a Moda Center circus

Opening night could be a Moda Center circus

TUALATIN – It’s probably going to be the biggest three-ring circus of an opening night that the Trail Blazers have ever staged.

There is just so much going on to make the event unlike any other home opener –- maybe any other regular-season game – in the 49-year history of the team.


  • The Trail Blazers are working on a 17-game win streak in their home openers.
  • Portland also has a 15-game win streak against Thursday night’s opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • This will be the first home opener in three decades that the team will play without Paul Allen as its owner. Allen passed away Monday after losing a battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
  • The game will be telecast nationally via TNT.
  • And oh yes, a fellow by the name of LeBron James will be playing his first regular-season game as a Laker.

James’ appearance has led to the an unprecedented amount of credential requests from national media. The media sections will be packed.

Even with all those special things going on, it’s important to point out that opening night is always something special for players. In any sport, every team is undefeated before the first game. And those teams have an optimism and even a confidence they may not have later in the season. Even the downtrodden teams don’t know how really bad they are until they play a few games.

“First day of school, that’s a good way to put it,” said Damian Lillard. “I remember my first day of first grade, of kindergarten, I was excited to go to school. Put that new outfit on.

“Same thing in the NBA. I think regardless of how many years you’ve done it, there’s nothing like opening night. The energy’s there, everybody’s expecting it to be their year and it’s another opportunity to go at it.”

The Trail Blazers may go into the game at full strength, which did not happen for any of the preseason games. Maurice Harkless, who missed all of the preseason games, says he’s “probable” for the opener – the same listing he had for the final three exhibition games.

Harkless would be a big help against the Lakers for his defense. The Trail Blazers usually match Al-Farouq Aminu against James but having Harkless in the lineup would allow the two to switch on screens, if necessary, and also give Aminu a rest off James.

If Harkless can go.

If not, it’s anyone’s guess who will fill the small forward spot. Jake Layman had a big preseason as the fill-in but has started only two games in his career. This would be a very big stage for him.

Because of TNT, the game is scheduled for a 7:30 start and special tributes to the team’s late owner will take place throughout the game.

The Trail Blazers will wear a patch on their uniforms bearing Allen’s initials, “PGA.”

“I think everybody in the league is ready to open the season,” said Portland Coach Terry Stotts. “It’s time. There’s a lot going on, a lot of anticipation – I think that’s a good thing.”

What if LeBron heads West?


What if LeBron heads West?

The odds are out on where LeBron James will play next season, and his decision could have a huge impact on the Western Conference. James could still exercise his $35.6 million player-option and return to Cleveland, but the more likely scenario is to decline the option and hit the open market. 

According to the odds, the Lakers, Rockets, and Spurs are the three most likely teams in the Western Conference to land him. Here is how they can do it, and how it would impact the conference in 2018-19.

Lakers: +200

The Lakers currently hold the best odds of any team in the NBA to land LeBron James and will be heading into free agency with more cap space than any other team in the league. The Lakers will have enough free money that they can add James as well as another star, most likely Paul George.  Then the question is, do you keep Lonzo Ball or do you strike while the iron is hot, sell high, and trade him to bring in vets to complete the roster? Either way, a Lakers team built around James and George would all but assure the Lakers would end their playoff drought.

How it affects the West - Last season just two games separated the three seed Blazers from the eight seed Timberwolves, with the Nuggets dropping to ninth in the final game of the season.  A revamped Lakers squad would instantly be in the playoff mix, meaning any team that made playoffs last season (not named the Warriors or Rockets) would most likely end 2019 on the outside looking in.  

Rockets: +275

Houston is also a favorite to add James, but the Rockets would have to shake up the roster for it to happen. Chris Paul is heading to free agency and could be looking to make more than the $24.6 million he made last season. Star center Clint Capela is also hitting the open market. Capela made just $2.3 million last season and has a giant raise coming his way. That doesn’t leave a lot of money to sign James.

The Rockets may have to find ways to free up Ryan Anderson ($19.6mil), Eric Gordon ($12.9mil) and P.J. Tucker ($7.6mil) to make it all happen. Houston would have one heck of a starting five, but not much of a bench. Either way, they would still be a favorite to win the title in 2019.

How it affects the West - James to Houston wouldn’t impact the standings as much as James to the Lakers would, but it would most certainly make it a two horse race to the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets were penciled into the Western Conference Finals this season, and with James added to the roster you might as well use a permanent marker. The real impact would be in how teams adjust. If the Western Conference turns into Golden State, Houston, and everybody else (which you could argue it is already), you could really see some playoff caliber teams enter rebuild mode in an attempt to be ready for the post-Warriors/Rockets era. 

Spurs: +1000

The Spurs would be an intriguing landing spot simply to see what happens when the best player in the game gets paired up with the best coach in the game. However, like the Rockets, San Antonio is in a tough financial situation.

Tony Parker is hitting free agency, freeing up $15.5 million, while Rudy Gay and Danny Green could free up another $18.8 million combined if they both choose not to exercise their player options. If Gay and Green exercise their options, then you will most likely see the Spurs push hard to trade Patty Mills ($10mil) and Pau Gasol ($16mil) to free up space.

How it affects the West - A core of James, Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge would instantly make the Spurs a top three team in the Western Conference. The Spurs finished seventh last season, and vaulting to three would mean a team like the Blazers could end up missing the playoffs when it’s all said and done.

The Spurs would also make it a lot tougher for the Warriors and Rockets to make a repeat trip to the conference finals.


LeBron throws some serious shade on Portland

USA Today

LeBron throws some serious shade on Portland

Have you ever had a day where you were sitting down minding your own business when out of nowhere LeBron James sends a verbal barb your way? Today was that day for Portland.

During today's media availability at Quicken Loans Arena James was asked about the performance of Kevin Durant and what he saw from him when Durant as in OKC. His response, "you knew he was built for greatness from the time he was drafted. I mean, everybody knew that besides Portland... sorry Portland."

Too soon, Lebron. Too soon. 

Doesn't he remember Oden helped his Heat get to the NBA Finals in 2014? Well, he probably blames Oden for Miami losing the series, so maybe he is just a little salty.

But let's be real here, this draft "advice" is coming from a guy who plays for the team that drafted Anthony Bennett first overall. The Cavs could have drafted Victor Oladipo, CJ McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Rudy Gobert. The point is, hindsight is always 20-20 Mr. James, don't forget it.


LeBron left Smith -- and the game -- twisting in the wind

LeBron left Smith -- and the game -- twisting in the wind

OK, nobody else seems to want to write this, so apparently I'm going to have to do it.

LeBron James did not exactly show Hall of Fame leadership skills while his team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Yes, his teammate, J.R. Smith, pulled one of the dumbest basketball plays you'll ever see late in the game when he rebounded a missed free throw with 4.7 seconds to go and dribbled the ball swiftly away from scoring territory -- quite obviously thinking his Cleveland Cavaliers were ahead of the Golden State Warriors, rather than tied. A disgraceful boner from a professional player who didn't even have the nerve to admit his mistake after the game.

But James reacted like a child. He showed Smith up on the court with his expression and body language and then went to the bench during the break before overtime and iced him out. Ignored him.

It was the baseball equivalent of a pitcher throwing his arms in the air after a shortstop just made a big error behind him. You just don't do that to a teammate. You tell him to hang in there and that you'll pick him up.

Understand, the Cavaliers had not yet lost the game. They were going into overtime in a contest they were favored to lose by a dozen. And who is to say Smith would have been able to score after that rebound? Or that the Warriors wouldn't have gotten the ball back after a timeout and hit a miracle three-pointer to win?

I believe in similar situations after a gaffe like that one, some cooling off is necessary. Step back for a few seconds and assess the situation. Good leaders don't look at how they just lost, but how they can still win.

And after a long TV timeout, there was none of that. Instead of patting Smith on the shoulder and saying, "Don't worry, we're going to bail you out" or "Hey, we've got your back," James went out in overtime and missed all four of his shots and, in general, seemed to do all he could to show the world that Smith's mistake cost the Cavaliers the game.

Of course on the podium afterwards, James acted as if he was supporting Smith by not criticizing him, but it was too late. His prior actions betrayed him. As the leader of his team, he should have tried to bring his team back together. Instead, he created a divide.

It was a strange game and a lot of Clevelanders came away thinking their team got the shaft. That block/charge call that was reviewed by officials and was (rightfully) switched to a blocking call was the big thing. What amazed me the most about that situation is how many NBA players and coaches know nothing about the rule governing such plays. The media seemed to be more in tune with it than anybody. The officials have the right to review it and they made the right call upon review. Lebron was moving and he wasn't even squared up to the offensive player. The contact with Kevin Durant was made by James' shoulder, not his chest -- which is usually one determining factor by NBA referees.

It was also interesting how ESPN uses former referee Steve Javie as its expert on such matters, who was speaking to the network from the NBA replay headquarters. Fun watching Steve trying to ride the fence by not criticizing his former partners or taking the chance of offending the league. Which is to be expected.

As it turned out, the game was much more memorable than most of us thought it would be. And my biggest memory will be LeBron James not coming to the aid of a teammate.



Kyrie Irving's demands are taking disloyalty to an obscene new level

Kyrie Irving's demands are taking disloyalty to an obscene new level

I don't know about you, but I'm seeing something in the NBA right now that could become a real problem for me.

For years, discontented players have asked to be traded. Usually they do it privately and not in the media. You never hear about it most of the time that it happens.

First, let's get this straight right now -- I have nothing against free agency. I grew up in an era when players where chained to the same team for life, even if they never got a chance to play much. They had no options. They had to play for the team that "owned" them, or go home.

So now free agency has brought a lot of player movement and it usually favors the rich franchises, the more glamorous cities or the places where the sun shines the most frequently. But I never get too worked up over that. It's the way it is in any business. People want to work for successful companies alongside talented co-workers in great cities.

I wasn't upset when Kevin Durant chose Golden State or LeBron James picked Miami. Or Cleveland. It was their right. The fulfilled their contract and won the right to choose a new team.

But what's bugging me now is a player under contract who is acting as if he is a free agent. He is not only demanding a trade, he is trying to dictate where he should be dealt. I don't like any of that.

Kyrie Irving is that guy. He has three seasons -- the last one being an opt-out year -- left on his contract with Cleveland and has told the Cavs he wishes to be traded. And not only that, he's given the team three "preferred destinations." Now keep in mind, this isn't Carmelo Anthony, who has basically been run out of town by Phil Jackson and has it written into his current contract with the Knicks that he has the right to approve any trades.

What gives Irving the right to expect to just trade his uniform in for another one? Well, nothing. Except NBA players these days are being catered to, fawned over and recruited the same way they were in their high school days, when they played AAU basketball. And we are starting to see the signs that they are beginning to think they can simply go where they want, sign up to play with their pals or create a super team on a whim.

And face it, in many cases some of the top players are basically running their franchise. LeBron James complains in Cleveland that he doesn't get enough help to beat the Warriors but come on -- LeBron has been the de facto General Manager of that team since he returned. He's been behind a good many of that team's trades and free-agent signings, as he assembled a roster of friends and players he knew would defer to him. Now that it isn't working to his satisfaction, he wants a do-over. Or to go someplace else.

If we're talking about recruiting free agents or even Anthony -- who has the no-trade clause that he could modify for any team chasing him -- that's fair game. But players already under contract who first demand a trade and then try to pick the team they go to?

No way.

First off, you sign a deal for $20 million a season as Irving did, you keep your mouth shut and play. Play it out. Then you become a free agent and can go wherever you want. But don't attempt to hold a team for ransom that has signed you in good faith. Be a person of integrity and honor your deal.

And trying to pick the team you're traded to after demanding a trade while under contract? That's what's adding insult to injury.

The Cavs should find out where he'd least like to go and send him there. If the league gets to the point when contracts mean nothing and players can merely quit on their current team and demand a trade to a specific team of their choice, that's when I will quit paying attention.

There is enough player movement as it is, with free agency. And giving up on your current team is not only unseemly, it takes disloyalty to an obscene level.

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

As much as I detest the word "legacy" when people are talking about pro athletes (basketball players have careers, they don't have a legacy. Things like that are reserved for the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy) I'm going to use it here.

Where are all those people who insisted that Kevin Durant would affect his "legacy" by jumping from Oklahoma City to Golden State and, as I heard so many times, "ride those guys' coat tails to a championship."

Well, as it turned out, Durant did the right thing. The Warriors would not have won without him. He was the MVP of the series. And he escaped having to play in a city YOU wouldn't live in to the Bay Area. And he escaped having to play with Russell Westbrook on a dysfunctional team and landed with a squad that was the most unselfish in the league.

When people look back on his career they're going to say he carried the Warriors to this championship -- not that they carried him to one.

And he did so while sacrificing pieces of his game for the sake of playing on a winning team. He would have scored more points and his stats would have looked much better had he stayed with the Thunder. But the NBA Finals stage allowed him to show just how talented he is -- leading many people to conclude he's the next big thing in the league.

As far as the Cavaliers are concerned, the Finals showed they have some work to do on that roster of theirs. Instead of stacking their bench with LeBron's buddies, they need to get some serious role players with talent. They need guys capable of contributing instead of just sitting and watching. In Game 5, the Warrior bench outscored the Cavalier bench 35-7, typical of the entire series.

The Warriors, too, had a big coaching edge. Golden State plays the prettiest game in basketball on offense and just about the best defense in the league. The Cavs take turns playing one-on-one with not enough defense.

The right team won. And Kevin Durant made the right move.

GOAT? Who knows... but there's never been another team like the Warriors

GOAT? Who knows... but there's never been another team like the Warriors

You can talk all day and all night about the greatest teams of all time. And you really can't come to any conclusions. Differing eras makes it too difficult.

But there has never been another team like this version of the Golden State Warriors.

Folks, time changes. And it has changed basketball in a very big way. You know that, of course, but it may be a bigger change than you think.

Yes, the Warriors shoot the three-point shot like nobody else -- in volume and accuracy. In Game 3, they made 16 of their 33 threes while Cleveland was hitting just 12 of 44. That's a huge edge.

And I must say, Steph Curry is just as unique as his team. I know Kevin Durant is getting most of the headlines from Wednesday's game -- as he should -- but we're already taking Curry for granted because he's been doing his amazing thing for a few years now.

It wasn't just that Curry made five of his nine three-point shots. It's that he made shots -- and continues to make shots -- from spots where other players don't dare shoot them. And he gets them off quickly, too. Curry's edge over most every other player in the NBA is that he's accumulating points three at a time on shots that nobody else makes with consistency. If he gets a glimmer of daylight from about 25 feet and in, he can be deadly. I don't remember any other player in the history of the game as proficient as he is at shooting in volume from distance.

And above that, he's a perpetual motion machine. He had 13 rebounds Wednesday because he's so active. He gets to the ball, whether in the air or on the floor. In his own way, he's as difficult to defend as any of the game's legendary players.

And yes, the Warriors also have other shooters. Klay Thompson and Durant are terrific. But what makes these guys special is that they move the ball and move bodies. They play an unselfish, equal-opportunity offense that doesn't allow the defense to lock in on anybody. In contrast to the Cavaliers.

Cleveland plays too much one-on-one. It's really not sustainable -- even as good as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are at it -- over the long haul against a team moving the ball the way the Warriors do.

Wednesday, 72.5 percent of Golden State's made field goals were assisted. For Cleveland, it was just 42.5. EVERY SINGLE SHOT by Thompson, Draymond Green, David West and Shaun Livingston came off an assist. That's crazy.

And of course, when a lot of people are evaluating this series at some point, they're going to point fingers at the Cavaliers' "supporting cast" and conclude Cleveland didn't get enough production out of it. I think it's easy to say that, but my observation over many years of watching this game is that when one or two players are as ball dominant as James and Irving are, other players simply don't get a good feel for the game. What you end up with is players who are so eager to actually get a shot they burp up a bad one (J.R. Smith) or become more reluctant to shoot (Kevin Love). It's a natural response when you aren't getting consistent touches.

Basketball is changing at warp speed and the Warriors are leading the way. Shooting from distance is of paramount importance these days. You simply cannot afford to get outscored by a big number from behind the three-point line. It's so difficult to overcome that. And you've got to move the ball and play unselfishly to get open three-point shots.

And to beat the Warriors, you're going to need a great team. And there is only one great team out there right now and it's the Warriors. And they are so much different than any of the other great teams in history that it's hard to say where they fit.

A few other thoughts about Game 3:

  • I'm still not understanding why James didn't get out past the three-point line on Durant on that critical shot late in the game. That shot was too important to allow it to be wide open.
  • I'm also bewildered as to why the NBA allows these games to degenerate into a wrestling match. So many obvious fouls are being ignored that if you actually get called for a foul -- or a travel or a double dribble -- you're just flat-out unlucky. It's a joke.
  • People are saying that Green isn't playing his best during this series but he does so many things for his team. Wednesday night he led all players in contested shots with 15, had the best plus/minus of anybody with 14 and had a team-high seven assists to go with a team-high five screen-assists. That doesn't sound like a bad game to me.
  • The only team capable of beating the Warriors is the Warriors. If they don't move, or move the ball, or take a night off on defense, they can be had. But that's the only way.



At last, the Blazers chalk up a significant win this season

At last, the Blazers chalk up a significant win this season

There was so much to like in the Trail Blazers' 102-86 romp over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night in Moda Center. Let me touch on just a few of them:

  • First, it's important to note that Portland fans had to work very hard to get to the game and a good many of them made it. I was very surprised how full the arena was on a night of such dicey travel. The attendees were rewarded with their team's best game of the season. I wasn't surprised the NBA so obviously forced the teams to play on an iffy night -- it's been NBA policy to do that for decades, even when the home team is not in favor of it. Especially when a one-night delay of the game would probably force some sort of issue between the league's TV partners, ESPN and TNT.
  • The Trail Blazer defense was intense and connected. I loved the way it collapsed and covered in the basket area (the Cavs had just 24 paint points and went a woeful 12-39 in the paint) when necessary. That takes coordination and effort -- and it was there all night.
  • At the same time, the Blazers were still able to contest three-point shots. Cleveland made just 30 percent of its attempts from three-point range.
  • The Cavaliers were not real interested on defense in the first quarter and Portland got off to a very good start on offense. But in the second period Cleveland began to tighten up its defense and went to another level. What I liked about that is that the Trail Blazers kept at it, through some rough possessions, and had an eight-point halftime advantage.
  • There were so many contributions from so many players but if you're a Trail Blazer fan you have to be excited about the ongoing confidence and emergence of Allen Crabbe. He has been almost unworldly over the last few games and the squad has needed another consistent shooter from long range.
  • Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu were terrors on defense, as usual. There can be no denying how important their presence on the court is to the Blazer defense.
  • Evan Turner had a tough shooting night but had 11 assists and eight rebounds while taking some turns at defending LeBron James. My sense has been that Turner fears no man. He took on James and gave as much as he took in a physical battle. His rough edge is very important to this team.
  • CJ McCollum continued his hot play on offense -- he's in a zone right now. A very hot zone. And four blocked shots? He's engaged at the defensive end.
  • Terry Stotts had his team very well prepared, which is saying a lot considering the Blazers' busy travel day on a back-to-back game.
  • There was a different vibe Wednesday night. The Trail Blazers looked much more like last year's confident bunch than they have all season.
  • What can we expect moving forward? I'd like to think Tuesday night's game, when the Lakers' DeAngelo Russell "poked the bear" -- confronted Damian Lillard and woke him and his teammates up -- was a turning point and that the Wednesday night triumph over the Cavs was Exhibit A of a major sea change for Portland. But there is still a lot of work to be done. The Trail Blazers have buried themselves in the conference standings and climbing out of what is still an 18-23 hole won't be easy.

Blazers end the first half on a high note with rout of LeBron James and Cleveland

Blazers end the first half on a high note with rout of LeBron James and Cleveland

The Trail Blazers ended their first half on a high note with perhaps their best outing of the season, a thorough and dominant 102-86 victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Behind the shooting of Allen Crabbe and an explosive second half from CJ McCollum, and with the help of an active and swarming defense, the Blazers beat the defending champions to run their record to 18-23, one game better than last season at the halfway mark.

McCollum scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half and became the first Trail Blazers player since Clyde Drexler in 1987 to score 25 or more points in seven consecutive games. The franchise record is 11 by Geoff Petrie. 

Crabbe, meanwhile, hit 9-of-10 shots and scored 24 points, two games after he established a career-high with 30 points against Detroit, and coach Terry Stotts recorded his 200th win in Portland. 

But perhaps more than anything, the Blazers' win was fueled by its defense, which held Cleveland to 34.1 percent shooting, one night after Portland held the Lakers to 29 percent shooting in the second half of a win in Los Angeles. Evan Turner keyed the defense by often holding his ground against repeated post ups by James, who was held to 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists on 5-of-12 shooting. Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless also played a part in defending James and the entire Blazers roster was a step faster and had a greater sense of urgency than the Cavaliers (28-10), who lost their second straight.

Both teams were coming off brutal travel schedules that were effected by an unexpected snowstorm that hit Portland on Tuesday night. Cleveland played at Utah on Tuesday and didn't land in Portland until 5:15 a.m. on Wednesday. Portland played in Los Angeles and spent the night in Seattle after flying to Sea-Tac Airport. The team flew to Portland and arrived at 1 p.m., then bused to the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland before heading to the arena at 4 p.m.

It was the sixth time Portland has held its opponent to less than 100 points in its last 11 games. In the season's first 30 games, the Blazers accomplished that feat five times. 

Next up: Orlando at Blazers, 7 p.m. Friday (KGW)