After win of the season, have the real Trail Blazers arrived?

After win of the season, have the real Trail Blazers arrived?

A Trail Blazers season that has lacked consistency and definition finally delivered one bit of clarity on Wednesday: The 123-114 funfest victory over Minnesota was the best win of the season.

“I feel the same way,’’ Damian Lillard said. “It was confident, played at a good pace, and we were doing the right stuff.’’

The Blazers (26-22) have won 4 of 5, and the question now, of course, is whether this is their latest bait-and-switch on the fan base.

After all, it’s been a tough season of trying to figure out the Trail Blazers.

One minute, the Blazers think they are turning the corner as they won four of five on a November trip, only to return home and lose four in a row in convincing fashion.

Later, after an emphatic win at Oklahoma City in January, giving the Blazers a three-game winning streak, there was again talk of turning a corner, only to absorb three straight losses.

But there seemed to be something different about Wednesday’s game. Not only did the rout (the Blazers led by 19 with less than three minutes left) come against a talented, albeit shorthanded, Minnesota team, it came via some beautiful basketball.

More than any other time this season, the Blazers were connected, intuitive, unselfish and dynamic. Pat Connaughton was cutting and dunking. CJ McCollum was stop-and-go crafty. And if Ed Davis wasn’t making heady passes to shooters on the perimeter, he was high-fiving fans who got out of their seat in appreciation for his blue-collar work inside.

And the defense was unwavering, despite mismatches all over the floor. But Al-Farouq Aminu held his own against the taller Karl Anthony-Towns, and even though nobody could stay in front of Andrew Wiggins, there was always a wave of help defense to provide resistance.

Never was the total package more on display than during the 43-point third quarter, which helped give the Blazers a 13-point lead heading into the fourth. The Blazers were so in tune with each other during the quarter it seemed as if ball handlers were anticipating cuts before they were made. And if an extra pass was there to be made, it was. And on top of it all, there was a style, elegance and precision to the display – from Connaughton dunking lob passes, to teammates finding Aminu open on the perimeter and McCollum and Lillard putting the Wolves’ defense on skates.

“It was a showcase,’’ Lillard said. “A great display of Blazers Basketball.’’

Blazers Basketball. Now that’s a phrase we haven’t heard much of, if at all, this season.

It’s a term coach Terry Stotts came up with years ago to describe the free-flowing, unselfish and intuitive style of his motion offense. The team has a brass bell mounted on the wall in its practice facility, and when a Blazers Basketball play was made – “You know it when you see it,’’ Stotts would say – Stotts would issue a directive to ring the bell.

Can’t say I’ve heard the bell much this season from inside the media room, which is separated from the practice courts by a steel door, and that has translated to game nights.

But Wednesday felt something like an awakening.

The Blazers have been playing better lately – save for those dreadful last three minutes at Denver – and have been finding different ways to win. Against Indiana, they made less than 40 percent of their shots yet still won convincingly.

But if this team is going to be dangerous come playoff time, it has to play something close to what we saw on Wednesday – tough, confident, together and with more than a hint of a hell-bent-for-leather attitude that comes with playing free.

Lillard, to his credit, has been forecasting this awakening for the past 10 to 14 days. He could sense the team was becoming sharper, more focused and more together. Guys are holding screens better, and longer. Guys are remembering plays better. And when an opponent has a play scouted and sniffed out, the Blazers have become better at improvising.

“Instinct and feel,’’ Lillard said.

It’s an interesting dynamic to keep an eye on as the Blazers near the All-Star Break. Stotts has pretty much settled on his rotation – out are former rotation players Maurice Harkless and Noah Vonleh – and players say there is a developing comfort level with each other, which is allowing for more improvising and playing with instincts.

“It’s us gaining continuity and being able to make those types of reads,’’ Connaughton said. “We’ve gotten better at playing basketball with the guys who are on the floor. We’ve done a great job of knowing each other’s strengths and knowing what guys can consistently do, and play off those strengths.’’

It sets the stage for what under Stotts has become a Portland tradition as reliable as the April cherry blossoms: a late-season surge by the Blazers.

If indeed the Blazers have figured things out – and keep in mind, we have been here before this season – Connaughton said he thinks the timing bodes well.

“I think it just says we are a dangerous team,’’ Connaughton said. “We’re a team that still hasn’t reached our ceiling yet. Halfway through the season, teams have shown what they can do, and the best that they can do it. For us, I think we have a lot of stuff we can grow on. The sky is the limit.’’

Lillard, who has remained steadfastly optimistic about this team throughout the season, said the Blazers right now are showing “growth.’’

“Over time, you go through things,’’ Lillard said. “I always say it about our team: We have bad times, and we have good times. But regardless of what is going on, we stay together. We talk. We watch film. And I think because of that, we are able to grow as the season goes on. And it’s why over the last few years, at the end of the season is when we just start rolling – because we stay together through the trials and tribulations of a season.’’

Blazers NOT the team to give assurances to Chandler Hutchison

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USATI

Blazers NOT the team to give assurances to Chandler Hutchison

In recent years, some of the NBA's top talent has elected to forgo the NBA Pre-Draft Combine and meet with teams later in the Draft process for individualized workouts.

But Boise State's Chandler Hutchison made headlines when he did just that, despite being projected a late first round selection.

The news sparked immediate speculation that Portland, which is picked 24th overall, may be that team. 

However, after according to our Jason Quick, that's not the case.

Hutchison, a 6'7" guard and a four-year player at BSU, was named to the first team All-Mountain West in each of the past two seasons where he set career highs with 20 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a senior.

So if it wasn't the Blazers, then who was it?

According to Aran Smith of NBADraft.net, that was the Bulls, who have the 22nd overall pick.

The Blazers appear to have focused their attention on wing defenders at the Combine. 

Other players to interview with the Blazers in Chicago were Miami's Lonnie Walker, Duke's Gary Trent, Jr. South Carolina's Brian Bowen and Oregon's Troy Brown. 

The names mentioned is not a complete list, however it's worth noting the amount of guards and small forwards are on that list. 

Pre-Draft workouts begin the first week of June with the NBA Draft taking place on June 21st. 

NBA Combine Notebook: Blazers take different approach in interviews

NBA Combine Notebook: Blazers take different approach in interviews

CHICAGO – When prospects at the NBA Combine last week were summoned to a meeting with the Trail Blazers, they were in for a surprise.

Unlike meetings with the Clippers, where waiting for them inside a hotel room was NBA legend Jerry West, or unlike meetings with the Lakers alongside Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, prospects walked into their Portland meeting to find …. Dana Sinclair.

“It was … different,’’ Duke wing Gary Trent Jr. said. 

Sinclair is a sports performance psychologist who has been working with the Blazers since 2007. When she was first hired by then-general manager Kevin Pritchard, Sinclair would sometimes convene with the team on the road. But now, she is mostly in charge of handling the Blazers pre-draft intel.

According to some of the players Sinclair interviewed last week, they were given a checklist with various character traits. After they checked what they felt applied to them, there were a serious of questions.

“It was questions like, ‘What would people describe you as?’’’ Brian Bowen said. “And ‘What would you describe yourself as?’ It was interesting. It was her getting to know me personally. I liked it.’’

After the checklist and questions, the players talked with Sinclair and discussed the results. Some of the players said she nailed their personality. 

“She was close,’’ Oregon’s Troy Brown said. “But she said she thought I was a little unsocial, and when she said that I was a little shocked. I was like, not me. Not me.’’

Bowen, the former Louisville recruit, said she nailed him. 

“She formed and said things about me that were so accurate it was crazy,’’ Bowen said. “It was eye opening.’’

Bowen said there was nothing weird about the questions and noted that Minnesota asked him the most interesting question: If you were driving and approaching a yellow light, what would you do?

WILL BLAZERS’ SHAKE?

One of the prospects the Blazers interviewed in Chicago was SMU’s Shake Milton, who notes that he has “had my fair share” of adversity in his life.

This season as a junior, he broke his right hand, forcing him to miss the season’s final 11 games. And when he was 15, his father, Myrion, died in 2012 at age 43 because of a heart issue. 

“My family was in my corner, and that’s all I needed,’’ Milton said.

A 6-foot-5 guard, Milton was the American Conference player of the year after averaging 18.0 points and 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He says he figures he will standout because of his shooting, his basketball intelligence and his defensive versatility. 

“With my length, I can guard multiple positions,’’ Milton said. “I feel like I can do anything the coach asks me to do. The way the game is going – positionless basketball – you have to be able to guard multiple positions and knock down shots.’’

Even though his father is gone, his memory lives on with Milton’s nickname. His father, during his playing days at Texas A&M was called “Milkman.” So when his son was in the womb, he started calling him Shake … as in Milkshake. 

So even though his proper name is Malik, Milton has always gone by Shake since he was born. 

IN THE GENES

One of the top scorers the Blazers appear interested in is Boston College guard Jerome Robinson, who like Milton, has a father who played collegiately. 

Jerome Sr. was a small forward who played at South Florida before a nine-year professional career overseas.

“I remember playing 1-on-1 against him when I was young and he would show no mercy,’’ Robinson said. “He was dunking and everything.’’

It wasn’t until high school that he beat his father and he says he hasn’t lost to him since. 

Lonnie Walker, a standout defender at Miami who is expected to be a lottery pick, was asked at the combine who was his toughest player to guard. He didn’t hesitate.

“Jerome Robinson,’’ Walker said. “He gave me 30 points. I have to respect a guy who gave me a whole lot of buckets like that. He is a vet. You have to pay respect when it’s due. He knows his spots, how to shoot, how to score. It was definitely a challenge.’’

 Robinson, who this season as a junior averaged 20.7 points while shooting 40.9 percent from three-point range,  has been training with Noah LaRoche, the owner of Integrity Sports and the trainer of Russell Westbrook.

Robinson says he will be defined by two traits: hard work and character.

“Nothing was given to me, not even in my own household. I will work in the dark until I see the light,’’ Robinson said. “I don’t have a ridiculous wing span or ridiculous height, but I know that I have a mental advantage against guys I play against. That’s the way I attack the game.’’

FAMILIAR NAME

One of the top names scheduled to workout in Portland in June is Duke wing Gary Trent, Jr.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because his father Gary Trent played with the Blazers from 1995-1998.

“He always he told me stories of those teams, and the name they had, the Jail Blazers,’’ Trent said. “But he told me funny stories, stories of him, JR (Rider), Rasheed (Wallace).’’

Trent Jr. as a freshman with Duke averaged 14.5 points and 4.2 rebounds. He carries himself with a brash confidence and says he will show NBA teams that he can be a prolific scorer. He is projected to go anywhere from the mid-teens to the second round. 

“I honestly feel like I’m better than that,’’ Trent said. “I can score with the best of them – post, mid range, three, off the dribble, catch and shoot. I feel like there is not situation on the offensive end that I can’t do. ‘’

Part of that confidence comes from being schooled by his father, not only in the nuances of the game, but also the draft process.

“It’s almost as if I had a cheat sheet,’’ Trent said. “My father has been through it all – the combine, the one-year deals, the three-year deals. He’s been at the bottom of the bench, a key contributor off the bench. He’s been through every situation, and that’s the plus of having a father who played.’’

Trent is also well-schooled on the current Blazers, and said he felt he could make an immediate impact in Portland.

“I think I could come in right away and help be a nice spark, come in and knock down shots,’’ Trent said. “There is so much pressure on Dame and CJ, I would probably just get easy buckets just spotting up and doing little things like that.

“And scoring when I need to – drive, catch and shoot, play make, drop off to them and Harkless and all them guys … the big man, how do you say his name again? Nurkic, yeah, he’s a talented player, too. They have a lot going on, a lot of good things.’’

Creighton's Khyri Thomas and Trail Blazers appear to have mutual interest

Creighton's Khyri Thomas and Trail Blazers appear to have mutual interest

CHICAGO – On Friday, the Trail Blazers will meet with guard Khyri Thomas at the NBA Combine, which will hold some significance for the Creighton standout. 

CJ McCollum, the Blazers’ star shooting guard, is one of the players Thomas says he most admires and models his offensive game after, and if fate would have it that the Blazers select him at No. 24 during the June 21 draft, Thomas says it would be a blessing.

 “If he took me under his wing and I could go at him every day, that would be lovely,’’ Thomas said with a smile. “That would be lovely.’’

Even though Thomas is attracted to McCollum’s game, he is a much different player. 

A 6-foot-4 combo guard with a wingspan of 6-foot-10.5 inches, Thomas was the Big East defensive player of the year the past two seasons. He also shot 41.1 percent from three-point range, giving him the desired “three-and-D” label that has become the NBA’s latest trend. 

“In college, we already had our scorers and go-to-guys,’’ Thomas said. “So I had to think how I could stand out and not be miserable. So I thought defensive was a thing … plus, defense wins games.’’

Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo, who scored 31 points in the NCAA title game, faced Thomas twice in the regular season and left impressed.

“On the ball, he’s amazing,’’ DiVincenzo said. “He’s long, he doesn’t take risks at all, so he contains well. And he has the length to contest bigger guys, reads the pick and roll great, and he can read weakside. So he was a tough defender for us both times we played them. And offensively, he killed us (at Creighton).’’

Thomas had 24 in that win over then third-ranked Wildcats and finished the season averaging 15.1 points and 2.8 assists while shooting 53.8 percent from the field. 

He attributes much of his development to attending Ft. Union Military Academy outside of Richmond, Va. for high school. He entered what he said was a typical high school kid – interested in basketball and joking around – but left as a leader.

“It was a reality check,’’ said Thomas, who liberally uses sir and ma’am. “I matured, manned up and took it seriously.’’

It was a talk with a lieutenant at the academy that changed his on the court demeanor.

“He said, ‘I know you are quiet and shy, but if you become a vocal leader, the sky is the limit,’’’ Thomas recalled. “And that’s what I did – I stepped into a leadership role and guys listened to me.’’

On June 21, it will be Thomas listening for his name. Mock drafts have him going in the first round anywhere from the teens to the 20s. 

Thomas at the Combine said he met with Phoenix (pick 16 and 31), Chicago (7thand 22nd), Washington (15th), Atlanta (19 and 30), (Boston (27th) and the Lakers (25th). He said Portland was one of a couple teams he would meet with on Friday.

He said whichever team drafts him will be getting a blend between Kawhi Leonard – “because he is a two-way guy and does the right things” – and McCollum, “because he is crafty and under control.’’

If he so happens to be selected by Portland? He figures that would only enhance his admiration of McCollum.

“I like the way plays,’’ Thomas said. “I watch a lot of film on him, just how crafty he is, in ball screens and one on one.’’

Everything you need to know about this week's NBA Combine

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USA Today Images

Everything you need to know about this week's NBA Combine

The 2018 NBA combine tips off on Wednesday and runs through Sunday at Quest Multisport complex in Chicago.  Of course, the combine is all about allowing NBA teams to get an early close look at potential draft picks while evaluating the players based on specific tests and getting a chance to sit down and interview players.

Combine participants are tested on their verticals, agility and strength while also scrimmaging against each other, 5-on-5, in front of the many NBA scouts in attendance.

This year, 69 players will participate in the combine.  

Of the top players in several mock drafts, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Jalen Brunson will all be headlining this year’s draft class in Chicago.

In recent NBA combines, there have been a handful of notable players who declined their invitation to Chicago. This year you will not see Arizona's DeAndre Ayton, who several mock drafts have slotted as the number one overall pick, along with international prospect Luka Doncic, and Texas A&M's Robert Williams, as all three top prospects have decided not to participate in the Combine.

You can watch the 2018 NBA Combine on ESPN 2 on Thursday, from noon-4 p.m. and Friday, noon-4 p.m.

If you’re at work or not able to get to a TV on Thursday or Friday make sure to keep it locked @NBCSNorthwest on Twitter and right here on our website with videos and articles with the biggest storylines surrounding the Blazers and this year’s Combine participants.  Our Blazers Insider Jason Quick is on the ground in Chicago and will keep you up to date.   

Various mock drafts all over the interwebs have the Trail Blazers selecting one of the following and we will be focusing on these five players during our Combine coverage:

Jerome Robinson out of Boston College
De'Anthony Melton out of USC
Chandler Hutchinson out of Boise State
Aaron Holiday out of UCLA
Bruce Brown Jr. out of Miami

[More on mock draft picks for the Trail Blazers]

We will also keep an eye on local product, Troy Brown Jr. out of Oregon. Plus, don’t forget to catch The Bridge Thursday night on NBCS Northwest at 6pm with a live update from Chicago with Jason Quick.

Suns snag #1 pick, here's how the lottery winners could affect the Trail Blazers

Suns snag #1 pick, here's how the lottery winners could affect the Trail Blazers

The Phoenix Suns were the big losers during the regular season and had the best chances of coming away big winners during the NBA Draft Lottery. The math held true, and the Suns will pick #1 in June's NBA Draft. 

The big winners of the night however were the Sacramento Kings who jumped up to #2. The Kings had the seventh best odds in the lottery and only a 6% chance of landing that pick. 

The Atlanta Hawks also moved up and all of this forced Memphis, Dallas, Orlando and Chicago down the draft order. 

Do Blazer fans care? You should. 

Two Western Conference teams are going to get a difference maker in this year's draft (Phoenix #1, Sacramento #2). Luckily neither are in Portland's division but it adds more young talent to an already deep Western Conference. 

Also of note is that the LA Clippers hold back to back picks in this year's draft at #12 and #13. Expect the Clippers to make a fast turnaround and return to a playoff berth sooner than later. 

Full Draft Lottery Order:
1 Phoenix Suns
2 Sacramento Kings
3 Atlanta Hawks
4 Memphis Grizzlies
5 Dallas Mavericks
6 Orlando Magic
7 Chicago Bulls
8 Cleveland Cavaliers (trade from Nets)
9 New York Knicks
10 Philadelphia 76ers
11 Charlotte Hornets
12 Los Angeles Clippers (trade from Pistons)
13 Los Angeles Clippers
14 Denver Nuggets

Blazer5 set to start 2K League regular season

Blazer5 set to start 2K League regular season

THE TIPOFF is behind them, and now Blazer5 Gaming looks to build off of the success of opening weekend as they start the NBA 2K League regular season.

Blazer5 had one impressive debut in the 2K League. They went undefeated in pool play, beating 76ers GC, Magic Gaming, and Raptors Uprising GC. They then took down Pacers Gaming and Cavs Legion GC to set up a rematch with 76ers GC in THE TIPOFF championship game. Blazer5 came up just short of bringing home a tournament win, but they had an impressive debut none-the-less.

OneWildWalnut and Dat Boy Shotz (that's right, we go by gamer tags around here) proved to be the league's best frontcourt pairing, while Mama Im Dat Man surprised everyone with his ability to run the show. Add in Lavish Phenom and Grant Monster doing all the little things, and Blazer5 proved to be a force.

Now they get to transition from the tournament to the regular season.

For those of you who don't know, here is how the NBA 2K League is set up:

  • The 12-week season is split into four-week chunks of play, with mid-season tournaments in between.
  • Following the regular season, there will be a final tournament to decide the champion of the inaugural season.
  • The tournaments throughout the season will not only have bragging rights on the line, but they'll also have cash prizes! The winner of the final mid-season tournament also wins an automatic bid into the playoffs.
  • The first mid-season tournament starts June 8, while the second mid-season tournament begins July 13. The regular season playoffs begin August 17.
  • The seeding for each tournament will be decided by the team's record during the four week stretch of regular season games that precede the tournaments.

 

If the Blazers early run is any indication, OneWildWalnut and crew will give gamers and Blazers fans alike something to cheer all summer.

And speaking of Walnut, our Serena Winters recently had a chance to catch up with him and Blazer5 as they trained for Friday's season opener. (Check out the full interview from The Bridge above.)

You can also catch the squad when they hit the virtual court on Friday for the season opener against Magic Gaming. The action for Blazer5 starts at 9 PM Eastern Time and can be streamed on Twitch

Two suspects arrested in shooting of Damian Lillard's half brother

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Portland Police

Two suspects arrested in shooting of Damian Lillard's half brother

According to Portland Police and multiple Portland area news outlets, two suspects were arrested on Friday in connection with multiple shootings, including the March 29th shooting of Jahrell Lillard at the Clackamas Town Center.  Jahrell is the half brother of Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard.  

Jeffrey Charles Jessie, 19, and Taivon Campbell, 17, were also arrested for two other separate shootings that are being investigated by Portland Police.

The shooting of Jahrell Lillard on March 29th took place in the parking lot outside of the Macy’s at the Clackamas Town Center shortly before 9 p.m.

Lillard survived and is recovering from his injuries.

Police have yet to say if investigators have determined what led to the shooting.

READ MORE: Damian Lillard's half brother shot in Clackamas

"Get Up!" CJ McCollum lays out what went wrong for the Blazers

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USATI

"Get Up!" CJ McCollum lays out what went wrong for the Blazers

"You had to bring the broom."

CJ McCollum joined the folks of "Get Up!" on ESPN2 Tuesday morning to discuss the NBA playoffs and the Trail Blazers recent exit from them, where one of the hosts, Jalen Rose, taunted CJ with a broom before a segment in which they broke down game film from the Pelicans series. 

The film centered around the play of Jrue Holiday. One on defense, where he blocked Damian Lillard, and the other on offense, where Holiday shook CJ on a drive to the basket. 

"He’s a very good player, obviously. He’s good on both sides of the ball as we found out and as the world found out… The underrated aspect of his game is his ability to play off the ball."

The Portland Trail Blazers enter an important offseason. Holding the 24th pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, it is expected they'll look to add assistance at the wing and to find a shooter. The Blazers will once again be limited in free agency with a lack of cap flexibility. If they are able to make a trade, they do have the NBA's largest trade exception, which stands at $12.9 million and have until July to use it before it expires. 

Still, the Blazers model for improvement, according to GM Neil Olshey, begins with the Draft and then in personal improvement, which is echoed by CJ McCollum.

“We have to get better from within. Take it upon yourself and do what you can do to improve not only individually, but how you can take it back to the team. It’s a big summer for us.”

Offseason Scoop in the sunshine: Talking Blazers, playoffs, and free agents

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NBCS Northwest

Offseason Scoop in the sunshine: Talking Blazers, playoffs, and free agents

We've got the first offseason edition of The Scoop coming at you with Jamie Hudson and Chris Burkhardt!

Friday's topics include:

Will the Blazers retian Jusuf Nurkic?

What about Shabazz Napier and Ed Davis?

How do you think the NBA playoffs are going?

Who are you looking at in free agency?

We will have a live Scoop stream once a week at facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

CHECK OUT ENTIRE SHOW RIGHT HERE:

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