Blazers Outsiders: Grading the Blazers at the halfway point

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USA Today

Blazers Outsiders: Grading the Blazers at the halfway point

We've reached the halfway point of the season and Blazers Outsider Chris Burkhardt has taken the time to hand out his midseason report cards for the Trail Blazers. 

41 down, 41 to go. The Blazers have officially reached the halfway point of the season, and it hasn't been without its ups and downs. The Blazers started strong out of the gate, at one point holding the best record in the Western Conference. But then they hit an early season bump in the road and fell toward the bottom. Despite the rough patch the Blazers have still managed to put together one of their best first halves in recent memory. Portland currently sits at 24-17, which is two games ahead of last season's 22-19 record, and is the team's best record through 41 games since they went 30-11 in the 2014-15 season.

The Western Conference is so stacked right now, that even though the Blazers are off to their best start in four seasons they are still just the seventh best team in the west - 3.5 games behind the first place Denver Nuggets (26-12).

With all that being said, it's time we sit down and grade the Trail Blazers at the halfway point:

DAMIAN LILLARD:
Grade: A+
Damian Lillard is doing Damian Lillard things. He's averaging 26.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game. In fact, he is one of just five players in the league averaging 26 ppg, 4 rpg, and 6 apg: The other four being James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those are all MVP candidates, and Lillard deserves to be in that conversation this season. 

CJ MCCOLLUM:
Grade: B
CJ McCollum has struggled to find his shot this season, shooting a career-worst 32.9% from three-point range. Despite his struggles from deep he has still managed to shoot 45.4% from the floor and score 20.8 points per game. He has also managed to come up clutch when the team needs him. I'll take an off shooting night if he redeems himself with buckets in crunch time. The plus side is there is still time for McCollum to find the shot and get back to his normal self.

MAURICE HARKLESS:
Grade: D
Moe Harkless has struggled all season long, but it's really no fault of his own. Harkless has tried to will himself to play but his body just is not cooperating. He has missed 15 games this year, and had to leave Portland's last game after his left knee soreness returned. He is also averaging just 5.9 points per game, his worst average since his last season in Orlando. When healthy Harkless is an integral part of the lineup. Staying healthy is the struggle. 

AL-FAROUQ AMINU:
Grade: B+
Aminu is quietly having a very strong season, nearly averaging a double-double. While his three-point percentage isn't great at 35.6%, his overall field goal percentage of 42.7% is actually the best he has shot the ball in his time in Portland. He is also averaging a career-high 8.2 rebounds per game, and his defense continues to be the best on the team.

JUSUF NURKIC:
Grade: A
The Bosnian Beast is currently in the midst of the best stretch of his career. He has scored 20 or more points in four consecutive games which is something he has never done before. He is averaging 15.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and shooting 50.8% from the floor - All career-highs. Add in the 1.1 steals, 1.3 blocks, and 2.9 assists and Nurkic is just filling up the box score. Earlier this season he became the first player in recorded history to have a 5x5 with 20 or more points and rebounds: 24 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, and 5 blocks. Now that's a stat line. 

EVAN TURNER: 
Grade: B-
Evan Turner has been the man behind the wheel of the second unit and has been very solid doing so. While his 7.8 points per game is his lowest average since his rookie season in 2010-11, his 46.7% shooting is the best of his career. He rebounds and assists per game are also the highest they have been while in Portland, and he has easily been the Blazers second best defender all season. While he hasn't been bad, it would be nice to see him score the ball more. 

SETH CURRY:
Grade: B
Curry started the season slowly but has shaken off the rust and come into his own as of late. He is shooting a career-best 48.5% from three-point range, which leads the entire NBA (among qualifying players). If he continues to come around there is no reason he shouldn't see all his averages continue to rise and become the bench unit's go-to scorer.

NIK STAUSKAS:
Grade: C-
Stauskas started the season with a bang, scoring a career-high 24 points in the season opener and scoring in double-digits in five of the first eight games. However, he has scored double-digits in just two of the last 33 and has fallen out of the rotation.

JAKE LAYMAN:
Grade: B
Jake Layman has been the ultimate team player this season. He started the season as the starting small forward but was relegated to the end of the bench once Maurice Harkless returned. He then registered DNPs and garbage minutes. Through it all he never complained once, continued to work hard, and has since passed Stauskas on the depth chart. Lillard said last game the Layman is "instant offense," and he has proven so as of late.

ZACH COLLINS:
Grade: C
It's not that Collins has been bad, in fact, he has been pretty solid off the bench. The disappointing part for Collins is that he hasn't really made the sophomore jump we wanted and expected. While he is averaging career-highs across the board, his stats are not much better than they were last season. He is averaging just 2.6 points, .9 rebounds, and .1 assist more than he was last season. Better, but not by much. 

MEYERS LEONARD:
Grade: B-
Meyers Leonard needed to step up with the departure of Ed Davis and he has certainly done that. He is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and most importantly he has finally found a level of consistency. He has become a reliable threat from deep, shooting 41.7% on the season, and has helped anchor a strong bench unit. While he continues to be the most polarizing player in Portland, it's nice to see him finally silencing some of his critics. 

GARY TRENT JR, ANFERNEE SIMONS, WADE BALDWIN, CALEB SWANIGAN: Grade: Undecided 
None of these players have played enough this season to give a true grade. The four have combined to play in just 38 games this season, most of the minutes coming in garbage time. Trent and Simons or currently on the active roster, while Swanigan and Baldwin are on assignment in the G-League. 

Donald Trump wants fans back in arenas in time for NFL, CFB season

Donald Trump wants fans back in arenas in time for NFL, CFB season

President Donald Trump had a conference call with the heads of numerous leagues Saturday, including NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NFL commissioner Rodger Goddell to discuss the next steps in the coronavirus pandemic.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski, Trump told the panel that he wants to see fans returning to arenas and stadiums by August and September, which would allow the NFL and NCAA College Football seasons to start on time with fans in attendance.

The report also clarified that it's unclear if medical experts find that to be a realistic timeline or if it's just Trump's desire.

Adam Silver stated that he wants the various leagues to help lead the economy back to normalcy once they received the "all-clear" from public health officials. The NBA was the first sports league in the United States to suspend their season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11th. 

The President also brought up the idea of leagues lobbying for tax credits to allow for the deduction of tickets and concessions from taxes to incentivize fans to return to games during the current economy. 

The call had representation from higher-level executives from the 12 major sports leagues in the United States: The NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NHL, Major League Soccer, WNBA, WWE, the PGA Tour, LPGA, UFC, IndyCar and Breeders' Cup, according to a White House pool report.

Real talk: Only game we will have for next several months is the waiting game

Real talk: Only game we will have for next several months is the waiting game

Some real talk about the resumption of sports in these times:

It should not be at all surprising that the NBA would be considering cancelling the remainder of this season. In fact, I expect Major League Baseball will soon be considering the same thing.

It’s because so many things have to be accomplished before it would be safe (and sane) to restart:

  • China’s pro league thought it could begin its season anew by simply taking players’ temperatures to gauge whether they are carrying the virus. That apparently doesn’t always work with asymptomatic people. China gave up on the restart. Real tests with results within an hour are needed. And then, of course, players and staffs would have to be in strict quarantine throughut the schedule -- which could prove difficult.

  • A vaccine is not likely in the offing, but would obviously open the door to a return. But that could take years -- or maybe never. It is not on the immediate horizon.

  • A medical treatment for the virus, something that could at least keep people from dying, is a much more viable solution, but such things require clinical trials that could take several months. This is the most probable road out of this hell, but not easy. Scientists are working on it all over the world and we’re rooting for them.

  • Without a treatment or a vaccine, there is no way crowds should gather for anything such as sporting events. Any restart would have to include a ban on fans for what I believe could be several months. And the idea of bringing the whole NBA together in one spot to finish the regular season or playoffs is the best idea, if they are determined to try something. But I’m not sure you could expect to isolate that many people in one spot for a great length of time. Somebody is going to go off the ranch or behind the lines and then you have a possible big problem.

I will reiterate, fans at events are just a non-starter. Totally isolating this virus is nearly impossible. All it takes is one infected person showing up in a big crowd and the whole war is on again. This deadly virus is extremely contagious.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I believe the NFL season is at risk, too, until there is readily available, reliable testing and a valid treatment for those carrying the virus.

And these leagues are going to have to accept the reality that the only game being played for months will be the waiting game.

And that’s likely to go into overtime. Or extra time. Or extra innings.

Damian Lillard's game winner vs. Houston wasn't the original play call

Damian Lillard's game winner vs. Houston wasn't the original play call

While it happened in the blink of an eye, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard remembers nearly every detail about one of the biggest shots of his career. 

It should. "The shot" changed his life forever. 

On the latest episode of the Ledlow & Parker Podcast, Damian Lillard played a game called "Game Time: Dame Time" where hosts Candance Parker and Kristen Ledlow quizzed him on how well he remembers the best game-winners of his career, including his shot in Game 6 against the Houston Rockets in the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs.

He (nearly) got a perfect score knowing all of his teammates on the floor, who was guarding him, who hugged him first when the shot went through the net, and what he yelled into the mic in the post-series celebration. His only miss was how much time was on the clock when the ball left his hand, and he was only a tenth of a second off. 

After playing the game, Lillard spoke about why that shot brings chills every time he watches it. 

I just get chills now when I see that one because that was my second year and that was like my first playoff series. And I just remember the play was for us to just spring towards half court and we'd try to lob it over the top so LA could get a tip in to force overtime. But when I was walking on the court Mo Williams was like 'F- that, go get the ball. You go to the ball. Just run to the ball.' and I was walking to my spot and I just wasn't worried... If we would have lost that game we was going back to Houston for Game 7...and I wasn't worried about that. I was just like 'we ain't going back.' Like, I never felt like we was going back so when I see it now I'm like 'how was I not like more concerned?' It's werid. 

The hosts went on to quiz him about his game-winner against the Oklahoma City Thunder as well in Game 5 from this past postseason.

As you can see, Lillard has made a career out of being the calm in the storm, the stone cold assassin. 

Because when the clock is winding down, we all know what time it is: Dame Time. 

Report: NBA preparing scenarios to cancel the 2019-20 season

Report: NBA preparing scenarios to cancel the 2019-20 season

The NBA has been working diligently on various scenarios on how they will proceed with the league now being suspended for over three weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the NBA has been looking to China and how they are handling the progress of resuming play with the Chinese Basketball Association.

Some things that have happened this week have turned it south about what could happen. A big factor was what happened in China where they halted the return of their league and one of the big reasons is because they really believe that they just tested the players temperatures all the time that it would work and the Chinese are finding that asymptomatic carriers are causing maybe a second wave in that country and they have just slammed the breaks on sports. The talks between the players union and the league this week -- I have talked to both sides of this issue --  and it is clear that the NBA is angling to set up a deal that enables them to shut the season down. – ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said during Friday’s SportsCenter  

Of course, a lot can change over the next several weeks and months as Windhorst also pointed out the NBA is not ready to make any decision on the 2019-20 season, but are trying to prepare for all of the what-ifs.

It was back on Mar. 18 when NBA commissioner Adam Silver laid out three scenarios in which the NBA returns:

“I’d say I’m looking at three different things here,” Silver told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

“One is -- Of course, when can we restart and operate as we’ve known -- 19,000 fans in buildings, that’s one set of criteria.

Then option two is – Should we consider starting without fans and what would that mean? Because presumably if you had a group of players and staff around them and you could test them and you could follow some protocol, doctors, health officials may say it’s safe to play…
And then, the third option that we are looking at now, and I would say all suggestions are welcome, is that… Are there conditions in which a group of players could compete and maybe it’s for a giant fundraiser or just for the good of the people?” 

Another issue for the NBA will be looking ahead to the 2020-21 season and not letting this hiatus drastically affect next year.

CJ McCollum an advocate of health over pay amid threat of cuts

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USATI

CJ McCollum an advocate of health over pay amid threat of cuts

NBA players could be taking a hit in the pocketbook as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the NBA has proposed that players take a 50 percent pay reduction beginning with their next paycheck. However, the National Basketball Players Association has countered with a proposal of 25%, starting in mid-May.

On the Hoop, Adjacent Podcast with David Aldridge and Curt Gowdy, Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum was asked about the prospect of losing money. 

McCollum knows it's a possibility, but is more concerned with making sure people are safe during these trying times. 

Everything is on the table, you have to figure out a solution to a problem we've never had before. Financially, obviously, there are implications to not playing basketball. Not playing basketball for the rest of the year means we lose 23.5% of games played regular season and a complete playoff run. Not to mention the issues we've had with a certain owner and China... This is a year where Adam (Silver) has been put to the test and Adam has responded admirably. He's done a tremendous job of being in front of, essentially, everything. This is the point where we have to discuss, bunker down, and come to an agreement on a solution going forward. A lot of money is at stake. A lot of people's lives are at stake right now. I think it's more important that we worry about health as opposed to basketball. I think going forward that should be the approach. Health over everything. Figuring out how to keep the most amount of people safe going forward and then we can figure out the logistics of what everything else looks like later. - CJ McCollum

You can listen to the entire podcast HERE.

At this time the league and it's players would still prefer to restart the season at some point, but the reality is setting in that it just may not be feasible. 

Jamal Crawford would love a LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers reunion

Jamal Crawford would love a LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers reunion

Jamal Crawford has had a long, lucrative career in the NBA. 

The Seattle native made his debut in 2000, and has played for eight different teams in his 19-year career. 

One of those eight teams was the Portland Trail Blazers. 

On Friday, his former Blazers teammate LaMarcus Aldridge tweeted out a Flashback Friday photo of the two. 

Crawford saw the tweet and responded as any good teammate would.

But that's not what got the attention of Rip City. What got the fan's attention was Crawford's response to Pinwheel Empire. 

Pinwheel Empire said something a lot of Blazers fans have thought for a while, that it "would be awesome to see both of you back in Portland."

Crawford's response, "I would love that."

The reunion is easier said than done, but is still not all that far-fetched. 

Aldridge currently plays for the San Antonio Spurs, but has been open about wanting to potentially return to Portland. 

While Crawford currently sits on the free-agent market, having not played since the end of 2019. 

Crawford may be 40 years old, but he still has plenty left in the tank. 

The last time he stepped on the court, the Phoenix Suns' final game of the season last year, he dropped 51 points on the Mavericks. Just one point shy of tying his career-high. 

Crawford still has elite handles and is a walking bucket. It's surprising he hasn't landed on a roster this season.

Perhaps he makes his return in the 2020-2021 season.

If he does, we know of at least one place he'd like to do it. 

 

Payton Pritchard doesn't win Naismith Trophy, but he's still worth celebrating

Payton Pritchard doesn't win Naismith Trophy, but he's still worth celebrating

Just two weeks ago, Payton Pritchard became the first Citizen Naismith Trophy finalist in Oregon men's basketball history. 

It's an achievement the kid out of West Linn should be extremely proud of. While he didn't take home the Naismith Men's National Player of the Year honors on Friday, there's a lot for Pritchard to celebrate. 

Pritchard has carved his name in Oregon history. Just this season, he joined Gary Payton (Oregon State, 1989-90), Damon Stoudamire (Arizona, 1994-95) and Jason Terry (Arizona, 1998-99) as the only players in conference history to lead the league in both scoring and assists.

He capped off his career at Oregon as the school record holder in assists (659), wins (105), games played (144), and games started (140). 

Pritchard re-wrote Pac-12 record books, too. He became the only player in conference history to record 1,900 career points, 600 career assists and 500 career rebounds. 

As 2020 Pac-12 Player of the Year, Pritchard was one of just three players nationally to average at least 20 points per game along with four rebounds and five assists.The Oregon guard was named the Ducks’ first consensus first-team All-American in 80 years after leading his team to an outright Pac-12 regular-season title, the Ducks' third in five years.

Pritchard has also inspired thousands of kids to put in work no matter what their circumstances are. His "Payton Pritchard challenge," took off on social media, prompting thousands to attempt the challenge themselves. 


Pritchard didn't take home the Naismith trophy, and that's OK, he still has an opportunity to add the esteemed Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award to his collection. He is also one of five finalists for the prestigious nod, which will be announced next Tuesday. 

Social Media Reacts: Rip City reminisces about Trail Blazers 1991-92 squad

Social Media Reacts: Rip City reminisces about Trail Blazers 1991-92 squad

Happy Throwback Thursday, Rip City!

The Trail Blazers' 115-104 overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of the 1992 NBA Finals had the city of Portland on edge back in the summer of ’92, and now in the spring of 2020.

In the classic re-air of Game 2, fans of today were reminiscing about how air horns were allowed in Chicago Stadium back then. 

But hey, time can change everything. Who would thought in 1992 that a Sonics fan could turn out to be a big Trail Blazers fan nearly 20 years later?  

Now we know it could happen. 

The Blazers and Bulls series had it all with the battle of legends Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler.

Portland’s road to the 1992 NBA Finals:

First Round

Defeated L.A. Lakers, 3-1

West Semifinals

Defeated Phoenix, 4-1

West Finals

Defeated Utah, 4-2 

The current era of basketball peeps showed some love for the ’92 Blazers getting out and running.

The fastbreak was a thing of beauty!   

It was an ugly third quarter for Portland, though.  

Chicago went on a 13-0 run to end the third as the Bulls took a 77-70 lead. The Blazers shot 7-for-20 in the third.

But, things got worse before they got better for Portland.

Drexler picked up his fourth foul at the 8:12 mark in the third quarter, but Drexler stayed in the game.  The Blazers superstar fouled out with 4:36 remaining on the clock with Portland down eight.

When Drexler fouled out people shared their emotions on Twitter of what it was like watching the game live and seeing Drexler taken out of the game.  

It seemed unlikely the Blazers could win in Chicago in Game 2 considering Game 1’s loss was pretty demoralizing and then it became even more improbable after Drexler fouled out. It seemed the game would be over.

Yet, we all know, the Blazers role players stepped up.

Danny Ainge, Kevin Duckworth, and Jerome Kersey were determined to claw back and that they did.   

This classic game had Drexler and Terry Porter combining for 50, while Ainge went off for 17 points on an efficient 7-of-10 shooting off the bench.

Fans all over twitter gave props to Portland’s role players:

The Blazers outscored the Bulls, 28-10 in the last ten minutes of the game and into overtime -- all without Drexler.

Ainge had nine points in OT and proved once again how much of a competitor he was on the floor.

That was a fun Throwback Thursday, for sure!  

How the series turned out:

Game 1:

CHICAGO 122, Portland 89

Game 2:

Portland 115, CHICAGO 115 (OT)

Game 3:

Chicago 94, PORTLAND 84

Game 4:

PORTLAND 93, Chicago 88

Game 5:

Chicago 119, PORTLAND 106

Game 6:

CHICAGO 97, Portland 93

Jimmy Butler has $140,000 worth of his favorite wine stored up while social distancing

Jimmy Butler has $140,000 worth of his favorite wine stored up while social distancing

Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum has dropped his knowledge of his favorite Pinot Noir wines over the years, saying many times that living in Oregon we are lucky to have such great wines.  

Now we are about to get more wine recommendations and learn more about fine wines with the show ‘What’s In Your Glass’ hosted by Camelo Anthony. ‘What’s In Your Glass’ is a weekly live stream between Melo, a special guest, and wine lovers all over the world streaming on Melo’s Instagram Live and then later posted to his youtube page.

This week, Miami Heat guard Jimmy Butler joined the Trail Blazers veteran to talk wine and hoops.

Butler’s go-to wine on any given night is Sassicaia, which is red blends from Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy.

“I’ve got more Sassicaia 2010 than I have of any other type of wine in my collection and I’m not over exaggerating when I say, I probably have anywhere between 500 and 600 bottles of just Sassicaia 2010,” Butler said.

A bottle of Sassicaia 2010 is the first wine that Butler drank once he turned 21 years old. He added that he knows he is biased because that was the first bottle of wine he was introduced to.

“I was introduced to one of the best wines in the world and I can’t turn back from that,” Butler said with a smile.

Butler’s wine of choice is even more special to him because he had Sassicaia 2010 with Mark Wahlberg in Chicago back in 2013. 

“It’s like, damn, I got to have wine with Mark Wahlberg… It’s his fault that I’m into this,” Butler joked.

The Miami Heat guard also went to visit the Sassicaia winery two summers ago where he learned all about how it’s made and he says he has been reading up on his favorite wine.

Butler poked fun at Melo though, saying if he was going out with him to dinner, he would have to go with Château Pétrus wine because Melo is “boujee.”

Butler’s Sassicaia 2010 runs for around $230 on most wine websites, while Château Pétrus can go anywhere from nearly $4,000 to over $8,000.

Now I’m no wine expert, but man, I’d be totally fine with tasting that Château Pétrus.  

Check out the full show of ‘What’s In Your Glass’ with Melo and Buttler right here: