Sweep hooks, yells and The Answer: Remembering my first NBA game on its 20th Anniversary 

Sweep hooks, yells and The Answer: Remembering my first NBA game on its 20th Anniversary 

Many of us don’t have the luxury of knowing when our first NBA game was. Either our parents don’t remember, or the ticket stub has been lost, or there were too many to mark it as unique. Today many arenas around the league have special areas dedicated to kids getting special swag while attending their first game, usually with a sticker, a sign, or some kind of trinket. Kids in 2019 will have photo or video record of their first game uploaded to social media where it will live on Facebook’s servers until our sun goes supernova.

That’s why I feel lucky enough to know the exact date of my first game. It was March 21, 1999, exactly 20 years ago today. It came during a lockout-shortened season when and Allen Iverson, in his third season in the NBA, would lead the league in scoring for the first time. Iverson, who was battling hip soreness and was questionable heading into the game, led his Philadelphia 76ers into the Rose Garden for a sleepy 3:00 PM game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Both squads were battling for playoff position in their respective conferences, with that Sunday’s game representing the halfway point of the shortened 50-game season. The matchup would turn out to be an odd affair, with Iverson and Matt Geiger scoring for the 76ers with little help from their teammates. It would take a herculean effort for Portland to pull ahead, with Greg Anthony annoying the future scoring champ Iverson, batting away steals and jumping passing lanes to the tune of a 31-point Blazers fourth quarter.

Portland would get the win, 95-71, in what now might be looked at as a laughably late-’90s NBA score. All this was witnessed by a crowd of 19,980, including a 10-year-old Dane Delgado sitting right behind the Philadelphia bench in Section 103, Row B, Seat 4. I was there with my friend Jacob Davis, his cousin Cory, and his father Bob, who had secured the tickets through his work.

This 20 year anniversary was a special moment for me, and thanks to our friends over at the Trail Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest was able to secure the entire video broadcast of the game. It’s not often in our lives we get to relive one of the critical moments of our childhood in its entirety, with the full production value that comes with an NBA broadcast.

So I decided to watch my first ever NBA game, with my own face in full view on the left edge of the backboard during every possession at the north end of the floor. I had eyes on this game once as an adolescent, and now I have it as an adult — as someone who covers the NBA and this team for a living, no less. It felt like there might be some treasure left to unbury from the video archives at the start of Iverson’s NBA, so without further ado, here’s some of the takeaways from re-watching my first game two decades later.

There’s too many post-ups

Watching this game got to be sort of a joke after a while, particularly from perspective of how the offense works in contrast to today's game. The modern NBA has shifted in the past few years in the amount of 3-pointers taken, but having seen some old games before it also surprises you how few common actions are missing from a game like this just 20 years ago.

The pick-and-roll is absent, at least on scale, and although the point guard revolution from 2008-2012 has passed us by, the two-man game is a staple in 2019. That didn't appear to be the case in this 1999 matchup, with no more evidence being clearer than in this play early in the first quarter. 

If this play was run in 2019, you might expect Damon Stoudamire to run across screens on the weak side, receive a pass in front of the Blazers bench, then move into a sideline pick-and-roll with Arvydas Sabonis. Instead, he wastes five seconds of shot clock trying to get an entry pass so Sabonis can hit his patented sweep hook. 

After watching this whole game, Portland tried to post up nearly every single player on their roster outside of Stoudamire. By contrast, Philadelphia's game plan was to give Iverson the ball and let him do his thing. 

Are NBA players bad at basketball?

As this game opened, I remember thinking in 1999 that these two teams were not as good at basketball as I was hoping. Watching game film back, it appears they might have been feeling a bit lethargic on a mid-afternoon game on a Sunday. Here's what the first 2:30 of gameplay looked like from a play-by-play standpoint. 

PHI — Missed 19-foot jumper

POR — Turnover, Iverson scores

POR — Sabonis scores on a sweep hook 

PHI — Missed 17-foot jumper

POR — Rasheed Wallace point blank miss

PHI — Missed Iverson 3-pointer

POR — Missed point blank Stoudamire layup

PHI — Missed Matt Geiger hook shot

POR — Wallace airball

It got better from there … at least for Portland. The Sixers wound up scoring just 75 points in the game.

Local TV legends

The old Blazervision had Bill Schonely and Ann Schatz calling this game, not to mention the late Steve “Snapper” Jones as the color man during the actual broadcast. Everything about the production —  particularly in the three-dimensionality of the intro —  screamed 1999. If a graphic could have a gradient on it, it did, and that went the double for the local television ads that ran during the breaks (the Northwest Ford Store and Godfather's Pizza ads were something else). But check out this intro.

Greg Anthony went HAM on Iverson

Greg Anthony averaged double-digit points once in his career, adding 14 PPG in 1995-96 when he was with the Vancouver Grizzlies. Anthony was a career backup, and the athletic, annoying, pestering guard had the capacity to aggravate star players from opposing sidelines.

Anthony was the saving grace for the Blazers in this game, and boy did they need it. The teams combined for 30 points in the third quarter alone, and despite playing with a nagging hip ailment, Iverson was on his way to scoring big points heading into the fourth quarter.

The pesky 30-year-old was everywhere, helping to force Iverson into four turnovers including during a stretch run midway through the fourth that helped Portland contain the 76ers to 16 points.

These performances in front of kids are the things that make uneven impressions, and no doubt I forever gave Anthony too much credit as a defensive mastermind. The reality is that Anthony was a career -0.4 defensive box plus/minus player, although 1999 was one of three positive DBPM seasons for him.

To me he was The Guy Who Shut Down Iverson until I was around 20 years old.

Rick Mahorn yelled at me after the game

Rick Mahorn (seated) watches a play in Mar. 21, 1999. The author sits behind him (white hat, second row behind the railing).

Rick Mahorn was a Bad Boy with the Detroit Pistons, winning the 1989 NBA Championship and taking home all-defensive honors in 1990. The Bad Boys were badasses, and not to be trifled with in an era where physicality and brute force were more accepted as part of the game.

So perhaps I should have expected Mahorn to yell at a 10-year-old Dane Delgado?

Because of where our seats were located, behind the Sixers bench and to the right of the visitor’s hallway, we were able to move to the railing where players from Philadelphia were signing autographs at the conclusion of the game. Jake's dad had given me a Sharpie and the in-arena magazine to collect signatures, but I had never done that before and I was less than confident.

At the railing, I failed to recognize anybody outside of Matt Geiger. Iverson was gone, and not knowing what the protocol was but seeing everyone else leaning over the railing with pens and paper, I simply did the same. 

Eventually Mahorn made his way to my outstretched Sharpie and looked in my direction. A pregnant silence filled as our eyes met, and the forehead of the 40-year-old bruiser slowly wrinkled. My childhood pal Jacob Davis described the moment from his point of view in a recent phone interview with NBC Sports Northwest.

"He turned and looked to you, and you just sort of held [the magazine] out to him," laughed Davis. 

Maybe it was wanting to defer to an adult, or maybe it was shock from the sheer size of the 6-foot-10 Mahorn standing just feet away from me, but I didn't dare utter the first word. Perhaps it was his duty to say something as the player (and I as a child)? It's been two decades and I still haven't decided who was in the wrong. In either case, Mahorn didn't bite, so I doubled down. 

"Then you just held it out to him again — very imploringly — it was very obvious what you wanted," said Davis.

The air hung between us, and eventually Mahorn practically spit the words at me. 

"What?! You can't talk?"

Mahorn then walked away, taking a couple steps before eventually realizing his error and returning back to the stricken grade schooler. Mahorn took the issue of "Rip City" magazine that Bob had brought for this occasion, dutifully signing the photo of Blazers guard Jim Jackson before issuing me some advice about speaking up and asking players directly.

Rip City Magazine from March 1999.

"When he came back, he was like 'Ah, I'm sorry," said Davis.

As I walked back to Jake and his dad, they looked at me expectantly.

“Who’d you get?”

I looked at Jacob, then at Bob, then back at the magazine. I studied the lines on the cover, trying to read each squiggle letter-by-letter to read it out. Finally, I gave him the answer about the signature from the NBA player who yelled at me for not being able to talk.

“... I don’t know.”

To this day I still can’t find that damn magazine.

Rick, if you’re reading this — I need a replacement autograph. This time I'll be sure to ask directly.

Fans give Dirk Nowitzki fitting send off in final game in Portland

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Fans give Dirk Nowitzki fitting send off in final game in Portland

There wasn’t a postgame jersey swap at midcourt. There was no extended walk off to bask in the cheers. There was just a final one-legged fade away and a quick wave.

The Dirk Nowitzki maybe-but-maaaaybe-not retirement tour made a stop in the Moda Center on Wednesday night and fans, plenty of whom came clad in No. 41 Dallas Mavericks jerseys, got to pay respects to an all-time great.

But unlike year long celebrations courted by future Hall of Famers Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, Nowitzki’s potential final game in Portland didn’t have the manufactured pomp and circumstance.

“Well he hasn’t said he’s going to retire so I’m not going to be sad tonight,” said Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who spent four years with Nowitzki as a Mavericks assistant and was part of the 2011 Dallas championship team.

When Nowitzki and the Mavs came through Portland in December earlier in the season, Nowitzki, 40, sat out. The Mavericks were on the second night of back-to-back games they gave their aging star the night off. So when Stotts saw the former MVP in the back hallway he playfully taunted Nowitzki about needing rest after a grueling 12-minute outing.

The two shared another laugh before tip-off on Wednesday when Stotts found Nowitzki out on the court before his pregame shooting routine and told him that the Blazers were going endlessly hunt him in pick and rolls.

His sense of humor hasn’t faded, but Nowitzki’s game is certainly in a twilight stage. His gait does nothing to hide the miles he’s logged as a 40 year old playing in his 21st season. It certainly looks like it’s his final season, even if he insists he won’t make that decision until the summer. He finished with three points and two rebounds against the Blazers, treating fans to one final one-legged fadeaway while missing his only other two shot attempts in 14 minutes.

Once the game was decided late in the fourth quarter on Wednesday fans inside the Moda Center started a “We Want Dirk” chant, but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle didn’t oblige. Nowitzki, who two days earlier had passed Wilt Chamberlain to move into sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, stood and acknowledged the Portland crowd, for what seemed like the final time.

The strange thing about playing two decades in the league is that you up competing against a generation of players that looked up to you in your prime when they were pre-teens with hoop dreams. Damian Lillard said he owned Nowitzki jersey as a 5th grader and Zach Collins reiterated that he had always tried to model his game after the Mavericks star. There was shared appreciation from the stands, the players on the court and the coaches on the sidelines. If this wasn’t a “goodbye” it was a “thanks for the memories.”

Nowitzki is far from a villain in the northwest even if he did usher the Blazers out of the playoffs in 2002 and 2011. There were no boos like Kobe Bryant earned in his final game in Portland. There was no “maybe he’s still got it” moment like when Dwyane Wade carried the Heat to a win in Portland  back in February of this year. There’s certainly no hashtag or uniform swap. Nowitzki plays a little bit. He waves to the fans and then he repeats some version of the explanation he’s uttered at arenas across the country.

“My plan was always play year to year my last couple years,” Nowitzki said. “See how the body feels and make the decision after the season.”

So this summer he’ll take some time and decide whether he is ready for season 22 or to move into some other role with the Mavericks front office or a third option away from the game. One thing he hasn’t ruled out is an encore, running the retirement tour back for another 41 nights of admiration on the road.

“No, I mean, I enjoy it,” he said. “If I come back, we’ll do it all over again.”

Seth Curry was just being himself in win over former team

Seth Curry was just being himself in win over former team

The Blazers followed up their win Monday night vs. the Indiana Pacers with a 126-118 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night to improve to 2-0 on their four-game homestand.

It was also their second game without CJ McCollum, who is sidelined with a popliteus strain in his left knee. In McCollum’s absence, Damian Lillard continued to lead the charge in a variety of ways. Lillard finished with 33 points and 12 assists.

But, he wasn't alone in the Blazers efforts. Backup guard Seth Curry stepped up to help carry some of the load, too.  

Curry scored 12 of his 20 points in the second half after going 8-of-16 from the field, and 4-of-7 from deep. Curry also pulled down five rebounds.

This was Curry’s third game of 20-plus points this season.

The best part about Curry's by committee performance?  

Lillard feels this performance from Curry is nothing out of the ordinary for Curry’s skillset, or for the Trail Blazers’ offense.

“The way he got it, I think that it translates even when CJ comes back and we are at full strength. The things that he was doing, he will still be able to do. It wasn’t like he just went out there and got out of what we typically do, the role we typically have him in, he was just being himself,” Lillard said.

“The way he did it, I think it will work for us going forward, regardless of who’s out there, who’s not,’ Lillard added.

Curry echoed those sentiments, saying that as a team they were playing “similar offense, moving the ball, trying to find the best shots” as they would when McCollum is in the lineup.

The 28-year-old knew he had to be on the attack more, while playing some extra minutes with McCollum out.

“A little more opportunity, obviously, there’s a lot of shots missing with CJ not in the lineup, so other guys gotta step up and try to help where we can,” Curry said.

Since McCollum was sidelined last Saturday in the Blazers loss to the Spurs, Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts has preached that they need the entire team to contribute and it may be a different guy on any given night. 

Coach Stotts was happy to see that Wednesday night was Curry’s night; at least until he got winded as the game drew on.

“I thought he was active,” Stott said. “I don’t know if he got a little tired in the fourth quarter, but I thought he got good looks. He was pretty close to having a really good night. I thought he had three or four really nice moves to the basket and wasn’t able to finish them, but again, with CJ out… It’s gonna be by committee... We need his shooting.”

So, was Curry getting a little gassed in the fourth?

“I was a little tired at the end, playing 16 minutes, or whatever, straight in the second half,” Curry said with a smile. 

Curry had been with the Mavericks from 2016-2018 before signing a two-year deal with Portland in free agency last summer. It’s always fun to see a player do so well against his former team.

During Wednesday night’s game, Curry made it a point to look over at the Mavs bench a few times after scoring a bucket.

Does Curry enjoy taking it to his former teammates?

“Just a lot of guys I like over there, a few friends that I played with, obviously. So, it’s just all fun,” Curry said.

So, he wouldn’t admit that he gets hyped up a little bit more when the Blazers play the Mavs, but he might have admitted there could be some potential trash-talking going on. 

“Nah, not much,” Curry laughed.

Okay, maybe not.

But one things for sure—

Curry was having fun.

“We’ve got a good team over here. Everybody’s doing their part, moving the ball, finding the open man tonight, so it’s fun to play when guys are moving the ball like that and everybody contributed tonight,” Curry told Trail Blazers sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam immediately after the game.

The ball movement is fun for the players and fun for the fans.

On to the next—Blazers host Detroit on Saturday.

Which role player will step up next?   

Damian Lillard goes old-school point guard again in Portland win

Damian Lillard goes old-school point guard again in Portland win

What we’re watching right now is Damian Lillard 2.0 – The Versatility of a Modern Point Guard.

Lillard, playing without injured CJ McCollum in the backcourt, jumped in his time machine and turned himself into an old-school point guard.

On Monday night vs. Indiana, it was 30 points and 15 assists in a 106-98 win over the Pacers. On Wednesday night vs. Dallas, it was 33 points and a dozen assists in a 126-118 win over the Mavericks.

He’s getting everybody involved and shooting when the opportunity is there. He’s directing the pick-and-roll like a maestro and running his team with purpose and intelligence.

You never saw John Stockton? This is the same kind of operation over the past two games – but with a bit more flair.

“Man, he’s been playing unreal,” said Zach Collins. “It’s easy to look at the numbers, but just the way he’s leading us every single night has been great. That, in itself, is very, very impressive. I don’t care how good you are, what caliber of player you are, to do it every night like he does is amazing”

And Collins spoke to the way his captain has tweaked his approach to the game without his backcourt mate.

“Yeah, I think it’s a credit to him knowing the game and knowing what he needs to do,” Collins said. “It’s easy to say with CJ out, he comes out and takes 30 or 35 shots, but he’s a true point guard. He gets guys involved. We all love playing with him because we know at some point we’re probably going to touch the ball. He continues to make the right play.”

Coach Terry Stotts talked about the way Lillard orchestrated the game.

“I thought it was another very special night by Damian,” Stotts said. “I thought he pretty much controlled the game from our standpoint. He took advantage of his scoring opportunities. Had another great night passing.”

Lillard was 8-of-16 from the floor and that included a 6-of-12 performance from three-point range and 9-of-10 from the foul line.

“I made some shots but I didn’t think I shot the ball great,” Lillard said. “I would have liked to see a few more go in. The ball felt good coming out of my hand and a lot of times I don’t look at the makes and the misses, I just think about how it felt when I was shooting the ball.”

And fewer shots for Lillard has meant more assists and more people being involved.

“Knowing with CJ out I’m going to get a lot of attention,” he said, “so coming out to start games and getting teams to expose the coverage that they’re in – how they’re guarding pick-and-rolls, how they’re guarding me off the ball, where is the help coming from? – making them expose those things early so I can try to take advantage. And try to put other guys in position to score the ball. Maybe run off eight points, and then get back to picking them apart, then run off six points – trying to attack in that way.

“So I think playing the game that way, you really don’t take that many shots. A shot is here, a shot is there, get to the free-throw line, try to attack, that’s the right play, that’s the right play.

“At the end of the game, you look up and you haven’t shot that much but the quality of your shots is higher. It’s not like you’re not scoring.”

Of course. After all, that was a 33-point night. But as Lillard said, "You’re kind of just taking what they’re giving you.”

And he took just about everything there was for him to take Wednesday night.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Dallas Mavericks

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Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Dallas Mavericks

Wednesday’s game was the fourth and final meeting between Portland and Dallas this season as the Trail Blazers looked to even up the series.

In his unofficial farewell tour, the Trail Blazers fans started off the game by giving Dirk Nowitzki a nice ovation during introductions.

Portland jumped out to a comfortable lead early, leading by as many as 13 points. But, the NBA game is all about runs and Dallas did not quit; which is what you expect from a team who has been eliminated from the playoffs, yet still very much enjoy taking it at teams.

The Blazers, however, took care of business in the third quarter led by Damian Lillard’s 17 points in the quarter and Portland never looked back. The Trail Blazers defeated the Mavericks 126-118. Portland now improves to 44-27 on the season.  

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 126, Mavericks 118

 

Here are some quick thoughts on the Blazers second straight victory:

1.Nurkic’s dunkfest game

The Moda Center crowd really got into the game after Jusuf Nurkic threw down some early dunks. Nurk took advantage of Nowitzki not being able to move as well as he once could and then had a nasty dunk over Mavs backup center Salah Mejri that brought the house down. It was definitely the highlight of the night.

2. Trent Jr. makes an earlier appearance

Trail Blazers rookie shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. subbed in for Seth Curry at the 2:52 mark of the second quarter.

Trent Jr. did not make a huge impact in his first half stint, but with the rookie earning real rotation minutes that proves Blazers head coach Terry Stotts really is giving a variety of guys a chance with CJ McCollum (left knee) out.

3. Lillard Time takes over

After only leading by 13 at halftime, Damian Lillard took matters into his own hands in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.  Lillard scored 17 points in the third after scoring 16 points in the first two quarters. Lillard finished with 33 points and 12 assists.

This is 19th time of Lillard’s career he has had a 30 and 10 game, which ties Clyde Drexler for the most in Blazers history.

That Lillard third-quarter performance was a reminder that (to quote Coach Stotts) “Lillard is special.”

That performance also meant Lillard got to sit out the entire fourth quarter and in Game 70 of the season, we all know how important that is at this point in the year. 


NEXT UP: The Blazers will have two days off until the next game as Portland continues its four-game homestand with game number three on Saturday. The Blazers host the Detriot Pistons with tip-off set for 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest.
 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

Right now for the Trail Blazers, if you play well, you play more

Right now for the Trail Blazers, if you play well, you play more

Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts has found himself in an interesting situation after CJ McCollum’s recent knee injury has left the player on the sidelines for an as-yet-undetermined time.

Suddenly Stotts has those 34.1 minutes per game that McCollum has been playing, at his disposal. And he has several players worthy of playing them.

He has decisions to make. And those decisions are based on a wide variety of factors that are made more difficult because the Trail Blazer coach has a lot of options, many players capable of quality minutes. There is a lot to consider.

“I like guys having a run out there,” Stotts said Tuesday after his team’s practice. “I want to keep Dame’s minutes under control, who plays well with who else, some of it is matchup driven by the other team. It just depends.

“I don’t know if it’s difficult, I guess I have to take into account more things, probably.

“I do that twofold. One, if a guy is playing well -- and if the unit is playing well. Like I said (after Monday’s game), Zach played 15 straight minutes in the first half because he was doing well and that unit was doing well.

“I kept him in. Same thing with Chief in the third quarter. Chief got on a roll so he played the entire third quarter, and the team was doing well. When things aren’t going well, then decisions have to be made.”

And that would be why Collins played 15 first-half minutes but only seven in the second half.

“If Chief hadn’t played so well in the third quarter I was prepared to go back to Zach,” Stotts said. “But that wouldn’t have been fair to Chief.”

Damian Lillard, the team’s captain, thinks along the same lines as his coach. And probably the way most players would like the situation to be played out:

“I’m sure it’s tough,” Lillard said. “But if I were the coach, I would just play whoever is having the better game. That’s who would be out there. Next game might be a different guy, but that’s fair. That’s the way I’d do it.”

Stotts likes to stay with a player through the end of a quarter if he and the team are playing well. Does that mean he believes in what’s become a controversial topic – the “hot hand” theory, in which people believe players who have made a couple of shots in a row are more likely to make their next shot?

“It’s always a tough thing when a certain player has it going – whether it’s Dame or CJ or anyone – you let them play the quarter,” Stotts said. “You can’t take them out when they are on a roll.

“It’s easy to say leave him in now, but it does have consequences down the road -- rotation of other players, extending of his minutes.

“I believe in confidence. When guys are in a groove and confident of their shot I believe in that. But I always know it’s going to come to an end.

“A lot times when a guy is on a roll I’ll keep him in there until he misses a shot.

“To me, a hot hand sounds like poker. That’s more luck and superstition. But when guys are feeling good, biorhythms are good, shots tend to go in more.”

Is Nurkic's foul trouble affecting him or the team?

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Is Nurkic's foul trouble affecting him or the team?

When you have a nickname like “Bosnian Beast,” you expect aggressive play on the court.

So, it’s not really a surprise that Trail Blazers big Jusuf Nurkic has had at least three fouls in his last five games and has fouled out in two of those past five games.

After Monday’s win over the Pacers, the Blazers got back to work at practice Tuesday afternoon. Nurkic, who fouled out against Indiana with 90 seconds remaining, spent time looking at his fouls on film. 

The Trail Blazers center spends day after day watching film to review his fouls, whether it’s a foul at the rim or a moving screen. He has also spent time with former referee Don Vaden trying to figure out how he can avoid getting into foul trouble. 

“There’s still a lot of room to grow," Nurkic said. 

Last season, the Trail Blazers hired Vaden as a consultant for the players and coaching staff to be able to talk with about league rules, officials’ tendencies and more.

Even though, Nurkic often discusses his previous games and fouls with Vaden, it doesn’t mean he is on the same page with him at all times.

“Most of the time I don’t agree with him,” Nurkic said with a smile.

But Nurkic knows it’s a work in progress and he believes he is getting better at arguing less calls.

“I try to do whatever I can to help myself and help [the referees] to understand, you know, I’m still 280 and a big guy,” Nurkic said.

The Trail Blazers starting center understands that officials are not going to see everything, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating.

“I don’t mind if they call a foul on me, but I feel they miss something, but you know, they see it differently and I’m still working on that,” Nurkic said.

The Trail Blazers are 70 games into the season and Nurkic is now seventh in the league in fouls per game with 3.5 fouls.

Nurkic also mentioned that by being so aggressive and picking up a foul here and there, he feels he can help bring the energy level up on the team.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts isn’t convinced that picking up early fouls isn’t impacting Nurkic’s game.

“It’s when he gets fouls early in the game that I think it effects his aggressiveness, obviously it affects the rotation a little bit,” Stotts said.

“Nurk’s just like any player that gets in foul trouble… It probably affects how they play, it affects when you have a good player that you rely on every night, not be able to be on the court for as much as you want, it affects the team,” Stotts added.

As far as total fouls on the season, Nurkic currently has the third-most in the league with 243 behind Karl-Anthony Towns (256) and Patrick Beverley (246).

But for the Trail Blazers captain who is running pick and rolls with Nurkic, Damian Lillard said he doesn’t feel Nurk’s early foul trouble is changing the way he plays.

“I wouldn’t say it’s affecting his game, it might be affecting his minutes," Lillard said. "He’s got to sit earlier than usual or foul out like last night, but he’s just being aggressive. Last night he fouled out trying to set a screen for me. I think he’s fouling out on plays you want to see him make, it’s just an unfortunate whistle, that’s what I think."

Nurkic may be watching film everyday, but the team is not focusing on or worried about him picking up too many fouls.

“A lot of the calls that he gets called for sometimes in the paint and at the rim, the same thing happens to him, it just doesn’t get called, so you don’t want to tell him don’t do this or don’t do that and take away his aggressiveness, because there’s a good chance it won’t be called,” Lillard said.

Lillard also noted that sometimes it’s the guards fault that a big will get whistled for the foul.

“Sometimes they come to set screens for us, we leave early-- they get a moving screen," Lillard said. "Sometimes they’re trying to get an offensive rebound-- they go over somebody’s back, there’s contact-- the get a foul. They’re in positions to get a lot of fouls more than, even us, as guards."

“Bigs get in foul trouble, that’s just what it is,” Lillard said with a smile.

Without CJ McCollum, Blazers still find themselves in the right position

Without CJ McCollum, Blazers still find themselves in the right position

CJ McCollum walked gingerly back into the weight room on Monday night, his left knee cradled in a soft brace and his forehead slightly sweaty from the cardio work on the stationary bike he had just completed before meeting with the media.

About four hours later, Damian Lillard spoke to a similar crowd of television cameras and reporters, his answers landing somewhere between relief and cautious optimism.

That’s what Day 2 of the McCollum’s rehabilitation journey looked like inside the Moda Center. The Blazers announced on Sunday that McCollum had sustained a popliteus strain in his left knee on and that he would be out at least a week before the team’s medical staff will re-evaluate him.

There isn’t a certain timeline for McCollum’s return. He is almost certainly going to miss more than a week, and Lillard has already mentally prepared for a month without McCollum in a uniform.

“Mentally, I don’t want him to have to rush it and when he does come back I want him to be himself and be healthy. So in my mind we going to finish the regular season without him,” Lillard said. “Maybe the last couple games (of the regular season). In my mind that’s how I should think of it. Just knowing that we got to have a great effort for these last 12 games, planning on not having him out there. We’d rather have him healthy and strong in the playoffs than have him come back early and not be himself and maybe aggravate it a little in a way we don’t need him to.”

If any team understands what it’s like to maintain playoff position without a key piece, it might be the team the Blazers beat on Monday night. The Indiana Pacers, who lost All-Star guard Victor Oladipo to a season-ending quadriceps injury on Jan. 23, have refused to give up their hold of court advantage long after many teams would have let go of the rope.

“We played without Victor earlier in the season for 11 games and we knew he was coming back,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “This last injury we had the feeling he may not be coming back and when we found out that he wasn’t, it was definitely a shot because he really changes what you do out on the floor. He kinda helped us establish a style of play on both ends of the floor. So without him it took us a few games to get comfortable and make those adjustments and really focus on who we have as opposed to who we don’t have.”

That’s what the Blazers will have to turn to over the final 12 games of the regular season. They’ll replace McCollum’s scoring by committee with an uptick in minutes and responsibilities for Rodney Hood, Seth Curry and Jake Layman. And Lillard will naturally do more, admitting he will be a little more “hands on” during the stretch run.

When Oladipo went down in January the Pacers dropped four straight, but have gone 13-7 since, falling just one spot from third to fourth in the East without their best player in the lineup. The Blazers can’t afford a learning curve as long or a steep as Indiana’s, but the blueprint the Pacers have mapped out over the past eight weeks remains a valuable one.

That’s why Lillard is preaching patience to his friend and teammate while McCollum is spending his days working out in the pool, shifting his diet to speed up recovery and plowing into rehab with the precision of his mid-range pull-ups.

“I told him I already know he’s going to try to get in a million hours of rehab and do all this stuff,” Lillard said.

“But I told him he should do that. You should be on top of it and stay involved like you always do but just don’t rush back to get to the game. We’re in a great position. We need guys to step up. It’s only going to be better for our team in the long run. So i’ve told him ‘Take your time, don’t rush, get healthy and come back right.”

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks: How and Where to Watch

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USA Today Images

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks: How and Where to Watch

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GAME DETAILS

Where to Watch: NBC Sports Northwest

Where to Watch on the go: Stream the game live on the new MyTeams App

Tip-Off Time: 7:00 p.m. 

Point spread: Portland -10

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (6:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the postgame show). 

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio

 

INJURY UPDATES

Portland has listed CJ McCollum (left knee) as out for Wednesday’s game vs. Dallas.

For the Mavericks, J.J. Barea (right Achilles) and Kristaps Porzingis (left knee) are out. Maxi Kleber (left wrist) is questionable.

 

QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: Trail Blazers get the most (30 points, 15 assists) out of Damian Lillard's 40 minutes

Jamie Hudson: Trail Blazers pass first test without CJ McCollum... Is there reason to rush him back?

Mike Richman: Without CJ McCollum, Blazers still find themselves in the right position

VIDEO: Damian Lillard makes it rain from Mars in win over Pacers

VIDEO: Life without CJ: Reworking the Rotation

 

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