Confident Trail Blazers look at first-round matchup with Golden State as 'opportunity'

Confident Trail Blazers look at first-round matchup with Golden State as 'opportunity'

In what most everyone else sees as an insurmountable obstacle, and perhaps the best NBA team ever assembled, the Trail Blazers view their first round playoff matchup with the Golden State Warriors as something much different.

“It’s a great opportunity,’’ coach Terry Stotts said Saturday, about 24 hours before Game 1 in Oakland. “We are glad we are here. It’s a good challenge to be facing the best team in the league right now … looking forward to upsetting the best team in the league.’’

In comparison to the Warriors (67-15), what the Blazers (41-41) lack in star power and depth they make up for in confidence.

Captain Damian Lillard, who was one of the best players in the NBA after the All-Star Break, has used a “shock the world” mantra in describing the Blazers’ mindset entering the best-of-seven series.

“We are coming out to win the series,’’ Lillard said. “Whether people are offended by that or not, that’s not our problem. We’ve worked hard to get here and we are not going to come in and just say ‘We are playing the best team, it’s not possible.’ We are going to go out there and play. We feel like we can beat them. If we don’t we shouldn’t go out there and lace up our shoes.’’

The Warriors finished with the NBA’s best record for the third straight season, and that included a 4-0 sweep of the Blazers, including a 45-point beatdown in December. But none of those meetings were when Portland had center Jusuf Nurkic, the 7-foot Bosnian who changed the Blazers’ season after being acquired in a Feb. 12 trade with Denver.

Whether Nurkic takes part in Game 1 is still up in the air, as the Blazers on Saturday listed him as questionable for the opener as he continues to heal from a fractured right fibula discovered on March 31.

Nurkic on Friday said if the decision were up to him, he will play, and although Stotts said Nurkic was not an “active participant” in Saturday’s practice, he said Nurkic was “involved.”

Lillard, meanwhile, smiled when asked questions about Nurkic, offering only a “no comment.’’

Whether Nurkic is able to play – and if so, how well he plays after being sidelined 15 days – figures to be central to the Blazers’ chances against the heavily favored Warriors.

The Blazers went 14-5 with Nurkic in the starting lineup, his size boosting the team’s rim protection, and his passing skill and pick-and-roll savvy alleviating the pressure on the Blazers’ talented backcourt of Lillard and CJ McCollum.

His screening also provided added space for the Blazers’ sharp-shooters, which contributed to the Blazers becoming the NBA’s second best 3-point shooting team after March 1 (40.7 percent).

With Nurkic making a two-way impact, the Blazers after March 1 had the NBA’s second best record (17-6), which included road wins at San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Atlanta and home wins over Houston, Utah, and Oklahoma City.

“He’s made a huge difference,’’ Lillard said. “You see how good of a team we are when he is on the floor. You see, since the break, since we got him, how we elevated our play because of the balance and how good he is on both ends of the floor.’’

Still, much of the Blazers’ chances rest in the hands of Lillard and McCollum, which is probably why Stotts separately called each of his starting guards to the side after Saturday’s practice in Portland. With McCollum first, then Lillard, Stotts sat on a bench and shared game film on a laptop, pointing out various nuances.

“We are going to need to be able to score, so we need to make sure we understand what gives us the best chance to score,’’ Stotts said later.

Of all the NBA playoff matchups, this might feature the most prolific set of guards.

Lillard averaged a career-high 27.0 points, the sixth highest in the NBA, and after the All-Star Break he averaged 29.7 points, second most in the NBA behind Russell Westbrook.

Meanwhile, CJ McCollum averaged a career-high 23.0 points and finished as the NBA’s top free-throw shooter at 91.2 percent.

They will be pitted against the Splash Brothers – Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – with Curry as the former MVP and Thompson a noted defender as well as an accomplished shooter.

In last season’s playoff series, the Warriors often started with Thompson guarding Lillard, but this season they usually went with Curry on Lillard.

In three games this season against Golden State, Lillard averaged 23.3 points, but he historically has performed well against his hometown team. Last season in the Western Conference semifinals, Lillard averaged 31.8 points against the Warriors, which came after he scored what was then a career-high 51 points against Golden State in February.

Much of Lillard’s damage this season was done in attacks to the basket, usually after blowing by Curry. Lillard at the beginning of this season said Golden State “just didn’t look the same” defensively without Andrew Bogut protecting the paint, which Draymond Green said he took personally after the team’s first meeting on Nov. 1.

Green, of course, has become the leading candidate for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, playing what Lillard this week called “free safety” in the back of the Warriors’ defense. Lillard was clear to point out the Warriors have a great defense, specifically noting that Kevin Durant doesn’t get enough credit for his defense, but he added “I think we will be able to get our opportunities.’’

This is probably the biggest opportunity for the ascending McCollum to make a splash on the national scene. On the cusp of being a superstar, McCollum has at times carried the Blazers, with his scoring streaks often being the avalanche that buries an opponent.

Whether he can do it against the NBA’s second-rated defense, and in particular one of the NBA’s better defensive two-guards in Thompson, will be a subplot to the series.

“I know who I am as a player – I don’t worry about other players,’’ McCollum said. “But this is not about me and Klay, or Dame and Steph. It’s about the Blazers and Warriors.’’

As much bravado as the Blazers have shown leading up to the series, a confidence rooted in the fact they led Golden State for 56.1 percent of their five-game series last season and held double-digit leads in the final four games, they hold Golden State in reverence.

The Warriors own the NBA’s top offensive rating (113.2) and the second defensive rating (101.1). Their 11.63 point differential is the most since the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls and the fourth highest in NBA history.

In addition to leading the league in scoring, the Warriors led in assists, blocks, and steals. Their average of 30.4 assists is the most since the 1984-1985 Lakers.

“I don’t think anybody out there has us beating them, except us,’’ Maurice Harkless said. “We just have to go out there and do what we know how to do.’’

For a Blazers team that six weeks ago was 11 games under .500 and spiraling toward a season of disappointment, a matchup against the Warriors isn’t daunting as it might seem.

“I’m sure people are expecting the worst, for us to go in there and get beat up on,’’ Lillard said. “But we are playing our best basketball of the season, and if we go in there and we swing first and show that we are here to win, and not just happy to make the playoffs, that’s when it will get interesting.’’

Kawhi wanted to go to LA and got Toronto -- call it Spurs' Revenge

Kawhi wanted to go to LA and got Toronto -- call it Spurs' Revenge

I have a few thoughts on that crazy all-star-for-all-star trade that essentially sent DeMar DeRozan from Toronto to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard. I find some aspects of the deal fascinating.

First of all, don’t cross Gregg Popovich or the San Antonio Spurs. Not only did the Spurs land DeRozan, a very good player,  Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick for Leonard, they absolutely managed to send Leonard to the polar opposite of where he wanted to go.

You want to go to LA, young man? Here’s Toronto, enjoy yourself. Toronto is a beautiful city but between the frigid weather and the taxes -- good luck. And leave your bathing suit at home. You can't get much further from the beaches of southern California than Toronto. The Spurs' revenge cut deep.

I heard a lot of people around the league talking about trading for Leonard – with just one season left on his contract – including a lot of Trail Blazer fans. Sorry, but that’s a terrible gamble.

Just because Paul George – apparently a victim of basketball’s version of Stockholm syndrome -- decided to stay in Oklahoma City, doesn’t mean any other one-year rental would make the same decision. George's decision to stay in Oklahoma was bewildering and I have to believe that someday he’ll be sorry.

And to think other players will follow suit and stay put just because George did is silly. You can talk about rolling the dice and gambling on the big move all you want, that's a very big longshot to go all-in on. And if the gamble doesn't pay off, the penalty is way too high.

The risk/reward on this one just doesn't pencil out for the Raptors. If you think it's time to trade DeRozan, that's fine -- but a one-year rental may not be the best idea.

 

 

Wade Baldwin may have an uphill battle for playing time this season with Trail Blazers

Wade Baldwin may have an uphill battle for playing time this season with Trail Blazers

OK, so now that we know Wade Baldwin is going to be on the roster of the Portland Trail Blazers this season, where does he fit?

Will he play? Will he be in the rotation? What will his role be?

For right now, I’m not sure those questions can be answered. Training camp and the exhibition season will certainly go a long way toward solving those issues.

But at this point, I’d say Baldwin might be in a tough spot.

The Trail Blazer backcourt is going to be as crowded as Interstate-5 North at rush hour, with some veteran players in line ahead of Baldwin.

If you’re thinking about him as the prime candidate to back up Damian Lillard at the point, you might be disappointed. Don’t forget that the Trail Blazers signed free agent Seth Curry and he’s come into his own as an NBA player. He's no longer just somebody's little brother.

While Curry has never been known as a distributor, he can certainly shoot the ball – perhaps Baldwin’s weakest area.

For his career, Curry has shot 47.3 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from three-point range. And yes, we’re talking about SETH Curry, not his brother STEPH.

Now I’m pretty sure Baldwin would have an edge over Curry at the defensive end of the court and may be a better playmaker. He's also the team's biggest and most physical point guard and is capable of playing at a very fast pace.  And one more thing in his favor -- he is a player Portland got for nothing who is quickly rebuilding his value as a one-time first-round pick. At some point, he could be a valuable trade piece.

That said, in today’s NBA, the game is becoming all about firepower –- and mostly long-range firepower. Curry can provide that to a team that needs an injection of accurate three-point shooting.

It’s also reasonable to expect rookie Anfernee Simons to get some playing time at one of the guard spots. Yes, he’s young but he’s a special player who needs to play if he’s not optioned to a G-League team.

Add in the projected off-guards on this squad – Nik Stauskas and Gary Trent Jr. – and you can see that Coach Terry Stotts has some decisions to make.

He has a crowd of interesting players at off-guard and could make a little more room for them on the court by using CJ McCollum as a backup point guard frequently.

Baldwin is going to be in the same position he’s been in for most of his career:

How much he plays will be up to him. And he’s probably going to have to play pretty well to earn a regular spot in the rotation.

 

 

Social media reacts to the 2018 Summer League Champs

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USA Today Img.

Social media reacts to the 2018 Summer League Champs

To say the Blazers are excited for this championship is an understatement. Hoist the trophy high, veterans excited for their rookies, and much more on social media reacting to this championship!

 

The rookies went to Twitter following the win, excited to bring the trophy home to Portland:

 

Even the rookies alma mater's chimed in:

 

So... about the championship parade... 

 

LINKS:

Read: Give credit to the Summer League Coaches

Read: Wade Baldwin feels good about his chances

Watch: Why winning Summer League matters

Credit Blazer coaching staff with a great job this summer

Credit Blazer coaching staff with a great job this summer

Moving forward, I'm not sure we can draw any conclusions about how much value -- if any -- Portland's summer-league championship will bring to the franchise moving forward. But I can say one thing for sure: it's a great tribute to the Portland coaching staff.

For the second summer in a row, the Trail Blazers assembled a roster of players who came together at both ends of the court. This year's championship team dominated every team it played and offensive execution and defensive aggression were a big part of that. And that is coaching. Head coach Jim Moran does a great job with his teams but the credit doesn't stop there. The entire Trail Blazer coaching staff -- Nate Tibbetts, David Vanterpool, Dale Osbourne and John McCullough -- contributes to the summer-league effort and these guys get only three or four days to organize and coach their squad before its first game.

And somehow, they create a solid team in a very short amount of time that plays the game hard and plays it right.

And it must also be pointed out that Neil Olshey has provided his young players a great chance to learn and improve by surrounding them in summer league with unselfish journeymen veterans who know how to play. This season it was K.J. McDaniels, Archie Goodwin and John Jenkins -- solid vets playing to land a job in the NBA or overseas -- combining with experienced Portland players Jake Layman and Wade Baldwin IV to give the youngsters a chance to succeed.

Time to say a few things about individual players who suited up for Portland's summer unit:

  • Anfernee Simons -- Way better than I expected him to be. Not intimidated and very obviously talented.
  • Gary Trent Jr. -- A pro shooter. He knows where he wants to get his shots and how to get them.
  • Wade Baldwin IV -- A legit NBA player who continues to improve. He's defending people well enough to get them mentally off their game. Man, does he need help at the foul line, though.
  • Jake Layman -- If he can bring that offensive confidence and jump shot into training camp, he's going to get rotation minutes this season.
  • Caleb Swanigan -- I'm never sure of what to expect from him. He has NBA rebounding and passing skills but struggles when playing against size.
  • Zach Collins -- He's coming along fast as a defender but would love to see him be able to consistently make shots.

In summary, you can make whatever summer-league victory parade and championship-ring jokes you want, but winning is fun no matter where you do it. And very often a lot or work behind the scenes goes into the effort.

 

 

Wade Baldwin feels good about his chances

Wade Baldwin feels good about his chances

Updated Thursday, July 19th - With the deadline now passed, Baldwin's contract is now fully guaranteed. The original story appears below.

LAS VEGAS - Wade Baldwin, who earned 2nd Team All-Summer League honors, said his goal was to go ‘full throttle’ and show during Summer League that he deserves to be on this Trail Blazers roster.

The deadline for the Blazers to make a decision on Baldwin’s guaranteed contract is July 18th at 11:59pm, when the clock strikes midnight, his contract becomes guaranteed.

While sporting his Championship shirt proudly, Baldwin told the media he feels good about his chances.

“I think I put myself in the best position possible in terms of accomplishments that I’ve made. In terms of being a winner, coming in here undefeated,” Baldwin said.

One person who will have some say in that is head coach Terry Stotts.
Over the last few years, the final day of Las Vegas Summer League for the Trail Blazers meant Stotts would offer up his thoughts and talk with the media members that were still around, and yes even after the team wins a Summer League Championship.

“I was really pleased with how we played, not how well we played. Obviously, it was a good week, but more importantly, we’re going to have six guys from this team that are going to be on our team and it was how they came together, how they played, they shared the ball. It was different guys, different nights, it was very encouraging,” Stotts said.

Yes, Stotts did say six players from this roster.
So, was that just a subconscious slip or is Wade Baldwin a member of this team next season? Baldwin averaged 13.4 points and 7.4 assists (3rd best in Summer League) in 25.4 minutes per game.   “It’s a team decision and I’ve talked with Neil and obviously the decision has to be made soon. It’s not my position to say what’s going to happen,” Stotts said.

[WATCH: The Scoop Postgame Show]
 

Blazer fans have been wondering who could take backup point guard minutes with Shabazz Napier now heading to Brooklyn.

After Baldwin led this Summer League team on both offense and defense, it would make sense for him to stick with Portland.
“The resume is out there. It’s up for whatever team it is or Portland to make a decision on what they want to do with me. I felt like I left it all out there and did the best I could,” Baldwin said with a smile.

One young guy who will be back in a Blazers uniform next season is Zach Collins, who finished Summer League averaging 8.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but it’s not his play that he attributes a lot of the team’s success to this year.

“We have a really good leader in Wade Baldwin at the point guard position and that’s huge coming into Summer League, being able to control the game. Summer League sometimes is really chaotic, he did a really good job of being our floor general,” Collins said.  

For a Blazers team who has lacked defensive intensity at the guard position, Baldwin would be a great asset to have coming off the bench. 

Let the countdown begin for Blazer fans waiting to see if the guy who gave James Harden fits in the regular season last year and now that same guy who led this summer league team to a championship will be back with the Blazers.

We have just hours left of Baldwin Watch 2018.

 

Outsiders demand Summer League Championship T-Shirts!

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NBCS NW

Outsiders demand Summer League Championship T-Shirts!

Joe, Shain and Dan held a special postgame edition of the Outsiders on Tuesday night to celebrate the Summer League Championship!

If you missed the show, check out the link below, join them in a toast and enjoy the look back at the Summer League run.

Blazers Outsiders

BLAZERS WIN THE LAS VEGAS SUMMER LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP! It’s time to celebrate with the Outsiders.

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Scoop: Blazer enact revenge on Laker, #BeatLA

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NBCS NW

The Scoop: Blazer enact revenge on Laker, #BeatLA

There may not be a parade for this Championship but the Trail Blazers Summer League Team was very proud of their tournament win on Tuesday night. 

The Scoop was live streaming postgame as fans weighed in what this means, player evaluations, and how any of this might translate to the regular season:

Summer League Scoop Postgame

Your Portland Trail Blazers are the 2018 NBA Summer League Champs!!! The Blazers beat the Lakers, 91-73 #RipCity How you feeling, Scoop Nation!?

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trail Blazers waive Georgios Papagiannis

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NBCSNW

Trail Blazers waive Georgios Papagiannis

The Trail Blazers have waived big man Georgios Papagiannis.

He plans to sign with Greece's Panathinaikos, which was first reported by Eurohoops. 

According to Eurohoops, "Panathinaikos has already included Papagiannis in the club’s long-term plans and are ready to add him with a three-year contract."

Papagiannis was first acquired by Panathinaikos when he was 17 years old and spent two seasons with the team before joining the NBA.

The 7'1" big appeared in 6 games during the Las Vegas Summer League where he averaged 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in just 7.5 minutes per game. 

Portland acquired Papagiannis this past March after he was waived by the Sacramento Kings, who drafted him in 2016 with the 13th overall pick.

Papagiannis appeared in just one game for the Blazers, playing four minutes of a 96-94 loss to the Houston Rockets 

He averaged 4.1 points and 3.2 rebounds over the course of 39 appearances over two seasons in the NBA.

Trail Blazers Are Summer League Champions!

Trail Blazers Are Summer League Champions!

LAS VEGAS - The Trail Blazers got revenge on the LA Lakers to pull out a victory in the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League Championship Game by a score of 91-73. 

It was a rematch of last year's summer league finale, but this time the Trail Blazers came out on top thanks to a strong defensive performance that held the Lakers to just 14.3% from the 3 point line. 

Players and Coaches had talked all week about how winning NBA Summer League was a goal for this team from the beginning, and tonight they finished what they started. 

Summer League MVP Josh Hart was ejected after his second technical with 4:45 to go in the game, but the Lakers trailed big at that time anyways. 

Portland finished the summer league a perfect 7-0 including both pool play and the tournament. 

BOX SCORE: Portland 91, LA 73

Be sure to follow us on social media for all kinds of postgame videos, a special interview with Head Coach Terry Stotts, and photos from the ceremony!

POSTGAME LINKS:
The Scoop Postgame Show
Trail Blazers Outsiders - Live Stream
Trail Blazers waive Georgios Papagiannis
Why did this summer league team click?