Countdown to tip-off: Blazers make it 17 home opener wins in a row

Countdown to tip-off: Blazers make it 17 home opener wins in a row

We're counting down the days until the Portland Trail Blazers open up the 2019-2020 NBA season by looking back at each of the victories in the 18-game home opener win streak. Here is a look at what happened back in 2017 when the Portland Trail Blazers faced the New Orleans Pelicans in the home-opener.

Can’t remember what the NBA was like in 2017? Sure you can, but let’s paint the picture anyway:

  • Russell Westbrook was the reigning MVP
  • Westbrook was also the league's leading scorer
  • The Golden State Warriors were the defending champions
  • Malcolm Brogdon had just won Rookie of the Year
  • Markelle Fultz was the No.1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft
  • The Blazers used the No.15 and No.20 picks on Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. They would ship them to Sacramento on draft night for the rights to the Kings' No.10 overall pick, Zach Collins
  • The Blazers would also use the No.26 pick on Caleb Swanigan
  • The Detroit Pistons were playing their first season in the new Little Caesars Arena.

 

As for the Blazers home opener...

The Blazers opened up their home schedule of the 2017-18 season by welcoming the New Orleans Pelicans to Moda Center. Pelicans star Anthony Davis played just 5:01 of action, injuring himself early in the first quarter. Even without their top star, the Pelicans had the 73-71 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. But then the Blazers flipped the switch. Portland outscored New Orleans 32-20 in the final frame, including an 11-0 run midway through the quarter. Final score, Portland 103 - New Orleans 93. 

Notable stats: 

New Orleans -

DeMarcus Cousins – 39 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists

Jrue Holiday– 14 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists

Portland –

CJ McCollum - 23 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists

Damian Lillard - 13 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists

Jusuf Nurkic - 12 points, 7 rebounds

Evan Turner - 13 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists

The Blazers would finish the season 49-33, good for the third-best record in the Western Conference. Portland would face New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs, losing in four games. 

The Morning After: Everything you missed from the Trail Blazers loss to the Raptors

The Morning After: Everything you missed from the Trail Blazers loss to the Raptors

The Trail Blazers rough start to the season hit another bump in the road when they welcomed the defending champion Toronto Raptors to town.

Things looked promising early, with the Blazers jumping out to the early double-digit lead. The starting lineup looked rejuvenated and the Moda Center crowd was electric, all thanks to Nassir Little. The promising rookie got his first career start and did not disappoint. His chase-down block in the first half looked to be a game-changer, but in the end, the Raptors were too much.

With both teams tied at 94 early in the fourth quarter, Toronto went on a 14-0 run that the Blazers never rebounded from.

Portland drops one to the Raptors, 114-106, and falls to 4-8 on the season

QUOTABLES:

Kent Bazemore on team’s struggles:

We just need to continue to play hard until we figure it out. As long as we keep providing the effort, things will turn… this is a winning team, and will be there when the time is right.

Rodney Hood on how it felt to get back on the court:

I’m pretty sore right now, but I felt good once I got going up and down a couple times throughout the game. It’s feeling better.

Coach Stotts on the first start for rookie Nassir Little:

I thought he had a really good game, I thought he held his own with (Pascal) Siakam defensively, brought a lot of energy, and played hard. So I was very pleased with the way he played.

BEST OF SOCIAL:

LATEST NEWS AND ANALYSIS:

Instant Analysis: Raptors come on strong late to beat Blazers at home 

Highlights: Little with the start, plus Hood returns!

Social Media Reacts to Nassir Little’s first career start 

The return of Rodney Hood: His fresh legs were welcomed by all 

Raptors take Damian Lillard away and what was left couldn't win the game

 

Nassir Little proud of his first start... but with no Zach Collins there's work to be done at the four

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USATI

Nassir Little proud of his first start... but with no Zach Collins there's work to be done at the four

With Zach Collins missing at least the next four months rehabbing from shoulder surgery, the Blazers have been trying to figure out the right rotation and starting lineups to fill the starting power forward void.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has experimented at the four spot, staring both Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja at power forward.

But on Wednesday night, Coach Stotts gave his rookie a shot. 

In Nassir Little’s first NBA career start, he saw a good majority of minutes guarding Pascal Siakam.

Not an easy task.

Little proved he could hang with the four-year power forward.

Even though Portland did not get the win on Wednesday night, Little said it wasn’t the result he wanted, but he was proud of his performance on Siakam.

Little even knew Siakam’s exact stats while he was defending the Raptors power forward.

“I think I did really well. When I came out of the game he only had 15 points and he finished with [36], so for a guy that’s on a max contract, for me to be a rookie in my first start, I think I did extremely well. He’s really good at reading the defense and he has a lot of counters, so whatever you bite on, he’s going to counter next so I think that’s what makes him really challenging,” Little said.

The Blazers youngster has been spending a lot of his time looking over the Blazers’ playbook lately to review the power forward’s duties, not small forward. 

“Before this I was learning all the stuff at the three and then with Zach Collins getting hurt, it’s a whole positional shift. So, now I’ve got to learn everything at the four. It’s a process, but you know, I’m working hard, I’m watching extra film,” Little said.

[RELATED]: Social Media Reacts to Nassir Little’s first career start

Coach Stotts was pleased with Little’s grit.
“I thought he had a really good game. I thought he held his own with Siakam defensively, brought a lot of energy, and played hard. So I was very pleased with the way he played,” Stotts said.

“Nassir is playing some good minutes at the 4, so that is encouraging,” Stotts added.  

Little finished with seven points, five rebounds, and one steal.

The Blazers rookie is quickly becoming a fan favorite for the way he hangs his hat on his defense and work ethic.

Another Portland player who does just that is Kent Bazemore.

Bazemore expressed how Little doesn’t even look like how a rookie used to look back in his day.  

“I think these rookies now aren’t really rookies, with their size… [Nassir] physically had everything he needed to contain [Siakam], and for him to be thrown in the fire like that and make the hustle plays, that’s how you stay on the floor. It’s good that he knows that at this age,” Bazemore said.    

CJ McCollum echoed those same sentiments.

“I thought he handled it well,” McCollum said of Little’s tough assignment on Siakam. “He works extremely hard, he’s aggressive. He’s athletic and it was a nice first-career start for him to go up against an All-Star caliber player in Siakam – a guy who is versatile, can do a little bit of everything, and I think he held his own.” 

Wednesday night marked Little’s first career start since his high school days.

The 19-year-old came off the bench at North Carolina during his one-and-done college career.

From the sounds of it in the locker room, this could be a Coach Stotts experiment that is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Social Media Reacts to Nassir Little’s first career start

Social Media Reacts to Nassir Little’s first career start

Early season injuries have forced Coach Stotts to try multiple starting lineups. With starting power forward Zach Collins out with a dislocated shoulder, Stotts has turned to both Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja to start in his place. The results, however, have not been what he had hoped.

So, looking in infuse some more energy and a spark into the lineup, Stotts chose to give rookie Nassir Little the first start of his career against the Raptors:

Before the game even tipped off, the news of Little getting the start had Trail Blazers fans hyped:

The hype didn’t stop there. Once the game got rolling, the fans were electric anytime Little made a play.  A few nice shots, a monster block, and hustle all around. Little ended the night with seven points, a block, and a career-high five rebounds. Rip City was in love with Little and took to social media to tell about it.

Said Coach Stotts after the game, "I thought he had a really good game, I thought he held his own with (Pascal) Siakam defensively, brought a lot of energy, and played hard. So I was very pleased with the way he played."

So was Rip City. The question now is, will he get the start again when the Blazers take on the Spurs this Saturday? 

Raptors take Damian Lillard away and what was left couldn't win the game

Raptors take Damian Lillard away and what was left couldn't win the game

The Toronto Raptors obviously came out Wednesday night with the intent of not letting Damian Lillard beat them. They defended him full court, denying him the ball, then double-teamed him whenever he got the ball on the pick-and-roll and often triple-teamed him on drives to the basket. He even saw a little box-and-one.

And make no mistake, the Raptors were good at all of it. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and all but took Lillard away from the Blazers.

Lillard has become so accomplished at scoring near the basket, somehow getting his shots up against defenders when it seemed impossible. But the Raptors made it impossible, putting Lillard in jail when he got to the basket – fencing him in with long arms and big bodies.

Lillard ended up with nine points on 2-12 shooting and when the chips were down, in the final stretch of the game, his teammates couldn’t hit big shots when left open and Portland lost 114-106.

“You know, we’re rolling the dice a little bit with these schemes, right?” Toronto Coach Nick Nurse said. “But if you do the work on the primary player first of all, and then you get the rest of the guys to do what they’re supposed to do in their help situations on them, whether it’s blitz or drives or whatever, and make it difficult for them, you’re opening up some other stuff. But we rolled the dice here on these guys and it turned out pretty good.”

And in spite of all the recent defensive problems, Portland didn’t score well enough in this game.

Rodney Hood, Anfernee Simons and CJ McCollum all had reasonable shooting nights but the Trail Blazers shot only 39.6 percent from the field overall and 17-48 from three-point range.

And the offensive standouts in Moda Center were both wearing Toronto uniforms. Pascal Siakam scored 36 with a marvelous combination of inside and outside play and Fred VanVleet did a terrific job of dogging Lillard and scoring 30 at the other end.

The Raptors have had success in their last three games taking Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and now Lillard out of their offensive game.

“The good thing about our game is most of the superstars are pretty unselfish,” VanVleet said, “So we throw two or three guys at the names you just mentioned and we just want to make them pass and make somebody else make the shots. Rodney Hood came in and made some big shots and got hot but overall, we just didn’t want to let Dame Lillard shoot. That’s the best way to guard those guys on not many attempts.”

Siakam was held in check by rookie Nassir Little in the first half but got loose in the lane over the last two quarters. And while Lillard was seeing all sorts of players thrown at him at one end, the Blazers let Siakam back them down in the lane one-on-one and never got to him with any double-teams.

The disturbing trend of the undersized Trail Blazers getting outscored in the paint continued, as Toronto posted a 50-22 edge in paint points.

“They outworked us,” Lillard said. “We gave them second, third and fourth opportunities. We couldn’t score. We needed to score and the game got away from us. It’s the fourth team in a row to come out and deny me fullcourt.”

Is it frustrating that you are seeing all those bodies coming at you on one end and then your team isn’t double-teaming Siakam at the other end?

“Yeah. It’s frustrating, But this is the hand we’re dealt.”

 

The return of Rodney Hood: His fresh legs were welcomed by all

The return of Rodney Hood: His fresh legs were welcomed by all

The Trail Blazers welcomed back their starting small forward Rodney Hood on Wednesday night as the Blazers hosted the Toronto Raptors.  

Hood had missed two consecutive games dealing with back spasms.

“He had fresh legs,” CJ McCollum said postgame.

The Blazers were in dire need Hood’s fresh legs and knock down jumper with Portland playing in the second night of a back-to-back.

“It was nice to have Rodney out there. He helped us big time… We needed it,” McCollum said.

The Blazers kept it close until lapses on both ends midway through the fourth quarter. Toronto came on strong late to take the 114-106 win, but it was Hood to the rescue in helping give the Blazers a fighting chance.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame, “You could really tell we were a different team with Rodney out there, adding another scoring threat.”

“Getting Rodney back was good for us tonight, he certainly made a difference for us,” Stotts said.

Hood finished with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, including 5-of-10 from three.

Hood’s 25 points tied his season-high, which he had notched against the 76ers on November 2nd.

Over the last couple of days at shootaround, Hood expressed how he was trying to be patient with his body and get back to feeling as close to 100% as possible.

After Wednesday’s game he said his back is better, however, he will continue to get treatment.

“I’m pretty sore right now, but I felt good once I got going up and down a couple times throughout the game. It’s feeling better,” Hood said.

Hood had also made it clear this week that he was very eager to get back out there and help his team.

He helped out in a big way in his return, scoring in multiple ways.

Yet, he was disappointed in himself late in the game when he missed two three-pointers that he said felt good leaving his hand.

“I wish we could take back those last five, six minutes but other than that, I think we played well enough to win or to be in the game. Give credit to them. They did a hell of a job in the last six minutes executing, particularly on the offensive end and they were tough to guard in those closing moments,” Hood added.

Portland now hits the road for six games in 12 nights. Hood and the Blazers know that back spasms can flare up at any moment. The road will test the Blazers and test Hood’s back.  

“It’s something I’m going to have to deal with – just continue to get treatment and hopefully by the road trip, it’ll be feeling better and all the way back to normal.”

Instant Analysis: Raptors come on strong late to beat Blazers at home

Instant Analysis: Raptors come on strong late to beat Blazers at home

With the Moda Center crowd behind them, the Trail Blazers got out to a quick start with multiple players getting involved on the offensive end as Portland hosted the banged-up Raptors on Wednesday night.

The game was tied 94-94 late, but then the Raptors went on a 14-0 run. Portland wasn’t able to recover after that.

Toronto showed how good of a defensive team it can be. The Raptors locked down on Damian Lillard all night. They held Lillard to just nine points. The last time Lillard was held to single-digit scoring was November 9th, 2016 vs. the L.A. Clippers.

FINAL BOX SCORE: Raptors 114, Trail Blazers 106 

Here are three quick takeaways from the Blazers loss to the Raptors:

1.  Another hot start for Portland

Despite being the team who was on the second night of a back-to-back, the Blazers jumped out to a 14-2 lead over the Raptors. Toronto, as NBA teams do, responded quickly and got back in the game after hitting a couple of threes and by the three-minute mark of the first quarter, the game looked in reach for both teams.

2. Hood looked like himself and then some

The Trail Blazers welcomed back their starting small forward Rodney Hood on Wednesday night after Hood had missed the last two games dealing with back spasms.

Over the last couple of days, it was apparent that Hood was trying to be patient and get back to feeling as close to 100 percent as possible, but it was also clear that he was very eager to get back out there and help his team. He helped out in a big way in his return -- scoring in multiple ways, and being that knockdown three-pointer shooter the Blazers have really missed over the last couple of games.

3. Raptors dealing with just as many injuries as Blazers

The defending champs looked a bit different on Wednesday night due to offseason moves and current injuries.

For Toronto, the Raptors were without OG Anunoby (Right eye contusion), Serge Ibaka (Sprained right ankle), Kyle Lowry (Distal phalanx fracture – left thumb), and Patrick McCaw (Left knee surgery).

The Raptors relied on Pascal Siakam, which they have done a lot so far in this early season. Blazers rookie Nassir Little saw a good majority of minutes guarding Siakam. Little proved he could hang with the four-year power forward. Hassan Whiteside also helped off Marc Gasol to alter Siakam’s shots at the rim.  

Siakam, however, got it going later with pull-up jumpers, fadeaways, and buckets at the rim.

Up Next: Portland will hit the road once again. This time for a six-game, 12-day trip. The Blazers will tip-off the trip in San Antonio. The Blazers and Spurs battle it out on Saturday night at 5:30p.m. PT.

Check back throughout tonight and tomorrow for more articles and videos from the players!

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: So many injuries for both squads!

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USA Today Images

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: So many injuries for both squads!

The Toronto Raptors (7-3) had the day off in Portland on Tuesday, while the Trail Blazers (4-7) were in Sacramento playing the Kings. Now the two banged-up teams will battle it out on Wednesday night.

Before the Trail Blazers and Raptors tip-off at 7:00 p.m. tonight on NBC Sports Northwest and on the 'My Teams' App, both coaches gave their thoughts on the matchup during their pregame media availability.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts discussed how his team “is a middle of the road team” right now. He added that they are still “trying to find their way.”

Blazers listed Rodney Hood (back spasms) and Hassan Whiteside (right foot sprain) as probable early in the afternoon, but have both since been upgraded to available for tonight’s game vs. Toronto.

HEAR FROM COACH STOTTS HERE:

For Toronto, OG Anunoby (Right eye contusion), Serge Ibaka (Sprained right ankle), Kyle Lowry (Distal phalanx fracture – left thumb), and Patrick McCaw (Left knee surgery) are OUT.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse had plenty to say pregame about the challenges that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum bring. He also mentioned that Anfernee Simons has been impressive and he added Simons “isn’t bashful.”

HEAR FROM COACH NURSE HERE:

Headstrong: How CJ McCollum believes Kevin Love has helped further the discussion on mental health

Headstrong: How CJ McCollum believes Kevin Love has helped further the discussion on mental health

The month of November is Men's Health Awareness Month. ‘The Movember Foundation’ uses November to bring awareness to various men’s physical and mental health issues, as well as support to those tackling prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and more.

 

Throughout this month, NBC Sports will be releasing numerous videos that feature sports superstars discussing the importance of mental health as well as how they approach the subject. Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum was one such athlete that participated in the nationwide project.

 

“I think it’s important the NBA has extended more [on] mental health for players because there’s a lot of issues going on in the professional sports world through players, through things they’ve experienced in their childhood, through the stress -- maybe it’s injuries, maybe it’s depression, maybe it’s anxiety, there’s a lot of different things... Sometimes they may suppress it. That can create bigger problems and larger problems down the road once the game is taken away from you,” McCollum said.

 

Local Portland native and current Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love has opened up recently about his longtime struggle with anxiety and depression. His decision to go public with his journey of mental health was to try to help others and advocate awareness around these issues.

 

“I think it’s important to have players like Kevin Love coming out and being outspoken about mental health and being an advocate because it shows that we’re just humans with real feelings,” McCollum said.

 

The Trail Blazers shooting guard also understands how important it is not just for professional athletes to talk about their mental health, but adults and children everywhere to be able to feel like they can openly discuss their anxiety, depression, or anything else that they are going through. You can watch the full video above.

For the Trail Blazers, it’s all about ‘staying in the moment’ in a very difficult month of November

For the Trail Blazers, it’s all about ‘staying in the moment’ in a very difficult month of November

 

SACRAMENTO – When the 2019-20 regular season schedule came out in August, the month of November was circled, as a month Portland would need to ‘survive.’

As the Blazers now work towards getting back to .500 basketball, with their 4-7 record after Tuesday’s 107-99 loss to the Kings, the team is on the same page:

Don’t look too far ahead.

Portland will now have just one home game before setting its sights on a six-game, 11-day trip.

At this point in November, the Blazers are focused on ‘staying in the moment.’

Damian Lillard, who was voted top leader in the league by NBA GMs this season, has made it clear to his team they must have a certain approach to this month of travel.

“Because we know it’s a difficult month for us, so, I think that makes it even more important to stay in the moment. When you look ahead and start talking about how hard it is, and what type of challenge it is, it only makes it more difficult,” Lillard said.

Tuesday in Sacramento marked start of seven of the Blazers’ following eight games on the road. Seven of eight, that’s not for the weak.

Yes, players and coaches consistently talk about taking it ‘one game at a time,’ but even Blazers head coach Terry Stotts mentioned that’s really how it has to be right now.

“It’s cliché, but worry about the next game. I know we’ve got a lot of games on the road, we’ve got a road trip coming up… But [we need to] prepare for each game,” Stotts said.

“When you just focus on what’s in front of you and handle it that way, I think it makes it less stressful, easier to deal with, and I think that’s what our approach is – just one game at a time, just work our way through it, and keep our heads above water,” Lillard added.

As Lillard expressed it can be ‘stressful’ to look too far ahead, CJ McCollum explained how he gets anxiety if he doesn’t take the advice of staying in the moment.

“I try not to (look ahead at this month of road games)," McCollum said.

“It gives me anxiety. It’s too many games, so I just try to look at one or two games at a time, understanding when I need to pack, when I don’t need to pack, but we’ve just got to take advantage of the present.”  

McCollum continued, “We’ve only played four games at home. We’ve got a lot of road games ahead of us.”

Yes, the Blazers realize how grueling the month of November has been and will continue to be, but there best advice to each other is staying true to the cliché of taking it game-by-game.