Damian Lillard explains how he'd structure the NBA's return

Damian Lillard explains how he'd structure the NBA's return

One day after making national headlines for telling Yahoo! Sports NBA Insider Chris Haynes that he will not play when the NBA resumes the season unless the Trail Blazers have a real shot at making the postseason, Damian Lillard joined Jalen and Jacoby where he clarified his comments.

"It was taken out of context because it was a casual conversation," said Lillard. "It was like expletive this and expletive that but it wasn't a demonstrative statement. I was just saying we've been off for two months and if we come back we want to play for something."

Later in the appearance, Jacoby asked the Blazers' franchise player if he could structure the NBA's return what shape would it take? 

If I could I would design some type of play-in tournament between all the teams that were in striking distance because Sacramento was playing their best basketball of the season, so was New Orleans, and so were we. And none of those teams were in the playoffs but we were within striking distance with enough games left in the season to catch Memphis. So I feel like a play-in tournament would be perfect. - Damian Lillard

The Blazers had possession of the ninth seed in the Western Conference when the NBA season got suspended indefinitely on March 11, sitting 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot. However, both the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings had one less win and one less loss than the Blazers, making them both also 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies. 

Earlier in the day, ESPN's Ramona Shelbourne and Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the NBA's considering bringing back 20 teams, including the four teams within striking distance of the eighth seed in Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, and San Antonio. 

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers path to the playoffs takes another step forward

Lillard did also mention if the NBA just goes straight to the postseason and takes the top-16 teams, then he'd be disappointed but able to accept the decision. 

"Just because we were within striking distance and had enough games to get into the playoffs but to that point, if they did decide that you know, we just going to go straight to the playoffs obviously we would all be disappointed but to this point we haven't performed to be in that top-eight so if that's the case then fine. But if we are going to come back to play games I feel that would be harder on everybody else."

Lillard originally said he'd want a chance to make the postseason at the end of March in a zoom press conference where he stated that the league should implement a play-in tournament similar to March Madness.

"When the season does come back, I feel like it’s only right that teams get a chance to make a playoff push, like ourselves, give us a chance to get in. Or, some type of tournament style where it’s fair," said Lillard. "It’s obviously gonna be a different situation than it has ever been, so maybe they should do something that has never been done. Or something that is going to make this year very unique like it already has been."

Will Lillard get his wish? It's looking likely, especially since the NBA will do everything in their power to get Zion back on the court who currently sits below the Blazers in the standings.

[RELATED]: Why the Trail Blazers' best bet to make the postseason is Zion Williamson

You can watch Lillard's full answer below.

Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with host NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon.

Jusuf Nurkic could see some power forward minutes, wants to shoot more threes

Jusuf Nurkic could see some power forward minutes, wants to shoot more threes

“I’m [as] healthy as possible.” -- That is how Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic started off his Friday morning Zoom interview.

And that’s what all of Rip City loves to hear.

The talk of the town lately has been all about getting a healthy Nurk and Zach Collins back as the Trail Blazers get set to head to Orlando to resume the 2019-20 season.

The starting lineup will of course look different.

Blazers Coach Terry Stotts has some decisions to make, but has already said he anticipates a couple of big lineups.

So, does Nurk view Hassan Whiteside as a threat for starting minutes?

Nah, he knows he and Whiteside can and should work together.  

“You can look at [it] whatever you want. It ain’t no competition, it’s my teammate. All my teammates… should be here to win the game. And, you know, coach obviously has one job to figure out all the minutes and the roles,” Nurkic said Friday.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

The Blazers starting lineup will probably vary depending on matchups, but one possibility is Nurk and Whiteside playing alongside each other.

The Bosnian Beast mentioned how he could see some action at the power forward position.

To have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum along with Carmelo Anthony and Nurkic and then Whiteside anchoring the middle would be a lineup that a lot of team’s would need to adjust their own lineup to in order to defend such a big team.

Nurkic says he is ready to fill whatever role Coach Stotts decides for him.

“I think we just need to fill in role with what the coach supposed to give us and what he think is the best for us and for the team,” Nurk added. “That's his part of the job, but I went down as a center, so I'll be back at the center. If I'm going to play some minutes at the four – yeah, I think [after] talking to the coach, I will definitely play some four.”

The 7-footer understands that in the few days left before the Blazers travel to Orlando to enter the quarantine bubble, he has one job:

Get in the best shape possible before Portland tips off its first game against Memphis on July 31, while Stotts figures out the rest.

“It’s just a matter of what [Coach Stotts] thinks is the best for the team -- that’s his part of the job to figure out. My part is -- I'm going to be as healthy as I’ve probably ever been.”

Whiteside has already pushed for the twin towers idea before the season was suspended.

Melo posts up 80% of the time, so it’s not going to be a spacing issue or anything. I think we’ll be a force out there. Even when we’re in a game, I think we can play minutes together and then we can rotate in and out.  -- Trail Blazers big man Hassan Whiteside on playing alongside Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic acknowledged that with the global pandemic, and thus the NBA hiatus, it has been extremely helpful for him to continue to work on getting his body right. 

“We'll see… what's my wind look like, but I definitely think, going to [training] camp and to the games with no restrictions, especially minutes, it's just a huge part in this and [the coronavirus pandemic] gave it to me,” Nurkic said.

Nurkic also says he “knows” he’s going to come back “a better player.”

In 72 games during the Trail Blazers 2018-19 season, the Blazers starting center averaged a career high 15.6 points, to go along with 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game.
[RELATED]: Trail Blazers return to play schedule in Orlando released

And now that we’ve seen the social media videos of the Bosnian Beast getting up plenty of threes, the question remains: Will Nurkic be more of a threat from deep now?

Over his six-year career, he has attempted a total of 42 three-pointers.

Of those 42, he has made three, which all came in the 2018-19 season with Portland.

He went 3-of-29 that season.

So while coach Stotts will most likely need to see a little more consistency out of Nurk to give him the green light from deep, Nurkic says his shooting touch has always been there, but he plans to take more threes when he finally makes his return. 

I feel great. I mean, like I said, during this process and then just being on a bench in a suit and you see a lot of different perspectives…. I feel… I have [had] a great touch from day one I arrived to the league. So, I think the shooting part, I guess is just about coach and what the team needs, and I definitely feel I'm going to shoot more this year now. And I'm capable of shooting those, I just, you know, need to consistently, and I've been working for a while now and it’s just not something I really consider a new thing. It just now more allowed me to work on it. -- Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic

We’ll have to wait and see if the big fella will be letting ‘em rip from long distance, but for Coach Stotts, he is most looking forward to Nurk being back as a facilitator on that end of the floor; however he is open to the idea of Nurk putting up more threes.

Nurk’s been getting his threes up. I’ve said for a long time I think he has a really good-looking stroke. I think he’s going to continue to improve. He’s still a young guy and I think his three-point shooting will evolve. His strength is still going to be in the paint… But, I’ve never discouraged him from shooting threes. -- Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts

“We’ve definitely missed Nurk’s passing for sure,” Stotts added. “Dame and CJ really had to work hard for their points, and I think with [Nurk's] passing both out of the post and on our spacing sets, that’s going to make things a little bit easier… Dame and Nurk’s pick-and-roll was one of the best in the league for the last couple of years. So, that’s going to be an important part of our offense.” 

But, we all know that having Nurkic back in general is an important part of the Blazers push for the playoffs. 

Signing guard Jaylen Adams means load management for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum

Signing guard Jaylen Adams means load management for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum

There’s a phrase thrown around in the NBA a lot that some people frown upon.

That phrase is load management.

But, there’s not just one way of going about managing a player’s minutes and allowing star players to get rest well into the season.

When big name players sit out a game or two due to ‘load management’ fans usually aren’t happy about it.

That makes sense.

The Trail Blazers; however, have not been a team to sit Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum out of a game for resting purposes.

The Blazers as an organization allow their players ‘load management’ in a different way.

Over the past couple of seasons, Lillard has talked about how he will sit out of certain drills or scrimmages in a practice in order to save his legs for the games.

So the Blazers don't mess with load management during games, but rather practices. 

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

And now with the Trail Blazers heading to Orlando to embark on the eight-game regular season restart, which includes a three-week training camp before games tip-off, Lillard and McCollum will need to try and stay fresh, and ready for the grind as the Blazers hope to make the postseason.

And that’s where signing backup point guard Jaylen Adams comes in.

Days after it was reported that starting small forward Trevor Ariza is opting out of returning with the Blazers and instead committing to a one-month visitation window to see his 12-year-old son, the Trail Blazers signed G-League star guard Jaylen Adams.

No, the Blazers didn’t pick up Adams to fill in for Ariza.

Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey explains it best:

“You have to send out the message to the league that he’s replacing Trevor Ariza, [but] he’s clearly not ‘replacing’ Trevor Ariza,” Olshey told our Dwight Jaynes while using air quotes around the word ‘replacing.’

[RELATED]: Some reasons the Trail Blazers signed a point guard rather than a small forward

And yes, that’s been the hang up for fans.

That’s where there was some confusion -- Why would you add a guard when your starting small forward has opted out of returning to play?  

Again, we need to go back to load management.

“When you look at it, Damian and CJ, play over 40 minutes a game in the playoffs,” Olshey said. “We’ve got a three-week training period down in Orlando including three scrimmages, clearly we’re going to be managing the load on Dame and CJ before they have to go play eight games in the 13 days including a back-to-back, and hopefully a play-in game or two and then hopefully into the playoffs. So a point guard was more critical in terms of load management for our two best players than it was us thinking that we were going to find a player who hadn’t been traded at the trade deadline, who hadn’t been bought out, who wasn’t eligible on Mar. 1, who was going to be capable of replacing our best wing defender and a guy who was shooting 40 percent from three with us.”

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts echoed the same sentiments.

“With Trevor being out, obviously, the guys that we have we felt comfortable with filling some of those minutes,” Stotts said. “And really the thinking was we’re going to have three weeks of practice and we have low numbers, we’ve got plenty of wings, we’ve got plenty of bigs, and to be able to have good practice without overusing Dame and CJ was important. That was the primary concern.”

Anfernee Simons is the only other Trail Blazer besides Lillard and McCollum who saw meaningful time at point guard this season.

“When you look at our roster right now we have a hole at backup point guard,” Stotts added. “If something were to happen with Dame or CJ there’s a hole there and we need to be able to fill that in the event that that happens as well.”   

Thus, Adams will undoubtedly be helpful at the one position for practices and scrimmages.

The 24-year-old went undrafted in 2018 after playing college ball for the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. He earned co-Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2018.

In August of 2019, Adams signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. During training camp with Milwaukee, he was cut and assigned to the Bucks’ G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd.

Adams averaged 21.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game for the Herd during the 2019-20 season, while earning All-NBA G-League First Team honors and was also the G-League MVP runner up to Wisconsin Herd's Frank Mason III.

And now he will be the primary candidate to assist in load management for Portland's two star guards. 

Jusuf Nurkic says 'I feel like I know more...basketball just slowed down for me'

Jusuf Nurkic says 'I feel like I know more...basketball just slowed down for me'

Way back, at a point during a rehabilitation process that must have felt as if it would never end, Jusuf Nurkic made what sounded like a promise.

It was in Phoenix, after an individual workout in December:

“I’m not expecting myself to just do the rehab; I want to get better, so I want to get better as a player, better as a person,” he said. “I see a lot of things differently from the court, from the bench, and in the locker room… I’ve been there, like a totally different person to see the different perspective and I feel like I can help even more.”

There have been a lot more of those individual practices, as COVID-19 has limited players to solitary workouts with one coach. Prior to that, there have been a lot of games to watch from the bench, wearing a suit instead of a uniform. 

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

And as Nurkic readies for the trip to Orlando and his first game in about a year and a half, he believes he’s going to make good on that promise he made on a day that seems now so very long ago.

“I know it,” he said Friday during an online media conference, where he appeared to be thinner than we’ve seen him. “I mean, I definitely look better, feel better. I’ve been working my body from Day One. As far as the basketball standpoint, I’ve studied more the game of basketball.”

He says he’s paid attention to diet and tried to build muscle. All the time in the gym has allowed him countless hours of practice on his shooting, where he’s extended his range past the three-point line.

But his biggest improvement might be on the mental side of the game, which pays off in decision making, fewer mistakes, increased confidence and more positive contributions in many ways.

What has Nurkic learned more about while observing from the sidelines?

“The way we play,” he said. “The way teams play. I just feel like I know more. I just feel like basketball just slowed down for me.

“That’s the benefit.”

Will you hear Zach Collins talking trash in Orlando? Yep, probably loud and clear!

Will you hear Zach Collins talking trash in Orlando? Yep, probably loud and clear!

Zach Collins doesn’t back down to anyone.  

We’ve all seen it -- that look in his eye when someone is coming at him on the court both literally and figuratively.

Klay Thompson has definitely seen it.

It’s that mentality of 'don’t mess with me or any of my teammates' that has earned Collins much love and respect from his teammates and Trail Blazers fans.

And, it’s probably fair to deem Collins a professional trash talker.

Now, his words could be on full display in the unusual Orlando bubble setting.

The NBA is still exploring how television broadcasts will look and sound with no fans in attendance.

But, we have to imagine that even with fake crowd noise pumped in and/or music being played at the arena, there’s still a much better shot of hearing players on the court with no fans in the crowd.

YEP. We are about to hear ALL the trashing talking.  

“It's honestly something I think about all the time, actually,” Collins said with a big smile during Thursday’s Zoom call.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

The third-year player, who says his left shoulder ‘feels great,’ is not only healthy enough to play in Orlando, but he’s also prepared to let the world hear all of his typical trash talking.  

Collins continued, “Not even just for me, but like, there's definitely things said on the court that are not for the faint of heart, for sure… It's gonna be interesting to see how the NBA handles that. I watched the UFC came back and they had no fans and you can hear everything... You can hear the guys in the ring like every hit, you know, everything. So I think it's going to be something similar and I don't know how it's going to be on TV, but obviously, when we're on the court together -- we might be able to hear the other team's time out in the huddle unless they put music on or something, I don't know. So it'll be very interesting to see how they handle it. It's definitely something to think about.”

[RELATED]: A healthy Zach Collins says, 'We know we have a shot to win a title' 

Does this unique situation mean Collins is going to ratchet back his trash talking?


Not even a little bit; well, maybe.

I'm not going to change. So y'all might hear some pretty vulgar language coming out of my mouth, but, you know, I don't know. I don't know. We'll see. I'll try to play it by ear. I don't want to change how I play and how I talk. But, we'll see. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins

It sounds like Zach’s mom might need to brace herself for this restart.

Honestly though, hearing Collins bad-mouth his opponents here and there won’t be a surprise to most.

But, Big Z did mention that Anfernee Simons could shock some folks with how vocal he can be.  

“I think honestly you might hear Anfernee more than you would think, especially with no background noise. He's going to be a little bit louder... I think especially for you guys, you guys watch us so closely and are there all the time -- practices, games. So I think you guys have a pretty good idea of who was a talker, who's not. But I think the whole world or kind of get a chance to see who communicates and who talks trash on the court the most. Yeah, so we'll see. It'll be interesting.”

Interesting indeed!

This is definitely an extra layer to the NBA restart that we are all waiting to hear. 

Zach Collins says he has 'no limitations' with left shoulder

Zach Collins says he has 'no limitations' with left shoulder

The NBA hiatus was a blessing in disguise for Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins.

The 2019-20 season, Collins' third season in the league, was supposed to be a season that saw Zach Collins starting at the four and him showcasing his improved patience on the defensive end while also taking a bigger leap forward in the scoring department as well.  

But then, he played in just two and a half games, basically.

Rewind to Oct. 27th in the third game of the 2019-20 season when the Blazers visited the Dallas Mavericks. Collins got tangled up with Luka Doncic when they both went for a rebound with 2:01 left in the third quarter.

That’s when it happened. Collins came down holding his dislocated left shoulder.

The 7-footer shared an update on his shoulder during a Thursday Zoom call.

“It feels normal. It feels like a regular shoulder, so I’m good.”

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

After some deliberation with team doctors and his family, Collins and the Blazers both decided it was best for Collins to have shoulder surgery when looking at the long-term plan of the young 21-year-old's career.

Collins had successful surgery to repair his left labrum on Nov. 5 and was then to be re-evaluated in approximately four months. 

Now fast-forward through a nearly three-month NBA layoff and Collins has been cleared to play with an expectation that he won't have any minutes restriction either. 

The shoulder feels great. No limitations. I have had no reason to believe that it will hold me back from doing anything. I feel pretty normal on the court like the surgery didn’t even happen, so I’m ready to go. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins 

Due to the COVID-19/NBA protocols, Collins and the rest of the Blazers have only been able to do individual workouts and thus Collins hasn’t gone through a full-contact workout yet. But, he has tested his shoulder in the weight room and with flexibility tests.

[RELATED]: Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back and the Trail Blazers are PUMPED

During his individual workouts, Collins says he has been getting up a lot of shots and working on his conditioning.

“Once we get to Orlando, hopefully we’ll hit the ground running and be as close to game shape as possible,” Collins added.

The 22 teams will travel to Orlando from July 7-9. Once teams are quarantined in the Walt Disney World bubble they will begin team practices during a three-week training camp. 

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers return to play schedule in Orlando released

Wednesday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts mentioned that Jusuf Nurkic is in the best shape that he’s seen from him over the past few years.  

“I think physically, it’s the best I’ve seen [Nurkic] look,” Stotts said. “He has good muscle tone, he doesn’t look thin, he looks strong. I don’t know what his body-fat [percentage] is, but honestly, from a physical standpoint, it’s the best I’ve seen him.”

And if he does say so himself, Collins is feeling good about his body right now too.

I'm sitting between 245 and 250 pretty consistently every day. And that's, that's about where I was when I got injured. I was probably a little heavier when I got injured. I wasn't exactly in the best game shape yet, but I was probably the same. And now I'm sitting at 245 to 250. I feel a lot stronger everywhere... I definitely don't feel light or skinny or anything. I feel good. – Zach Collins

Heading into this season, with the Trail Blazers planning on starting Collins at power forward, he was all-in on that plan.

And now with Trevor Ariza opting out of going to Orlando, the expectation is Carmelo Anthony will move over to the starting small forward role.

That leaves the four spot open for Collins.

“If I do play a lot at the four, it’s going to be a lot more perimeter orientated,” Collins said last summer. “I never really want to get away too much from being inside and being effective inside. But, if I can find playing time at the four, then I’m all for it, and I’m going in and I’m going to attack that and try to be the best four I can be. If I’m the five, same thing.”

Let the big summer of Big Z begin. 

A healthy Zach Collins says, 'We know we have a shot to win a title'

A healthy Zach Collins says, 'We know we have a shot to win a title'

The Trail Blazers obviously face an uphill battle in Orlando when the NBA returns to play in a month.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of confidence on a team that once thought, prior to injuries, it was going to be in the race for a championship.

Injuries heal, though, and the Trail Blazers’ confidence is high. One of those injured players, Zach Collins, figures to reclaim his starting power-forward spot in Orlando, fully healed from a shoulder injury during the season’s third game.

And he says his squad is supremely confident.

“We know we have a shot to win a title, regardless of seeding,” Collins said Thursday during a Thursday online conversation with media. “We’re confident, man.

“The fact that we have had a very trying -- not me, I wasn’t playing through it -- our team has had a very tough year, as far as injuries, and wins and losses.

“The fact that we still have a chance, I think everybody is super excited. Along with that, me and Nurk coming back is going to be huge.”

Certainly it will be very important. 

But keep in mind, the road just to get into the 16-team playoff field is going to be a rough one.

The Trail Blazers will need to keep pace with Memphis, while fighting off the New Orleans Pelicans. Portland has six plus-.500 teams on its eight-game seeding schedule and the Pels have just two.

But if the Blazers can stay within four games of Memphis and edge out New Orleans, they will earn the right to face the Grizzlies in a play-in series.

Portland would then have to beat Memphis twice in a row while the Grizzlies would need just one win over the Trail Blazers.

Keep in mind, this is all in Orlando, where there will be no homecourt, Moda Center, advantage.

And even if that is accomplished, all it likely earns Portland is a best-of-seven, first-round playoff series against LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers.

And everyone knows how difficult the Western Conference playoffs can be, even if the Lakers could somehow be vanquished.

“I wish Rodney (Hood) could be out there with us, that would make us even more dangerous, obviously,” Collins said. “But the team we have now, the guys who had to step up and play big minutes this year, they just got so much experience and got so much better.

“And now we’re going to come back as close to full strength as possible without Rodney. We’re just super confident.


Lamar Hurd celebrates Kevin Calabro, says he stood ‘for people who need his voice’

Lamar Hurd celebrates Kevin Calabro, says he stood ‘for people who need his voice’

After joining the Portland Trail Blazers in 2016, play-by-play announcer Kevin Calabro stepped down on Wednesday.

The move, which Calabro called an opportunity to “hit the pause button and coast a little,”came as a surprise to fans in Rip City who will miss the legendary voice on the Blazers call. 

But perhaps no one will miss Calabro more than Lamar Hurd, who has been calling games on the Trail Blazers sideline with Calabro since 2016-17 season.

[RELATED: Let's re-live some of Kevin Calabro's most memorable play calls]

In a thread on social media Wednesday, Hurd recounted a time in 2016 when Ernie Johnson and the TNT crew requested to interview Calabro about his return to an NBA team. Calabro insisted the only way he would do the interview would be if his partner, Hurd, could also be part of the interview. TNT accepted and the duo did the interview side by side.  

Then of course they had many memories: on the team plane, media room, and even a diversity/equity/inclusion class. According to Hurd, Calabro “stood and still stands for people who need his voice.”

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

Like Hurd, NBCSNW Trail Blazers reporter Jamie Hudson shared a special moment with Calabro when he joined The Scoop podcast back in January 2019. The two took a trip down memory lane and reflected on Calabro’s 20-plus years on the call for the SuperSonics.

After years of phenomenal calls like the Dame “bad shot” over OKC, Calabro leaves Rip City better than he found it. He will be missed in Portland!   

[RELATED: Jaynes: Kevin Calabro: The Trail Blazers 'have taken great care of us']

Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back and the Trail Blazers are PUMPED

Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back and the Trail Blazers are PUMPED

Since March 6, when it was first reported that Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic was set to make his return following nearly a year-long rehab, Blazers fans have been anticipating the moment of seeing Nurk step on the court once again.   

And instead of Nurkic lacing up his shoes to take on the Houston Rockets in front of the home crowd at Moda Center on Mar. 15, the coronavirus pandemic hit and the NBA was suspended.

But now, with the NBA returning to action in Orlando, Florida at the end of the month, Nurkic along with Zach Collins will be returning to the court.

There's plenty of excitement and anticipation from the Trail Blazers as the two 7-footers get set to return.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

Damian Lillard wouldn’t share too many details on Portland’s newly-added secret weapons, but judging by the smile on his face during Wednesday’s Zoom call, it’s apparent he couldn’t be happier to get his two teammates back.

They look great. They make me feel way more confident going in just from seeing them -- both of them. Like I forgot, I didn’t forget, but I forgot who they were. Like it's been so long that I almost forgot… You’ve just got to see, man. I can’t share these things. -- Damian Lillard on Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins

Blazers coach Terry Stotts added “they both look great… Zach is 100 percent cleared. He looks great. He’s been working out… Zach will be able to play this season without any limitations.”

Coach Stotts doesn’t believe Nurkic or Collins will be on any type of minutes restriction when the team begins play in Orlando. 

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers return to play schedule in Orlando released

It was on March 25, 2019 when Nurk suffered a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula late in a home game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Prior to the injury, the Trail Blazers big man averaged 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds, both of which were career-highs.

As for Collins, he had successful surgery to repair his left labrum on Nov. 5. 

He was then to be re-evaluated in approximately four months.

And now with the NBA’s long layoff, the Blazers feel confident that bringing back their two big men will be even more advantageous since they won’t be the only players needing to shake off some rust.  

Lillard said, “I think it really helps that everybody is coming back rusty, for one. Nobody’s been playing. You know, our team is really familiar with each other, and I think that just the fact that our starting four and five are coming back from injuries... They’re coming back into a situation where everybody’s in the same boat, so it’s more comfortable. I think it’ll be a little bit more seamless for them. And I think that’s good for our team. So, once we do start playing I think we’ll be able to get it going pretty quick."

Stotts says he is still playing out different starting lineups in his head, saying, “I haven’t ruled out starting Hassan [Whiteside] and Nurk together.”

Think about that starting lineup for a moment:

  1. Damian Lillard
  2. CJ McCollum
  3. Carmelo Anthony
  4. Hassan Whiteside
  5. Jusuf Nurkic

That’d be a big lineup.

Whiteside has already pushed for the twin towers idea.

Melo posts up 80% of the time, so it’s not going to be a spacing issue or anything. I think we’ll be a force out there. Even when we’re in a game, I think we can play minutes together and then we can rotate in and out.  -- Trail Blazers big man Hassan Whiteside on playing alongside Jusuf Nurkic

There’s no doubt that these two bigs have different games.

Both will alter shots at the rim, but of course, Whiteside is the better shot-blocker.

Nurkic is more of a facilitator than Whiteside on the other end allowing Lillard to play more off the ball in the pick-and-roll.

Whiteside does have four more years in the league on Nurkic. Hassan had no problem comparing his game to Nurk's back in March. 

He’s more a pitching big. He passes the ball a little more. He’s more at the free throw line area with his pitches and passes and stuff. I’m more in the paint and under the rim. I’ve been shooting threes a little bit, but I’m more of a guy who likes to get straight to the Baja. -- Hassan Whiteside explaining the difference between his game and Jusuf Nurkic’s game

Nurkic’s “pitches and passes” will be key.

And Coach Stotts agrees.

“We’ve definitely missed Nurk’s passing for sure,” Stotts said Wednesday. “Dame and CJ really had to work hard for their points, and I think with [Nurk's] passing both out of the post and on our spacing sets that’s going to make things a little bit easier… Dame and Nurk’s pick and roll was one of the best in the league for the last couple of years. So, that’s going to be an important part of our offense.”  

And at the other end of the floor, there’s no doubt these two bigs will quickly make an impact.

“One of the things we are going to be better at with the addition of Nurk and Zach is we are going to have more paint protection," Stotts added. "We are going to be a better rebounding team. And I don’t know how much it comes down to necessarily individual defense as much as it does to being a better defensive team."

Portland fans have been chomping at the bit to see a healthy Nurk and Collins.

And so have the Blazers.

“I think everybody is looking forward to what they both bring,” Stotts said. “They have both been out a long time, and both are anxious to get on the court, so they both will have a lot of energy. I think that is going to be contagious.”

As if thinking about getting Nurk back after seeing him sidelined for more than a year isn’t exciting enough, Coach Stotts offered up this salivating nugget on Nurkic:

“I think physically, it’s the best I’ve seen him look. He has good muscle tone, he doesn’t look thin, he looks strong. I don’t know what his body-fat [percentage] is, but honestly, from a physical standpoint, it’s the best I’ve seen him.”

Is the best Beast yet to come? That's intriguing. 

Also, is it July 31 yet? 

2020 NBA Season Restart: Teams, format, schedule, location, and odds

2020 NBA Season Restart: Teams, format, schedule, location, and odds

The Trail Blazers and 21 other teams will be back in action before we know it as the NBA prepares to resume the 2019-20 season in Orlando, Florida in its pursuit to crown a champion. 

The NBA's restart plan is slated for July 30th, as 22 of the league's 30 teams will head to Orlando later this month to continue a season that was halted March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Trail Blazers first game will be on July 31st vs. the Memphis Grizzlies. (See below for full schedule)

Here's what you need to know for the NBA's return:

When does the NBA season resume?

After what will be a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA's schedule for restarting the 2019-20 season will begin July 30 with 22 teams competing for the NBA championship.

Seeding games will take place from July 30-Aug. 14. Play-in tournaments are scheduled for Aug. 15-16. The NBA playoffs will begin Aug. 17.

What is the return to play format?

The 22 teams in Orlando will include the 16 clubs currently in a playoff spot -- eight from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference -- and six additional teams within six games of the No. 9 seed in their respective conference.

Each team will play eight "seeding games" to determine playoff seeding in each conference. Those games will be selected from each team's remaining regular-season matchups.

What does this mean for the Trail Blazers?

The Trail Blazers currently sit in 9th place in the Western Conference, 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies in the eight-spot. The Trail Blazers have the 5th toughest schedule among the 22 teams competing and the toughest among the teams vying for the 8th seed. Here’s how the Blazers schedule stacks up against the other playoff hopefuls.

The Trail Blazers schedule is tough, but they are hopeful with the return of Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic in the lineup.

Which teams will be playing in Orlando?

The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards will represent the Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, it will be the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns.

For the Trail Blazers, both Trevor Ariza and Caleb Swanigan will NOT be joining the team in Orlando for personal reasons. 

To assist in their efforts, the Trail Blazers signed Jaylen Adams from the G-League.

2020 NBA League Schedule

Here is the Blazers’ full schedule 

for the team's eight seeding-round games, beginning with a July 31 matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies:

NBCSNW will carry all-eight seeding games

Updated odds to win the 2020 NBA Championship

L.A. Lakers: +240
Milwaukee Bucks: +250
L.A. Clippers: +333
Houston Rockets: +1200
Boston Celtics: +2000
Toronto Raptors: +2200
Denver Nuggets: +2500
Philadelphia 76ers: +2800
Miami Heat: +3000
Utah Jazz: +3300
Dallas Mavericks: +4000

Portland Trail Blazers +15000
All other teams have +10000 odds or worse

The New Orleans Pelicans are chosen as the team most likely to make the postseason as a team from the outside looking in at (+275). That's partially because the casino expects the public to want to bet on Zion Williamson, one of the league's most marketable young stars, and a much-easier strength of schedule. 

The remaining odds for the eighth seed in the West are the Sacramento Kings at (+1200) who are 3.5 games behind Memphis currently, San Antonio (+5000) who sits four games behind Memphis but lost LaMarcus Aldridge for the season, the Pheonix Suns (+20000) who are six games behind Memphis and the Dallas Mavericks (+50000) who are currently 7 games ahead of the Grizzlies in the standings. 

As for winning the NBA Finals, the Blazers are seen as an extreme longshot at +15000, which is twice as high odds than they had earlier this month at Ceasars Palace.