The 'Devil on Defense': Wade Baldwin IV makes impact that might reverberate through playoffs

The 'Devil on Defense': Wade Baldwin IV makes impact that might reverberate through playoffs

HOUSTON – Lost amid the Trail Blazers’ thrilling comeback Thursday in Houston was a development that could change the Blazers’ postseason plans: the defensive emergence of guard Wade Baldwin IV.

While much of Thursday’s storyline was focused on the Blazers’ 17-0 run in the final four minutes that tied the game at 94 with 6.1 seconds left, only to see Chris Paul win the game with a driving layin with 0.8 seconds left, Baldwin had left an impression.

With dogged defense that harassed James Harden and Chris Paul into two turnovers each – all of them at or behind halfcourt – Baldwin just might have entered the conversation for playoff minutes.

“What he did tonight was exceptional,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “To be able to pick up (defense) like that is something we haven’t done and it’s something we can use going forward.’’ 

From the bench, injured star Damian Lillard said his mind immediately flashed to visions of the postseason.

“That’s playoff level,’’ Lillard said. “Playoff level, man.’’

It was during a first-quarter timeout that Lillard said he pulled Baldwin aside.

“I told him he can really impact this game, that it could be a coming out party for you,’’ Lillard said.

It was.

Baldwin, a former first round pick who was waived by Memphis after one season, was signed by the Blazers to a two-way contract in October, and after recovering from thumb surgery, he played 17 games in the G-League. In March, he was signed to a full NBA contract.

With long arms, a barrel chest and a 6-foot-4 frame, Baldwin is gifted physically. Mentally, he is fueled by being released by Memphis, one year after they took him 17th overall out of Vanderbilt.

“I’ve always been a defensive player, and given my circumstances – having an organization kind of, you know, throw me away, I just strive to be the hungriest person in the NBA and build my brand back up,’’ Baldwin said. “Defense is my ticket. Every time I go down the court, that’s my calling card. I’m just going to go hard with that.’’

The Blazers all season have been a top 10 defensive team, but many of their better defenders are centers (Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis) or lanky wings (Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner). 

Missing has been a lock-down guard. But Baldwin – in a game last week at Memphis and Thursday in Houston – looks like he could be a notable defender. 

Considering the Blazers’ playoff path could eventually include an encounter with either Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, or Houston’s Harden and Paul, Baldwin’s emergence could be quite the development for Portland. 

“I think he showed that he can come in and impact the game,’’ Lillard said. “Playing against two elite offensive players, two stars in this league and he comes in no fear, picking up full court – making them turn the ball over, frustrating them, impacting the game.

“And it wasn’t like he did it for a short period of time. He did it every minute he was on the floor. That’s something we can add to our team, something that can make us a better team. Now we have a guy on the perimeter who can really defend and lock up. He could really make us a better team.’’

As an added bonus, Baldwin in his two extended chances at playing has been an offensive spark as well. On Thursday, he hit 6-of-10 shots and finished with 14 points and three assists, which comes on the heels of his 15-point performance last week in Memphis. 

“I come in with a chip on my shoulder, and try to be a devil on defense, knowing in the back of my mind that an organization quit on me,’’ Baldwin said. “A first round pick and I’m a converted two way player. I play with a chip on my shoulder every time out there and if my name is called I’m going to bring that intensity every time I play.’’

Baldwin is another find by Blazers’ top executive Neil Olshey, who has shown a penchant for finding players like Maurice Harkless and Shabazz Napier, who are entering a career crossroads after their teams give up on them. 

Baldwin said when Olshey signed him in October, he gave him some advice.

“He told me to be the first one in, the last one out and when your time comes, make the most of it,’’ Baldwin said. 

His response?

“There was nothing to say, except work, and show by actions,’’ Baldwin said.

On Thursday, he did just that.

Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard overwhelm Pistons down the stretch

Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard overwhelm Pistons down the stretch

The Detroit Pistons had won seven of their last 10 games and brought their “A-Game” to Moda Center Saturday night.

But the Trail Blazers countered with an “A-plus Game” and finished off the Pistons with a flourish in the final two minutes to win 117-112.

Damian Lillard led the Portland parade, as usual, with his passing and his shooting. He finished with 28 points – hitting 9-16 from the floor, including 6-10 from three-point territory – to go with nine assists and six rebounds.

And down the stretch he was dictating the game, chapter and verse. But make no mistake, he had a lot of help on this night – the Trail Blazers got winning performances from just about everyone who played.

Portland trailed 109-103 with four and a half minutes to play but held the Pistons scoreless for the next four minutes.

Lillard hit Maurice Harkless knifing through the lane for a layup. He found Jusuf Nurkic for another layup and the game was tied with 1:58 to go.

Then, with the score tied, Nurkic made a terrific block on an Andre Drummond layup. Seth Curry found Lillard in the front court and Lillard nailed a 28-foot jumper to push his team into the lead, was fouled, and made the free throw.

It was downhill from there. Harkless passed to Nurkic for a dunk and then Al-Farouq Aminu jumped on a missed Lillard shot and banked in a basket with 4.1 seconds to go that provided the final margin.

It was a terrific outing for the Trail Blazers, who shot .544 from the field, .423 from three and outrebounded the bruising Pistons 42-29.

“A gutty and gritty win,” Terry Stotts said. “Basically we held them scoreless the last four and a half minutes. We made a lot of good defensive plays, big shots.”

You can find contributions everywhere:

  • Harkless had 10 points, four assists and some big defensive plays.
  • Aminu had a season-high 22 points, a lot of hustle plays and a solid defensive job on Blake Griffin.
  • Nurkic had 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
  • Enes Kanter mixed it up inside with Drummond and came away with 10 points and seven rebounds.
  • Zach Collins had his usual quota of energy plays, as well as 4-6 from the field, four boards, a block and nine points.
  • Seth Curry was 5-9, had 16 points and five rebounds.

It was quite a night for the home team, whose interior passing was a thing of beauty.

“When guys draw double-teams or guys just drive and somebody steps up, we’ve done a good job of finding the open man,” Harkless said.

Lillard probably had four or five “hockey assists,” where his pass led to the pass that resulted in the score. And that’s indicative of how well the Trail Blazers moved the ball around.

“Those are the plays you have to make in order to take advantage of what they were trying to do,” Lillard said. “I’m not always going to be the guy getting the assist when they’re out so high on me. Can the guy I pass the ball out to, make the next play? We had guys doing that.

“That’s what I mean when I say we’re making the right plays. The ball is going where it’s supposed to go. When it does that, you take advantage of what the other team is trying to do. Tonight we did a great job of that.

“We’ve been playing the style of play we want to play,” Lillard said. “And we can sustain that.”

Pistons Coach Dwane Casey, who has done an outstanding job with his team, loaded up against Lillard.

"You're not going to stop everything," he said. "They're one of the top offensive teams in the league. And we made a decision that we were going to try to keep the ball as much as possible out of Lillard's hands. And again, you take away one thing, you're going to open up something else."

The Blazers play host to the Brooklyn Nets Monday night before heading out on a four-game trip to Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Minnesota.

Confidence is high with Al-Farouq Aminu's ball handling... and it's showing

Confidence is high with Al-Farouq Aminu's ball handling... and it's showing

The seconds are ticking off the clock.

It’s a three-point game.

Damian Lillard’s tough floater gets blocked.

Al-Farouq Aminu snags the offensive rebound and puts in a 9-foot bank shot.

Four seconds remaining on the clock when the Pistons call a timeout.

It was a crazy finish on Saturday night in Portland. It’s Aminu who seals the deal in a Trail Blazers gritty win over the Pistons by a final score of 117-112.

“I knew the shot clock was low, so I just wanted to get it off the glass. I didn’t want to rush it. Sometimes when you’re in that predicament you rush it because you’re thinking you’re going against the clock and I figured, let me at least make it and see if it was late or not,” Aminu said with a smile.  

Portland continues to play without CJ McCollum (left knee) and continues to rack up wins from a collective effort with role players continuing to step up.

Saturday night was Aminu’s night.  

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame he was pleased with Chief’s “heads up playmaking,” which is a perfect way to describe that last Trail Blazers possession.

Aminu finished with a season-high 22 points and has now reached double figured for the second time in the last three games. His previous high was 20 points, which he had reached twice this season.

Is there a variable to Aminu’s game that people aren’t talking about when it comes to him getting more buckets?

How about his ball handling skills?

Coach Stotts has no doubt that this is one aspect of Chief’s game that has changed this year.

“I think it’s pretty obvious -- his ball handling has really improved this year. He’s made some nice drives throughout the season. He put a lot of time into it. He’s making some nice moves, whether it’s in transition or in the half court. I think he’s being aggressive when he has a chance,” Stotts said.

As Lillard shouldered the scoring load once again, leading the Blazers with 28 points and nine assists, he couldn’t agree more with his coach when it comes to Aminu’s improved dribbling.

“A lot better,” Lillard said of the difference he has seen of Aminu’s ball handling from this year to years past. “Sometimes when he catches it and they close the gap where he can’t get a shot off, he’s putting it on the floor and making plays to the rim. You know, sometimes in transition, he’s bringing the ball up and we’re getting a quality possession out of it, so it’s not like guys gotta chase the ball down and try to go get the ball or when he doesn’t have a shot, we’ve got to rush to get the ball,” Lillard added.   

Lillard also believes the mental part of Aminu’s game has helped too.

“When your mind is in the right place and you’re doing all these things, doing whatever you can for the team-- good things happen and he was on the good side of things, just because he was in it. He was in it mentally and it worked out. He was huge for us. He pretty much made all the big plays for us,” Lillard added.

Having your coach and teammates confident in you is always a helpful, but Aminu also trusts himself to it bring the ball up the court or drive hard to the rack.   

“It’s a thing that when you’re in the game and you notice that you’re not losing the ball… Obviously, you’re going to go to it more. The confidence comes from doing it… Just glad that it’s working,” Aminu said.

Being able to score a season-high after exerting so much energy on the defensive end with the difficult task of defending Blake Griffin also was noted postgame.

Maurice Harkless, who scored in double digits for the fourth straight game with 10 points, gave props to Aminu and how valuable he was on both ends of the floor. 

“He made a lot of big shots, especially down the stretch. He played really good defense on Blake and when we got switches he played good defense on the guards too, so he was huge for us. That last rebound and putback was big time too. It kind of sealed the game,” Harkless said.

Aminu had his good luck charm in the front row too. Maybe having your wife sit baseline can help boost the confidence as well.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Detroit Pistons

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Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Detroit Pistons

The Trail Blazers entered Saturday’s game having won five of their last six games and two straight at Moda Center.

Saturday’s game marked the first of two meetings between Portland and Detroit this season.

It was a high scoring affair with both teams hot from three. The Trail Blazers pulled out a win in the final minutes, defeating the Pistons117-112.  

Portland now improves to 45-27 overall. These two will face each other next Saturday in Detroit.  

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 117, Pistons 112 

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers fourth straight home victory:

1.Jackson got to the hoop, knocked down 3s

When facing this Pistons team much of the focus goes to their bigs Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. With the Blazers switching defense in the first quarter, Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless didn’t let Griffin or Drummond get much on offense. Drummond struggled on offense all night.

But to start the game, Reggie Jackson had an efficient first quarter going 3-of-4 from the field and a perfect 2-for-2 from three to finish with 10 points in the first 12 minutes of play.

Jackson was able to break free on the perimeter with the Pistons twin towers commanding so much attention.  He then had his way with Portland in the second half off the dribble, easily getting to the rim. He looked a step ahead of the Blazers for most of the night. Plus, Griffin got it going with his aggressive moves to the basket. Between the two of them and the Pistons three-pointers, Detroit made it close throughout.

2. That extra effort

You hear that a guy is a spark plug off the bench all the time. On Saturday, that is exactly what Zach Collins was for the Blazers. He fought down low to gobble up offensive rebounds and had a couple of nice putbacks that helped keep the Blazers in the game in the first half and kept the crowd involved.

3.  A different-looking Lillard Time?

As the Blazers continue to play without CJ McCollum (left knee), Damian Lillard carries the scoring load. Lillard was dialed in from deep. He made his first four three-pointers. Late in the fourth quarter, it was all about distributing for Lillard and that made the difference in the game. And of course, there was the Lillard Time three-pointer to give Porltand the lead with 1:37 to go, but hey, it was his passing that got them back in the game.


NEXT UP: Portland concludes its four-game homestand on Monday night when the Blazers host the Brooklyn Nets at 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest. Our pregame coverage tips off at 6:00pm. 

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.

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Detroit Pistons

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Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Detroit Pistons

Tonight marks the first of two meetings between Portland and Detroit this season. They will see each other twice over the next week.

Before tonight’s game, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Pistons head coach Dwane Casey spoke with the media to talk key matchups and more.

Blazers Injury Update: CJ McCollum (left knee) is out for Saturday’s game vs. Detroit.

McCollum is scheduled to be re-evaluated by Monday, but Coach Stotts said McCollum is getting evaluated daily as he goes through rehab with the Blazers training staff.

Coach Stotts also addressed the issues that come with defending Blake Griffin:

“Griffin is a handful. The ball is in his hands a lot. He’s a facilitator, he’s a scorer, he’s a rebounder, he can get out in transition, a lot of what they do goes through him,” Stotts said.

Stotts was also asked if he or his team ever take the Trail Blazers fan base for granted.

Stotts was quick to answer:  

“I never lose sight of how good the fans are here… It’s a great basketball environment.”

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

The Pistons reported no injuries for this game.

Coach Casey discussed how tonight his team’s defense is going to be the key to getting a win in Portland. Casey also gave a lot of praise to the Trail Blazers fans at Moda Center, saying, “Their fans are some of the best in the league.”

Hear from Coach Casey right here:

Scoop Podcast with Enes Kanter: Jersey Shore, ketchup everything, draft night and more

Scoop Podcast with Enes Kanter: Jersey Shore, ketchup everything, draft night and more

It's time for this week's Scoop Podcast brought to you by Toyota of Portland on Broadway. 

This week’s guest is Trail Blazers backup center, Enes Kanter!

We take a trip down memory lane to when Kanter was focused solely on schoolwork and soccer. 

Also, we find out just how competitive Enes and his younger brother Kerem are on the court still to this day.

And, wait until you find out what type of food Kanter enjoys with ketchup?

He loves his ketchup.

Plus, it’s obvious by chatting with him that he is trying to use his platform to help others and be the best role model he can be for today’s youth. Kanter mentioned how important it is to set a good example on social media for all the youngsters that look up to professional athletes.  

We also talk about how the team chemistry on this Blazers’ roster is incomparable to other teams as well as Kanter’s love for SpongeBob and Jersey Shore.

Oh, and… You should never expect Kanter to own a pet Lizard.


Check out this jam-packed podcast with Enes Kanter below.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons: How and Where to Watch

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons: How and Where to Watch

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.


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 -5

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (3:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the game). 

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio



The Trail Blazers have listed CJ McCollum (left knee) is out for Saturday’s game vs. Detroit.

The Pistons have no injuries to report.



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

Jamie Hudson: Scoop Podcast with Enes Kanter: Jersey Shore, ketchup everything, draft night and more

VIDEO: The clock struck Dame Time on Wednesday against Mavs

VIDEO: Collins playing lights out, making an impact for Blazers

Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is the app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Here's what watching my first-ever NBA game was like 20 years later

Here's what watching my first-ever NBA game was like 20 years later

The first game I ever went to was a matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Portland Trail Blazers on March 21 1999. How do I know this? Do I have a stub? A photo of me heading out to the game? An in-game program? Nope, I don't have any of that.

I know the date of my first NBA game because because Rick Mahorn yelled at me.

Mahorn, of Detroit Bad Boys fame, was in his final season in the NBA while playing with the Sixers in '99. He DNP-CD'd the game, but after the buzzer sounded he stopped to sign autographs as kids hung over the railing leading to the locker room tunnel. 

Admittedly, I didn't really know the proper protocol. What do I do? Do I ask? Do they ask me if I'd like an autograph? Do they just grab the pen? It wasn't clear.

Eventually one big fella walked up to me. We met eyes, and what followed was an awkward silence. After some time looking at each other, Mahorn got angry and eventually asked me “WHAT? YOU CAN’T TALK?”

Set aside the basketball for a moment — the awkward post-ups, the teams combining to go 1-of-21 from the 3-point line, the Greg Anthony lockdown of Allen Iverson — it was Mahorn yelling at me that I'll remember forever.

Thanks to our friends over at the Trail Blazers, I was able to re-watch the entire first game, including being able to see myself in the crowd (we were sitting two rows behind the Sixers bench). The basketball is archaic, and unintuitive, but still just as grabbing as it was when I was 10 years old. Mahorn eventually did sign my magazine, having walked back over to me to apologize for shouting but also sternly telling me that I needed to ask players for their autograph directly next time.

Watch the full video above to see a breakdown of the actual basketball play. And Rick, if you’re watching this — buddy — I don’t know where that signature is. 

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.”