Early thoughts on the Portland Trail Blazers 2019-2020 NBA Schedule

Early thoughts on the Portland Trail Blazers 2019-2020 NBA Schedule

The Trail Blazers will be welcoming three new players to their starting lineup this season after a summer of change resulted in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum looking at an entirely new starting frontline from the one they played alongside during last season’s playoff run to the Western Conference finals.

And they will be getting to know their new teammates mostly on the road when the 2019-20 season begins.

[RELATED: Trail Blazers 2019-2020 NBA Schedule]

After a season-opening home opener against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, Oct. 23, the NBA schedule-makers are sending Portland on the road for four games at Sacramento, Dallas, San Antonio and Oklahoma City before returning to Portland for a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Then it’s right back on the road for contests at Golden State (in that new arena in San Francisco) and the Los Angeles Clippers. So the new-look Blazers will open the season with six of their first eight games and 13 of their first 18 on the road.

But the end of the season is a different story. The Trail Blazers get five of their final six games at home, including the last contest of the season – the only home matchup against the Clippers all year.

And while Portland is not scheduled for a Christmas Day game this season, the Blazers are going to be all over the national-television schedule. The team will play 10 games on TNT, nine games on ESPN, including the home opener, and even once in a rare afternoon home game on ABC – a 12:30 p.m. contest March 15 vs. Houston. The Blazers were scheduled for five TNT games last season and six on ESPN.

The Blazers have two six-game road trips, one in late November and another in March. As usual, the schedule also includes a game that just wouldn’t fit on anyone’s logical itinerary. The Blazers begin a five-game trip on New Year’s Day in New York, then play at Washington, before moving to Miami, then Toronto and Minnesota. Packing for that trip will be interesting. Portland makes two trips to Florida – the opposite corner of the country – to meet that state’s two teams.

In another scheduling quirk, after that hard-fought, second-round playoff series vs. Denver last spring, the Blazers meet the Nuggets twice during the exhibition season and then open the season against them.

All in all, not a great schedule. But not a bad one, either. And a lot of new respect from the national television networks.

Zach Collins back at Blazer practice... the latest post-surgery update

Zach Collins back at Blazer practice... the latest post-surgery update

When the door opened for the media to enter the gym at the Trail Blazer practice facility Monday, there was a surprise spectator watching practice on a sideline bench.

Zach Collins, fresh off his surgery last week to repair damage in his left labrum, was back.

He said he is feeling better and, as expected, his left arm was in a sling.

“They said I could probably take (the sling) off when I’m home, hopefully next week,” Collins said. “But if I’m out in public, I still have to wear it. The worst part is when I sleep. I always sleep on my side and for some reason, at night all that pain comes back. The last couple of nights were a lot better. I’ve been almost pain free.

“But when I sleep I have to have everything right,” he said. “Quiet and dark. I’ve been waking up about every hour.”

And for right now, the up-to-the-minute update on Collins’ condition is simply:

He’s working on sleeping on his back.

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum lead NBA in minutes played -- is that sustainable?

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum lead NBA in minutes played -- is that sustainable?

Interesting to look at the top of the NBA leaderboard for minutes played today and find the Trail Blazer backcourt sitting at No. 1 and No. 2.

Damian Lillard is averaging 38.6 minutes per game and CJ McCollum is playing 37.7 – higher than anyone else in the league.

Is everybody happy with that? Are there concerns in this era of load management?

“I’m a little bit old-school,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “There is going to be somebody to lead the league in minutes played. But if we hadn’t gone to overtime (Sunday night), Dame would have been at 39 minutes. To me, two guys in their prime can average 38 minutes and be fine. We did a study on how many players over the years averaged 40 minutes a game – Wilt Chamberlain averaged at least 40 minutes a game every year of his career and 48.5 one year. To me, it’s about managing his minutes,” Stotts said. “I’m very aware of Dame’s minutes. He only played 15-something in the first half last night. I like his minutes to be relatively low in case we need to extend his minutes in the second half. To me, managing his minutes – we do that in the course of the game. Today he took the day off.  So, he’s kind of built for it.”

Neither player showed any outward concern about the length of his playing time in games.

“There’s going to come a point where everyone is going to wear down and get tired,” said Lillard, who played in all 82 games and averaged the same 38.6 minutes he’s clocking this season as a rookie and has averaged 36.3 per game through his career. “It turns into a mental thing at that point.”

Can he sustain that load?

“Yes,” he said.

McCollum, annually one of the players who runs the longest distance on the court during a season, believes he and Lillard can sustain those minutes over the long haul.

“Absolutely,” he said. “We take great care of our bodies. We know how to get our rest. It’s a long season but we don’t really have a lot of room for error right now. What’s our record? We have to take care of our bodies, be in shape and sustain a certain accountability to play. It’s a part of the game. This is what I do. I play basketball. My job is to be available. Obviously, we all battle little injuries here and there but it’s your job to take care of it and if you’re able to play, you play. That’s how I was trained.”

For these guys, load management is not a familiar concept.

Damian Lillard's most meaningful jersey swap

Damian Lillard's most meaningful jersey swap

Damian Lillard is no stranger to jersey swaps.

We've seen them before: Postgame jersey swaps show appreciation for a player's long career, for family, collegiate ties. They're symbolic. But, Damian Lillard's jersey swap on Sunday night at the Moda Center after the Trail Blazers overtime win over the Hawks was the possibly the most meaningful one. 

As fans were filing out of the arena, Lillard walked across the court and pulled the jersey off his back. There, he met U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Michael Ramage, who spent three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. 

"He DM'd me on Instagram one day, and it just happened to catch my attention," Lillard told NBCSNW postgame. "I agreed to it."

Jersey swaps are sacred. They're held in great honor. A sign of respect. Lillard last swapped jerseys with Dwyane Wade during his farewell season. So, this one, which occurred on Military Appreciation Night, the day before Veterans Day... 

"It was fitting."

Evan Turner on the Trail Blazers: 'Dame always figures it out'

Evan Turner on the Trail Blazers: 'Dame always figures it out'

If anyone understands what it’s like to have a rocky adjustment with the Trail Blazers it’s Evan Turner, the now Atlanta Hawks wing, who spent the past three seasons going through his own ups and downs in Portland.

Turner, who sat out on Sunday with an Achilles injury, said he has watched the Blazers a “decent amount” in the early stages of the season and while he understands that fans might be panicking about a less than ideal start to the year, he doesn’t think it’s warranted.

“It’s literally not anything to fret over,” he said.

The Blazers started 12-14 in Turner’s first season in Portland in 2016-17 and opened the following season at 6-6 before surging to the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs. So when Turner saw this iteration of Blazers struggle out of the gates, it didn’t raise much concern.

“It’s a lot of new guys in the locker room,” Turner said. “So they’re adjusting to how you do things. The core, the focal point are the two guards so you have to really get acclimated and find your way around how you can make an impact the best way you can.”

Turner isn’t one to insincerely butter up his former team. He is refreshingly honest, the type of player who will tell reporters the truth to a fault. If he thought this team was bad, it would be in the headline. Instead he insisted this team will be fine. So what is inspiring Turner about the Blazers who needed an overtime win Sunday to run their record to 4-6 on the season?

Chiefly it’s Anfernee Simons, the 20-year-old guard who scored 20 points against the Hawks, and is averaging just shy of twelve points a game in his second season.

“I thought he was going to hit his stride like this eventually but I didn’t know it’d be this quick. It’s unreal. He will be very, very, very, very, very, very, very good,” Turner said, giving his seven-very seal of approval.

“I think the thing I’m noticing about him now is — his confidence wavered sometimes in and out. Like even in the summer he’d have those big games and stuff. He had like 35 and 10 (at summer league). Now the kid knows he’s got it, and you could see it on the court (Sunday) where he went off and Dame and CJ and the coaches were letting him rock out. I think it’s obvious.”

Turner and Simons developed a close bond last season and Turner was one of the first Blazer veterans to confidently proclaim that Simons was going to be an impact player in the NBA. But Turner’s Blazer optimism extends beyond his admiration for their promising youngster. He has seen enough Lillard, his good friend, up close to hit pause on the skepticism.

“If three games go a different way, they’re 7-3, and nobody’d be whining, right?," Turner said. "I think they’ll be fine. Dame always figures it out."

Sunday wasn’t a perfect game. The Blazer looked disjointed early and failed to put the Hawks away late, before narrowly avoiding a five-game losing streak in overtime. But to hear Turner tell it: the Blazers are in a good spot, even with the injuries, even with the new parts adjusting to a new system. But for fans still concerned over a 4-6 record and the obvious issues facing the roster, Turner points in one direction: Toward the team’s All-Star point guard.

“He just keeps getting better and better each year,” he said. “I think it’s still early on in the year and the dude is just going to keep being Dame Lillard. He’s going to keep getting better, and you think you’ve already seen the best he has and there’s more. He’s in his prime and he’s flourishing.”

The Morning After: Everything you missed from the Trail Blazers first home win

The Morning After: Everything you missed from the Trail Blazers first home win

It was a battle of two teams who have been hit hard with injuries early in the season.

Neither the Trail Blazers nor the Hawks were able to have a comfortable lead... until overtime when it was all Blazers, all the time.

The Blazers were without starting small forward Rodney Hood, who is still dealing with back spasms, but Kent Bazemore stepped up big in place of the injured Hood.

Bazemore was key defensively on Sunday night. He was tasked with the tough assignment of defending Trae Young. Young finished the game 9-of-30 from the field for 35 points. On the other end of the floor, Bazemore was clutch in overtime, hitting not one, but two threes.

Damian Lillard once again led the charge, finishing with 30 points. CJ McCollum added 23 points on the night as the Blazers got the last word, earning them their first home victory in four games at Moda Center.

QUOTABLES:

Hood gave an update on his back injury:

It’s feeling better, it’s just locked up right now. It’s getting better with a lot of treatment. I’m getting treatment around the clock, and hopefully it’ll get better day by day so I can get back out there.

Damian Lillard on the play of Kent Bazemore:

Tonight, he had the assignment with Trae Young and (Young) had the ball in his hands pretty much the whole game – chasing him off screens, finding him in transition – just that type of effort is tough.

Evan Turner on the growth of Anfernee Simons:

I thought he was going to hit his stride like this eventually but I didn’t know it’d be this quick. It’s unreal. He will be very, very, very, very, very, very, very good.

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LATEST NEWS AND ANALYSIS:

Instant Analysis: It took overtime, but Trail Blazers get first home win of the season

Kent Bazemore gets revenge against the Atlanta Hawks, propels Trail Blazers at both ends of the floor

Injury updates from Rodney Hood

Highlights: Home sweet Moda

CJ McCollum feeling good after hitting big three in OT... Out of his slump?

CJ McCollum feeling good after hitting big three in OT... Out of his slump?

It was a much needed win for the Trail Blazers, who were riding a four-game losing streak entering Sunday night’s game vs. the Hawks.

But not only did the Blazers show up in overtime to put away the Hawks, 124-113, CJ McCollum’s shot also showed up once again. 

There was no bigger shot for McCollum than his only three-pointer of the night, which gave the Blazers a nine-point lead with 1:43 remaining in overtime.

“It’s good to see one go down from distance,” McCollum said postgame. “I had some great looks tonight from three. A lot of in and outs, but a big moment, big game for us, especially since we lost so many in a row. We needed a win at home desperately and I’m thankful we were able to get it.”

McCollum finished with 23 points on 11-of-23 shooting to go along with his eight rebounds and four assists.

Coming into Sunday’s game, the Blazers starting shooting guard had made just three of his last 18 three-pointers. Over his previous five games when he found himself in ‘a slump,’ he was shooting 33.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from deep.

McCollum felt like he was in a better rhythm on Sunday night. 

“I felt great. I felt like my balance was good. I was sticking my landing a lot of time on my jumpers, creating enough space to get a shot off -- is something I pride myself on. I think I’ve done that, now the second part is just finishing the play,” McCollum said.

Damian Lillard led the charge offensively once again for the Blazers with 30 points and six assists.  

Lillard mentioned how McCollum is not one to have his confidence waver and that the entire team and coaching staff has and will always have faith in McCollum.

“I think we all know the level of player that he is and our team and coaches have got a thousand percent confidence in him. He’s not a person that you ever have to worry about with confidence and that’s not ever going to stop. It was just good to see him get going and hit some big shots and find his way,” Lillard said.

For the Trail Blazers team captain, he believes that people were making too big of a deal of McCollum’s slow start to the season.

“He started the season struggling shooting the ball and it happens,” Lillard said. “I mentioned after last game that sometimes you have losing streaks in the middle of the season and things like that and it doesn’t seem as bad as it seemed for us. Since it’s the beginning of the season, it seems worse, and I think his situation is similar. He started off kind of struggling shooting the ball, so it’s a bigger deal, but if it just happened in the middle of the season, it’d be like he’s just in a shooting slump and then he’ll come out of it. So I think that’s all it was.”

McCollum and the Blazers will now look to continue their winning ways when they visit the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.

Kent Bazemore gets revenge against the Atlanta Hawks, propels Trail Blazers at both ends of the floor

Kent Bazemore gets revenge against the Atlanta Hawks, propels Trail Blazers at both ends of the floor

Never bet against the player – in any sport – playing his first game against a team that traded him away. It’s seemingly inevitable that the discarded player will come up big against his former mates.

Ask Kent Bazemore, who stood out for the Trail Blazers Sunday night as Portland captured its first home win of the season with a 124-113 overtime decision over Atlanta.

“A lot of emotion tonight,” Bazemore said after his best performance of the young season at both ends of the court. “Obviously, every guy, once they leave a team is always looking to get back at them. Good to be out there competing against them.”

Bazemore took on a difficult defensive challenge, guarding Hawks’ talented point guard Trae Young and when you look at the points (35) that Young scored, it would appear the Atlanta player got the best of him. But Young went 9-30 from the floor, including 3-13 from three-point range, and had seven turnovers. Bazemore gave him a rough night.

And then on offense, Bazemore, thrust into the starting lineup because of Rodney Hood’s back spasms, scored 13 points – including two three-pointers early in the overtime period that vaulted the Blazers into a big lead – had eight rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.

“It was huge,” Damian Lillard said of Bazemore’s effort. “Tonight, he had the assignment with Trae Young and (Young) had the ball in his hands pretty much the whole game – chasing him off screens, finding him in transition – just that type of effort is tough. He was there all night. And down the stretch, he was rewarded for his effort and for him to lock in like that – two big threes. But like I said, I think his effort on the defensive end and him taking that challenge was really big. I think it got his mind into the game and it was perfect. It came against his former team, and in a game that we needed.”

He wasn’t the only Portland player to step up.

The Blazers got 20 points on 8-12 shooting from Anfernee Simons, 23 points from CJ McCollum, who also had eight rebounds, four assists and two steals, and 21 points and 12 rebounds from Hassan Whiteside. Lillard finished with 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists while playing 44 minutes.

Whiteside, never known as a great free-throw shooter, has made big strides in that department this season. And he went to the line to finish off a three point-play with a charity toss that pulled his team within a point with 2:20 to go. Then he hit two more to put the Blazer in front with 1:51 left in the fourth quarter.

“I work on them,” he said simply.

McCollum threw his hands in the air after hitting a three with 1:43 to play in overtime that seemed to ice the game for Portland. It appeared to be a gesture of relief and, after five three-point misses Sunday, the hope that his early shooting struggles are coming to an end.

“I just wanted to see one go in from long range,” he said. “I’m a good shooter, I get a lot of reps, I break down my shot weekly and I get a lot of help from people I work with. I have a lot of faith in myself, so it’s always good to make a shot when it counts.”

Both teams had 10 shots in overtime – Portland made five and Atlanta only two. It wasn’t a pretty win but the Trail Blazers weren’t in any position to worry about appearances.

“Needless to say, we needed that win,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “I thought our guys fought through and found a way to win, however it came. And it didn’t come easy.”

Injury updates from Rodney Hood

Injury updates from Rodney Hood

Rodney Hood played in just six minutes of action in Friday night’s loss to the Nets due to back spasms. He didn’t suit up on Sunday night with the Atlanta Hawks in town.  

After the Blazers were victorious over the Hawks in OT, Hood gave an update on his health.

“It’s feeling better, it’s just locked up right now. It’s getting better with a lot of treatment. I’m getting treatment around the clock, and hopefully it’ll get better day by day so I can get back out there,” Hood said.

Hood had been dealing with back spasms in the preseason, but he explained that this time is not like the pain he was feeling before the regular season tipped off. 

“In the preseason it was something different. Right now it’s just bothering me, but hopefully once I’m able to run and jump like I usually can, I’ll be back out there,” Hood said.

Hood mentioned that the pain is consistent.

In nine games played, the Blazers starting small forward is averaging 10.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 29.3 minutes per game.

Dealing with back spasms is nothing new to Hood. 

“It’s a common thing. I’ve had it before in years past. It’s tough to deal with. You’ve got to treat it and hopefully it’ll get better,” Hood said.

At this moment, Hood and the Trail Blazers don’t have any sort of timetable for his return. He said right now he’s just listening to the Blazers’ training staff.

“It’s hard to breathe, hard to move around and stuff like that, so you’ve just got to get treatment, listen to the training staff, and listen to my body,” Hood added.

The eight-year veteran explained there is a lot that goes into getting treatment:

“Stretching, whirlpool, hot tub, so many things – just try to loosen it up, but I feel it getting better and hopefully I’m back soon.”

It was obvious after talking with Hood postgame that he is eager to return to action, but he wants to make sure his body is right first.  

Instant Analysis: It took overtime, but Trail Blazers get first home win of the season

Instant Analysis: It took overtime, but Trail Blazers get first home win of the season

Sunday night was a battle of two injury-riddled teams.

Trail Blazers starting small forward Rodney Hood, who is still dealing with back spasms, is the newest Blazer added to the injured list. Kent Bazemore started in place of Hood.

Vince Carter (personal), John Collins (league suspension), Chandler Parsons (knees) and Evan Turner (Left Achilles) were on the in-active list for the Hawks.

Neither team was able to get out to a big lead all night, but it was the Blazers who got the last word in overtime, earning them their first home victory in four games at Moda Center.

FINAL BOX SCORE: Trail Blazers 124, Hawks 113 (OT)

Here are three quick takeaways from the win from our NBC Sports team at the game:

Dwight Jaynes, Insider

Anferenee Simons had a great game, but we were not really sure why he wasn’t on the floor when the team was trailing and needed some offense... It wasn't until there was 27.9 seconds remaining in the game that we saw Simons for the second to last Blazer possession. 

Mike Richman, Reporter

At this point it does not matter how the Blazers come away with wins. This one was ugly early, but they were good enough in overtime to end their losing streak. Kent Bazemore's two three-pointers to open overtime were the biggest shots of the game, and he made sure to stare down the Atlanta bench to let his former team know about it.

Jamie Hudson, Reporter

This game looked like it was going to be a track meet. The Blazers got out and ran early on. Moda Center fans were happy to see the Blazers get out to a quick start on the scoreboard as well. Portland slowed it down a bit after the first quarter, but it really wasn’t until the third quarter that the Blazers were moving the ball and getting more players involved not named Damian Lillard. Anfernee Simons took over in the third to keep the Blazers close. Portland’s defense in OT made the difference, along with two key three-pointers from Bazemore to start OT and CJ McCollum's play late in the extra period.   

Up Next: The Trail Blazers visit the Sacramento Kings for a 7:00pm tip-off on Tuesday.

Be sure to check back throughout the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!