Five reasons Blazers could be better than you think: A 'new' Meyers Leonard

Five reasons Blazers could be better than you think: A 'new' Meyers Leonard

On the surface, it would appear this offseason brought little to no help to the Trail Blazers amid the NBA’s whirlwind summer of blockbuster trades and free agent acquisitions.

Aside from a salary-cap motivated move of Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn, and the drafting of 19-year-old center Zach Collins and Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan, the Blazers are largely the same group that went 41-41 and finished eighth in the Western Conference.

The Las Vegas betting line on Trail Blazers wins for the 2017-2018 season is 42.5 games, which would place them eighth in the West:

1. Golden State (67.5)

2. Houston (55.5)

3. San Antonio (54.5)

4. Oklahoma City (51.5)

5. Minnesota (48.5)

6. Denver (45.5)

7. LA Clippers (44.5)

8. Portland (42.5)

Of course, Las Vegas has been wrong before about the Blazers (remember 2015-2016 when the Blazers won 44 games after Vegas set the line at 26.5?), and it’s easy to get swept up in the headlines from an offseason that saw Chris Paul move to Houston, Paul George to Oklahoma City, Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and Paul Millsap to Denver.

But behind the sexy headlines and tumultuous turnover, the Blazers have been  doing what has become a hallmark of this franchise: relying on improvement from within.

With that in mind, CSN this week will unveil five reasons the Blazers this season could exceed 42 wins and be better than people think:

Today: A 'new' Meyers Leonard

Tuesday: A full season of a more fit Jusuf Nurkic

Monday: A healthy Ed Davis

**

One of the first things Meyers Leonard did this summer with Drew Hanlen, his new trainer, was watch the Trail Blazers’ final regular season game against New Orleans.

Leonard started that game and played 36 minutes, finishing 3-for-11 from the field and with seven points and nine rebounds.

“It was hard for me to sit there and watch it,’’ Leonard said.

He couldn’t score in the post against guards. He noticed he wasn’t attacking rebounds. And the form of his shot was disjointed and his attempts off the mark.

“It was eye opening,’’ the 7-foot-1 Leonard remembered. “I was making it so difficult on myself.’’

The regular-season finale was a microcosm of his frustrating fifth season in Portland, when he averaged 5.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and shot 38.5 percent from the field.

After the film session, Hanlen -- whose resume includes training NBA players Bradley Beal, Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Clarkson, Joel Embiid and Dwight Howard to name a few -- developed a plan.

“It was a plan to prepare him for this kind of ‘New Meyers,’’’ Hanlen said.

The major bullet points of the rebuild were to tighten Leonard’s shooting mechanics; get him to play lower and less upright; and to develop a plan on how to approach various scenarios, such as when defenders rush at him at the three-point line.

“But the first area we had to attack was the cloud that was holding him back – his confidence,’’ Hanlen said. “When he first arrived in the summer I asked him ‘From 1-to-100, how confident are you in your game?’

“He said, ‘If I’m being honest, probably around 30,’’’ Hanlen said.

Fast forward four months to today, less than a week away from the start of training camp.

Leonard says his confidence level is “in the 80s” and Hanlen says in all his years of working with NBA players, Leonard’s progress is remarkable.

“From a confidence level, it’s one of the biggest jumps I’ve seen a player make in a summer,’’ Hanlen said. “And from a skill level standpoint, Meyers elevated himself multiple levels.’’

Apparently, Leonard and Hanlen aren’t the only ones noticing.

Leonard this summer took part in the renowned NBA pickup games at UCLA two or three times a week, and Hanlen said several of his clients approached him about the 7-footer from Portland.

“I was getting compliments from NBA players like ‘Meyers is a beast … I don’t know why Portland is not using him,’’ Hanlen said. “Other players, they were bragging to me about him.’’

Leonard said those games included players such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, DeMar DeRozan, and one week the entire Oklahoma City team played.

“I was out there as confident as I’ve ever been – hitting shots … down in the post … and having a plan of what I wanted to do,’’ he said. “I had a couple different people tell me they heard things, stuff like ‘If Meyers plays like this he will be just fine … it will be eye opening … ‘’

Leonard stopped short and retreated. He is wary of what he says these days, knowing all too well how much of a divisive force he is among the Blazers’ fan base, and how many “remakes” he has supposedly undergone during his five seasons in Portland.

Both he and Hanlen agree that the proof will be in his performance this season.

“I will say this: This is the most laser-focused I have been in my life. For sure,’’ Leonard said. “I no longer have thoughts in head of ‘Do I really belong?’  – I no longer have that and never will again. I’ve proven that to myself.’’

That confidence was born out of 6:15 a.m. wakeup calls for daily workouts with Hanlen in Los Angeles.

The biggest changes: Hanlen has changed Leonard’s shooting mechanics, most of which deals with balance. He found that Leonard would often lean back on his shots and/or have his feet to close together. So now, Leonard focuses on his shoulders being forward and establishing a wide base with his feet.

Also, he has trained Leonard to play lower, which allows him to move better, both offensively and defensively.

Finally, Hanlen developed what he calls a “plan” for Leonard in how to thrive within the Blazers’ system.

“He has to be able to play within that system, but before he would set a screen and then float around the perimeter,’’ Hanlen said. “He didn’t have a purpose.’’

So they worked on a series of options –  pick-and-pop …  a dive to the basket where he worked on finishing with both hands … a short roll to the basket … a one-dribble and attack the basket.

“That way he can keep defenses off balance and open more space for Damian and CJ while becoming more of a threat himself, instead of just drifting around the perimeter,’’ Hanlen said.

To accentuate Leonard’s new skills, Hanlen wanted Leonard to lose weight.

“Today in the NBA, thin is in,’’ Hanlen said. “You not only move better, you recover quicker.’’

Leonard played between 262 and 265 pounds last season and initially thought he wanted to bulk to 270 pounds this season. But with the urging of Hanlen to lose weight to become more mobile, Leonard says he is at 257.5 pounds as he enters training camp.

“I feel great,’’ Leonard said. “This is the healthiest I’ve been since I’ve been in Portland.’’

Now comes the hard part: proving it.

The Blazers’ have a stable of big men with Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, Al-Farouq Aminu and a burgeoning rookie in Caleb Swanigan. In order to break into the roation, Leonard will have to earn it and he knows it will take time.

 “It’s going to be a day-by-day thing,’’ Leonard said. “A lot of people know in the back of their mind that I can play. Did I show that last year? Occasionally, but not really. So gaining the players’ trust to throw me the ball, gaining Coach Stotts’ trust to put me in to help the team win … I’m going to have to keep chipping at that. And I’m sure there will be bumps in the road.

“In the meantime, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself,’’ Leonard said. “It was a good summer. I’m in a really good place. And I just want to continue to do the right things.’’

No, Zion Williamson is NOT 30 years old...

No, Zion Williamson is NOT 30 years old...

Something stood out pregame ahead of the Trail Blazers-Pelicans game and it centered around Zion Williamson. 

Selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, Williamson has been taking the NBA by storm since returning from injury.  

And while discussing his allcoades in just 10 games in the NBA, ESPN's Mike Breen had a slip of the tongue in remembering how old the rookie is... 

WATCH

Williamson is actually just 19 years old. He doesn't turn 20 until July. 

The internet was quick to point out Breen's error. 

Mike Breen is one of the best in the business, he likely misread his stat sheet. Honest (but funny) mistake.

The Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans is also airing on NBC Sports Northwest where Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd likely didn't make the same mistake.  

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Gary Trent Jr. will get the start vs. Pelicans

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USA Today Images

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Gary Trent Jr. will get the start vs. Pelicans

Before the Trail Blazers and Pelicans tip-off at 7:30p.m. tonight on NBC Sports Northwest and on the 'MyTeams' App, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts discussed how his team needs to be much better in transition and make sure they don’t turn the ball over too much to give New Orleans more transition opportunities.  

Coach Stotts also described Zion Williamson as ‘dynamic,’ but mentioned that the Pelicans ‘have a lot of good shooters.’

Stotts added that Gary Trent Jr. will get the start with Damian Lillard (right groin strain) out.

HEAR FROM COACH STOTTS HERE:

BLAZERS INJURY REPORT:

Damian Lillard (right groin strain), Mario Hezonja (left ankle sprain), Rodney Hood (left ruptured Achilles tendon), Zach Collins (left shoulder dislocation), and Jusuf Nurkic (left leg fracture) are out for Friday's game vs. New Orleans.

PELICANS INJURY REPORT:

Darius Miller (right Achilles surgery), Kenrich Williams (lower back soreness), Josh Gray (Two-way) and Zylan Cheatham (Two-way) are out.

STANDOUT GAME NOTES:

Friday's game will be the fourth and final matchup between the Trail Blazers and the Pelicans during the 2019-20 season. New Orleans leads the season series, 3-0.

-- LAST MEETING: New Orleans beat Portland, 138-117, in New Orleans on Feb. 11. CJ McCollum led Portland with 20 points (7-17 FG, 4-8 3-PT, 2-2 FT), one rebound and three assists, while Zion Williamson paced the Pelicans with a career-high 31 points (10-17 FG, 11-14 FT), nine rebounds, and a career-high five assists.

-- Portland and New Orleans have split their last 10 meetings, 5-5. The Trail Blazers swept the 2018-19 season series, 3-0.

-- CJ McCollum has scored at least 20 points in each of his last five outings against the Pelicans, going 14-of-35 (40.0%) from 3-PT range over that five-game span.

-- Hassan Whiteside recorded 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go with 14 rebounds, three assists and one block against the Pelicans on Feb. 11. Whiteside has recorded a double-double in each of his last four games against New Orleans.

-- JJ Redick had 20 points (5-10 FG, 4-7 3-PT, 6-6 FT), two rebounds and two assists against Portland on Feb. 11. Redick is averaging 18.0 points (50.0% FG, 50.0% 3-PT, 91.7% FT) in three games against Portland this season.

-- Brandon Ingram missed the Pelican's last game against the Trail Blazers with a right ankle sprain, but on Dec. 23 put up 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals against Portland. He is averaging 20.0 points (36.8% FG, 30.0% 3-PT, 100% FT), 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.00 steals in two games against the Trail Blazers this season.

Talkin’ Blazers Podcast: Why it’s now or never for Blazers young guns with Damian Lillard out

Talkin’ Blazers Podcast: Why it’s now or never for Blazers young guns with Damian Lillard out

Channing Frye is back from All-Star weekend and ready for the Portland Trail Blazers to return to action. He joins co-host and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon each Friday on the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast.

This week, the Trail Blazers return from All-Star break and host Zion Williamson and the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, and as the injuries are piling up in Portland, more minutes and more opportunities are coming for Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr., Nassir Little, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel.

With 26 games left on the schedule, the Blazers currently sit 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot. 

Damian Lillard has been ruled out of the contest with a groin injury.

How should the Blazers handle Dame’s injury?

Channing Frye weighs in: 

Whether they like it or not, this is going to be a big showing us what you’ve learned all season… I think Gary Trent Jr has taken the most advantage of his time. Do I expect him to be amazing? Heck no. When you’re thrown into those situations, you don’t need to win the game, just don’t lose it…

This is time for those guys to put up or shut up. — Channing Frye

You can listen to the full Talkin’ Blazers Podcast below:

How to watch, stream Blazers vs. Pelicans tonight at 7:30pm

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USA Today Images

How to watch, stream Blazers vs. Pelicans tonight at 7:30pm

That’s a wrap on the 2020 NBA All-Star break. The Trail Blazers (25-31) are back at it Friday night when Portland hosts the New Orleans Pelicans (23-32).

After Thursday’s practice, Damian Lillard, who suffered a groin strain in the final minutes of Portland’s loss to Memphis on Feb. 12th, said he would miss at least three to four games starting with Friday’s contest.

The good news for Friday’s game: Blazers forward Nassir Little is making his return. Little suffered a left ankle sprain while trying to block a shot from Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar with 37.9 seconds remaining in the Blazers 127-99 loss in Denver on Feb. 4.

You can watch all the action between the Blazers and Pelicans game on NBC Sports Northwest, the Official Network of the Portland Trail Blazers and you can stream the game on our website or by downloading the MyTeams app!

And, have you heard about Blazers Pass? Tonight's Warriors game is the first game of the "Blazers Pass Season!"

You can get 15 live Trail Blazers games, pre and postgame shows, and on-demand full-game replays with Blazers Pass! (Only available to fans located in Blazers Territory, pursuant to NBA rules and agreements. No TV provider required. Subscription Period: November 4, 2019 - April 16, 2020. Subscription auto-renews prior to start of next season.)

Don't miss any of the coverage of tonight's game:

3:30pm Blazers Game Day with Chad Doing

6:30pm Blazers Warm-Up

7:00pm Trail Blazers Pregame Show

7:30pm Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans

After the game catch Blazers Outsiders with hosts Joe Simons and Dan Marang!

Plus, we’ll have full coverage of the game from Dwight JaynesJamie Hudson and our digital team. Follow us on social throughout the night for the latest updates. 

Quotable

"Just play hard. That's the biggest thing. Play hard, try to execute, keep the game close and win it down the stretch. Protect home court and just make sure I'm putting guys in the best position to succeed. Dame does a lot for us offensively - calling plays, facilitating and scoring -  I'll have to do a little bit more of that. At the same time, one person isn't gonna replace his production. We gotta all be better." - CJ McCollum on stepping up while Damian Lillard is sidelined  

Frank Caliendo's impersonation of Bill Walton to Bill Walton is PURE GOLD

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ESPN

Frank Caliendo's impersonation of Bill Walton to Bill Walton is PURE GOLD

Comedian Frank Caliendo is at it again with yet another impersonation and it hits close to home for Rip City. 

In case you live under a rock and are not 100% familiar with Caliendo, he's one of if not the best impressionist around.

His impressions range from Stephen A. Smith, Robin Williams, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino, Charles Barkley, Jon Gruden... and the ENTIRE Seinfeld cast!

On Thursday, Caliendo was in attendance for Arizona State vs. Oregon in Tempe. 

The former MADtv and now Fox NFL Sunday contributor was going back and forth with ESPN's Dave Pasch and former Trail Blazers big man Bill Walton. 

Participating in "Bill Walton's World," Caliendo showed off his Big Red impersonation with Walton sitting beside him.

WATCH

It's not the first time Caliendo has tried Bill Walton on for size, however. 

No matter, the internet was LOVING IT. 

Good job, Bill! And Bill?

It's Bill Walton's world!

CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony among investors of sports-centric media entertainment company

CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony among investors of sports-centric media entertainment company

Social media has brought us greater access to professional athletes.

Now, you can get one step closer. 

On Thursday, the Players Media Group, a new sports-centric media entertainment company revealed the upcoming launch of PlayersTV. It will be a network dedicated to sports lifestyle and culture entertainment. 

Among the athletes who are involved include Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum and power forward Carmelo Anthony. 

“Being part of the Players TV family is an exciting opportunity to work in collaboration with other athletes to create a space where we can tell the stories that matter to us," McCollum said in a press release. "To be able provide fans with a one-of-a-kind platform, through which they can readily gain access to content created by the athletes that they support every day, is an honor. I am looking forward to all the great content that will be showcased on Players TV and the opportunities that it will bring to all the future athlete storytellers looking for the best place to bring their own stories to life.”

“PlayersTV is going to be driven by the players.”

Former Trail Blazers forward Anthony Tolliver plays a big role with the founding of PlayersTV, as well. 

“We created PlayersTV to give athletes access to a dedicated platform where they could showcase their other skill sets,” Tolliver said. “I believe it’s just the beginning for the type of premium content that athletes want to produce. Through PlayersTV, we can give all athletes the freedom to create and share their passions.”

A promotional video was released Thursday, as well.

WATCH HERE 

“PlayersTV is becoming a new option to address the challenges of distribution that many producers are facing today,” Carmelo Anthony added. “The opportunity to leverage a platform that can be home for sports content by athletes, for athletes, and about athletes is powerful.”

A key to the business model will be marketing players’ names and likeness and finding new revenue streams. 

“Athletes On Demand” is the company’s slogan. 

Rather than competing with each other and for eyeballs, players will now be given the option to collaborate together in ways they weren’t able to do previously.

Other athletes involved include:

  • Vernon Davis: NFL Veteran, PlayersTV Investor and Founder of Reel 85 Productions
  • Katelyn Ohashi: Gymnast and founder of Behind the Madness
  • Chris Paul: NBA Player, PlayersTV Investor and founder of Oh Dipp!!! Productions
  • Garrett Temple: NBA Player, PlayersTV Investor and Founder of GBT Productions

PlayersTV will launch in March 2020 on Samsung TV Plus.

Damian Lillard will watch from the sideline as the Trail Blazers start the post-All-Star break run

Damian Lillard will watch from the sideline as the Trail Blazers start the post-All-Star break run

The Portland Trail Blazers already had a rough road to get to playoffs. 

With 26 games left on the schedule, the Blazers currently sit four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot. 

The same Memphis Grizzlies that beat the Blazers last week in the team's final game before the All-Star break. 

The Blazers didn't only lose that game that night, they lost Damian Lillard. 

With 3:45 left in the game, Lillard went up for a layup but came down awkwardly and in a noticeable amount of pain. It was unclear what the injury was at first, but it was declared after the game that it was a right groin strain. 

The injury kept Lillard from playing in the All-Star Game this past weekend, and now it appears it will keep him on the sideline for a few more games. 

Lillard did not practice with the team on Thursday and told the media that he would not play tomorrow against the Pelicans and possibly beyond. 

When asked how long he anticipates being out, Lillard said "If I had to guess I would say at least 3-4 games. Maybe five games."

Already behind the 8-Ball, the Blazers now have to start the "second half" of the season without the face of their franchise. 

For Lillard, it's just about getting the groin back to 100%. Being able to cut, run, and explode without pain or without fear of re-aggravating the injury. 85% healthy isn't enough to hit the court. It's just not worth the risk.

I feel alright. I've been doing rehab since Thursday last week. It's gotten a lot better but I think it's just one of those things where you start feeling better right away, but I think that last 15-10% is what takes some time. That's what takes the longest. - Damian Lillard

Without Lillard leading the charge, the Blazers will likely lean on fellow star CJ McCollum to shoulder the loud. 

"Everybody has to do a little bit more," said Head Coach Terry Stotts. "Obviously, CJ (McCollum) will be counted on to be the primary playmaker and run the offense when he is out there." 

Stotts would not disclose whether or not McCollum or Anfernee Simons would end up getting the start at point guard, but it doesn't take a basketball expert to know that McCollum will be the head of the Portland monster for the next week, and McCollum knows it. 

Just play hard. That's the biggest thing. Play hard, try to execute, keep the game close and win it down the stretch. Protect home court and just make sure I'm putting guys in the best position to succeed. Dame does a lot for us offensively - calling plays, facilitating and scoring -  I'll have to do a little bit more of that. At the same time, one person isn't gonna replace his production. We gotta all be better. - CJ McCollum

According to PlayoffStatus.com, the Blazers have a 25% chance of ending the season in the eight spot, and just a 2% chance of climbing all the way to seven. Meanwhile, the team they are chasing, the Memphis Grizzlies, have a 44% chance of securing the eights seed.

On the bright side, the Blazers still have two games against the Grizzlies remaining on the schedule, both of them at home. Needless to say, they're both huge games. A chance to drastically close the gap, as long as they stay afloat without their captain in the meantime.

Right now, it's just one game at a time, and it starts on Friday against the Pelicans. 

Nassir Little to return, Mario Hezonja out for Portland against New Orleans

Nassir Little to return, Mario Hezonja out for Portland against New Orleans

The Portland Trail Blazers will not be at full-strength coming out of the All-Star break but will welcome one player back from an injury.

At post-practice media availability on Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said that rookie Nassir Little will return to the rotation Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans. Forward Mario Hezonja and guard Damian Lillard both will be out.

Little suffered a left ankle sprain while trying to block a shot from Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar with 37.9 seconds left in the Trail Blazers 127-99 loss in Denver on February 4, 2020. The X-Rays came back negative after the incident. 

After the game, Little told media he tweaked it that morning but decided to play through it. 

The 25th overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft has averaged 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in 39 appearances for the Trail Blazers.

 

Damian Lillard expected to miss a minimum of three to four games with groin injury

Damian Lillard expected to miss a minimum of three to four games with groin injury

The All-Star break is coming to a end and the Portland Trail Blazers are back at practice ahead of their game Friday vs. New Orleans. 

The biggest question at practice Thursday would be the health status of point guard Damian Lillard, who suffered a groin strain in the final minutes of the Trail Blazers loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on February 12th. 

The All-Star told reporters that his condition is improving, but that he will miss at least three to four games, but it could extend even longer.

"You start feeling better right away, but I think it's that last 15% that takes so long [to heal]. Right now, it's just continuing rehab."

Head coach Terry Stotts joined Dan & Nigel in the Mornings on Rip City Radio 620, which is simulcast on NBC Sports Northwest where he discussed Lillard's injury.

With groins, you just don't know. It could be a week, it could be a month. Who knows? 

Lillard was able to get an early jump on the rehab process during the All-Star Break. "We were fortunate one of our H & P people were in Chicago to be able to give him treatment."

"You can't just say you're going to play through it because it could be bad," Lillard added. "I've been doing all the training and rehab I can do, and I'm sore as hell. But, I've got to take time off."

The Trail Blazers will face the New Orleans Pelicans (23-32) Friday at Moda Center, followed by games vs. the Pistons (19-38), Celtics (38-16), at Pacers (32-23) and will finish February on the 29th at the Hawks (15-41). 

Anfernee Simons, who is recently coming off a concussion injury, is the likely replacement while Lillard remains out. CJ McCollum said Thursday he anticipated playing more point guard in Lillard's absence. Head coach Terry Stotts said the rotation will be a game-time decision.