At halfway point of the season, what have we learned about the Trail Blazers?

At halfway point of the season, what have we learned about the Trail Blazers?

In Game No. 41 Monday night, the halfway point of the regular season, the Portland Trail Blazers showed what the first half of their season was like and what the second half could become.

Their 115-112 win over the lowly Charlotte Hornets did not come easy -- which has been what the first half has been about. Nothing has been easy for the oft-injured Trail Blazers. They shot the ball well Monday, 50 percent overall from the field and 43.2 percent from behind the three-point line, and are now 8-1 when they shoot 50 percent or better from the floor.

So obviously, shooting a higher percentage on a more consistent basis would improve the second-half record.

They also allowed Charlotte to shoot 47.4 percent from three. A constant theme during the first half, with 17 wins in 41 games, has been allowing opponents wide-open threes -- and that continued.

But Portland got a huge contribution from Anthony Tolliver off its bench. Tolliver had 16 points (all in the fourth quarter) and 11 rebounds and did as much to contribute to the win as anyone in uniform. And that's a big difference from the first half of the season, when the Blazers have struggled to find help off the bench during a season when so many starters have been injured or ill.

One other thing from this game so typified the first half was inconsistency -- not just from game to game but almost quarter to quarter.

The Trail Blazers outscored the Hornets 37-20 in the second quarter behind CJ McCollum to take a 16-point halftime lead, only to have Charlotte come out after intermission and bury four straight three-pointers to close the lead to four. It was nip and tuck the rest of the game against a team that had lost 10 of its previous 12 games.

Damian Lillard made a 47-foot three-pointer -- just a step across the halfcourt line -- to end the third quarter and push Portland into a two-point lead going into the fourth. But it was tied before Tolliver knocked down a three with 2:11 to go in the game to give his team a 112-109 lead. But neither team scored until 17.3 seconds remained when Lillard hit a driving layup.

That came after Carmelo Anthony picked off a pass and made a near-miraculous save before the ball went out of bounds.

"It was just a play I knew I had to make,:" he said. "I saw them looking for that pass in the corner, made a great play and got my hand on the ball, but couldn't really control it. My thing was to just try and keep it in bounds -- keep it in. My teammates did a great job of getting control of the ball. It made my hustle play look even better."

Anthony was asked about Tolliver's game.

"He's a pro," Anthony said. "That's what you call a pro. Somebody who never knows when his number is going to be called and always prepares himself for that moment and that game. Takes it one day at a time. When his number is called, he's ready to deliver. To me, that's a pro. This is a league where guys can lose their confidence. His preparation for the game, day in and day out, he's always prepared."

Tolliver brought his entire bag of tricks to this one -- quality defensive plays, tip-backs of offensive rebounds, reverse layups and a couple of three-pointers,

And if the Blazers continue to be short-handed for long into the second half of the season, bench play is going to be critical -- whomever it comes from.

Trail Blazers facing reality on upcoming three-game road trip

Trail Blazers facing reality on upcoming three-game road trip

The Portland Trail Blazers have 23 games remaining on their regular-season slate.

Twenty-three games to try and move up and seize the eighth and final playoff spot out West. Entering Wednesday’s games, the Trail Blazers currently sit in the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings, 3.5 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies.

And, it's now confirmed that the Blazers will have at least a couple more games without their All-Star Damian Lillard.

Lillard did not travel with the team Wednesday morning as the Blazers set out on their current three-game road trip.  

Following the All-Star break, Lillard was asked how many games he expected to miss as he continued to rehab a right groin strain. "If I had to guess I would say at least 3-4 games. Maybe five games," Lillard said. 

The Trail Blazers point guard has already missed three games with the injury. There’s still a chance Lillard could meet the team at a later date on the trip.

But, as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts discussed following Tuesday’s loss to the Celtics, the team’s medical staff must clear Lillard first and foremost. 

“It’s usually a mutual decision,” Stotts said of Lillard and the medical staff. “We have to clear him medically, and this is not just Damian, it’s any player. He has to be cleared medically and then the player has to feel if he’s up to play or not. That’s not specific to Damian, that’s just the right thing to do. Ultimately, the player knows whether he feels 100% and if he’s ready to go.”

Portland has been relying heavily on CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony with Lillard sidelined. The two veterans have mentioned that they have to step up, but they also realize the number one priority is for Lillard to only come back when he is completely healthy.

“It’s an adjustment. It’s an adjustment for everybody, starting with the guys on the bench, as a team, and as a whole, you lose a component like that to injury, but… Dame's got to get healthy, that’s the most important part -- is for him to be healthy,” Melo said.

With Lillard sidelined, the Blazers have gone 1-2. It’s been apparent that Portland has missed the two-man game between Lillard and Hassan Whiteside. 

Late in Tuesday’s game vs. Boston, McCollum and Whiteside showed that they too could have a pretty solid connection. Whiteside finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds in the losing effort.

But the big fella understands that they have to continue to come together with their team captain out.  

“There’s nothing we can do about injuries. Injuries pretty much have been haunting us all season,” Whiteside said.

Now as the Blazers embark on their current three-game trip starting off with Thursday’s contest in Indiana, followed by Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, before wrapping up the trip in Orlando Monday, it’s all about the playoff push.

It’s about catching Memphis, while still dealing with so many injuries.

It’s our reality so we’ve got to figure it out -- how to get as many wins as possible starting in Indiana and progressing forward. I don’t know how many –we’ve got 20 games left, 21 games left? 23 – so we’ve got to win the majority of them to give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs. – Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum said following Tuesday's game

The reality a month ago was Lillard went off for 50 points against Indiana with the Blazers beating the Pacers 139-129 at home.

Melo’s mentality heading into the road trip is all about how the trip starts off against the Pacers. 

“To win in Indiana. For me, that’s the only thing that we should be thinking about. Because the first game on the road trip is always the one that if we have a chance to get, we want to go in there and get it. I’m sure they’ll be thinking about them coming in here losing to us on our home court and they want to get that win back.”

While, Whiteside put it simply:

“We just gotta get some wins on the road. Let’s get a couple of wins on the road, and pretty much that’s all there is to say.”

That’s the truth. There really isn’t much more to say or do, the short-handed Blazers just need to go out and win on the road. 

Indiana Pacers honor Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts

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@trailblazers

Indiana Pacers honor Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts

Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts is celebrating his induction into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame a month early.

Stotts and the Trail Blazers arrived in Indiana on Wednesday for Portland’s first game of a three-game road trip beginning with the Indiana Pacers.

Upon their arrival, the Pacers had a screen setup with a throwback photo of Stotts and the words "Congrats Terry Stotts," to honor the Trail Blazers coach who will be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame next month.

Such a nice gesture, Pacers. 

Several members of the Trail Blazers can be seen in the room chanting the words “Terry! Terry! Terry!”

Stotts played his final two seasons of high school basketball at Bloomington North High School in Bloomington, Indiana, before four years at the University of Oklahoma.

He was an All-Star and All-State selection at Bloomington North in 1976. He averaged 24.4 points and 13.6 and led the Cougars to their first regional championship in school history.

Forty-four years after Stotts had his first taste of Indiana high school basketball, the Trail Blazers coach will be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. He is expected to be honored on March 25.

The Trail Blazers will take on the Pacers on Thursday night at 5:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Northwest.

Damian Lillard did not travel with the Trail Blazers to Indiana

Damian Lillard did not travel with the Trail Blazers to Indiana

Hours after Jason Quick of The Athletic reported that Damian Lillard would "make the 3-game trip to Indiana, Atlanta and Orlando but is expected to miss 'a couple more games' with right groin strain," the franchise guard did not travel with the team, according to Casey Holdahl of Trailblazers.com. 

Holdahl followed up by saying it's possible Lillard is traveling separately for the trip, but it was unlikely he'd play either of the first two games. 

In his postgame press conference after Portland's 118-106 loss to Boston, head coach Terry Stotts said he was uncertain if Lillard would travel with the team.

At the team's first practice following the All-Star break, Lillard was asked how many games he expected to miss. "If I had to guess I would say at least 3-4 games. Maybe five games," said Lillard. 

Lillard has already missed three games following his comments. But, he can't play if he doesn't travel with the team, obviously. 

The Blazers play the Indiana Pacers Thursday at 5:00 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Northwest. 

Damian Lillard's ‘bad shot’ and wave still has Thunder fans salty

Damian Lillard's ‘bad shot’ and wave still has Thunder fans salty

Dear Oklahoma City Thunder fans,

It’s been nearly a year and we know you are still upset.

We would be, too, if Damian Lillard launched as cold-blooded of a game-winning shot as he did on that fateful day in the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

For those who don’t remember what went down, we will quickly recap:

Tied at 115-all in Game 5 of the opening-round playoff series, Lillard dribbled down the clock before launching a 40-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer over then Defensive Player of the Year Paul George.

You know what happened next, the shot went in and then Dame in all of his glory, waved goodbye to the Thunder bench. It was one of the most savage series game-winners you’ll ever see and obviously the stuff of legends.

Moving on, the Trail Blazers are 26-33 so far this season and are on the fringes of the final playoff spot in the West, while the Thunder is 36-22 and 10.5 games ahead of Portland in the standings.

Portland has been back-and-forth with Lillard sidelined with a groin injury suffered before All-Star break. On Wednesday, the Blazers succumbed to the Boston Celtics in a 118-106 loss.

Enter Thunder troll:

Dame shot back with a poised response of his own:

Dame’s right. Thunder fans are still hurting. But they do not want Dame coming for them in the playoffs again this season. With 23 games left to play, don’t count the Blazers out of the playoff picture. 

Lillard is expected to return in a few games and will travel with the team during their upcoming three-game road trip to Indiana, Atlanta and Orlando. The Trail Blazers have not set a date for Jusuf Nurkic’s return following a season-ending leg injury in 2019, but he recently teased out his imminent return with a post on Twitter, which showed two loading icons. Heck, there's even a chance Zach Collins could make it back if he's healthy and risk-free. 

As for the wave, it will live forever. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is probably constructing a LillardTime wing as we speak. Let it burn Thunder fans, but also appreciate the greatness that's upon you. It's a moment in history, a moment in time, the basketball world won't soon forget. 

Damian Lillard's wave still sticks with Enes Kanter

Damian Lillard's wave still sticks with Enes Kanter

Besides Seth Curry, big man Enes Kanter is the only recent former Trail Blazer who has returned to Portland healthy enough to play this season.

That night came Tuesday at Moda Center, where Kanter came off the bench for the Boston Celtics. This season, the former Blazers big man is averaging 8.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in 18.1 minutes of action.

Kanter got a well received ovation in his return at the 5:01 mark of the first quarter. Blazers fans greeted him with loud cheers. 

As Rip City often does, both fans in Moda Center and on social media welcomed Kanter back with open arms, even though he played in just 39 total games for Portland.

There are a lot of reasons why it may seem like Kanter was a Trail Blazer for longer than he actually was last season. Maybe it was witnessing him step up late in the year, particular in the postseason after Jusuf Nurkic went down, or watching him play through shoulder pain in the playoffs, or the fact that he really seemed to embrace Portland.

Kanter had a big smile on his face thinking about how the Rip City faithful showered him with love as if he had been a longtime Blazer.

“I was only here for like maybe a half year, right? But, I feel like I’d been here for like whatever years… I give credit to the fans because the fans just always been amazing, cheering for me, supporting me,” Kanter said.

The Trail Blazers signed Kanter as a free agent in mid-February last season, but for Kanter, it doesn’t matter how much time he spent with the Blazers, he will always hold Portland in high regards.

“It was just good to be back,” Kanter said postgame. “Just seeing all this crowd, because this is the craziest crowd in the NBA, one of the craziest crowds. It was just fun to come back and see this atmosphere and to see my old teammates.”

Following the Celtics win, Kanter headed over towards the Blazers bench to talk with his former teammates and former coaching staff. Zach Collins was one of the first to embrace Kanter after Tuesday’s game.

As for catching up with his former teammates and coaches, Kanter said, “it was amazing.”  

The 9-year vet feels like he really went to battle with his Blazer teammates last season before falling to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

“Obviously, I went to the playoffs last year with them and it was like a war, and you never forget your friends when you’re in the war with them. It was nice to see them,” Kanter said.

But, it was Portland’s first round match-up against the Oklahoma City Thunder that Kanter will truly never forget.

In fact, it was the first memory that popped into his head when he walked into the quiet, still Moda Center.

Yep, that Damian Lillard game-winning shot over Paul George.

That unforgettable shot is something Kanter was extremely happy to be a part of.

This morning, the first time I came to [Moda Center] for practice, I [thought about] the Dame shot against OKC. I was like, ‘man, I was here for that shot. So, for me, it was just amazing to just be in that moment with those guys, that’s the first thing I remembered. -- Celtics center Enes Kanter reminiscing about his time in Portland  

That Game Five was even more memorable for Kanter, because well before Lillard swished the 37-foot game winner to give the Blazers a 118-115 victory and end the series, Kanter separated his left shoulder during a collision with Steven Adams.

Still to this day, Kanter has shoulder pain, but he wouldn’t change a thing about playing through the pain in the Blazers-Nuggets and Blazers-Warriors series.

“I was at the hotel today and thinking about my shoulder and it’s been almost one year, I still feel it a little bit. But, you know what -- it was just, I don’t regret it. It was just -- we’re deep into the playoffs and, for me; it was just go out there and fight for my teammates.”

As Portland continues to play through so many injuries this season, Kanter has been encouraged by what the Blazers have been able to accomplish.

“It’s always tough, man, because I feel like the most important thing for a team is staying healthy, but now, they’ve got so many people hurt, but I think, you know, they’ve been still doing an amazing job, giving a fight out there.”

A glimmer of playoff hope in pregame shooting routine

A glimmer of playoff hope in pregame shooting routine

The most important scene inside the Moda Center on Tuesday night happened well before the actual game.

Before Jayson Tatum dismantled the Trail Blazers defense, before CJ McCollum took multiple shots to the head from Boston Celtics defenders, and before Portland lost for the fourth time in its past five games, there was a brief glimmer of hope.

More than 90 minutes before tip-off Damian Lillard took the court to go through a pregame shooting routine. Assistant coach Dale Osbourne fed him basketballs as he went worked through a series of shots, starting in the mid-range and working out, hitting each spot around the arc and then stepping further back to cash in a few 35-footers.

Donning a sleeveless hooded sweatshirt and a bright yellow pair of his own signature sneakers, Lillard, who has missed three straight games with a right groin strain, went through his typical pregame routine at maybe 70 percent speed. Ironically, he couldn’t go through his normal post-up routine with video coordinator Jon Yim because Yim is dealing with a sore back. No one is completely healthy this time of year in the NBA.

While Lillard going through something that approximates a normal warm-up was a welcomed sign. He wasn’t alone on the court. While Lillard circled the arc from the deep left corner working back towards the right side, he had to navigate Zach Collins who was going through his own workout with assistant coach Jim Moran.

Collins, who hasn’t played since Oct. 26 after undergoing surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder, was going through a decidedly more strenuous routine than Lillard. He worked through dribble handoffs, pick and pops, and spot up shooting with Moran, closing the routine with 20 three-pointers, five free throws and sealing it with a reverse dunk.

By the end of the night, as the Blazers trudged out of the arena following a never-in-doubt loss to a superior opponent, it was easy to look past the pregame routines of two guys that ended up watching the game in suits. The team the Blazers trotted out against the Celtics is not a playoff caliber group, but if there is hope for Portland to mount a serious push for the final playoff spot in the West, it was getting jumpers up at 5:30 on Tuesday night.

Lillard will travel with the team on their upcoming three-game trip to Indiana, Atlanta and Orlando. He is likely to return in the relatively near future, either at the end of the road trip or soon thereafter. The Blazers desperately need him back in the lineup, but they will be cautious in rushing their franchise leader back onto the court.

“Health is the first priority. That’s pretty easy,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Dame knows his body. I don’t think we would put him out there if we didn’t feel like he was healthy. But his health is the first priority, regardless.”

Collins’ return isn’t as imminent. He says that he meets with the team’s medical staff daily as they monitor his rehabilitation process, and he insists that returning in mid-to-late March is “very realistic.”

As long as we’re peddling hope, add Jusuf Nurkic to the list. The Blazers center, who fractured his left leg last March and has missed the entire, will make the trip east with the team this week as well. While the Blazers are being extremely coy, if not downright secretive about what Nurkic is doing on the court, Stotts said that Nurkic will go through some type of on-court workout even if he doesn’t formally join the team’s practice during the road trip.

Help might be on the horizon, some of it will even be on the team plane, but there is still waiting and uncertainty before it joins the rest of the Blazers back on the court.

With the current available roster, the Blazers’ playoff hopes are thin. They trail the Memphis Grizzlies by three games for eighth seed with 23 games left in the regular season. But Portland is also just a game and a half ahead of 13th place Phoenix with Sacramento, San Antonio and New Orleans sandwiched between them in a suddenly very tight postseason scramble.

The pregame scene delivered a moment of hope in a season that desperately needs some. The most important figures in the Blazers playoff dreams didn’t wear jerseys on Tuesday night although there is reason to believe they will soon. Once the game started and the Blazers were handed another loss that hope dissipated quickly. The mood in the locker room was a sober acceptance of the team’s difficult position.

“It’s our reality,” CJ McCollum said. “So we’ve got to figure out how to get as many wins as possible starting in Indiana and progressing forward. I don’t know how many we’ve got … 20 games left, 21 games left? 23 ... so we’ve go to win the majority of them to give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs.”

Celtics' hot 3-point shooting too much for short-handed Trail Blazers to overcome

Celtics' hot 3-point shooting too much for short-handed Trail Blazers to overcome

A lot of games in the NBA these days turn out just the way Portland’s 118-106 loss to Boston Tuesday night did.

“We look at the box score, we outscored them in the paint, outscored them in second-chance points, outscored them on the fast break, outscored them from the three-throw line and still lost by 12,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said.

The difference in the game? The same as so many other games in the league -- the three-point line.

The Celtics went 19-39 (48.7 percent) from three while the Trail Blazers were 13-31. You not only need to shoot a fairly good percentage from long range, you often need to do it in high volume.

And Boston made them from all over the floor, many of them backbreakers to stall Trail Blazer comebacks.

“They made the open ones, they made the contested ones, they made a lot of them tonight,” said CJ McCollum, who once again led his team with 28 points and 10 assists. “They are a good team. We have to be better than we played tonight against teams like the Celtics to win.

“I think that was the difference. They played better than us. They’re a deep team. They made shots, they got stops. They ran on our turnovers and they played like a playoff team.”

And with Damian Lillard out with a groin injury, the Trail Blazers do not have enough healthy NBA players right now to play like a playoff team. And until they get healthier, there is little chance of looking at all like a playoff team.

Portland shot a respectable 44.7 percent from the field and played one of its better games of late. But 17 turnovers turned into 19 Boston points and that three-point shooting was lethal.

“Boston’s a really good team,” Stotts said. “Even without Kimba (Walker) out there, their experience, they are talented offensively. “They’re well-coached, so hats off to them. Jayson Tatum got in a groove in the second half, he’s just in a heck of a rhythm with his shot.

“I liked the way our guys competed. We didn’t take advantage of some of our opportunities, but other than that, I thought we gave a good effort.”

Lillard’s availability is still in question and Stotts said he wasn’t sure if his star guard would be making the upcoming three-game road trip that starts Thursday night against the Pacers in Indianapolis.

“At this point, I’m not sure,” Stotts said. “I think we’re discussing that.”

That doesn’t make it sound as if his return is imminent.

Report: Damian Lillard to travel with team, could return during upcoming road trip

Report: Damian Lillard to travel with team, could return during upcoming road trip

The Portland Trail Blazers hit the road for a three-game trip starting on Thursday in Indiana, and they may be one step closer to full strength by the time they get home.

According to reports, Damian Lillard, who has missed the Blazers' last three games with a right groin strain, plans to travel with the team. 

As noted by Jason Quick of The Athletic, Lillard could miss "a couple more games."

At the team's first practice following the All-Star break, Lillard was asked how many games he expected to miss. "If I had to guess I would say at least 3-4 games. Maybe five games," said Lillard. 

That window for return could open on this road trip. 

Missing five games, as he expected, would put his return to the court on Monday against the Orlando Magic. 

That could be a good thing for the Blazers and a bad thing for the Magic. 

It was just last season that a heckler in Orlando fired Lillard up and led to the Blazers guard torching the Magic. 

Lillard dropped 34 points in the second half that night, quieting the crowd the only way he knows how. 

The point is, there may be a sliver of hope that Lillard gets to silence his favorite heckler once again. 

But health is first. Silencing the crowd is fun, having a healthy Lillard is better. 

If he doesn't make his return until the team comes back home, no one will blame him... plus returns from injury are always a little more fun in front of a raucous home court.

When Lillard is able, Moda Center will be ready! 

Carmelo Anthony and 'little brother' Jayson Tatum share mutual admiration

Carmelo Anthony and 'little brother' Jayson Tatum share mutual admiration

Postgame jersey swaps have become very popular in the NBA world over that past couple of seasons. 

The ritual actual dates back to 1931 in the soccer wold.  

But, fast forward to 2020 and more often than not there is an exchange of uniforms at midcourt at any given NBA game. 

Earlier this season, Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard made a comment about how he always checks with Portland’s Equipment Manager Eric Hallman to verify that there are extra uniforms on hand before he does a jersey swap with another player.

After Tuesday night's game vs. the Boston Celtics, the Trail Blazers will now need to make sure there are additional red Carmelo Anthony uniforms.

Despite a dominating performance vs. Portland, Boston’s rising star Jayson Tatum had one thing on his mind postgame.     

“He asked me for my jersey, so I gave it to him,” Melo said with a smile. “He’s like a little brother to me.”

The 21-year-old Tatum led the Celtics to a 118-106 victory over the Blazers, finishing with 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting, including an efficient 8-of-12 from behind the arc.

Tatum left Moda Center with a big smile on his face knowing he’s going home with a jersey from one of his all-time favorite players.

“Oh man, Melo is, besides Kobe, probably one of my top 3 favorite players. I studied him so much growing up and I’m one of his biggest fans. I got to spend some time with him this summer with Jordan Brand. I really looked up to him,” Tatum said postgame.

In just his third season, Tatum has made leaps and bounds. He’s averaging 22.9 points, 7.0 rebound, and 2.9 assists. Before Tuesday’s game, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts mentioned how we are all watching Tatum grow up before our eyes.

Melo has been able to see first-hand how his 'little brother' is growing up. The two spent a lot of time together this past summer. And from the sounds of it, Anthony is a big fan of Tatum as well. 

“I love him,” Melo said. “He’s a guy that’s establishing himself, as we’re all witnessing, all watching. I mean, I love his game, I love watching him play. I was able to have some one-on-one time with him, get a chance to know him better as a person first, but his game speaks for itself and it’ll continue to blossom.”

With Tatum talking about how much he has looked up to the 35-year-old, those comments go a long way for Melo.

“It makes me kind of appreciate what I do, what I’ve been able to do throughout my career. Just being able to go out there and play the game the way that I’ve played it, the right way, the way that I continue to play it. For guys to acknowledge that and see that and watch that and want to learn from that, for me, that’s what it’s all about - when you can pass that knowledge down to the younger generation,” Anthony said.

Despite Melo not giving up any of his specific advice that he has shared with Tatum, he did explain how he enjoys guiding young players in the league.

“I like to lead by example...Communicate with guys, just talking, kind of seeing what they think, because a lot of times I’ve never been in some of those guys’ positions before. I try to put myself in their shoes, but also give them advice on how they can maneuver, how they can do it. I never tell anybody what to do. I just give them my experiences and I can only explain the things that I’ve been through.”

As Melo continues to experience more and more with the Blazers this season, the next step will be grinding out the rest of the schedule to help guide Portland to the Playoffs for the seventh straight season.  

Anthony's mentoring skills will need to come into play now more than ever for the Trail Blazers.