Harkless 'probable' to return against Warriors, which Lillard thinks is key

Harkless 'probable' to return against Warriors, which Lillard thinks is key

On the eve of the final regular season matchup against Golden State,  Trail Blazers’ guard Damian Lillard was asked if there is a player who he thinks is a catalyst to Portland’s chances to beat the Warriors.

“I could name multiple guys … but I automatically think of Mo (Harkless),’’ Lillard said. “Just the impact he can have guarding pretty much (point guard through center) in that game … I just feel like this is the kind of game where Mo can have his hands all over the game.’’

Right on cue, the previously injured Harkless on Thursday went through practice, albeit in limited fashion, and has been upgraded to probable for Friday’s game against Golden State.

Harkless, who had started nine consecutive games before missing the last three with a left knee strain, was not made available to the media after Thursday’s practice.

It seems likely coach Terry Stotts will re-insert Harkless back into his starting small forward position, considering Harkless was in the lineup when the Blazers’ started their eight-game winning streak with a 123-117 win over the Warriors on Feb. 14.

“He’s had some good games against them,’’ Stotts said. “The way they play and the matchups they have, being able to guard multiple positions is important.’’

The Blazers (39-26) have won 14 of their last 15 at Moda Center, and have beaten the last four opponents with winning records to climb to third place in the West. But nobody inside their Tualatin practice facility on Thursday was viewing Friday’s game as a measuring stick.

“I think we are in a good place regardless (of Friday’s outcome), but I think tomorrow is a great opportunity to make a statement of the team we’ve become,’’ Lillard said.

Added McCollum: “It’s a good test, but where are now and where we will be (17) games from now is totally different,’’ CJ McCollum said. “And I’m sure they will be better when the playoffs start as well. So it’s a good test, but I don’t think it’s the end-all, be-all, because teams continue to get better.’’

Golden State is in second in the West, entering Thursday one game behind Houston, and will be playing a back-to-back after taking on the Spurs on Thursday in Oakland. The Blazers are one of four teams within 1.5 of each other.

“At this point in the season, it’s not about a measuring stick,’’ Stotts said. “It’s about getting as many wins as possible.’’

Added McCollum: “It’s just another game, honestly. I think that’s how everyone is approaching it. It’s an important game because of the standings and where we are at in the Western Conference. But you see how good everybody is from 3-10 so every game is important. But don’t think we are looking at it like, ‘We are playing the Warriors.’’’

Riding the Wave: Will contagious momentum help the streaking Trail Blazers on the road?

Riding the Wave: Will contagious momentum help the streaking Trail Blazers on the road?

After a 100-94 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday night, Portland is now riding its longest winning streak of this young season with four straight victories.  The Blazers also concluded this six-game homestand with an impressive 5-1 record.

“We’re playing with confidence and poise… You gotta win close games in this league. I think winning close games over the course of your season, makes the difference of how you look back at your season,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame. 

NBA games are always known for one team going on a run and then the other team will go on a big run and momentum swings in a blink of an eye. But does the momentum of a four-game winning streak mean a lot to Trail Blazers leader Damian Lillard?

“I think the biggest thing is just feeling good about yourself and feeling good about what you’re doing and if we winning games and you know things are happening guys are less likely to be worried about, well… this didn’t happen and this didn’t happen, you’re just kind of like, well allright, what I’m doing for the team is working. It’s just a matter of how long you can sustain that,” Lillard said.

It was a big night for the Chief Al- Farouq Aminu on Sunday. Aminu finsished with 11 points and nine rebounds in the win against Boston, yet, it was his two clutch three-pointers down the stretch that people will still be talking about when they look back at this game.

Momentum swings might mean the most for Aminu and his gratitude for it dates back to his grade schools days.

“I remember in AAU when I was young, my coach use to tell me, like, because I was the main player on the team, you're in charge of the people’s emotions, you know what I mean, like if you get a win, you’ll see after the game everybody’s happy, everybody’s spirited is lifted. If you get a losses and you’re not working hard and things like that, everybody’s spirit is down, everybody’s not as excited and different things like that so that’s also what winning does—it becomes contagious… Aminu said.

With the victory, Portland also ended a three-game losing streak to Boston.

Evan Turner, a former Celtic, realizes how important momentum is, but as a veteran on this team, Turner points out that you should never be riding a rollercoaster of emotions.

“Obviously everthing feels great after a win, just like everything feels great after making a shot. You know, momentum’s a big thing, but I think the mental capacity of it, I think as you get older—You can never get too high or too low… So we also comprehend that nothing’s guaranteed, we really have to go out and you know prepare the right way, play the game the right way, play with integrity and come prepared,” Turner said. 

Blazers now get set to embark on a six-game, 10-day trip with stops at the Los Angeles Lakers, Minneapolis, Washington, New York, Milwaukee and Golden State.

Taking your winning ways on the road is what separates good teams from great teams and the Trail Blazers know how important it is to keep the winning energy alive.

“Going on a tough six-game day road trip you’ve got to ride the wave, take advantage of this momentum at home and try to replicate that on the road,” McCollum said.  

“It's way better to go on the road with four wins than anything else, but how this team thinks even is if we come off a loss, we’re confident to think the next game is going to be a win… We play a type of game where it’s not like if the tide will turn, it’s when the tide will turn,” Turner said.

Confidence and trusting each other have been two key components to the Trail Blazers keeping the momentum rolling.

“To continue to bring good energy, that’s why you want to continue to work so hard, so that you can keep this energy and momentum going,” Aminu said.    

But, don’t think for a second that the Trail Blazers aren’t thinking about how easily they could’ve gone undefeated on this homestand after the Blazers’ comeback to the Lakers fell just short last Saturday, 114-110.

“It’s always good to win at home, especially going on a road trip so we’re happy about how we played, obviously we’d like to get that Laker game back and go 6-0 during the homestand,” McCollum said. 

Good thing the Blazers can test out this good momentum vs. the Lakers on Wednesday with the first game of the trip.

That works out nicely.

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Awkward landing leaves Lillard limping out of Moda

Awkward landing leaves Lillard limping out of Moda

It was a play at the 7:47 mark in the first quarter, and to some it may have seemed like no big deal, but after Damian Lillard gobbled up a rebound, he came down awkwardly and fell to the ground.

He got up quickly, and continued to play a team-high 35 minutes and finished the game with his first double-double of the season with 19 points and 12 assists. 

It was my knee. Tough play…I just got rolled up a little bit. If I would have came down and my leg would have went to the side immediately then it would have been a lot worse but I kind of caught it and landed flat on my foot and just sorta crumbled a little bit. It was painful… I had to run it off to make sure it wasn’t anything crazy. It was sore the whole (rest of the) game. I felt kind of limited in my movement… It’s going to be sore tomorrow. If it was something really wrong, I think I would have found out. I’ll get up, go do treatment. 

Lillard was seen leaving Moda Center with a slight limp after his media availability. 

There is no official practice on Monday and it will be used as a maintenance day for the Trail Blazers. Portland does not play another game until they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers on Wednesday, the first of a six-game road trip, so Lillard will have some time to get the treatment he needs, while aslo getting a little rest.

Lillard has played an average of 78.16 games per season over the first five years of his career including not missing a single game over the course of his first three seasons, so you know that if he can play, he'll play. 

Trust among teammates: Aminu (wait, who?) drains late threes to sink Celtics

Trust among teammates: Aminu (wait, who?) drains late threes to sink Celtics

OK, go down the list of Trail Blazer players you’d like to have take a critical three-point shot late in a close game against the Boston Celtics.

I’m not sure how far down the list you’ve gotten by now, but unless you watched Sunday night’s game in Moda Center, I’m guessing you still haven’t gotten to Al-Farouq Aminu.

The Portland power forward is a defensive specialist who spends most of his time chasing some of the best offensive basketball players in the world around the court.

As a shooter, well, he’s improving. And we know by now his teammates certainly trust him.

Last season he made 36.9 percent of his threes, which brought his career three-point shooting up to 33.6 percent. This season, he went into Sunday’s game against the Celtics shooting 34.2 percent from long range.

That brings us to the waning minutes of Portland’s 100-94 win over Boston. It was a one-point Blazer lead when Damian Lillard found Aminu wide open beyond the arc with 2:34 to play.

Aminu set himself, let fly and swished it clean to hike the Portland lead to 95-91.

But he wasn’t done.

With exactly a minute to go, Lillard found Aminu again, this time from deeper, and he drilled another three to push the lead to 100-94.

Two critical makes from a man who had been 1-5 in the game from three-point range prior to those shots. And if you listened to the whispers in the Boston locker room after the game, he wasn’t open by accident.

If you aren’t a big-time shooter in those situations, you aren’t expected to make big-time shots.

“The first one -- they were really attacking from the weak side,” said Lillard. “They were leaving the weak side wide open and making sure we weren’t hitting the ‘big’ – so the first one, I threw it out to him and he rose up with confidence. Once I saw the quality of that make, I was like ‘He’s feeling good about his shot tonight.’

“So the next one, they shrunk again, he was the play and he was a little deeper than usual, but when he rose up with that confidence, I felt good about it just watching him take the shot. And he knocked down another one.”

And Aminu seemed flattered to have the opportunity to take the game in his hands.

 “Man, it feels good when your teammates trust you,” Aminu said. “I feel like the trust this year has been amazing. It’s been good since I’ve been here but this year, especially, it’s been good. We trust each other in all situations, the beginning of the game and the end of the game.

“The second one WAS deep. I was just praying it wouldn’t do any of that rattle-in-and-rattle-out because it felt great.”

Aminu likes to put pressure on himself when shooting threes in practice. And those three-point games at the end of practice often include the usual trash-talking and taunts among teammates.

“It’s hard to simulate what’s going to happen in games but you want to have some jitters when you’re taking those (practice) shots,” he said. “I’ve never liked random shooting where you’re just getting them up.

“I feel like, for me personally, that doesn’t do me any good. For every shot, I want my stomach to feel a little tight. That competition of trying to win is able to translate.”

And translate it did, Sunday night.

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Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Blazers win over the Celtics

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Blazers win over the Celtics

The Blazers rolled the Celtics in the first half and despite a rally in the third and another in the fourth, Boston came up short as the Blazers pick up another Moda Center win. 

Here are some quick thoughts from our reporters on the scene...

Final Box Score

Dwight Jaynes, Trail Blazers' Insider:  Trail Blazers should have been ahead by much more at the half. Blazers need more from Dame and CJ than that against the good teams. Buckets pretty hard to come by in the second half for Portland, which let Boston back into the game. 

Jamie Hudson, Trail Blazers' Reporter:  This Celtics team has been no stranger to coming back against teams on this road trip from 20 down- just look at their win over the Suns... The Blazers biggest lead was 21, but the Cs were able to outscore the Blazers 33-29 in the third and start the 4th with a 13-2 run to make for a close fourth quarter. Portland was able to hold on thanks to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum subbing in earlier than usual in the 4th. Luckily for the Blazers, Portland has two days off before they face the Lakers so extra minutes for Dame and CJ is fine for tonight.

Mike Richman, Trail Blazers' Reporter:  Al-Farouq Aminu hit two huge three-pointers to save an otherwise sloppy second half that nearly ended in an embarrassing loss.

***Be sure to check back here throughout tonight for locker room videos with Coach Stotts and the players, plus locker room reports from Jamie Hudson and Dwight Jaynes***

NEXT UP: The Blazers start a six game roadtrip by heading to LA to take on the Lakers on Wednesday.  

Coach Brad Stevens on Evan Turner: "I'm really happy for him"

Coach Brad Stevens on Evan Turner: "I'm really happy for him"

Before Portland and Boston tip-off tonight, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens addressed the media talking about a number of topics including current Trail Blazer and former Celtic Evan Turner. 

Coach Stotts recognized that the Celtics have been struggling offensively, while also discussing what it takes to be a good defensive team including contesting shots and being fundamentally sound. Coach Stotts said being prepared and mentally engaged are keys to good defense. These are all things we have heard him preach in the past. 

“He’s a good teammate. He’s funny. He does talk a lot” --- Coach Sttots joking about ET.  Stotts also smiles and said he doesn't get tired of ET talking.  

For the Celtics, Daniel Theis (right foot) should be available for limited minutes after being listed as doubtful for tonight's contest. 

When talking about the Jimmy Butler trade and how that shakes up the Eastern Conference this is what Coach Stevens had to say, "Philly is a really good team and they were a really good team two days ago." 

Coach Stevens had a lot of positive things to say about the Trail Blazers, "They’re hard to guard. It starts with their guards...They make smart plays." 

"Evan’s been a guy that’s really aware of who he is as a basketball player," Coach Stevens said. Stevens also talked about how Turner has been a really good defender, adding, "He looks way more comfortable... I’m really happy for him."
 
Funny moment during Stevens' pregame interview: Celtics wing Marcus Smart walked by the media when Coach Stevens was talking and he was trying to be so quiet, while tip toeing and trying to slip through the hallway. 

 

Terry Stotts




Brad Stevens 

Lillard: The Celtics "are never out of a game"

Lillard: The Celtics "are never out of a game"

The Trail Blazers had Friday off after playing every other day (with two back-to-backs mixed in) since the Blazers first road trip started back on October 25th.

On Saturday, it was back to work as Portland gets set to wrap up its six-game homestand with a tough test vs. the Boston Celtics on Sunday night.

Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard spoke with the media on Saturday about how having two days in between games is not necessarily a positive thing for himself and the team:

“We’ve been playing a lot of basketball. Me and CJ was talking about it, I usually feel better when there’s like one day in between games... We had nothing yesterday, came in today and I was like I felt it more having a day off then when we don’t have a day off. It’s kind of the effect when the summer comes. When the season is over like you finally start to feel everything-- your shoulder hurts, your back hurts, your ankle hurt, like man, I didn’t feel this two days ago when we had to play and that’s cause you know you had to play, so it’s one of those things,” Lillard said.

Saturday’s practice for the Blazers was about preparing to guard Boston’s sets and becoming more familiar with the Celtics’ tendencies. The Blazers also went through some shooting drills and played in their half court set.

When Boston visits Portland on Sunday, it will be the Celtics final contest on its current five-game west coast trip. The Cs are currently 1-3 on this trip after Friday’s comeback against the Jazz fell short. Boston is now 4-4 on the road this season.

And, Lillard knows that you can never let your foot of the gas when you’re going up against this Boston team.

“They’re never out of a game. You know you see them comeback against Phoenix, being down 20 and then last night against a really good Utah team in Utah they came back again without Kyrie. I think we just gotta be on point. It’s gonna be a 48-minute game. Understand that every guy is in attack mode, every guy is aggressive, looking for his shot… They’ve been leaning on their defense. They’re a tough team to deal with on the defensive end so we’re going to have our hands full,” Lillard said.

The big news around the NBA early Saturday was that the Jimmy Butler trade finally happened. As first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Timberwolves and 76ers agreed to a deal that sends Butler and Justin Patton to Philadelphia for forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric, along with guard Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.

 

 

Lillard had this to say about the trade:

“I think that’s a great trade for Minnesota. I like Dario Saric a lot and I like Robert Covington too- he’s a ‘3 and D’ dude, got a lot of skills, he’s been there for the bad and the good for Philly. You know he’s grown a lot. I remember he was in Houston when we played them in the playoffs that one year. So I think that’s a really, really good trade for Minnesota. And obviously Philly, they got a ‘Big 3’ over there now so I think it was a good trade,” Lillard said.

When Dame was asked if it’s nice to see Butler move from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference, Lillard had a simple answer:

“We focused on ourselves now,” Lillard said.      
 

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How the Blazers are getting more assisted 3-pointers this season

How the Blazers are getting more assisted 3-pointers this season

Heading into this season, it was Terry Stotts’ goal to get this Portland Trail Blazers team passing the ball, and shooting more 3-pointers. So far they’ve been up to the task, and according to tracking data from NBA.com, the Blazers have more assisted 3-pointers, by percentage, this year compared to last.

Looking at game film it appears there's two reasons the Blazers have been able to get more assisted 3-pointers early in this season.

The first and perhaps the most important is just how well Damian Lillard has played at the rim and from 3-to-10 feet. His field goal percentage in those distances have gone up by leaps and bounds early in the season, and he's also drawing two extra free throws per 100 possessions over last year. 

In short, Lillard is more dangerous as a penetrator this year and so he’s drawing more attention. The Blazers point guard has cleverly countered his increased gravity by being a half or full step quicker on his passes off drives. Lillard is now driving more often with the purpose of passing, and he’s been just that much faster than defenses because of it.

The second thing that’s obvious right away is just how willing this team is to pass. The bench unit has stood out just because of their increased effectiveness over last season, but just about every player on this roster is consistently making the extra pass to get the best shot available.

Watch the full video above to get the film study on how Portland’s passing has become more effective so far this season.

Zach Collins' defensive instincts remind his coach of a former fan favorite

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NBCS Northwest

Zach Collins' defensive instincts remind his coach of a former fan favorite

Zach Collins’ basketball idols growing up were the Hall of Fame big men of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

He loved watching Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki and, as he got older, Kevin Love. While Collins could end up a multi-time All-Star like many of his childhood favorites, his coach says some of Collins’ early-career instincts reminds of another big man from that same era.

“I was with Joel Przybilla his rookie season in Milwaukee,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said on Thursday. “And to me, Zach’s a more skilled offensive player, but he reminds me to some degree of Joel. As far as his length, his timing, his aggressiveness, his fearlessness. I think Joel had really good defensive instincts as a 19-year-old coming in.”

Stotts was an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks during Przybilla's rookie season where he was a lottery pick playing spot minutes on a team that eventually surged all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. Pryzbilla signed with the Trail Blazers before the 2004-05 season, and developed into one of the best shot blockers in the league, holding down the starting center position for eight years in the Rose City.

Collins is still 10 days shy of his 21st birthday, but he has already established himself as a solid and versatile NBA defender. For all his defensive acumen, Przybilla wasn’t exactly adept at chasing point guards all over the court, and in 2001 that wasn’t something big men were asked to do.

That’s a huge part of Collins’ defensive skillet, and it’s why Stotts was comparing uncanny defensive instincts of the two young bigs nearly two decades a part as opposed to their actual on court ability. Collins isn’t the second coming of the Vanilla Gorilla, he’s more accurate just another young big man well ahead of the curve defensively.

“Zach’s been terrific,” Stotts said. “He challenges shots on the perimeter and at the rim. He switches onto perimeter guys. He rebounds well. He definitely has an impact. You don’t need numbers to see that.”

Well, let’s look at some numbers anyway. Collins is among the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and the Blazers allow nearly 10 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the court compared to when he sits.

His play to open the season has helped the Blazers answer one of their most pressing offseason questions. Could Collins’ take a leap and fill the void created when the Blazers chose to let Ed Davis leave in free agency?

“I think we all had a lot of confidence but still it was an unanswered question,” Stotts said, admitting that Collins’ development has been key to the Blazers’ 9-3 start to the year.

With rare defensive instincts for a young big man, Collins is filling the void for one Blazers fan favorite and reminding his coach of another.

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed from the Blazers victory over the Clippers 

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed from the Blazers victory over the Clippers 

The Portland Trail Blazers held off the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night to give Portland its third-straight victory for the second time this season. 

Here’s a look at what you might have missed from Portland’s 116-105 win over the Clippers. 

Damian Lillard led the team in points on Thursday, scoring 25 in the contest. But it was point forward Evan Turner who led the team in assists with seven on the night. 

Jamie Hudson broke down Turner’s performance running the second unit: Evan Turner finding his teammates and finding that “white guys can jump.” 

The Blazers now have a 9-3 record through 12 games. Despite making no major changes this offseason, Dwight Jaynes noted Portland’s progression has finally paid off: Trail Blazer continuity continues to pay dividends in win over Clippers. 

Lillard hasn’t seen the free throw line in days. Two games to be approximate. Jamie Hudson took a look at Lillard’s absence to the charity stripe: No calls for Lillard after two-straight games with zero FT attempts.

Outsiders Chris, Danny, and Shain recapped the Blazers control vs. the Clippers: OUTSIDERS PODCAST: Dame and Co. take care of business

Our Blazers reporters Dwight Jaynes, Jamie Hudson, and Mike Richman shared some quick thoughts from the scene immediately after the game: Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Blazers win over the Clippers.