How Mario Hezonja's point-guard skills have translated to feeling free in Portland

How Mario Hezonja's point-guard skills have translated to feeling free in Portland

The first half action of the Trail Blazers first action of the season was fast action.

Say that three times fast.  

A key piece in the Blazers getting out and running against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night was in thanks to Portland’s second unit, and more specifically to point-forward Mario Hezonja.

Hezonja along with Anthony Tolliver, Kent Bazemore, and Skal Labissiere, all kicked into another gear late in the first quarter.

“The first half with that group, when [Hezonja] was in there he really pushed the ball, good tempo, good pace,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. “I think we lost a little bit of our pace in the second half. He’s good in the open court, pushing the tempo.”

Portland ended up dropping its first exhibition game, 105-94, but Blazers fans got a good glimpse of the speed and playmaking of Hezonja.

For the Trail Blazers floor general Damian Lillard, he compared Hezonja to former Blazer Evan Turner, but with a different flare.  

“He’s a playmaker. Just having the luxury of having somebody else that’s a really good playmaker, the same role as ET, but more up-tempo. He’s up-tempo, he’s downhill, and just a lot of times where the weak side falls asleep and they loosen up and the defense is wearing down he’s zipping those passes through the defense and he’s see that. So, I think that’s going to be really good for me and CJ [McCollum],” Lillard said.   

Simons, Bazemore, and Hezonja were all interchangeable to run point.

McCollum was not surprised in the least with Hezonja’s performance. 

“I think Mario was great. He’s been pushing the ball in transition all of September. He showed great vision, good size, finishing around the basket. We’ve seen. It’s more about you guys getting a chance to see him and really understanding what he can bring to this team,” McCollum said.

When he was asked about why Hezonja like to push the pace, he cracked a smile and said, “It comes from my heart.”

Hezonja, added, “If you have it why not use it,” on his ability to push the pace. 

Hezonja grew up playing point guard... until he started sprouting up and eventually moved from guard to forward.

He is just four years removed from holding down point guard duties when he played in Croatia and in Barcelona. 

The 24-year-old credits Coach Stotts and the Blazers coaching staff in being be able to play free.

“The first time they told me was if you do a mistake, just keep doing what you do,” Hezonja said.

“They just basically gave me the keys to the car,” Hezonja added. 

In 20 minutes of action, Hezonja finished with 12 points, six rebounds, and two assists, while also getting the crowd behind him.

Hezonja noted the team chemistry was instant, despite the Blazers bringing in seven new players.

“We had a lot of success in the first half executing…  The chemistry was awesome from day one,” Hezonja said.

Blazer fans might not all be chemistry majors, but one thing is certain for the Blazers: One part Hezonja with four parts of player speed around him equals good Blazer Basketball. 

It's official: Trail Blazers sign Carmelo Anthony

It's official: Trail Blazers sign Carmelo Anthony

News broke on Thursday evening that the Trail Blazers were planning to sign Carmel Anthony to a one-year non-guaranteed deal. 

The team has been hurting at the power forward spot, a position Melo can play naturally. With a sub-par start to the season and injuries across the frontcourt, the timing was right. 

The Trail Blazers released the following as part of a statement announcing the deal:

PORTLAND, Ore. (November 19, 2019) – The Portland Trail Blazers have signed veteran forward Carmelo Anthony, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

“Carmelo is an established star in this league that will provide a respected presence in our locker room and a skill set at a position of need on the floor,” said Olshey

Anthony, 35, holds career NBA averages of 24.0 points (44.9% FG, 34.7% 3-PT, 81.1% FT), 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.02 steals in 1,064 games (1,056 starts) over 16 seasons with Denver, New York, Oklahoma City and Houston.

A 10-time NBA All-Star, Anthony (6-8, 240), has been named to an All-NBA team six times and was the 2012-13 NBA scoring champion. As a member of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team, Anthony has won three Olympic gold medals (2008, 2012, 2016) and one bronze medal (2004). Originally selected by the Denver Nuggets with the third overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, Anthony attended Syracuse where he won the 2003 NCAA Championship as a freshman.

Among all-time NBA leaders, Anthony ranks 19th in points (25,551), 21st in field goals (9,137) and 41st in three-pointers (1,362). He is one of 11 players in NBA history with at least 25,000 points, 6,900 rebounds and 3,100 assists.

He will wear No. 00 for the Trail Blazers.

How to watch, stream Trail Blazers at Pelicans tonight at 5:00pm

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How to watch, stream Trail Blazers at Pelicans tonight at 5:00pm

NEW ORLEANS – In their second leg of a back-to-back, the Portland Trail Blazers (4-9) visit the New Orleans Pelicans (4-9) on Tuesday night.

Portland will be looking to bounce back after Monday night’s 132-108 loss to the Rockets.

For the Blazers, they know that anything can still happen this season and there’s still plenty of basketball to be played.

You can watch the Blazers-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?

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:

2:30pm Blazers Game Day with Chad Doing

4:00pm Blazers Warm-Up

4:30pm Trail Blazers Pregame Show

5:00pm Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans

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

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


“It’s a long season. A lot can happen and you’ve got to move onto the next one. In some ways you’ve got to have a short memory. Winning two nights ago in San Antonio was a big win for us and we knew this would be a tough one coming in, but the thing is, you never know when you’re gonna get on a roll, and all it takes is one or two games to get on that roll.” -- Blazers head coach Terry Stotts after Monday’s loss

There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, Blazers know a lot can happen and happen quickly

There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, Blazers know a lot can happen and happen quickly

HOUSTON – The proof was in the pudding-- there was one team that seemed to be clicking on all cylinders, and there was one team that was is still trying to find its way.

The Rockets took it to the Blazers 132-108 at the Toyota Center on Monday night.

“I think at every point in the season you come across teams, and some teams are playing well, some teams are not playing so well,” Damian Lillard said postgame. “That’s how every season is. I think right now they’re just in a stretch where they’re playing really well, and we’re still finding our way. They played their game, and did a lot of things they wanted to do, and we didn’t take a whole lot away from them. That was the story of the game.”

But what about the story of the Trail Blazers 5-9 start to the season?

It may very well have to do with continuity.

Think about this for a moment – the Blazers have a total of nine new players on their roster, including their two, two-way players. Now, Carmelo Anthony is about to enter the fray.

Portland took pride in its continuity over the last handful of seasons and said many times that team’s familiarity had helped lead them to success. They talked about their maturity as a unit.

It’s ironic the Blazers were playing in Houston on Monday night.

Last season, the Rockets started out the season 1-5.

Houston kept with it, though, because like everyone says: It’s a long season.

The Rockets finished with the fifth best record in the league, 53-29.  They eventually lost to Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals.

Fifty-three wins, after going 4-7 through their first 11 games.

The Blazers currently stand at 5-9 on the season, which is tied for 12th in the Western Conference standings with the San Antonio Spurs.

Nearly every Trail Blazer has referenced how much being on the road will continue to help them become more familiar with each other.

That takes time, and luckily for the Blazers, they still have that time.

Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts offered up this message postgame:

“It’s a long season. A lot can happen, and you’ve got to move onto the next one. In some ways, you’ve got to have a short memory. Winning two nights ago in San Antonio was a big win for us and we knew this would be a tough one coming in. But, the thing is, you never know when you’re gonna get on a roll, and all it takes is one or two games to get on that roll.”

We'll see if the Blazers will begin that roll Tuesday night when Portland is back in action against the 4-9 New Orleans Pelicans. 

Switching it up: The Rockets defense led to the Blazers stagnation

Switching it up: The Rockets defense led to the Blazers stagnation

HOUSTON – The Trail Blazers finished with a season-high 28 assists on Monday night, but yet watching the game you might not believe that.

After the 132-108 loss to the Rockets, the Blazers explained how their offense went "stagnant."

Just as the Rockets do, they switched on nearly all screens against the Trail Blazers. And as many opposing teams often do, Houston tried to take  Damian Lillard out of the game.

Early in Monday night's loss, the switches opened up the lane for Nassir Little and Hassan Whiteside. Yet, the Blazers weren’t able to continue to take advantage of those mis-matches.

“They played their game. They played a good game. I think we could’ve done a better job, but give them credit. They did what they do. They got up a lot of threes and really hurt us on the offensive rebounds… They made us stagnant a little bit offensively because they switch a lot. We’ll be better prepared for it next time.” -- Rodney Hood

On the season, the Trail Blazers are averaging 18.6 assists per game, which ranks dead last in the league. 

Damian Lillard was dropping dimes against the Rockets, however. He finished with 13 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds.

Lillard leads the Blazers in assists with 7.1 per game, which is actually 10th best in the league.

Lillard acknowledged he was able to get those assists by the Rockets switching.

 “Usually when a team is switching, you end up getting bigs matched up on guards, and naturally you’re gonna try to take advantage of the match-up,” Lillard said. “Early, we were throwing it into Whiteside when smaller guys were on him, and then other times when a big was on me, or CJ, or Hoodie, we were attacking the bigs. But, when you’re up against that, there’s ways to take advantage of it with still having movement and moving the ball… Instead of just playing one-on-one. It did get stagnant.”

Lillard had a tough night shooting, going 4-of-15 from the field and just 1-of-6 from deep, so he got involved in other ways.

CJ McCollum, however, remained hot from the field, a carryover from Saturday’s game in San Antonio.

McCollum shot 10-of-19 from the field, while also hitting five of his 12 three-point attempts vs. the Rockets. He led the way with 25 points. 

Despite shooting well, McCollum agreed there wasn’t much movement at times.

“They switched everything and it makes it hard to play offensively and then you get into playing one-on-one.”

The Trail Blazers will now look to bounce back on Tuesday night when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans, who are currently 4-9 on the season.

Trail Blazers lose: James Harden always plays as if he has a cheat code

Trail Blazers lose: James Harden always plays as if he has a cheat code

James Harden went out and did what he does Monday night in Houston. He didn’t even do it as well or as often as he usually does.

The guy averages 39.5 points, 14.6 three-point attempts and 14.8 free-throw attempts per game. And he fell short of all those things.

“If you would have told me that he would shoot 10 threes and 10 free throws, I would probably take that all night,” Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts said. “For him, he had a sub-par night.”

But par for Harden is different than other players. He’s a scoring and foul-drawing machine. Along the way he has his tricks – for opponents and referees – and pulled some of them off against the Trail Blazers as his Rockets dumped Portland 132-108.

Everyone knows about his step-back three-point shots. And the way he throws a leg out on that shot as he’s falling backwards, very often drawing fouls on unsuspecting defenders, even though officials know he does that every night. He travels more than most players, too, and gets away with it most of the time.

All in all, he’s probably the hardest-to-watch great player I’ve ever seen. Because it's as if he has a cheat code.

For the record, he finished with 27 points, five rebounds and five assists, hitting five of his 10 threes. For Harden, that’s practically a night off, rather than an off-night.

But his skilled ball handling and clever moves combined with his ability to fool referees make him an almost impossible player to defend.

“He gets calls every night,” CJ McCollum said. “A lot of them are fouls. He knows how to play the game. He’s aggressive, he’s smart. Got to give him credit. Averaging 20 points a game in this league is tough, Averaging 30 is great. Averaging 35 or 40 is next-level great.”

Lillard talked about the hazards of trying to defend Harden when he’s getting the calls he often gets.

“It’s hard to defend,” Lillard said, “When he’s driving to the basket, you don’t want to touch him. When he’s rising up for a three, you don’t want to get too close to him because he’s kicking his legs out and throwing his arms up on his follow-through, through your arms. If you get that type of whistle, it’s tough to defend.”

What made Harden doubly tough on Monday was his passing skills. He drew players to him and often dished off to teammates for easy baskets.

“He did what he normally does,” Rodney Hood said. “And he got his teammates involved. He wasn’t as aggressive as he’s been in the past couple games, but he got everyone else involved and I think that’s what got them going.”

And so it goes. Playing the Rockets, especially in the regular season, is going to be a tough task. In the playoffs, when the officiating is usually better and the pressure is heavier, things have always changed for Houston and Harden.

But this year, time will tell.

Carmelo Anthony calls Portland the "perfect opportunity" to get back on track

Carmelo Anthony calls Portland the "perfect opportunity" to get back on track

HOUSTON – As the Trail Blazers and Rockets game was coming to a close on Monday night, the newest Trail Blazer Carmelo Anthony was sharing his side of the story.

Melo posted on his Youtube page a video describing his feelings on how the reported deal went down with Portland, and how he is preparing for this new chapter in his life both physically and mentally.

The last year and a half as just been like an emotional rollercoaster.

The 10-time All-Star described how he got the call from the Trail Blazers last Wednesday and says, “that Thursday was a commitment.”

“Let’s really get serious about this, let’s make something happen that led to the next day which was Friday and they wanted me to come and get right into it.”

But Carmelo explained how he needed a few days to get back into a mental and emotional state:

“I had almost detached myself from the game a little bit,” Anthony said.    

The 35-year-old feels like the stars have aligned now with Portland, saying, “now it seems like a perfect opportunity."

Melo will now meet the Blazers in New Orleans. The Blazers and Pelicans tip-off at 5:00pm PT Tuesday. 


Instant Analysis: Rockets prove to be too much against Blazers

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Instant Analysis: Rockets prove to be too much against Blazers

HOUSTON – Both the Trail Blazers and Rockets got out and ran early and often on Monday night. Early in the game, it was all about who was more successful on the fastbreak and who could get to the free-throw line more.

The Rockets blew the game wide open in the third quarter.

Monday in Houston marked the first night of a back-to-back for the Blazers. Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts pulled his starters with 3:49 to go in the game. Houston led 120-99 at the point before the Rockets continued to roll to their 11th overall victory.

FINAL BOX SCORE: Rockets 132, Trail Blazers 108

Here are three quick takeaways from Monday’s loss:

1.  So much attention on Lillard opened up opportunities for others

The Rockets, as they do, switched on nearly all screens against the Blazers and with so much of their focus on Damian Lillard, the lane opened up for Nassir Little and Hassan Whiteside early in the game, but the Blazers had a hard time converting in the second half.  

2. Harden doing what Harden does

Whether it was drawing fouls, especially on the young Blazer defenders, finishing at the rim, or knocking down threes, James Harden was putting up MVP-type numbers and leading his team to a victory.

Harden also took advantage of his matchup against Blazers rookie Nassir Little. Harden went to his bag of tricks to bait Little into fouling him from deep. Little racked up four fouls in the first half.

The connection between Harden and Clint Capela was also on full display. That’s what makes Harden so difficult to defend, he’ll get his buckets, but he’ll also find his teammates for the lob or hand-off down low.

3. Rockets overpower Blazers on the boards

Heading into the fourth quarter, Houston was outrebounding Portland, 46-32. The Rockets also had 23-second chance points after three quarters compared to the Blazers’ eight.  Houston showed off its weapons on both ends and proved once again why the Rockets were predicted to be one of the top teams to beat in the West.

Up Next: The Blazers will play in their second leg of this back-to-back when they visit New Orleans on Tuesday night. The Blazers and Pelicans tip-off at 5:00pm PT.

Check back throughout tonight and tomorrow for more articles and videos from the player!


Pregame Notebook: Blazers expecting Rockets to have a faster pace

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Pregame Notebook: Blazers expecting Rockets to have a faster pace

HOUSTON -- The Trail Blazers (5-8) visit the Houston Rockets (10-3) tonight as Portland gets set for its second of six games on the road. The Blazers and Rockets tip-off at 5:00pm PT on NBC Sports Northwest.

Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard explained the challenges they will face in Houston, specifically with the duo of Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

“I expect [the Rockets] to play how they always do,” Lillard said at Monday morning’s shootaround. “I don’t think they’ve changed much. The only difference between this year, last year, and the year before that is the pace. Obviously, you add Russ, he likes to push it, play in transition, play in space, and James prefers half court… They have a lot of shooters out there and they’re going to play in the paint… It’s going to be threes and at the rim, so that’s what our challenge is,” Lillard said.

After listing Clint Capela (concussion) and Danuel House Jr. (sacral; contusion) as probable for Monday’s game, the Rockets have announced both Capela and House are available for tonight’s game vs. Blazers.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts kept his pregame interview short after reporters were asking about the reports of Carmelo Anthony joining the team soon. Coach Stotts won’t comment further on Melo until Anthony joins the Blazers in New Orleans.


Shootaround Notebook: Why do Harden and Westbrook work so well together these days?

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Shootaround Notebook: Why do Harden and Westbrook work so well together these days?

HOUSTON – It’s a showdown that several people had marked on their calendar with the Blazers visiting the Rockets on Monday night.

With it being the first time since Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook have faced each other since the Trail Blazers beat Westbrook and the Thunder in the postseason, there was a question on everyone’s mind at Blazers’ shootaround this morning.

Is there any carryover for Lillard, or any extra feelings because of last postseason?

“No,” Lillard said promptly.

“We’ve played against each other for eight years,” Lillard laughed. “I mean, playoff series, I mean, that was it. Neither one of us won a championship. It’s not a huge deal. We went at each other in the playoffs and we won, and he’s on a different team now, that’s it.” 

CJ McCollum feels the same way.

“No, we’re just trying to win a game, I think that’s the biggest thing, figure out ways to execute our game plan and try to win a game. The past is the past, and everybody is kind of living in the present and working on how we can get better as a 5-8 team,” McCollum said.  

[RELATED]: How to watch, stream Trail Blazers at Rockets tonight at 5:00pm

The Trail Blazers duo both expressed how Harden and Westbrook have figured out how to work together once again, despite Harden being ‘the man’ in Houston for the past seven seasons.

“They’re both MVPs,” Lillard said. “They’re smart enough players to figure it out, they’re friends, so I think that makes it easier for them to coexist and they’ve also played together before, obviously at different stages of their career, but all those things play a factor and I think that’s why it's been working out.”

Lillard and McCollum both believe that Harden and Westbrook’s friendship is key to why the can coexist.

“If you look at the statistics, James is the man, not just on his team, but he’s averaging 40 points a game. So, he’s the man pretty much wherever he goes in terms of how he plays, how he gets to the free throw line, how he generates shots, but you’re talking about two people who were friends, so they’re able to coexist, it’s easy, they’ve known each other before basketball,” McCollum said. 

“They have a common goal of trying to win a Championship, so I think that makes things easier when you get along with somebody and you are both on the same page in terms of what you want to accomplish,” McCollum added.

That common goal is something Rip City recognizes in the duo of Lillard and McCollum.

In the Monday night battle of duos, the Blazers will be looking to hand the Rockets just their second home loss of the season.