Lillard's return can’t down the Rockets

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Lillard's return can’t down the Rockets

The Blazers fell victim to the dreaded second night of a back-to-back, and their tired legs couldn’t keep up with the Houston Rockets. The bright side was that Damain Lillard finally returned to the lineup, but it just wasn’t enough to beat the Harden-less Rockets. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon were unstoppable, combining for  67 points on the night. And in his return Lillard showed no signs of rust, scoring a team-high 29 points. Now it’s on to New Orleans to see if they can get back in the win column.

Final Score: Rockets 121 – Blazers 112

Which basket are the Blazers shooting at? Well, that depends

Which basket are the Blazers shooting at? Well, that depends

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ever wonder why some nights your favorite NBA team starts off a game shooting at the basket NOT in front of your seat?

I mean, some games they do and some they don’t? What’s up with that?

I’ve gotten that question enough times lately that it might be time to explain the whole thing again. And there’s more to it than you might expect.

The visiting team at NBA games is allowed to choose which direction it will shoot at the start of the game.

And you can see that right away because teams always open the game shooting at the basket where they warmed up. But really, it’s more about the way the team is shooting to END the game. (And you do realize that teams change ends at halftime, right?)

Bottom line: There has been a change in philosophy in the last few seasons about all this. For a while, teams wanted their defense in front of their bench in the fourth quarter. It’s about being able to communicate best with your players as the game comes to an end.

But now, the trend seems to be that teams want their offense in front of their bench in the second half of the game. The Portland Trail Blazers are one of those teams.

But remember, your team is going to get its wish only on the road.

At home, it is at the mercy of the visiting team, which may want the same thing. Portland Coach Terry Stotts said he made the switch to offense in the fourth quarter as a bit of a change of pace for his team.

“We actually changed that a year and a half ago in Orlando and we’ve stayed with it ever since,” he said. “San Antonio and Utah do it. A lot of the ‘Pop’ disciples do it, but honestly, it kind of turned our season and we just stayed with it. It changed things up.”

These things tend to go in cycles in a league that is often characterized as “copycat.”

“When I grew up, everybody wanted their offense in front of them in the second half,” Stotts said. “And then somewhere along the line, I don’t know where it was, coaches wanted defense in the second half.”

In the era when NBA teams called set plays many times down the floor and especially at the end of games, having the defense in front of your own bench was very important.

But the NBA is drifting toward more read-and-react offense where plays have so many options, there’s not much help the bench can provide.

“Actually, I think the way the league is going, there’s less play calls, used to be you’d get a play call (and be able to alert your defense to what may be coming) … but now there are more actions than play calls,” Stotts said. “So calling out what the opponent is going to do isn’t as important in my mind.”

And with fewer set plays called, there is more opportunity for an offense to get confused or bogged down, meaning help from the sideline is useful.

“I do think I can help our team out with the offense,” Stotts said. “Sometimes just to make sure everybody has the play call. I think it’s gotten to the point where you can help your team more on offense.”

And so, I guess, if you want to buy a ticket at the end of the court where your favorite team will be shooting at the end of the game, if you’re a Trail Blazer fan, the only way to ensure that is to catch a road game.

In Moda Center, the visiting team just might cross you up.

Rip Citizens Ep.1 featuring Portugal. The Man

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Rip Citizens Ep.1 featuring Portugal. The Man

In Portland, you are more likely to find someone wearing some sort of Portland Trail Blazers merchandise than just normal wear. The highly-noticable red and white Blazers pinwheel is seen everywhere: Beanies, car decals, or perhaps the occasional basement filled with memorabilia. 

The community of Portland shows its love for the Trail Blazers in many different ways. And the Trail Blazers are giving back. According to their Facebook page, Rip Citizens is an offbeat NBA podcast filtered through the lens of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Here is a sneak preview of episode one of this series celebrating the culture and the community surround the Portland Trail Blazers: 

Trail Blazer defense wasn't good enough to erase THAT offensive show

Trail Blazer defense wasn't good enough to erase THAT offensive show

MINNEAPOLIS – Defense has been a proud possession of the Portland Trail Blazers in this early part of the season.

But it wasn’t good enough Friday night to make up for a woeful offensive performance by the Trail Blazers that resulted in a wire-to-wire 112-96 Timberwolves’ win over Portland.

The Blazers’ starting lineup went 3-18 from three-point range. The team total was just 8-29. Put that together with 18 turnovers that resulted in 22 points.

This game was decided in the first half, when Portland had 13 of those turnovers for 18 points and allowed eight offensive rebounds.

That set a tone – and a 12-point deficit – that was impossible to overcome in the final two quarters.

“The first half was frustrating because of our turnovers and the offensive rebounds,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “We gave them too many opportunities. We dug the hole in the first half because of that.”

Al-Farouq Aminu, who did an outstanding defensive job on Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, offered some wisdom on the evening’s outcome.

“In these types of games we have to do better defensively,” he said. “I don’t want to be the kind of team just relying on our offense. We have to take it to another level on defense when we have trouble on offense.

“We have to make it a defensive battle. We have to play defensive games as well as offensive games.”

Well said.

Minnesota shot 50 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range.

“We allowed them to have second or third opportunities,” Damian Lillard said.  “Our offense wasn’t going for us. You can’t hurt yourself by giving them extra opportunities but that’s what we did. The offensive rebounds and we turned the ball over.”

Lillard, who is still playing with a right knee that isn’t 100 percent, made only 1 for 7 from three-point range. Very often, players suffering from knee troubles have a problem with outside shooting, because getting adequate lift on their shot from deep is difficult off sore knees.

But Lillard wouldn’t even consider using that as an excuse.

“I am not going there,” he said sternly. “When I was shooting, it felt fine.”

Evan Turner, who went scoreless in 21 minutes, was asked to sum up the game.

“It was tough,” he said. “We didn’t get our pop going. They scored a lot on the second opportunities. Stuff just wasn’t going our way. They went on a great run and played a great game tonight.

“I don’t think it will be something that will stay like that. We’ll get back to getting stops and getting into transition. It will be all good.”

And the next chance to make it all good will be Sunday in Washington against the Wizards.

The Fearless Rookie: Anfernee Simons stays ready just like his coach and teammates knew he would

The Fearless Rookie: Anfernee Simons stays ready just like his coach and teammates knew he would

The Portland Trail Blazers ran into a Minnesota Timberwolves team who is starting to get things figured out after trading away a disgruntled Jimmy Butler for Robert Covington and Dario Saric from Philly.

With the Timberwolves taking down the Blazers 114-96 on Friday night, Minnesota has now won three straight since the trade.

It was a different looking Blazers' rotation in Minnesota for Portland with backup guard Seth Curry (right knee) out after suffering a knee injury in the Blazers loss to the Lakers on Thursday night.

Enter rookie Anfernee Simons.    

With Curry out, the Blazers rookie gave everyone a glimpse of what the future may look like with an aggressive Simons.

[RELATED]: MRI confirms Seth Curry has a right patellar bone bruise

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts went with the rookie over Wade Baldwin or anyone else on the bench because Simons has proved to his coach, he deserves to be out there when opportunity comes.

“I thought he was the best option. You know, I thought he’s played well. I like the idea that he runs, he shoots. I think he earned the spot. I thought he was a good compliment to Nik and Evan,” Stotts said. 

Simons entered the game at the start of the second quarter for Al-Farouq Aminu and he made his presence known early. After missing his first two shots, Simons didn't shut down, but instead, went on the attack and made a driving layup.

“I just try to be aggressive. They obviously appreciate me being aggressive. So I wanted to come in there and obviously try and not do too much, but you know, once the opportunity is there you take the shot and just live with the results,” Simons said. 

Simons finished with seven points after going 3-of-7 from the field. This was his first shot at non-garbage time minutes. He played eight minutes in the first half and ended the game with 13 minutes of action.  

“Since coach has been talking to me the past couple of days or something, I just stayed ready and make sure I knew all the plays. I think I did pretty well. Frist time coming in there, actually getting, playing in the mix of it. I think I played pretty well, played good defense,” Simons said.

But changing up the Blazers rotation can throw a wrench in things. Coach Stotts decided to play Damian Lillard longer minutes in the second half instead of going back to Simons. Lillard played 37 minutes and scored 16 points. It was CJ McCollum who led the way in scoring with 18 points.

“Not having Seth kind of changed the rotation a little bit. I thought Anfernee did a nice job in the first half, but I think the dye was kind of cast in the first quarter, it was just the offensive rebounds and the turnovers that kind of set the tone,” Stotts said.

But there’s no arguing that this is a playmaking 6’4 wing who showed on Friday night he has no fear and he’s teammates recognize just that.

“I thought he went out there, he was aggressive, he was fearless, he knew what was going on so I thought he did a great job,” Lillard said.

For Simons, he made sure to hammer home the fact that he is staying ready at all times.

“Knowing the personnel and making sure you gotta be ready at all times. Even though you might not be playing, you got know everybody’s tendencies, each play and each points just to try and help the team win in someway even when you’re on the bench,” Simons said.

And his teammates are always making sure he knows that, even though he’s a rookie, he has the green light.

“They tell me all the time-- be aggressive. They see in practice that I’m able to score the ball well and I try to show that each time I’m out on the court,” Simons said.

When you don’t know when you’ll see the floor next, it’s all about the preparation leading up to your opportunity and Lillard has come to realize that his 19-year-old teammate is committed to being ready.

“Some nights when I got back to shoot after practice and I go back at eight o’clock, seven, eight o’clock sometimes and he’ll be there shooting, so, you know that he’s preparing himself for moments like tonight where he gets thrown out there when the game really matters instead of either we getting blown out or blowing somebody out and he’s getting the last three minutes,” Lillard said.

There’s no timetable yet on Curry’s return. He did say he hopes to be back by the end of the road trip, but there’s one thing everyone knows now if they didn’t already, the kid from IMG Academy is waiting in the wings if Coach Stotts calls his name.

And everyone is Rip City realizes that having Lillard to look up to and learn from, not to mention having Lillard be confident in you, makes getting out and being aggressive in meaningful minutes that much easier for a rookie. 

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Blazers loss to the T'Wolves

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Blazers loss to the T'Wolves

The Blazers struggled from start to finish in Minnesota, falling to 0-2 on this six-game road trip. Here are some quick thoughts from our reporters on the scene...

Final Box Score: Timberwolves 112 - Blazers 96

Dwight Jaynes, Trail Blazers' Insider:  First time under 100... bad offensive night. Tough for them when Lillard has an off night

Jamie Hudson, Trail Blazers' Reporter: It’s difficult to get wins when you commit 18 turnovers in a game and shoot 27.6% from three. You got to give some credit to the Timberwolves defense, but they were also able to capitalize on the TOs, scoring 22 points off turnovers.

Peter Socotch, Producer on the road:  When you commit 18 turnovers and shoot 26% from three, you’re going to have a bad time. The Blazers never led on a night where the Timberwolves honored Prince with slick purple jerseys and music from His Royal Badness. Yes, the jerseys looked as cool in person as on TV. The Blazers just couldn’t hold onto the basketball. That mixed with a reinvigorated Timberwolves team, the Blazers never stood a chance.

***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 head to the nation's capital to take on the Wizards on Sunday. Tip-off is set for 3:00pm with coverage beginning at 2:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest.

Coach Thibodeau on preparing for Blazers: You can’t overlook their bigs

Coach Thibodeau on preparing for Blazers: You can’t overlook their bigs

Before the Trail Blazers take on the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight in Portland’s second contest of this current six-game road trip, both Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau addressed the media.

It will be the Blazers first time against a Minnesota team that now includes Robert Covington and Dario Saric after a trade with the Sixers.

“From a preparation standpoint we know what those two like to do. We have a scouting report on them and we’ll probably rely on that,” Coach Stotts said.

As for the loss to the Lakers, Coach Stotts went back and watched the game film and there was a lot he liked about what his team did in Los Angeles. “To be honest I thought the Lakers played really well… You have to give credit to them that they played really well,” Stotts added.

The Blazers could extend Jake Layman’s minutes with Seth Curry (right knee) OUT tonight, but Coach Stotts said he’s going to wait and see how the game plays out before making that decision.

The latest injury news for Timberwolves is that Derrick Rose (left knee) will play tonight vs. the Blazers. Rose was previously listed as QUESTIONABLE.

Minnesota has such a deep bench that Coach Thibodeau is having trouble decided who plays and who doesn’t, “but everyone has to stay ready… We have quality depth,” Coach Thibs said.

When talking about this matchup against the Blazers:

“The pressure that Lillard and McCollum put on you-- they’re shooting ability and they’re ability to make plays of the dribble, but you can’t overlook how big their bigs are-- they dominated us on the boards… We also have to get back to bodies to rebound. The rebounding component is huge for us,” Thibodeau said.

Tonight it’s a night to pay tribute to Prince at the Target Center.  Minnesota will debut a purple-highlighted uniform. The “City Edition” uniforms were created in collaboration between the Timberwolves, Nike and the Prince estate.

“Our players are really excited about the uniforms and the night and it’s a great way to honor Prince,” Thibodeau said.

Coach Stotts also said he was a big Prince fan.

Prince music will also be played all night long with the debut of the uniforms.

 

Coach Stotts

 

 

Coach Thibodeau

 

You can also check out the Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show RIGHT HERE.

Who will Blazers turn to to fill in for Seth Curry?

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NBCS NW

Who will Blazers turn to to fill in for Seth Curry?

It's time for another Blazers Outsiders Blog and this time around Blazers Outsider Chris Burkhardt answers the question - Who will fill in for the injured Seth Curry? 

Seth Curry hurt his knee in the Blazers loss to the Lakers on Wednesday, and it was announced today that he will miss time due to a right patellar bone bruise. How the question is, who will fill the void with Curry gone? Curry has averaged 17.1 minutes per game this season, so it may be tougher for coach Terry Stotts to rely on guys like Damian Lillard and Cj McCollum to shoulder the extra load. So where will he turn? This is where it gets interesting. 

In previous years the answer would be easy. Go with the backup guard, Wade Baldwin. However, Stotts has changed his play style and rotation this season meaning Baldwin might not be the easy answer. This season the Blazers are relying more than ever on Evan Turner to be the point guard of the second unit. Baldwin is not a shooter, nor does he play well off the ball. This seems to make him an easy pass. What it does do is open the door for the Blazers rookies to see some action. 

Both Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. are guards that can shoot the ball well and move well off the ball. Neither Trent nor Simons has seen significant minutes this season, playing a combined total of just 10 minutes. However, this could be the time their number gets called. So who should it be?

If Stotts wants to run with a player most similar to Curry - a player that moves well off the ball, can shoot off the catch, but is also comfortable as the primary ball handler when needed - then he should go with Simons. Simons is a natural point guard, can shoot the ball well, and could alleviate Turner from ball control duties if called upon.

If Stotts wants to run with a player that is more of a true shooting guard type - someone that moves well off the ball, shoots well of the catch, and doesn't demand to control the ball - then he should go with Trent. Trent not only fills the role on offense but at 6'6", 209lbs he is a large body on defense as well. Stotts could run Turner and Nik Stauskas at the one and two, and slide Trent in at small forward with no issues. 

If it's me, I go with Trent, simply because the second unit doesn't require a secondary ball handler and at this point Trent probably fits better in the second unit than Simons. In fact, it wouldn't be a surprise if Turner, Lillard, and McCollum were all in foul trouble that you could see Baldwin and Trent on the floor before Simons. 

Not matter who Stotts turns to, we know the next man up will be ready. 

Scoop Podcast with the Queen of Rip City, Brooke Olzendam

Scoop Podcast with the Queen of Rip City, Brooke Olzendam

In her third season as the Trail Blazers Sideline Reporter, Brooke Olzendam is enjoying her time in Rip City.

On this week’s Scoop Podcast I get to know more about Brooke and her broadcasting journey.

On the road

With the Trail Blazers broadcasting crew being such a close-knit group, it’s easy for Brooke to talk about how great it is traveling with them as well as Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd. There are several great road trip stories including late night casino stops!


Blazer fans are the best fans

Since Brooke has traveled all around the country and been to all of the NBA arenas, there’s one thing she has come to realize about Trail Blazer fans—They know their team and they always want to hear more about what’s going on with their team.  

 

Having a great support system

The Olzendam family has always been really supportive of Brooke’s broadcasting and athletic careers. It’s great hearing all the stories of Brooke’s childhood and her love for sports.

Spoiler Alert: Brooke played soccer for five years starting when she was five years old and her team NEVER won a game. You can tell by talking to her this was devastating.

Probably the toughest question I throw at Brooke is--- If you could go back and change one thing about your sideline reporting career what would it be?

She gave a very thoughtful answer about her decision in becoming the Indiana Pacers sideline reporter back in 2011.

 

Hard Hitting Questions

 I ask the question that’s been on everyone’s mind:

What’s the deal with Pierre the Pelican always trying to scare the crap out of you?

Yes, Brooke is always on the lookout when she’s in New Orleans, but she told me that as long as Blaze the Trail Cat loves her that’s all that matters.

And, is Brooke a dog person or a cat person?? Wait until you hear her answer!

 

Talking shop

For Brooke, seeing Zach Collins’ development has been fun to watch. She feels that at just 20 years old his maturity is off the charts. After talking with Zach’s father, Mike Collins, last season, Brooke realized just how determined Zach is to become one of the greatest big men in Trail Blazer history.  

Hear from the ‘Queen of Rip City’ in the link below in this week’s Scoop Podcast.

 

 

Can you really trust the early season returns from the Blazers?

Can you really trust the early season returns from the Blazers?

My friend Kurt Helin over at Pro Basketball Talk had me on his podcast last week to discuss the surprising start by the Portland Trail Blazers, along with several other Western Conference NBA topics. About 15 minutes into our discussion, Kurt surprised me with a question I hadn't really considered much up until that point. 

Are Blazers fans buying into this team being for real?

I hemmed and hawed the way you do when you are trying to think of an answer in a live radio situation, inserting an anecdote about an observation I had made about Portland fans a couple years ago while I tried internally to decide what my gauge was on this fanbase. Smoothly (I think) I decided to respond with what I felt was most true about this 10-4 start, and has made this season unique in the eyes of Blazers diehards.

“They’re not waiting for the other shoe to drop,” I said.

That mindset — that something, anything is about to go wrong — has been prevalent in years past. In recent seasons, the Blazers have continued to exceed expectations with a roster that is playing above it's on-paper potential and during those times I’ve witnessed fans say they’re expecting a turn for the worse.

It happened in 2015-16 when Blazers fans knew that the team wasn't as good as it performed, leaping into the playoff race and beating an injury-decimated Los Angeles Clippers squad.

It happened the following season after a 20-game outburst from Jusuf Nurkic to end the year perhaps projected too rosy a future with the young center.

Heck, it even happened last year when the Blazers tore through the months of February and March, a trampoline effect that nabbed them the 3-seed in a crowded West. 

At each turn over the past few years, it’s felt as though fans were waiting for things to return to “normal”, for their big break to be over, and for the top-heavy team to fall from the stratosphere back to earth. 

This season? I’m not so sure. 

Part of that has to do with how Blazers fans take in games. This is a fanbase that pays attention to the squad, the tendencies, and eats up content around the team. And if you have been focused on this Portland squad early this year, you know that most of us analysts credit player buy-in and team-oriented bench play for this recent rise.

Now let me tell you something I'm not sure many analysts have made explicit: There's no reason to think either of those two things are going to change any time soon.

The strategy set forth by Stotts is solid. While Evan Turner was originally brought in to take pressure off of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard in the playoffs, his natural role this season is as primary bench ballhandler. His unit shares the ball efficiently, and despite being the highest-paid player in the secondary rotation, Turner seems openly happy with his new role.

McCollum has adjusted to his new position as well. To his credit, both externally and from an observational standpoint, he seems happy to have done it. A $106 million man himself, McCollum seems truthful in accepting his role this season, joined at the hip with Lillard on the first unit.

This is all to say that the biggest roadblocks in the NBA are usually the personalities of the players themselves. Neil Olshey has built a roster around perhaps the best character guy in the NBA in Lillard, and the locker room has a tone that follows its star player. Buy-in from McCollum and Turner has filtered on down through the roster in the offensive strategies and defensive tactics put forth by Stotts.

The caveat with any season is of injury, but divested from any what-ifs in that department, this Portland team seems poised to continue their solid play. Film will be gathered, and defenses will adjust. Then the Blazers will adjust to the adjustment. They’ll have strong showings, like against the Celtics on Sunday or the Bucks last week. They’ll look overmatched the way they did on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s the flow of NBA basketball.

But for now, it seems like Portland fans are ready to trust this team when just six weeks ago that might not have been advisable. Go ahead, it’s ok. 

I do, too.