Meyers Leonard: Meaningful minutes and "earning a standing ovation"

Meyers Leonard: Meaningful minutes and "earning a standing ovation"

CJ McCollum was heading to the free throw line with 3:31 remaining on the game clock.

At that moment, Meyers Leonard turned to the home crowd and yelled, “come on” with his hands in the air, urging the fans to get on their feet.

The Trail Blazers led 110-91 as the Moda Center crowd rose to their feet and the Blazers along with Leonard rose to the occasion.  

Portland defeated Oklahoma City in Game 2 on Tuesday night, 114-94 in what turned out to be a blowout for Portland, thus Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was able to unload his bench in garbage time.

But it wasn’t garbage time minutes for Leonard.   

Just like the media, the players, and the fans, the referees also know the bad blood between these two teams and in order to keep the peace, the officials were making sure to call any and all fouls.

Whether it was a charge call, a moving screen, or a blocking call, the whistles were being blown. In turn, that meant Blazers starting center Enes Kanter got into early foul trouble. Al-Farouq Aminu and Kanter both had three fouls by halftime.

When Kanter picked up his fourth foul early in the third that made way for Leonard.

“Because Enes picked up his fourth early, we got a few more minutes out of [Meyers] and I thought it was just a good time to have him in there… Good things were happening when he was on the court, so we kept him in,” Coach Stotts said postgame.

“I was happy for him. He brought some great energy,” McCollum said.

But, Leonard rose to the occasion in unexpected way:

On the defensive end.

He challenged Steven Adams down low and was also able to slow down the Thunder guards when he switched onto the smaller players.

“He got a couple of switches, moved his feet well, you know, challenged, got a block that didn’t go, that they called a goaltend, knocked down some jumpers, gave us good spacing, and energy,” McCollum said.

Yes, the Trail Blazers backup center didn’t get that block, even though it looked good, but he did finish the game with the best plus/minus of any bench player for the game with a +17.

In his 14 minutes played, he scored five points and pulled down four rebounds.  

“I just played as hard as I could and tried to set screens, go after rebounds and be prepared to shoot, which is the thing I didn’t actually do that well,” Leonard said with a perplexed look.

“I was 2-for-4, but I feel like I should make everyone of them,” Leonard added.

Immediately after the final buzzer sounded, Kanter jumped on Leonard’s back to celebrate the win and Leonard’s performance.

That’s the thing about this team; they care about each other and are happy for their teammates success.

“He’s a guy who is always, you know, jacked up, and a guy who can get the crowd really involved,” McCollum said.

As always for any bench player with inconsistent minutes, staying ready is key.

“My focus and mindset has been to just be ready,” Leonard said. “I’m not sure if I’m going to go in, I’m not sure when I’m gonna go in, but I can tell you one thing -- I’m gonna go in there and I’m gonna play friggin’ hard and it felt good to be out there contributing and now we’re up 2-0.”

When Leonard checked back into the game at the 9:36 mark of the fourth quarter for Zach Collins, the Moda Center crowd gave Leonard a loud ovation.

As Rip City fans well know, the fan base has been up and down when it comes to Meyers.

“I’ll be honest I did see a tweet about that, just talking about, I guess, that I had a quote-unquote earned a standing ovation,” Leonard said.

“Whatever that means, it felt good. I’m always gonna give it my all, I can guarantee you guys that... Like I said, it felt good to be out there, playing meaningful minutes, helping us win a playoff game,” Leonard added.

The Trail Blazers now go up 2-0 in the best of seven series. This is the first time Portland has taken a 2-0 advantage since the First Round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs. The Blazers beat Houston in that series, 4-2.

This series now shifts to OKC and as everyone knows every possession counts in the postseason or as Meyers put it:

“The playoffs is possession basketball.”

Leonard also says he will be ready for extra possessions if they come his way.

Here's how the Trail Blazers plan to approach exhibition game vs. Jazz

Here's how the Trail Blazers plan to approach exhibition game vs. Jazz

The Trail Blazers take on the Utah Jazz Wednesday night in Salt Lake City and it could be about as close to a regular-season game as you can get in the exhibition season.

Coach Terry Stotts plans to make it pretty close to a dress rehearsal for his team and it may be the final opportunity to do so. Portland finishes the preseason schedule Thursday night with a game in Denver, but because the Trail Blazers open the regular season against the Nuggets next week in Moda Center, Stotts isn’t expected to use his regulars for extended minutes, if at all.

Damian Lillard was asked what he expected to get out of the game against the Jazz.

“Closer to a real game,” he said. “We’re going to play closer to our normal minutes. Obviously, having to face that altitude, seeing a division opponent and they’ve added a lot of guys, first road trip. It’s going to be a good thing for us.”

Lillard, like so many other veteran players, is finding the preseason more difficult than he did when he was in his early years as an NBA player. It becomes much tougher to find the same intensity usually reserved for a regular-season game.

“I think you should,” he said. “But it’s hard to, when you know it’s not going to count. It gets harder every year. But I think this is as close to a regular-season game as you’re going to get to it.”

Coaches have the same sort of issues. They want to get their team ready for the regular season, yet they know they can’t risk injuries and they don’t want to give away insight into their team for regular-season scouting reports. But there are rotation and substitution questions to answer, too.

And in the case of Stotts, he won’t be too concerned with the team’s record in the non-counting games.

“I look at it as, ‘How are we playing? Are there more positives than negatives?’ Ultimately, I don’t think preseason wins and losses are an indication of your season,” Stotts said.

And then there’s the psychological aspects to a game like this.

Stotts was asked if he’d chase a win in this game if he found the score tied with a few minutes to go or just let it go.

“Over the years, there have been games where you don’t think it’s going to go that way,” he said. “But at some point, in the third or fourth quarter, both coaches say, ‘Let’s go for it.’ Both teams realize, this is how the games are going to go. I can’t say how the next two are going to go. But I’ve seen games where both teams, all of a sudden, decide, ‘Let’s go for a win.'”

But there’s the other side to that. There have also been games where one coach decides he’s going for it but then the other coach decides he doesn’t want to take a chance of losing a non-counting game and just goes to his bench and gives up on chasing the win. Better not to give a team some sort of psychological advantage by beating you in a game it knew you wanted to win.

“Yeah,” Stotts said, with a laugh. “Oh yeah. That happens. Honestly, that’s kind of a fun part of the preseason -- you can do those things without repercussions.”

Wednesday night we’ll likely know more about the Trail Blazers – and Utah Jazz – than we knew Tuesday. Or maybe we won't.

Trail Blazers rookie Nassir Little still favoring his left ankle

Trail Blazers rookie Nassir Little still favoring his left ankle

With just two exhibition games reaming for the Portland Trail Blazers, their only rookie Nassir Little will not be gaining more preseason experience.

Little has not practiced since spraining his left ankle last Thursday against Maccabi Haifa.

The 19-year-old was working with the training staff after Tuesday’s practice, but it was clear Little’s ankle was not 100 percent.

After practice, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said, “If you were watching him, he’s still favoring his ankle. So, he won’t play in either game.”

[RELATED]: Trail Blazer rookie Nassir Little already "paying it forward" in the Portland community

Little had to leave the game against Maccabi Haifa late in the first quarter after he went up for a layup and was fouled on the attempt. He landed awkwardly and was seen on the court holding his left leg.

There is no timetable on his return.

Coach Stotts also said Tuesday that Wednesday’s game in Utah will be more like a dress rehearsal with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum playing their usual starting minutes.  

Countdown to Tip-Off: Blazers make it 10 in a row in 2010

Countdown to Tip-Off: Blazers make it 10 in a row in 2010

We're counting down the days until the Portland Trail Blazers open up the 2019-2020 NBA season by looking back at each of the victories in the 18-game home-opener win streak. Here is a look at what happened back in 2010 when the Portland Trail Blazers faced the Houston Rockets in the home-opener.

Can’t remember what the NBA was like in 2010? Let’s paint the picture:

  • LeBron James was the reigning MVP, winning in back-to-back years
  • The Los Angeles Lakers were the defending champions
  • Tyreke Evans had just won Rookie of the Year
  • John Wall was the No.1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
  • The Blazers had the No.22 pick and drafted Elliot Williams. They also drafted Armon Johnson (No.34).
  • Kevin Durant was the league's leading scorer
  • The Blazers signed Wesley Matthews prior to the season
  • Brandon Roy made All-NBA Third-Team.
  • 2010-2011 would end up being Roy's last season with the Blazers, as he would have to medically retire.  


As for the Blazers home opener...

The Blazers opened up their home schedule and the 2010 season with the Phoenix Suns. It was a close game throughout, until we got to the fourth quarter. Entering the fourth Phoenix held the 81-75 lead, but the Blazrers would outscore them 31-11 in the quarter, thanks in large part to an 18-2 run in the final 5:44 of the game. Portland picked up the 106-92 victory and their tenth home-opening victory in a row. 

Notable stats: 

Phoenix -

Steve Nash – 26 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds.

Jason Richardson– 22 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist

Portland –

Brandon Roy – 24 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds 

Nicolas Batum – 19 points, 11 rebounds

Marcus Camby – 13 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists

Wesley Matthews– 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists

The Blazers would finish the season 48-34, good for the sixth-best record in the Western Conference. Portland would go on to lose to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. 

REPORT: Jusuf Nurkic set to sign with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group

REPORT: Jusuf Nurkic set to sign with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group

Injured Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic is switching up his representation.

According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Trail Blazers big man is changing agents.

The 25-year-old is set to sign with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group.

Nurkic signed a four-year, $48 million deal as a free agent back in July 2018 to stay in Portland.

[RELATED]: Brooke Olzendam sits down with Jusuf Nurkic this offseason

Nurkic now joins a list of many NBA players that have recently switched to the Klutch Sports Group, including Draymond Green, Montrezl Harrell, and most recently Anthony Davis.

Paul also represents LeBron James and John Wall, among others.

Nurkic was previously represented by Aylton Tesch of Dynasty Sports Management.

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers versatile bigs will be key to success

The 25-year-old had a career-best season with the Blazers before his season-ending leg injury. He averaged 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks in 72 games with the Blazers.

There is no timeline yet established for Nurk’s return to the court.

At age 39, can Pau Gasol contribute to the Trail Blazers' front court?

At age 39, can Pau Gasol contribute to the Trail Blazers' front court?

Pau Gasol has been on the Portland Trail Blazers’ radar for some time, and now they finally have him. The only problem is that the Spanish veteran is 39 years old, and it's not clear what he's going to bring to Portland on the court.

Gasol had an injury-plagued season last year, but his advanced statistic show that he could still be useful in short bursts off the bench. His assist to usage percentage is still quite good, and he remains a high value over replacement player. With Hassan Whiteside filling in for Jusuf Nurkic, Gasol could allow Portland to run more of its high post passing plays from last season due to his ability to create assists from the 5 spot.

Gasol is a reasonable enough mid-range shooter, and remains a high-percentage guy at the rim. He's also got the ability to step out and hit some 3-pointers, which may not be exactly what Terry Stotts wants from him, but it could allow more passing lanes for his bench teammates.

On defense, Gasol is a reasonable block percentage player. He still shows the ability to get into lanes and slyly bat away attempts, which should be good enough as he goes against opposing backup players this year. I wouldn't expect him to be the kind of block machine that Hassan Whiteside will be, but Gasol plays smart and that's why he might also be able to stop the bleeding if Zach Collins or Whiteside get into foul trouble.

There's a lot of good to Gasol. There's also real injury concerns, and with them, questions about his role for Portland. Watch the full video breakdown above to see what Gasol brings to the table.

How the Trail Blazers are continuing to build team chemistry

How the Trail Blazers are continuing to build team chemistry

It’s something that wasn’t really brought up over the last few seasons, because it didn’t need to be with the continuity in Portland.

But now, with a total of seven new players added to the Trail Blazers roster, team chemistry is a big topic of conversation.

Portland is currently 1-2 in the preseason with its only win coming against Maccabi Haifa.

With that being said, is there concern that the team chemistry is not quite there yet?

No, not at the moment.

The Blazers feel they still have enough time to develop the necessary camaraderie.  

“In general it’s going to be a work in progress,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said after Monday’s practice. “Whether it’s Dame [Lillard] and Hassan [Whiteside] in pick and rolls or Zach [Collins] and Hassan as the two bigs or whatever it is – Mario [Hezonja] playing the four, I think there’s just a lot of newness and for all of us that we’re still trying to figure it out,” Stotts said.

[RELATED]: Pau Gasol will not play in the preseason

Developing that loyalty among each other seems to be lacking a little more on defense. That was evident in the Blazers loss to the Suns on Saturday after Phoenix hit 24 three-pointers on the night.

“After a short amount of time it hasn’t been bad,” Stotts said of the Blazers building more team chemistry. “It probably shows itself more at the defensive end than the offensive end.”

“Defensively we’ve still got to learn how to trust each other,” Collins added.

Collins believes building that chemistry on the defensive end is all about trust.

“To get real Xs and Os about it, I think just getting up into the ball on the perimeter as a guard, and trusting that you have help behind you, and not letting them shoot a three,” Collins said. “[We need] more reps and I think that’s why the preseason is going to be great for us.”

[RELATED]: How did Hassan Whiteside do the last time vs. Rudy Gobert? Look it up!

For Collins, who will probably see time at both the four and the five this season, he enjoys playing alongside Whiteside. He also understands what is being asked of him when he is playing the four.  

“I think regardless of who is the five, it’s just me being more effective defensively, guarding shooting bigs and guarding… mobile fours that can take it off the dribble and do other things besides just being at the rim,” Collins said.

“As far as playing with Hassan, if anything, he just makes everybody’s life easier because, like I said, getting up into the ball on the perimeter knowing you have a guy like that at the rim who is going to contest everything it just gives you confidence to put more pressure on the ball,” Collins added.

Whiteside admitted this preseason has been difficult for him because he missed 10 days of training camp after he tweaked his left ankle.

“That kind of messed up my momentum, but everyday is a day we are getting better at it,” Whiteside said of his connection with the Blazers’ guards.

Whiteside did want to mention as he adjusts to his new teammates, he is enjoying being on the floor with veteran Anthony Tolliver, saying AT is ‘big man friendly.’

“I’m still getting to know the other guys too. They’re getting to know me, feeling that chemistry. The guys have been doing a great job of just passing the ball, communicating. Tolliver is an amazing passer. He’s really big man friendly. So, he likes to throw it down to the big men,” Whiteside said with a smile.

It sounds like from the coaching staff down to the players, everyone is glad there is still a week left of the preseason.

Pau Gasol will not play in the preseason

Pau Gasol will not play in the preseason

Trail Blazers big man Pau Gasol has missed the first three-preseason games and he will not play in the remaining two exhibition contests.

Gasol is still recovering from foot surgery that he underwent in early May.

During Trail Blazers Media Day at the end of September, the two-time NBA champion said he was optimistic he would be able to play in the regular-season opener and was hopeful to see some action in a preseason game.

But, Gasol has not participated in a Trail Blazers practice as of yet and Blazers head coach Terry Stotts does not have a timeline to when Gasol will be able to practice.

“There’s no latest. He’s on the mend. He works with our [Health & Performance team] everyday. He’s very diligent about doing what he needs to do, but as far as an update there’s really no update,” Stotts said after Monday’s practice. 

“He is not going to play in the preseason,” Stotts added.

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers ready to learn from legend Pau Gasol

Gasol enters the 2019-20 season at 39-years-old with 18 years of NBA experience under his belt.

The veteran big man signed with the Milwaukee Bucks at the beginning of March last season, but was able to play in just three games prior to undergoing surgery on his left foot.

[REALTED]: How the Trail Blazers landed Pau Gasol

Coach Stotts also informed the media on Monday that when he has an update on Gasol he will announce it, which is similar to how the Blazers will give updates on Jusuf Nurkic’s progress.

“Just like Nurkic, we’ll have an update when there’s an update,” Stotts said.

As for the other injury updates, Rodney Hood saw “no ill affects,” from his back spasms according to Stotts, which had kept Hood out of Saturday’s game against the Phoenix Suns.

Stotts believes rookie Nassir Little is on the mend after tweaking his left ankle in the Maccabi Haifa game last Thursday. 

“[He’s] better… He’s moving around when the team was practicing. He was doing some exercises. It’d be nice if he could get a practice in tomorrow,” Stotts said of Little.

How did Hassan Whiteside do the last time vs. Rudy Gobert? Look it up!

How did Hassan Whiteside do the last time vs. Rudy Gobert? Look it up!

Hassan Whiteside was asked Monday about how he has done against Utah’s 7-1 center, Rudy Gobert, an outstanding defender said to have a massive 7-9 wingspan, as the Trail Blazers travel to Salt Lake City this week for a Wednesday night exhibition game against the Jazz.

“Go check out my last game against him,” Whiteside said. “It was in Miami. Check it out and let me know.”

More on that later. But for right now, Whiteside says he’s finally feeling comfortable after an ankle sprain that caused him to miss 10 days of practice. And looking ahead to the Wednesday game, he’s particularly concerned about one thing:

“Conditioning,” he said, “I missed about 10 days with my ankle sprain. Get back to game shape. Feel like myself. Getting my wind back and building up that spring that gives me the dunks and the blocks. I just want to keep progressing.

“I want to get to moving even faster. I couldn’t move like I wanted to move.”

It helps that the lingering pain is gone.

“Pain free as of about two days ago.,” Whiteside said. “We had a tough practice today. We scrimmaged. A lot of live work. Like a real game. I love it.”

The Blazers don’t call a lot of set plays, but in fact use particular sets that allow players to read and react to the defense. That makes it imperative that players spend more time playing together so they can accurately read situations. And it makes it more difficult for the players who came from very structured systems.

“We’re getting better,” he said. “I’m still learning. A lot more read and react.”

Whiteside is being counted on to be an anchor for the team’s defense and at least a moderate threat to score at the basket so he will be a focal point heading into the regular season.

OK, and about that last time he met Gobert in a game… Whiteside last squared off against Gobert Dec. 2, 2018 and, as you may have guessed by now, Whiteside had a big game. He scored 23 points on 11-17 shooting, hauled in 20 rebounds and blocked three shots. Gobert had 12 points and. 18 rebounds. Miami won the game by two points. When the teams played each other again a few days later, Whiteside did not play.

Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, we get the matchup again.

Countdown to Tip-Off: Blazers beat Rockets in 2009 home opener

Countdown to Tip-Off: Blazers beat Rockets in 2009 home opener

We're counting down the days until the Portland Trail Blazers open up the 2019-2020 NBA season by looking back at each of the victories in the 18-game home opener win streak. Here is a look at what happened back in 2009 when the Portland Trail Blazers faced the Houston Rockets in the home-opener.

Can’t remember what the NBA was like in 2009? Let’s paint the picture:

  • LeBron James was the reigning MVP 
  • The Los Angeles Lakers were the defending champions
  • Derrick Rose had just won Rookie of the Year
  • Blake Griffin was the No.1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, but sat out the entire season due to injury. 
  • The Blazers had the No.22 pick and drafted Victor Claver. They also drafted Dante Cunningham (No.33), Jon Brockman (No.38), and Patty Mills (No.55)
  • The Blazers signed PG Andre Miller in the offseason, one of the team's biggest free-agent signings to date. 

As for the Blazers home opener...

The Blazers dominated most of this game, but things got interesting late. Portland started the fourth quarter with the 75-56 lead, but the Rockets weren't willing to go down without a fight. Houston slowly chipped away and following two free throws from David Anderson, they had it down to just a six-point lead with 2:19 left in the game. However, Portland was able to hold Houston to just four points the rest of the way and picked up the 96-87 victory to win their ninth home opener in a row. 

Notable stats: 

Houston -

Aaron Brooks – 19 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds.

Trevor Ariza– 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists

Kyle Lowry – 12 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals

Portland –

Brandon Roy – 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists 

LaMarcus Aldridge – 11 points, 6 rebounds

Travis Outlaw – 23 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals

The Blazers would finish the season 50-32, good for the sixth-best record in the Western Conference. Portland would go on to lose to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs.