Rewinding the Blazers top moments before All-Star Break
We're 57 games through the 2019 NBA season and the All-Star break is finally here. What a first half of the season it's been!
From Jake Layman stepping up with Maurice Harkelss facing injuries, Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum's getting their triple-double game on to Zach Collins beefing with Klay Thompson and the Warriors.
Dane Delgado takes a look at the best Trail Blazers moments thus far.
Opening Night Win
The 2018-19 NBA season opened with much trepidation here in Portland as fans weren't quite sure what to expect after a sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans in the postseason last spring. Meanwhile, LeBron James was set to see the floor for the first time as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
With a massive TV audience watching, Portland pulled out a win over the hated Western Conference rivals, 128-119. Nik Stauskas added a surprising 24 points from the bench, including a 5-of-8 barrage from 3-point range.
The Blazers began the year almost unfathomably hot, taking first place in the West unexpectedly to start the year. Portland was a wonderful city to be in at that time, and everyone felt ecstatic about the apparent depth of this team. Of course the Trail Blazers eventually cooled off, leading Portland fans to head the other direction with it.
The team is still on pace to win a considerable amount of games and jockey for home-court advantage in the playoffs, so things have at least evened out a little bit.
Jake Layman going nuts
This has been a career year for Jake Layman, who has stepped up and filled in for Maurice Harkless in the face of injury rather admirably. Layman has become a much better 3-point shooter, and has had four games of 20+ points so far this year. In fact, Layman has scored in double-digits 16 times this season already, compared to just twice in his career before that.
Layman let us all know it was going to be a big year for him in just the fourth matchup of the season on Oct. 10 against the Phoenix Suns. He scored 28 points to go along with four rebounds and three assists, going 5-of-7 from 3-point range.
CJ goes for 40
Things were so rosy for the Blazers in October. CJ McCollum was in a new role with the offense, this time tied to Damian Lillard with the first unit. It wasn't clear how this would affect McCollum’s role or scoring.
Fans were excited when McCollum scored 40 points during an impressive win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 6. It seemed to signal that McCollum was going to be okay with his altered role in the face of some middling field goal shooting and blips in scoring. Of course, CJ began to struggle more as the season went on, and in retrospect what it really meant was that McCollum could still cook.
Jusuf Nurkic’s triple-double
Damian Lillard knew it. CJ McCollum knew it. And yes, Jusuf Nurkic knew it when he was just a couple assists away from a triple-double late in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 16.
Nurkic recorded the first Blazers triple-double since Nic Batum last did it in 2014, and it was just the 15th triple-double in team history.
Call it hunting, call it stat-stuffing, call it what you will but the fact that CJ McCollum grabbed a triple-double this season for the Blazers was nothing short of incredible.
The reality is even if McCollum fudged a bit on his last couple assists, he was rebounding, shooting, and passing the ball well when he notched his first-ever triple-double on Jan. 26 against the Atlanta Hawks.
CJ telling Zach to be zen
Zach Collins is no longer blocking the amount of shots that he was to start the season, but he has retained the same kind of foul rate. Collins has foul rate per 100 possessions that’s pretty high, so it's felt like he’s has struggled on defense with not a lot to show for it. Collins fouled out of a game against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 9 with just a minute to go, and he was noticeably upset.
CJ McCollum tried to calm him down, but wound up getting a towel in his face. At least we got a couple of good GIFs out of it.
Zach Collins beefing with the Warriors
We have all seen the GIF at this point. Collins says something unsavory to Klay Thompson, then gets into it with several Warriors on the way to a massive blowout win heading into the All-Star break.
It was a point of pride for Blazers fans at the location I was watching the game at, and it spoke to the kind of self-confidence that Collins has on the court. It helped that Collins had just blocked the hell out of Damion Lee, too.
Layman's "Jordan" shrug
Jake Layman has had an amazing season for the Blazers, and Portland’s 22-point win over the Golden State Warriors heading into the All-Star break had a lot of high moments.
Perhaps the best was Jake Layman giving the Jordan shrug after hitting a high-arching 3-pointer over none other than Draymond Green.
Damian Lillard’s 40-pieces
The guy has had five of them. I don’t know what else to say about Damian other than he’s a dang ol’ joy to watch each and every night. It feels like everyone else on this team gets the shine each game, and that’s partially because Lillard lets it happen thanks to the way he leads the locker room. Meanwhile, he’s still a scoring monster and he’s on his way to another All-Star Game.
I’m glad he’s a Blazer.