Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

I'm not big on moral victories. As I said last night on Talkin' Ball, this is big-boy basketball and winning on the scoreboard is the only thing that matters.

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But that's not to say we didn't learn some positive things from Saturday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, which finished off an 0-4 homestand for the Trail Blazers. What did we learn? Here's what I saw:

  • Meyers Leonard in the starting lineup worked. I don't care what you think, the guy can flat-out make shots. And this team needs more players who can do that. He probably should have seen fourth-quarter playing time but...
  • Coach Terry Stotts was busy trying to match up with the Rockets' fourth-quarter small lineup. However the problem with Portland's small lineup is that it usually contains more defenders than scorers. And the unfortunate part of that Saturday night was, even though it may have been the team's best defensive group, it was totally incapable of getting defensive stops. In fact, I can't remember a time when I've seen a team stack layup on layup down the stretch of a game the way Houston did to the Trail Blazers. Chris Paul and James Harden not only got to the basket whenever they wanted, they did so with their strong hand -- Harden from the left side and Paul from the right. So...
  • It wouldn't have hurt to have had some help in the basket area to at least harass those layups a bit. I'm not sure why that's so difficult for Portland to do when I see other teams doing it to the Portland guards quite frequently. And the real bottom line to all of that was ...
  • If you aren't getting stops while using your best defenders in that small lineup, forget about it! Face it, the Rockets can be impossible to guard. So...
  • Why not just go with your best offensive players, regardless of size or defensive ability? Make them worry about guarding YOU. Houston hit 15 for 18 from the field in the fourth quarter and murdered Portland from the foul line. Why not just put your best offensive players on the court and try to score with them? Because....
  • YOU WEREN'T ABLE TO STOP THEM AT ALL WITH THAT SMALL LINEUP SO SCRAP IT AND GET SOME SHOOTERS OUT THERE!
  • I may be obsessed with this -- well, I AM obsessed with this -- but I don't like it when the opposing team dictates Portland's lineups. Play the ones who got you the lead instead of the ones who are in the process of blowing a 14-point lead inside one quarter.
  • Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot their way out of slumps, which was a good sign moving forward.
  • Zach Collins did a terrific job during his time on the floor. He's not afraid to shoot an open shot and he's got a real instinct for blocking shots. I'd sneak him onto the floor as often as possible in the upcoming games to try to kickstart his development by getting him more comfortable. This team is in serious need of rim protection and he might be just the guy to provide it.
  • I don't envy Stotts with the lineup and rotation decisions he has to make on a nightly basis. He almost has too many versions of the same players and he is probably never quite sure what he's going to get from some of them on a night-to-night basis.
  • That said, I'd make sure to not only get Pat Connaughton on the floor every game, I'd make sure he got his shots. He's alert on defense and opportunistic on offense. And he is becoming a reliable scorer if he is allowed to be.
  • Ed Davis may be having one of his best seasons but he's going to struggle getting playing time because, all things being equal, some of the younger players are going to need developmental time and they are going to get it. I see Davis as a valuable trade piece at the deadline -- a big help to a contender looking for a rebounder off the bench.
  • Please, somebody in the league office, take a look at the way Harden is officiated. He often mixes in an extra little hop during his Euro-step and he deserves no extra benefits. And when he misses a shot, it's not always because he was fouled. Thank you.

Opening night could be a Moda Center circus

Opening night could be a Moda Center circus

TUALATIN – It’s probably going to be the biggest three-ring circus of an opening night that the Trail Blazers have ever staged.

There is just so much going on to make the event unlike any other home opener –- maybe any other regular-season game – in the 49-year history of the team.

Consider:

  • The Trail Blazers are working on a 17-game win streak in their home openers.
  • Portland also has a 15-game win streak against Thursday night’s opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • This will be the first home opener in three decades that the team will play without Paul Allen as its owner. Allen passed away Monday after losing a battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
  • The game will be telecast nationally via TNT.
  • And oh yes, a fellow by the name of LeBron James will be playing his first regular-season game as a Laker.

James’ appearance has led to the an unprecedented amount of credential requests from national media. The media sections will be packed.

Even with all those special things going on, it’s important to point out that opening night is always something special for players. In any sport, every team is undefeated before the first game. And those teams have an optimism and even a confidence they may not have later in the season. Even the downtrodden teams don’t know how really bad they are until they play a few games.

“First day of school, that’s a good way to put it,” said Damian Lillard. “I remember my first day of first grade, of kindergarten, I was excited to go to school. Put that new outfit on.

“Same thing in the NBA. I think regardless of how many years you’ve done it, there’s nothing like opening night. The energy’s there, everybody’s expecting it to be their year and it’s another opportunity to go at it.”

The Trail Blazers may go into the game at full strength, which did not happen for any of the preseason games. Maurice Harkless, who missed all of the preseason games, says he’s “probable” for the opener – the same listing he had for the final three exhibition games.

Harkless would be a big help against the Lakers for his defense. The Trail Blazers usually match Al-Farouq Aminu against James but having Harkless in the lineup would allow the two to switch on screens, if necessary, and also give Aminu a rest off James.

If Harkless can go.

If not, it’s anyone’s guess who will fill the small forward spot. Jake Layman had a big preseason as the fill-in but has started only two games in his career. This would be a very big stage for him.

Because of TNT, the game is scheduled for a 7:30 start and special tributes to the team’s late owner will take place throughout the game.

The Trail Blazers will wear a patch on their uniforms bearing Allen’s initials, “PGA.”

“I think everybody in the league is ready to open the season,” said Portland Coach Terry Stotts. “It’s time. There’s a lot going on, a lot of anticipation – I think that’s a good thing.”

The Players' Perspective: What a difference a year makes

The Players' Perspective: What a difference a year makes

Fans and media are always giving their opinions on what the difference and similarities are from one team to another. It is all too easy for people from the outside looking in to judge.

But when you are in the trenches and with your teammates day in and day out, those are the people who can make a real comparison. Trail Blazers players and Coach Terry Stotts have noticed a few changes from last year.

Damian Lillard, who has discussed how he is a ‘true veteran’ now, compared this year’s Blazers’ team to the 2013-14 team.

“I think this year kind of reminds me of my second year, you know we had guys out there that complimented each other. I think ET comes in and he’s going to be on the point and then you got guys like Nik and Seth out there who are playing off the ball, they can shoot, they can put it on the floor and do something, but ET has command of what’s going on out there and those guys are complimentary to that. So I think that’s the difference this year from the past few years,” Lillard said.

The biggest difference and question mark right now is the Blazers' bench. This offseason, Portland parted ways with Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, and Pat Connaughton. The Blazers guaranteed Jake Layman’s contract, while also drafting Anfernee Simons with the 24th pick and Gary Trent Jr. in the second round.  In free agency, Portland picked up two shot makers in Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas.

With the additions of Simons, Curry, and Stauskas, the Blazers goal was to space the floor and make sure the offense does not completely stop when the starters come out.

“In the past we’ve had some trouble scoring points off the bench and I think all those guys have the ability to make shots. They can put the ball in the basket, so hopefully we can get that from them consistently,” Lillard said.

Yes, there has been so much talk about how the Blazers’ offense has gotten better especially with the new additions to the second unit, but what about the defense?

“I think this year if we can take steps forward defensively, but then our offense comes around where we are flowing well at the beginning of the game and then when the bench comes in they continue to give us a spark offensively, if we can get that, I think we’ll be pretty good. Last year we were really good defensively, had our offense been there we probably would’ve had a much better start to the season,” Lillard said.

[RELATED]: Neil Olshey frames Blazers' delicate task: Improving offense without hurting defense

Coach Stotts is focused on making sure the defense mentality from last season doesn’t get left behind.

“We were good defensive team last year, I think so far our offense is ahead of offense last year, defensively it’s not where it was… I think it’s a little difficult to compare the two teams right now. Our offense—I think there’s a good feel for it, but our defense has to maintain the level that it was at last year,” Stotts said.

The national media is projecting the Trail Blazers will be anywhere from just barely making the playoffs in the West to being on the outside looking in, but for CJ McCollum he believes that after getting swept by the Pelicans that should help propel them, if only mentally this season.

“A year of experience, a year older, mature, better perspective going into the season—you go through turmoil, losing games, losing a playoff series you grow from it,” McCollum said.

It’s time to see if the differences in the Blazers’ bench and going through turmoil will get the Blazers back to one of the top team’s in the West Conference and help them exceed the national media’s expectations once again.

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Trail Blazers head into opening night as a slight favorite vs. LeBron James and the Lakers

Trail Blazers head into opening night as a slight favorite vs. LeBron James and the Lakers

The 2018-2019 season tips-off for the Trail Blazers on Thursday night with a nationally televised game against LeBron James and the LA Lakers. 

While the eyes of the NBA and the casual fan will be on LeBron's debut with his new team and everyone's first look at the revamped Lakers, let us not overlook the fact that the Trail Blazers are favored to win this game. 

Depending on the source, the Trail Blazers are around a 1.5 point favorite in the game, as of Wednesday afternoon.  

Generally, the rule of thumb has been that home court advantage is worth 3 points in the NBA. A detailed breakdown heading into last season showed Moda Center was worth about 3.58 points for the Blazers. So let's call it 3.5 points. 

If we do the math, Vegas is telling us that the Lakers are about 2 points better than Portland, factor in Moda Center's home court advantage and we land at a Portland -1.5 spread.

Something to consider though is the emotion the Blazers will be playing with given the recent passing of owner Paul Allen. 

Can the Blazers win this game by a basket? 

Rip City Drive hosts Chad Doing and Travis Demers sure think so. 

"They're going to kick their ass...this is a matchup issue for the Lakers, it always has been. The Lakers don't play well at Moda," said Doing. 

"Neither does LeBron (play well at Moda)...Continuity is going to be a big factor too. It's going to take time for the Lakers to figure things out, Portland already has that continuity," added Demers.

So Blazer fans, time to put your money where your heart is? #BeatLA

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Countdown to Tip-off: Blazers take down Cousins and Pelicans in 2017

Countdown to Tip-off: Blazers take down Cousins and Pelicans in 2017

Leading up to the 10/18 Regular Season Opener, we are counting down each and every one of the last 17 home opener victories for the Portland Trail Blazers...

In 2017 the Blazers extended their winning streak in home openers to 17 with a 103-93 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. The Blazers actually trailed after three quarters, 73-71, but outscored the Pelicans 32-20 to pull out the victory.
DeMarcus Cousins had 39 points and 13 rebounds for the Pelicans, but it wasn’t enough to take down the Blazers.

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Before they were Blazers: Damian Lillard

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USA Today Images

Before they were Blazers: Damian Lillard

Who fans now know as the face of the franchise, was once a young kid who was flying extremely under the radar.

The Portland Trail Blazers selected, Damian Lillard, out Weber State, sixth overall in the 2012 NBA draft, after Lillard decided to forgo his senior season with the Wildcats. 

High School and College Accolades/Notes

-Played for Oakland’s premier AAU team, the Oakland Rebels, from 3rd grade to senior year

-Didn’t get heavily recruited out of high school

-Had a two-star prospect rating by Rivals.com

-2x Big Sky Player of the Year (2010 and 2012)

-Third-Team All-American (2012)

College Scouting Report

Mike Schmitz of Draft Express had this to say about Lillard before the 2014 NBA draft…

“Damian Lillard, looks extremely good in this analysis and ranks exceptionally across the board, finishing second in overall efficiency (1.142 PPP) despite using 21.1 possessions per-game (1st). Getting to the line on 18.7% of his possessions (4th) and scoring 1.176 point per-jump shot (1.176), it makes sense that Big Sky product is given the benefit of the doubt as he looks to make the giant leap in competition to the NBA level. The most efficient guard in pick and roll (1.039 PP), spot-up (1.388), and isolation off screen situations (1.324), Lillard dominates most categories in this study.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Lillard's showing on paper is the paltry 9.8% turnover rate he posted despite teams game planning to stop him on a nightly basis. Just an average finisher (1.127 PPP), making plays at the rim in traffic may be Lillard's biggest challenge at the next level, but his ability to score in a variety of ways from the perimeter should be him a valuable asset to whichever team drafts him.”

READ MORE HERE 

Here’s what NBA Draft.net had to say about the Blazers All-Star guard…

“Overall: Lillard has NBA talent, but like most mid-major prospects, he hasn't proved that he can consistently produce against elite-level talent ... A team looking for a scoring point guard could be willing to roll the dice on him, perhaps as soon as the mid/late-lottery.”

READ MORE FROM NBADRAFT.NET HERE

Were they right or wrong?

I get it. Dame was coming out of a mid-major school. A 6-3 point guard from the Big Sky conference isn’t going to get anyone overly hyped.

Sure, a lot of the draft profiles on Lillard noted he can score and takes care of the ball, but he does now have the exact free reign to score as he did at the college level, and he is an elite player that nobody saw coming.

There were plenty of Blazer fans who weren’t overly excited about the selection in Lillard, but now fans can’t help but freak out about the thought of the 3x All-Star and First Team All-NBA player ever leaving.  

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Outsiders Podcast: Remembering Paul Allen

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NBCS

Outsiders Podcast: Remembering Paul Allen

It has been a tough 24 hours in Portland following the passing of Paul Allen.

Joe, Danny and Shain pay their respects to the late, great owner of the Trail Blazers. 

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Stories of Paul Allen: The game that meant so much to him

Stories of Paul Allen: The game that meant so much to him

It was a day of sharing stories and remembering Trail Blazers' owner, the late Paul Allen.   

This week’s podcast is a very special one. Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey and Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan held a press conference to share stories about Allen.

With the Blazers owner passing away this week, Olshey and McGowan discussed how Allen was a different type of owner who loved this team and this city.

Passionate about everything

Allen always wanted to talk hoops, whether it was about the Trail Blazers or any other NBA team that he may be watching at the time, but as McGowan touched on, Allen was always passionate about art, whether that was music or any other creative endeavor he was involved in over the years.

Allen came to McGowan years ago and said there needs to be a place where young Blazer fans can go to be creative at the Moda Center and thus, the “Kid Zone” in the 300 level was developed. 

A super fan

Sitting baseline with Allen at the Moda Center for Blazer games was "unique" situation for Olshey. “He was rooting for all of them to accomplish something,” Olshey said. It was a time for Olshey and Allen to catch up with each other, but it was a time for Allen to also be a super fan.

Day-to-day operations doesn’t change

McGowan let everyone know that Allen has entrusted him and Olshey to continue operating as they had been and try to get back to “business as usual” since opening night is just a couple of days away.

This season can be attribute to Mr. Allen

Olshey talked about how everyone in the practice facility was here because of Paul Allen- whether he hired them, drafted them, signed them or traded for them and the players are ready to go out and have a successful season to honor their late owner.

Hear from Olshey and McGowan right here on this special Scoop Podcast with the link below.

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Neil Olshey frames Blazers' delicate task: Improving offense without hurting defense

Neil Olshey frames Blazers' delicate task: Improving offense without hurting defense

When the Trail Blazers take the floor on opening night in Moda Center Thursday against the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s going to be a changed team.

And no, I’m not talking about just the change of a few players on the roster.  But that’s a part of it. Certainly the new players are a piece of a bigger plan.

The Trail Blazers are attempting to make a delicate change in a very basic part of the game – the balance between their offense and defense. And at this point it’s very difficult to predict how that change is going to work out.

The team has changed its offensive focus, vowing to shoot more three-point shots and to make more of them – and has backed that up by adding more three-point shooters to the roster.

Of course there’s an inevitability attached to that kind of move --- unless you’re adding high-priced, big-time players, when you add more offense, it very often costs you at the defensive end. And if you add more defense, well… you know the deal. It's a push-pull situation frequently. You add one thing and subtract another.

“Right now, I don’t think we’re as dialed in defensively as we were last season,” said Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations. “We’re trying to integrate new pieces. We’re trying to increase our three-point rate.

“We brought in more offensive-minded players and we’re transitioning from more defensive minded bigs, like Ed (Davis), to more offensive minded bigs, like Meyers (Leonard).”

Davis’ spot in the rotation will be likely be filled by Zach Collins, who, like Davis, can play both power forward and center.

“Zach’s impact is still 80 percent defense and 20 percent offense,” Olshey said. “The fourth big before was Zach, which was a real good partnership with Ed and that was a real good defensive unit. But now I think it’s going to be a totally different look if Meyers plays 5 with that group. His impact will be opening up the floor, range shooting, spacing.”

Especially when used in concert with newly acquired Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas.

“Seth and Nik give us a totally different element with Meyers, the way he shot the ball in preseason,” Olshey said. “We brought in guys who are going to make more of an impact at the offensive end.

“The new look guys make more of an impact with shooting and spacing, which to be honest, is what we needed. We finished eighth in defense (last season) but were down in the middle of the pack offensively at 13th.

“Our challenge was to add personnel who would give us a better chance at the offensive end, but we’re going to have to hold guys accountable at the defensive end.

“We want to be in the top 10 in both.”

The belief is that with the core players together for another season, the defense will be stable and the new players will provide the needed offensive boost.

“Defense, at times, is individual ability but a lot of times it is scheme and communication,” Olshey said. “The hope is that the consistency of bringing guys back for a third year will help us defensively.

“Offensively, we weren’t going to get better by osmosis. We had to get some more offensive players.”

And with mid-level exceptions or minimum salaries, that wasn’t easy. But the biggest immediate problem for the Blazers will be the possibility of not having Maurice Harkless available for early season games.

The analytics are very clear about the value of Harkless, who has missed the preseason schedule with knee and ankle soreness.

With Harklessas a starter last season, Portland went 24-12. The starters' net rating playing alongside him was plus 7.0. Harkless’ net rating after being put back in the starting lineup on Feb. 5 was plus 9.3. And after the all-star break he shot 55 percent from three-point range and 60 percent overall.

“Obviously the fly in the ointment is Moe,” Olshey said. “We are kind of preparing to play regular-season games without our starting small forward, who when we look at the impact he had when he was a starter as opposed to where we were when he wasn’t – that’s a big difference.

“But we’re pleased about the way Jake Layman has kind of seamlessly stepped into that role. He has shot the ball well. And we will have more support from the bench. Seth Curry finished out the preseason with the highest net rating of anybody on the roster.”

The balancing act starts Thursday night.

How the Blazers use Floppy sets to free up 3-point shooters and start the pick-and-roll

How the Blazers use Floppy sets to free up 3-point shooters and start the pick-and-roll

The Portland Trail Blazers like to run a lot of screens above the free-throw line as a means to get their shooters free. We’ve talked about those screens in prior videos, including in the one we did about Flare screens. But Terry Stotts also runs some traditional sets that are staples of a classic NBA offense. 

Floppy action, sometimes referred to just as “Floppy” is one of those sets, and it’s fairly easy to identify. In fact, if you’ve played organized basketball past late middle school it’s likely you’ve learned Floppy on the court even if you didn’t know what it was called.

The basic tenet of Floppy is to get shooters open jumpers and to start pick-and-rolls on the edges of the floor. The easiest way to describe Floppy is as a low screen (or screens) set by big men along the baseline for wing players to curl to the edges of the floor.

The action is initiated by the posts setting screens while standing at the blocks, although Portland runs Floppy sets that include screens up to 10 feet or so.

Stotts’ Floppy sets typically have three goals:

• Get a quick jumper off the screen

• Create a defacto pick-and-roll away from the ball

• Pass to the edge to initiate a pick-and-roll

These three play actions are explained in the full video above. Take a look, then see if you can spot different variations of Floppy that the Trail Blazers run come gametime.

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