Rockets get Westbrook -- Did they watch him play in the Blazer playoff series?

Rockets get Westbrook -- Did they watch him play in the Blazer playoff series?

So the Houston Rockets wanted Russell Westbrook so bad they gave up Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two first-round swaps Thursday?

To get a point guard who seems very close to being an impossible partner for James Harden.

And I really think somebody should ask the question in Houston – did you guys watch any other playoff series but your own last spring?

The Westbrook we saw in the Portland-Oklahoma City, first-round series was one who was far below the public perception of what Westbrook is supposed to be. He’s a guy who thinks he can make all the big shots late in games and doesn’t understand that the reason the Trail Blazers were sagging about eight feet off him is that they WANTED him to shoot.

Don't fall for all that triple-double hype -- this guy is more relentless about that stat than he is about winning. He's prickly with not just the media but most people he comes in contact with, doesn't know how to gear his game down when the situation calls for it and, oh yeah -- he can't shoot.

I think this deal also sets up a situation with the starting Houston guards – Westbrook and Harden – fighting over the ball and ending up resenting each other. The only way I see this working is if Westbrook defers to Harden – because Harden isn’t going to defer to Westbrook. Nor should he.

And I don’t think Westbrook will defer to ANYBODY.

I can’t wait to see this in action. And to watch some Harden eyerolls after Westbrook clanks a few jumpers off the rim in the fourth quarter. And how crazy Westbrook is going to get while Harden is pounding the ball at the top of the circle waiting to beat somebody off the dribble.

Mike D'Antoni is going to need the touch of Houdini to make this work.

And that leaves the final question – Will the Thunder buy out Paul’s contract, freeing him to move to one of the superteams? I can’t imagine him being happy in OKC for more than a minute.

But of course, I can’t imagine anyone being happy in OKC.

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. 

Impact or not, what do the Trail Blazers see in Mario Hezonja?

Impact or not, what do the Trail Blazers see in Mario Hezonja?

The Portland Trail Blazers don't know what they have with Mario Hezonja just yet. The former No. 5 overall pick is a reclamation project, a low risk, medium reward type of player who might just be another of Neil Olshey’s diamonds in the rough.

Last season for the New York Knicks, Hezonja saw some improvement in his game. Whether that can continue with Portland, particularly considering the bevy of wing players the team now has, is a serious question. If Hezonja can’t get ample playing time, will the team culture and coaching staff be enough to coax him along his way?

In contrast to some of his teammates, Hezonja is surprisingly not a very good 3-point shooter. What he does bring to the table is a willingness to push the pace and drive the ball. He's also a very useful passer on the wing, something Portland's bench unit might end up needing over the course of this year.

All that being said, there is no doubt that Hezonja is still a prospect. Every roster needs minimum salary players, and Olshey was smart to pick up a guy with lots of potential and who at his very worst will simply warm the bench if he doesn’t work out.

Check out the full video breakdown above to see what Hezonja brings to the table, and why Portland has sneakily been excited about bringing him to Rip City for the past couple of seasons. 

Pau Gasol's availability is the last Blazers rotation question to be answered

Pau Gasol's availability is the last Blazers rotation question to be answered

There is one lingering question facing the Trail Blazers as the regular season nears: Is Pau Gasol going to be ready by opening night?

If healthy, the 39-year-old center is going to play. But he hasn’t been fully cleared yet and his availability for the regular season is still an unknown, leaving the backup center spot the last real question mark as the Blazers edge toward opening night.

After two real preseason games, the rest of the playing rotation is starting to come into focus.

The big decisions for this team were probably made well before the exhibition games, mostly in July as Neil Olshey and the front office reconfigured the roster.

The starting group is almost certainly set with Zach Collins and Rodney Hood manning the forward spots alongside guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and center Hassan Whiteside. 

Anfernee Simons and Kent Bazemore have been locks for major playing time since June and Mario Hezonja and Anthony Tolliver also figure to be a regular part of the opening night rotation, as Terry Stotts has said he’ll likely start the year going 10-deep into his bench. 

With uncertainty over the final big man spot lingering, Stotts has tested out a few different groupings to see what combinations work should Gasol still be sidelined when the games start to count. On Saturday, Stotts started Anthony Tolliver at power forward, giving the starting lineup another shooter while sacrificing some of the rim protection Collins provides.

“I wanted to see Anthony out there with Dame and CJ and Hassan as a spacing four-man,” Stotts said after the Blazers lost to the Phoenix Suns. “He’s a good team-defender. He talks out there. I thought I wanted to see him what that group because of his ability to space the floor with those other guys.”

Stotts has also made a point to test out the Collins-Skal Labissiere pairing, a duo that could anchor the bench frontline if Gasol isn’t healthy. Labissiere didn’t play in summer league because of a shoulder injury, but he’s been cleared for full contact since the end of July and has been working out daily at the Blazers practice facility since he arrived in Portland on August 31. 

Gasol, who had surgery on his left foot in March, has gone through a light on-court shooting routine before each of the past two games, but that’s as much basketball work as the future Hall of Famer has done in the public eye. His health has pushed Labissiere from bench insurance to possible rotation regular.

“I think the big man (rotation) is going to be fluid until Pau comes back,” Stotts said Saturday night.  “Skal … playing Anthony, playing Mario at (power forward). I think it’s going to depend on how the game is going and matchups. But Skal’s had a really good camp and I think he’s earned at least a chance to earn some more minutes.”

For his part, Labissiere admits he’s still learning the system, and just trying to do the little things to earn the coaching staff’s trust.

“I’ve just tried to find ways to help the team out,” Labissiere said. “It doesn’t have to be scoring. Just setting good screens for Dame and CJ. Just talking and communicating. I feel like that’s what’s going to get me on the court to be honest.”

The Labissiere/Gasol question is the last playing time issue to be addressed. Most of the rest of the rotation is clear and got even sharper during the loss to the Suns: McCollum is going to get more minutes running the second unit as a de facto backup point guard alongside Simons. The Blazers are going to go small at times with Hezonja playing power forward and initiating the offense. 

With a likely dress rehearsal coming Tuesday at Utah, the picture will get even clearer next week even if the biggest question remains unanswered.

The Morning After: Everything you missed from the Trail Blazers loss to Phoenix

The Morning After: Everything you missed from the Trail Blazers loss to Phoenix

The Blazers played their final home game of the 2019 preseason on Saturday when they hosted the Phoenix Suns. Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, and Ricky Rubio all sat out this one for the Suns, but that didn't stop them from dropping bombs from downtown. Phoenix made 24 three-pointers and had the Blazers defense looking lost all night. Good thing it was preseason so the Blazers could get this performance out of the way. Final score: Phoenix 134 - Portland 118. 

Here is everything you may have missed: 


Our defense wasn’t very good. We let them shoot a lot of threes and they made a lot, you’ve got to give them credit. They shot the hell out of the ball. But we obviously, we should have turned up the defense. We talked about it at halftime and we just didn’t come out and play as hard as we should have, so it’s mostly on us.” - Zach Collins on the team defense

“What I just said was the easy thing to say – it’s just the preseason. But it’s a lot of things that you look at that game and you take away from it saying we need to do better. Too many missed communications. We allowed too many comfortable catch and shoot threes. A lot of that came from miscommunication, turning the ball over, they’re not playing a half-court set defense, they’re pushing it against the break so our defense is off-balance, guys trailing the play – a lot of situations like that." Damian Lillard on the team's performance

“I wanted to see Anthony out there with Dame and CJ and Hassan as a spacing four-man. He’s a good team defender. He talks out there. I thought I wanted to see him with that group because of his ability to space the floor with those other guys.” - Coach Stotts on the decision to start Anthony Tolliver 

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Love it or Hate it? The NBA Challenge Flag

What's going on with the Blazers' defense? Is it just preseason basketball?

Trail Blazers aren't ready for primetime yet, but it's only preseason

Skal trying to crack the Trail Blazers' rotation

How cohesive do the Trail Blazers feel right now?

How cohesive do the Trail Blazers feel right now?

Let’s do a quick walk through of what has changed from last season to this season for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland has added seven new players if you include Jaylen Hoard, who is on a two-way contract.

Of those seven new faces, two players are currently or have been dealing with an injury.

Are these excuses to why the Blazers haven’t looked like a real cohesive team in the preseason?


The Blazers are not making it an excuse.

The players are simply thankful they still have 11 days remaining in the preseason to work out the kinks and become more of unit working as one.

Kent Bazemore has been living in Portland for less than two months, but he already believes that the team understands what needs to get done to be successful this season.

It’ll take some time. But I think as far as everything being in line like our aspirations for the season, you know big picture, I think we’re all on the same page and it just takes time. It’s a new situation for a lot of guys. We’re plugging in some pretty big pieces, a totally different look from last year, so it’s just going to take some time and guys getting used to each other, the timing with everything, and learning the offense.

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers aren't ready for primetime yet, but it's only preseason

Being cohesive is a “work in progress” according to CJ McCollum:

A lot of it we’ve got to tighten up, guys have been banged up. Obviously, Rodney [Hood] didn’t play tonight. [Hassan] Whiteside being out of practice, so we’ve got to get together and get some good practices in these next 11 days, and get ready for the opener.

It’s not as if the new guys are not getting acclimated.

They feel cohesive in practice.

“In training camp practices you’re going to do everything right,” Damian Lillard said after Saturday’s loss. “You’re going to have guys that are going to be in the perfect potions because it’s being taught in practice over and over again – ‘get to the nail, get to the elbow,’ and then when you get to the game in the NBA it’s hard to have that carryover because now there’s a crowd, you’re playing against somebody, else. You know, you want to see what you can get away with and I think we just fell victim to that.”

Carryover, as well as getting everyone healthy and in rhythm, will indubitably be a key in becoming more of a cohesive team.

[RELATED]: What's going on with the Blazers' defense? Is it just preseason basketball?

Lillard believes Saturday’s loss will be a big lesson for this team.

“It’s good that it happened and it doesn’t count against us, so we can see what happens when we don’t come out and do what we’ve been doing the entire time… It’s good to see how it went down tonight and then look at it, and watch film, and take what we need to take from it, and move forward -- just make sure that we don’t let this continue,“ Lillard said.

The Blazers will have a chance to not let this continue next week when they play Utah and Denver back to back. 

Love it or Hate it? The NBA Challenge Flag

Love it or Hate it? The NBA Challenge Flag

The challenge flag in the NFL has become about as American as apple pie. An important part of any Sunday football viewing party.  This season, the NBA has decided to join the replay review club.

According to the new rule, each team is allowed one challenge per game, can challenge a personal foul at any time, can challenge out-of-bounds and goaltending during the first 46 minutes and first three minutes of overtime, and cannot challenge non-calls.

Confused yet? Ok, let's take a deeper dive. 

Coach Stotts has used the challenge twice this preseason. He used one in the first preseason game against Denver, and lost. On Saturday against the Suns he challenged a foul against Damian Lillard, and won. The call was overturned, and possession was given to the Blazers. Despite winning the challenge, the Blazers lost a timeout... Still confused? So was Coach Stotts:

There's some confusion on the administration of it.  We won the challenge and were still charged the timeout. I don't know. I'm going to ask for some clarification on that.

Here is the clarification. According to the NBA "If neither team has taken a timeout prior to 6:59 of the first or third period, it shall be mandatory for the Official Scorer to take it at the first dead ball and charge it to the home team."

The challenged played happened at the 5:58 mark of the third quarter, meaning regardless of the challenge there was to be a dead ball and the Blazers were to be charged a timeout. If Portland had lost the challenge they would have lost the timeout, if they had won, they would have lost timeout. Basically, Stotts called a challenge one minute and two seconds too late to save a timeout but still would have lost one at the next stoppage due to the NBA's mandatory timeout rules.  None of this makes sense, really. 

Talking to NBC Sports Bay Area, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he wasn't a fan of the new rule:

"I don't like the rule... If it's your timeout coming up, or if there's a mandatory coming up that's yours, or if you're on the bad end of a run and you see something that's questionable, you might as well take the timeout and review it. That way there's no harm done if you don't get the call."

The moral of the story is, just use the dang thing during the mandatory timeout. You literally have nothing to lose. 

The jury is still out on the NBA's complicated challenge rule. Love it or hate it, it's part of the game in 2019.

Below is an educational video released by the NBA with more info on the new challenge rule: