Stay cool, Blazer fans, and get ready for a very interesting season

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USA Today

Stay cool, Blazer fans, and get ready for a very interesting season

Stay cool, Trail Blazer fans.

You aren’t going to be hearing a lot of people picking your team to do well in the upcoming season. The “experts” will be downplaying the changes made this summer and talking negatively about a group that went to the conference finals last season and will return only two starters from that team.

They will question the Hassan Whiteside addition and wonder how a team could move away from both its starting forwards. They’ll wonder who the backup point guard will be and forget how far your team went without its starting center last year. Most of them will even forget how well the playoffs went.

All of that will happen. But you should be used to it by now. You hear it every year.

Just stay cool and don’t start crying about it. Don’t get mad. You realize it doesn't matter, right?

Those people don’t know a whole lot about your team.

They don’t know that Anfernee Simons has a great chance to become an outstanding NBA player and that Zach Collins is very likely going to be a very good two-way player – a force at both ends of the floor. They don’t know how good Kent Bazemore, Rodney Hood and Mario Herzonja are going to shoot from the three-point line in the Portland system.

And most of all, they don’t understand the Trail Blazer culture and how Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum run a tight locker room and create a family atmosphere. Oh, the coaching staff has a role in that too, and players normally play better here than they do anywhere else. Development and improvement are expected, not wished for, in Portland. We see it every season.

I think the doubters will see a different Hassan Whiteside, too. He will be playing for his next contract, will be getting his touches and his playing time. Damian Lillard will make him look better on offense than he’s ever looked and I’d almost guaranteed that. Just wait. It’s what happens here. Whiteside is going to have more fun playing basketball here than he's had anywhere else.

Jusuf Nurkic came to Portland with a lot of the same raps Whiteside brings and that turned around fast.

The Blazers will play hard and they will play better than last season’s team. Whiteside will bring a defensive improvement and with Collins on the floor at the same time, Portland will play better defense than it has in years. Terry Stotts will find outside shooting among that corps of small forwards. Simons and Gary Trent Jr. will find ways to make the bench potent and this team will win.

And the starting guards, well, you know what they can do. And now, with better shooting up front, they should be more free to do their thing.

At least that's the way it's all being mapped out.

There are still questions about the bench, even with the welcome addition of Anthony Tolliver. The bench is probably going to have to play a lot of small ball because, overall, this isn't a big team. Shotmakers will be necessary.

And a lot is riding on the youngsters. Simons, Trent and Collins need to produce. They will probably be heavily counted-on rotation players.

This has a chance to be a very, very good team. A chance. And certainly there’s no need to worry about predictions, forecasts or preseason criticism.

Just wait. Just stay cool. It should be a extremely interesting season. It's a grand experiment with the team's culture and development and nobody knows what the ceiling is.

Most of all, it should be a lot of fun.

Morning After: Everything you may have missed from the Blazers win against the Kings

Morning After: Everything you may have missed from the Blazers win against the Kings

CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside set a few career records against the Kings, but not in the categories you would expect. 

McCollum was the defensive force in the paint, tallying a career-best four blocks, while Whitside had a career-high seven assists to help keep the offense running. 

Four of the Blazers starters scored 20 or more points, led by 33 points from CJ McCollum. For McCollum, it was the 10th straight game scoring 20 or more points, another career-best.

Damian Lillard had a 24 point, 10 assist double-double, while Whiteside joined him in double-double land with 22 points and 16 rebounds. As for Carmelo Anthony, he dropped an easy 20 on the Kings. 

A night after a tough loss, the Blazers bounced back in a big way. 

Final score in this one: Blazers 127 - Kings 116

QUOTABLES:

Damian Lillard on Hassan Whiteside's passing : 

I thought it was pretty good. He had a few backdoors. He was catching it in the pocket under control, finding the weak side and that led to some quality shots. He could have had ten if he didn’t get too anxious on some of them and some of them got tipped, but he passed the ball really well tonight

Coach Stotts on Bazemore having his best game:

Arguably one of his better games of the season, defensively he was locked in, it was good to see him making shots, he’s been a good three-point shooter, and I thought he kind of played within himself and took the shots that were there

Damian Lillard on CJ McCollum's blocks:

Early in the game, I just kept seeing him getting his hands on guys’ shots. I think part of it was them just not expecting him to contest them so strong. But he was active. He came out with a lot of energy on the defensive end and on the offensive end

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Trail Blazers share the wealth in win over Kings, looking to continue balanced scoring

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Trail Blazers share the wealth in win over Kings, looking to continue balanced scoring

The Trail Blazers earned their third consecutive win at Moda Center on Wednesday night, and their 12th straight home victory over the Kings as the Blazers made sure to not let one slip away.

Portland wasn’t able to put Sacramento away until the final minutes of the fourth quarter on Wednesday. The Blazers attributed that to their poor defense, but felt they had one of their better offensive nights.

After finishing with his fourth double-double of the season with 24 points and 10 assists, Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard emphasized how important it was to bounce back after Tuesday’s loss to the Clippers.

“It was a big deal,” Lillard said. “When you go on the road, a road-home back-to-back, it’s tough. You’ve got to play against a really good team like the Clippers, get on a plane, get up to play the next day against a really good team, a young team that’s really competing right now. So I was proud of the way we responded. You don’t want to let one loss or the game the night before affect the next night and I thought we handled it well.”

A lot of the Blazers success on the offensive end was thanks to their ball movement.

I thought we moved the ball well, we got quality shots. I thought offensively, it was a complete game. It was a really good game for us.

In Wednesday’s win, the Blazers finished with 28 assists. In Tuesday’s loss they finished 20 assists. But it didn’t even feel like a 20-assist game vs. the Clippers after watching the Trail Blazers’ stagnant offense.  

The man who led the Blazers on offense in the win over the Kings, CJ McCollum, believes the ball movement is coming along while the team continues to incorporate Caremelo Anthony and familiarize Melo into the playbook a little more.

I think we are continuing to figure out spacing, that’s the biggest thing – spacing, ball movement, what sets we can run… We’re just trying to build that’s the biggest thing and play good basketball. – CJ McCollum postgame

McCollum, who tied his career-high with 10 straight 20+ scoring nights, led all scorers on Wednesday with 33 points on 14-of-22 shooting. Five Blazer players scored in double-figures.

Lillard discussed what a night like that with balanced scoring means to this Blazers team:

“It’s really important. When we can get that type of performance of one, two, three, four guys, you’re going to have a chance.”

“It’s something we want to continue," Lillard added. "When it’s a lot of attention on the ball like it was tonight, especially they just kept sending two guys to the ball – we get it out and once we do that, they’re up against it. We’ve got numbers basically outside of the trap so when we can make the right plays and take advantage of it, get quality shots, I think it can be a night like tonight.”

Now with the Trail Blazers playing nine of their next 12 games at home this month, Blazers Coach Terry Stotts knows the favorable home schedule can't be overlooked.

“We can’t take it for granted, there aren’t any easy ones. It is nice to be home, we did have a lot of road games, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. It is certainly better than the alternative.”

Bizarro world?: Hassan Whiteside with 7 assists, CJ McCollum with 4 blocks

Bizarro world?: Hassan Whiteside with 7 assists, CJ McCollum with 4 blocks

It was a trip into bizarro world Wednesday night for the Portland Trail Blazers. You know – everything is backwards.

CJ McCollum had a career-high four blocked shots, Hassan Whiteside had a career-high seven assists and the normally slow-paced Trail Blazers had a season-high 28 fast-break points.

What’s next, Terry Stotts doing an hour of standup at Helium Comedy Club?

The Blazers pulled away from the Sacramento Kings in the fourth quarter in Moda Center and ran to a 127-116 win. Portland shot 56 percent from the field, including 50 percent from three-point range and got 20-plus points from four starters. Whiteside finished three assists shy of a triple double after getting 22 points and 16 rebounds.

And he had a couple of nifty backdoor passes that led to baskets off double-teams on the Portland guards.

“I love that backdoor pass, I should have gone to Princeton,” he said with a smile. “I don’t mind passing. I’m going to get better. I’m going to get better at making decisions. I’m new to this system and new to these guys and I’m going to keep working.

“I was impressed with (CJ’s) shotblocking. I was going to ask him for some tips.”

McCollum was hitting bulls-eyes all night. He was 14-22 from the floor, including 5-10 from long range, for 33 points. Damian Lillard chipped in with 24 points and 10 assists and knocked down a couple of big threes late in the game.

“What was more bizarre, his seven assists or my blocked shots?” McCollum asked. “I told him if would have wanted to get 10 assists he could have gotten 10 assists. Credit to him, he’s making the right plays and he’s learning.

“I’ll be at the rim every now and then, being a rim protector and helping people’s fantasy teams.”

The Trail Blazers, with Carmelo Anthony installed at power forward, are showing signs of becoming a very good offensive team.

“We’re just trying to build,” McCollum said. “We’re a top five or top 10 offensive team historically, but with him, we’re top five. We just have to figure out how to use all of our pieces. I think that’s the biggest thing. And then get that cohesiveness."

The defensive side of things is still a work in progress. And it’s going to take some progress.

The Kings, playing shorthanded, shot 46.3 percent overall.

“Obviously, to start the game, the first three quarters, (the Kings) played comfortable,” Lillard said. “We just didn’t do a good job in that stretch of the game and I think it showed because it was obvious toward the end of the game when we stepped it up and tightened it up at the end, we got separation because of it. The fourth quarter, we stepped it up and that was when we won the game.”

The Blazers will play host to the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night in Moda Center.

 

Listen to this week’s Talkin’ Blazers podcast here: