Three things the Blazers have done right and three things to watch out for vs. OKC

Three things the Blazers have done right and three things to watch out for vs. OKC

The Portland Trail Blazers are leading the Oklahoma City Thunder 2-0 in their first-round series and everything looks rosy in the Rose City. But the series now switches to Oklahoma and Chesapeake Energy Arena is no easy place to play. 

The Blazers find themselves in an interesting position, particularly given the late-season injury to Jusuf Nurkic. That anybody predicted they would be up on the Thunder at this juncture would be a stretch, even given Paul George's shoulder injury.

Over the first two games the Blazers have looked like the better team, and by a significant margin. With that, it’s time to look at three things that have gone right for Portland, and three things that they’ll need to watch out for moving forward.

Damian Lillard’s defense

Damian Lillard has been incredible on the defensive side of the ball in this series, agitating Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder. The Blazers PG posted a regular season defensive rating of 112, but he’s ratched that down to just 95.

Lillard has been particularly adept at using his left hand to swat at the ball, which is part timing and part film study. It’s led to several outright steals, not to mention poke aways and swipes down on the basketball during drives.

If Portland’s going to continue to be this impressive on defense, Lillard is going to have to be a part of it. Luckily he’s been whacking away possessions, blocking shots, and mucking up passing lanes during the first two games.

Blazers defense

Lillard’s defense is a part of a bigger picture that folks haven’t really talked about yet. Terry Stotts and his staff appear to have put together a clear defensive plan around one tenant: unless it’s Paul George, don’t jump on any Thunder wing’s 3-point attempt.

Portland has taken to actively rushing to the 3-point line against OKC — Seth Curry, Rodney Hood, and all the Blazers backcourt have been seen sprinting hard on close outs — but when defenders arrive they’ve taken to getting low and protecting against the dribble drive.

It’s part of the reason the Thunder have shot just 16.4 percent from the arc, far and away the worst mark of any team in the playoffs. George’s shoulder has played its part as well, but make no bones about it — the Blazers have a gameplan, and it’s working.

Portland’s shooting

The Blazers have been the second-best team in these playoffs in terms of 3-point shooting percentage, and are fifth in made 3-point attempts. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have led the way in that respect, and Seth Curry has provided quite the spark off the bench.

The Thunder just haven't been able to contain Portland's long-range gunners, and both Lillard and McCollum have put up shots from deeper than perhaps OKC would have predicted.

Oklahoma City has declined in large part to double-team either player, much the way teams have in the postseasons past. That's allowed some more freedom for Lillard and McCollum, and the Blazers have made the Thunder pay dearly. 

Oklahoma City doesn't have the confidence in its roster to double-team the Blazer guards and still contain the rest of the Portland offense effectively. That's played right into the Blazers’ hands, and should continue unless Billy Donovan somehow comes up with a more athletic forward who can switch on to either guard. 

Westbrook’s determination

After Game 1 Russell Westbrook appeared to be mopey. After Game 2, Westbrook was energized.

The former NBA MVP said that he took full responsibility for the loss in Game 2, and it seems like he isn't going to let things stand as they head back onto his home court.

Oklahoma City hasn't used its home court advantage quite the way that seems like Portland or Denver have this season, but Westbrook is certainly more dangerous. He’s a better scorer at home, and shoots 1.3 additional attempts at the free-throw line per game at Chesapeake than away. That disparity could play a difference in a tight playoff game.

And remember, Westbrook and Lillard have a history. The Thunder guard once trash-talked Lillard by telling him that he’d “been busting that ass for years”. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and Westbrook is poised to go off like a bomb. 

Paul George’s shoulder

George didn't exactly have a poor game to start the series, but he did look susceptible to blocks by Moe Harkless. Put simply, he wasn't quite himself.

George has shot no better than 28.6 percent from the 3-point line in any game this series, and that's been a huge issue for Oklahoma City. George is by far and away the most important 3-point shooter the Thunder have on their roster, both in terms of made threes and 3-point percentage, and he has more than twice the made threes than the next closest Thunder in Dennis Schroder. 

That brings us to George's shoulder. The Thunder star looked much better in Game 2, and if he's ready to play at a higher level and feeling less pain, that could spell trouble for the Blazers. If George comes back as a relevant 3-point shooter, that will change the geometry of the floor for Portland's defense in a major way.

Evan Turner as a non-factor

Turner did not have a good March but he came on strong in the five games Portland played in the month of April. As the season came to a close, it seemed that Turner would play a large role in the playoffs as one of the Blazers’ most important players and as the leader of the second unit.

But Turner has played sparingly, logging just 16 minutes in Game 1 and 11 minutes in Game 2. He hasn't made an impact in the box score, and his plus-minus has been nominal.

Portland is firing on all cylinders right now — on both sides of the ball — but the strength of this team outside of Damian Lillard has been its bench. Turner is one of the big reasons for that and when the Blazers eventually face adversity against this Oklahoma City team, they're going to need him to show up and journey forward.

Simons named to NBA Summer League second-team

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NBCSNW

Simons named to NBA Summer League second-team

The Blazers were unable to repeat as Summer League champions last week in Las Vegas, but that doesn't mean they didn't have a successful summer. 

Portland's Anfernee Simons averaged 22 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game in Las Vegas. To make it more impressive, he did so in just three games. Unfortunately, Simons injured his ankle and did not play in the team's final two games. Despite the injury, the performance of the Blazers' second-year guard still turned heads.

On Monday it was announced that Simons earned a spot on the NBA Summer League Second-Team.

Simons was the only Blazers player to make one of the All-Summer League teams, but he wasn't the only player with Northwest ties to make the cut. 

Former Oregon Ducks star Chris Boucher of the Toronto Raptors joined Simons on the second-team, as did former Gonzaga star, Washington Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura.

Hachimura wasn't the only Gonzaga player to put on a show. Fellow rookie and former Bulldog,  Brandon Clarke of the Memphis Grizzlies was named to the Summer League First-Team and was also named Summer League MVP. 

Spalding launches Dame Time Challenge

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USA Today

Spalding launches Dame Time Challenge

If you don't already know, today is Damian Lillard's 29th birthday. In honor of the occasion, Spalding launched the Dame Time Challenge. The challenge simply asks that fans do their best Lillard impersonation by making shots from as deep as possible and posting the results on social media. 

The shots have come flooding in. So don't miss your chance to let Dame, Spalding, and the world see your best long-distance shot. While you warm up and get the camera ready, here are some of the best #dametimechallege videos out there right now. 

The best of Trail Blazers social: The whole world loves Moe Harkless

The best of Trail Blazers social: The whole world loves Moe Harkless

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, it may also be in the algorithm of artificial intelligence. As our friends over at Pinwheel Empire pointed out, the facial beauty network at South China University used its special software to rate the attractiveness of starters in the NBA.

While he may not be a member of the Blazers anymore, SCU's math said Maurice Harkless was the most attractive starting small forward in the league last season. In fact, he was one of the most attractive starter in the entire NBA.

Harkless responded simply,  "the people have  spoken."

But enough of Moe and his beautiful smile. Let's talk about the current Blazers. As is custom in 2019, many of the Trail Blazers players posted on social media this week. From proud dads, happy rookies, and happy birthdays, the Blazers players took to their favorite apps to talk about it. Here are some of the best Trail Blazers social media posts of the week.

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Dame Jr

A post shared by Damian Lillard (@damianlillard) on

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Mood

A post shared by anthony tolliver (@atolliver44) on

 

 

Looking back: Anfernee Simons top plays from NBA Summer League

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USATI

Looking back: Anfernee Simons top plays from NBA Summer League

LAS VEGAS - Damian Lillard is the now of the Trail Blazers, but the future of the Trail Blazers might be in his protege, Anfernee Simons. 

We've seen plenty of potential from the young guard, who dropped 37 points on Sacramento in the regular season finale. 

He also had a great summer league until an ankle injury prematurely ended his time in Las Vegas. 

Simons led the Blazers in scoring with 35 points in 25 minutes in Portland's third game of summer league. He was in position to tie the game vs. the Jazz, but instead injured his right ankle on his way to the rim on an attempt to hit a game-tying dunk or layup. Simons would sit out the remainder of the summer league due to the injury.

Simons would end summer league averaging 22.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in three games played

Summer League Head Coach Jim Moran has this to say about Simons:

“It was fun to watch him run the team... I was happy to see the growth from him, the confidence, picking his spots, getting guys involved. I thought he did a great job. We put the ball in his hands for the last play of the game when he got hurt, that’s the level of trust we have with him. He’s grown a lot.”

For now, let's enjoy the NBA's video of Simons' best plays from summer league:

Why didn't the Portland Trail Blazers utilize the fastbreak more in 2018-19?

Why didn't the Portland Trail Blazers utilize the fastbreak more in 2018-19?

The Portland Trail Blazers were not a good fastbreak team last year. They ranked just 18th in pace, getting out in transition 11 percent of the time and scoring 1.08 points per possession. That low scoring number ranked them in the bottom half of the league.

Their offense in total was of course very good. The Blazers had the third-best offensive rating in the league last season, and the eighth-best points per possession.

Like most teams, Portland's critical statistics — shooting percentages, assist percentages — went up in transition compared to its regular offense. But most importantly, players like Moe Harkless and Jake Layman thrived appeared to thrive beyond their regular production when they were on the break.

That begged the question of whether the way to utilize all of Portland’s assets was to push the pace.

In this week's video, we take a look at how guys like Layman, Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Meyers Leonard were excellent transition players for the Blazers this year. We also compare how Evan Turner, Seth Curry — and even Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum — may have had an effect on Terry Stotts' decision not to push the pace.

Watch the full video breakdown on Portland's transition game by clicking the video above.

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard shuts down Shannon Sharpe’s contract criticism

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard shuts down Shannon Sharpe’s contract criticism

FS1’s Shannon Sharpe thinks Damian Lillard shouldn’t have stayed in Portland.

On the “Undisputed” this week, Sharpe was overly critical of the All-Star guard’s four-year, $196 million supermax contract, saying Lillard will be quickly forgotten if he doesn’t win a championship.

“When’s the last time Dame Lillard took less than the max?” Sharpe said. “So, what Dame Lillard is gonna be is a guy that’s probably gonna make $400 million with no titles.”

He continued: “He’s gonna be one of the richest players in NBA history with zero titles,” Sharpe said. “Nobody remembers the guy who made a bunch of money playing sports, only if you won titles Dame. And if you don’t believe me, ask Kevin Garnett. At the end of the day, if you play a sport, it’s all about titles.”

Lillard caught wind of Sharpe’s criticism of his contract and fired back with this response.

At 28, Lillard still has plenty of time to win a championship with the Trail Blazers, but he has been consistent in his message: he’d rather be a good teammate and person than a ring chaser.

This offseason, Portland added key pieces like Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore to aid Lillard and the Trail Blazers in their journey for an NBA championship. 

From Summer League: Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin hands out off-season grades for the Trail Blazers

From Summer League: Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin hands out off-season grades for the Trail Blazers

We caught up with Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin at NBA Summer League to get his off-season grades for the Trail Blazers.

Helin is currently the lead NBA writer and managing editor at NBCSports.com.  

To start, he gave his grade on the Trail Blazers selecting Nassir Little at pick No. 25.

“This was a top 10 level talent… Give him a chance to develop.”

Helin likes the pick, but wants Blazers fans to keep in mind Little is going to need time to develop.

My Grade: I give the draft pick an ‘B+’ because with Little’s athleticism and the way the Blazers coaching staff has been able to develop shooters, I think Little could have a bright future in Rip City.  

For Helin’s grade on Little check out video here:


Next up, Helin gave his grade on Portland acquiring free agent veteran wing Kent Bazemore.

Spoiler alert: Helin is very excited about “this upgrade at a position in need.”

“Bazemore is loved everywhere he’s played.”

My grade: For Bazemore I have no doubt he’s going to be a great locker room guy and a consistent guy on the court. I give this free agent get an ‘A’. Bazemore will bring the energy every night. He’ll just probably have to adjust to playing big minutes on a winning team. Yeah, you bet he is excited for that adjustment.   

For Helin’s grade on Bazemore check out video here:

And lastly, Helin’s grade on the multi-team trade that now brings Hassan Whiteside to Portland might surprise you. He is not as high on this trade as some other national media members have been.

“It’s a placeholder trade until [Jusuf] Nurkic comes back.”

My grade: I give the trade an ‘A+’ since Portland finally got their guy they wanted three years ago in free agency. Plus, after listening to Whiteside at his introductory press conference on Thursday you can tell he was in need of a change of scenery. I see Whiteside fitting into coach Terry Stott’s system very well and heck, he’s going to be surrounding by shooters. “We got shooters,” to quote Whiteside himself. 

For Helin's grade watch here:

The Scoop Live from Las Vegas: Wrapping up NBA Summer League

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NBCS NW

The Scoop Live from Las Vegas: Wrapping up NBA Summer League

LAS VEGAS - That's a wrap on the 2019 NBA Summer League for the Portland Trail Blazers. After a consolation bracket win, the Blazers finished with a 2-3 record. 

Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little both missed time due to injuries but Gary Trent Jr. shined throughout the week. 

Jamie Hudson gets you caught up with the latest edition of The Scoop, live from the Cox Pavillion in Las Vegas, presented by Toyota of Portland

Summer League Scoop live from Vegas

That’s a wrap on Summer League for the Blazers. Let’s chat about tonight’s game and SL overall! The Scoop brought to you by Toyota of Portland starts now!

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Friday, July 12, 2019

Brian Wheeler will not return to radio for Trail Blazers for '19-'20 season

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Trail Blazers

Brian Wheeler will not return to radio for Trail Blazers for '19-'20 season

Today the Trail Blazers, via a release on their website announced that Brian Wheeler, the long time radio play by play voice of the Trail Blazers will not return to the airwaves next season. 

"Brian Wheeler has been an integral part of the broadcast team and Trail Blazers family since 1998 and his voice is synonymous with all the many great play-by-play calls over that 21-year span," said McGowan.  "We thank Brian for his contributions to the franchise and wish him all the best in his future endeavors. "

Wheeler took a leave of absence for the 2019 playoffs

No announcement has been made in terms of a replacement for Wheeler on the radio side. Travis Demers filled in for Wheels during the playoff run. 

More to come as information becomes available.