Top 10 things to know about Trail Blazers' media day

Top 10 things to know about Trail Blazers' media day

As the Trail Blazers’ arrived at Monday’s media day, we knew they were a deeper and more expensive team than last season.

But we also found out some other interesting tidbits.

Some players had developed new shots. Some had adopted a new mindset. And others had a new position.

To help you sift through the day’s events, here are the Top 10 things you need to know from Monday’s four-hour media day, starting with the top five most important storylines.

1. Mason Plumlee says he has developed a mid-range jumper.

Nothing was potentially bigger Monday than the oh-by-the-way revelation from the Blazers starting center that he had developed a mid-range jumper this summer.

Plumlee cautioned the development is “not a storyline,” but anybody who has followed the Blazers understands what this could mean to the team’s success.

Plumlee last season was an exceptional passer. He was a solid rebounder. And he was supremely athletic for his size and position.

But he was also painfully non-existent as an offensive threat.

When he would receive passes from Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum in the middle of defenses last season, Plumlee wouldn’t even entertain the thought of shooting. Instead, he would look to only pass, even though the defenses were playing off him and daring him to shoot.

Even without the threat of a shot, Plumlee was a dangerous weapon. Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who were torched by Plumlee in the first round of the 2016 playoffs to the tune of 8.0 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

Now, if Plumlee has indeed developed a reliable shot around the free throw line, it will force defenses to be more honest in guarding him, making him not only a bigger scoring threat, but also a factor in creating better spacing for the Blazers, which will allow for him to better pick apart defenses with his sharp passing.

Last season, Plumlee might have taken five mid-range jumpers, usually to beat the shot clock. So will we really see Plumlee consistently shooting mid-range jumpers this season?

“For sure,’’ Plumlee said on Monday.

The fourth-year center said this summer he broke down his shooting form much like a golfer studies and changes his swing.

 “I’m happier with my form going into the season,’’ he said. “I really broke down my shot this offseason. I’m looking forward to expanding my game within our offense, just being more prepared for the same situations.’’

 Plumlee, who early last season made adjustments to his free throw stroke with great success, says his shot will look different this season.

 “Look, I’m not here telling you all I’m going to make every shot I take,’’ Plumlee said. “That’s something I felt was going to be open, the way we play basketball. To me, it’s not a storyline or anything. It’s going to be taken within our offense and it’s something I’m looking forward to improving upon. I’m not here as a finished product … but it’s something to be worked on each day and taken advantage of in games.’’

By the way, Plumlee was also singled out by team captain Damian Lillard as a player who impressed during offseason pickup games. Lillard said he was impressed with how Plumlee was moving – footwork being another facet Plumlee said he worked on this summer. Lillard also estimated that Plumlee took 20 charges during pickup games.

Whether all of this translates to the games remains to be seen. But how much Plumlee has evolved offensively will be a key subplot to the Blazers’ preseason.

2. Word from the players: Maurice Harkless opening eyes

No player on Monday was mentioned more by his teammates than Maurice Harkless.

Damian Lillard recalled being on the losing end of pickup games at the team’s facility because Harkless couldn’t miss with his outside shot.

Unsolicited, CJ McCollum brought up Harkless’ improvement.

And newcomer Evan Turner took note first of the “unreal guard play,” then remarked on the versatility and athleticism of Harkless.  

Harkless, whose late-season insertion into the starting lineup at small forward helped change the team, said he spent much of his summer altering his shot.

The biggest change, Harkless said, is he no longer looks at the ball as it is leaving his hands. And judging from Lillard’s experience of being on the losing end of pickup games because of Harkless’ shot, the adjustment is working.

“It’s really helped a lot,’’ Harkless said. “It’s nothing mechanical. A couple of guys have been telling me that for a while, but I spent the whole summer buying into it. I would have guys watching my eyes the whole time.’’

Like Plumlee, if Harkless shows improvement with his shot, it could be a game-changer for the Blazers. His value last season was in his defensive versatility in being able to guard anyone from Chris Paul to Klay Thompson to Draymond Green, and his ability to get rebound baskets or scores off slashes to the basket.

If there was a downside, Harkless shot 27.9 percent from three-point range, and he wasn’t encouraged to take mid-range shots. Now, if his shot has improved, Harkless could be a complete player who could make coach Terry Stotts’ job of doling out playing time even tougher.

“I’m just another guy on the team, trying to get minutes,’’ Harkless said. “That’s up to coach to decide. We are all just pieces to the puzzle – he’s supposed to put it together.’’

If Harkless has a more consistent outside shot, he becomes a much more important piece to that Blazers’ puzzle.

3. Meyers’ mindset: Leonard free of pressure, negativity

Nobody on Monday was more introspective and honest than Meyers Leonard, who was stunningly blunt about his mental struggles last season and his approach to this season.

Leonard, who says he is ahead of schedule on his recovery from April shoulder surgery and will begin full-contact practicing on Oct. 8, said last season was “by far the most stressful of my life, without a doubt.’’

Between turning down a $40 million contract extension in November, to trying to play through a separated shoulder early in the season, Leonard said his mind was never right last season. He said for the first time in his life, he feared failing.

“I told everybody I was fine,’’ Leonard said. “I wasn’t.”

 It’s what many figured throughout his struggles last season, when he averaged 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds and was replaced in the starting lineup by Noah Vonleh: his biggest hurdle was between his ears, not the job in front of him on the court.

He says he has freed his mind of the pressure that comes with being a self-proclaimed people-pleaser with the help of journaling. He started on July 17 with writing in a “gratitude journal” with which he begins each day documenting what he was grateful for the day before.

Later, he writes in his “mindset journal” which answers his “Why?” each day   (i.e. why wake up?) by stressing his core values. 

“When you lose your why, you lose your way,’’ Leonard said.

The goal of these exercises is to flood his mind with positive thoughts, which he hopes translates to the court.

Leonard, of course, could be one of the most unique and potent weapons on the Blazers. As one of the game’s top three-point shooting 7-footers and a solid mid-range shooter he provides spacing that enables Lillard and McCollum to attack the rim easier. And last year,  Leonard was the best Blazers big man in guarding physical offensive centers like DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol and Greg Monroe.

The potential is there, but so too has been the getting caught out of defensive position, his propensity to foul, and his tentative nature to take open shots.

Now, with a surgically-repaired shoulder and a 4-year, $41 million contract, his mind is cleared of what stressed him last season, and his focus has shifted to what he can do, instead of what he hasn’t done.

On the court, he says he worked this summer to get his shot off quicker, hone his mid-range shot and further develop his post game, which included work with facing up much like Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

But it is clear that Leonard won’t make his full impact until he gets his mind right, and he appears to at least have started that journey, if not made headway. Part of that process is tempering even his own expectations. He says he doesn’t believe he will figure everything out until he is 27. He turns 25 in February.

“Mentally, I’m in the best place in my life,’’ Leonard said.

4. Damian Lillard’s health and conditioning

One of the undercurrents of the season will be whether Damian Lillard’s plantar fasciitis resurfaces in his left foot.

Last December, the painful condition that is centered in his heel, became so troublesome that Lillard missed seven games.

Lillard on Monday said his foot “feels great” even though there are days he thinks about it.

“But it hasn’t caused any pain,’’ Lillard said.

Lillard is well known for his relentless workout regiment and his emphasis on honing his skills, but interestingly he said his focus this summer was more broad.

“My conditioning and my strength in my legs and health is what focused on the most,’’ Lillard said. “The stronger I am and the better shape I’m in, then I can be more efficient … that’s what’s most important – get to the end of the game and still be effective.’’

5. Festus Ezeli and his knees: Signed not for October but later

One of the more telling quotes of Monday came from Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations, in regard to the organization’s plan for center Festus Ezeli, one of the team’s free agent signees.

“Sometimes there are signings that are not about Oct. 1,’’ Olshey said. “They are about later in the season.’’

That is the case with Ezeli, the muscular center who was signed to a two-year (partially guaranteed) contract because of balky knees. In August, Ezeli had a platelet-rich-plasma treatment done on his left knee, the same knee that was operated on in February, which sidelined him for 31 games while he was with Golden State. In 2013-2014, Ezeli did not play because of surgery to his right knee.

“The good news is we have a lot of depth at that position and can be patient,’’ Olshey said, referring to Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard.

After the Aug. 23 procedure to his left knee, the Blazers estimated Ezeli’s return at six weeks, which would be a mid-October return. Ezeli on Monday said he started running last week.

“My knee is getting better,’’ he said. “It’s getting better and getting stronger. We are going to go based on feel. There is no rush. We just want to do everything right.’’

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed from the Blazers win over the Nets

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed from the Blazers win over the Nets

Following All-Star Break, the Portland Trail Blazers took the road for the first game of a seven game road trip. Their first stop was in Brooklyn on Thursday night against some familiar faces.

Former Trail Blazers Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier and Allen Crabbe, who all now play for the Nets, put up a fight against Portland, but the trio couldn’t stop their former team and Portland’s new center tandem.

The Blazers dominated the Nets 113-99 in front of a sellout crowd at Barclays Center.

Here’s a look at everything you might have missed.

On a night where the three-ball wasn’t falling, the Blazers bigs caught fire.

Jusuf Nurkic went 10-of-15 from the field and grabbed 12 rebounds on Thursday night, while Kanter, who made his debut in a Blazers uniform, knocked down eight of his nine shorts, scoring 18 points in just 19 minutes. He also added nine rebounds for Portland.

Dwight Jaynes noted Portland going old-school on Brooklyn with its centers: 'Nurk and The Turk' haul Trail Blazers to an old-school win

Allen Crabbe finished with the most minutes of the former Trail Blazers trio. He came off the bench for 17 points on 7-13 shooting, while Davis added 15 points and 10 rebounds and Napier added seven points and 10 assists.=

Jamie Hudson caught up with them after the game to see how they’ve been adjusting to life in Brooklyn and what they thought of the new-look Blazers: Best of Quotes: Former Trail Blazers Ed Davis and Allen Crabbe talk after loss in Brooklyn

Jamie also shared her initial thoughts following the Blazers win: Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Nets

'Nurk and The Turk' haul Trail Blazers to an old-school win

'Nurk and The Turk' haul Trail Blazers to an old-school win

The Trail Blazers went old school Thursday night in Brooklyn against the Nets.

Portland went inside to its centers. Over and over and over.

And over again.

Remember when having a low-post center who could score was a big deal? Well, the Trail Blazers turned back the clock Thursday night.

Two Blazer centers combined for 45 points and 21 rebounds as Jusuf Nurkic made 10 of his 15 shots and grabbed 12 rebounds and Enes Kanter, born in Turkey and making his Portland debut, hit eight of his nine shots, scored 18 points and hauled in nine rebounds in just a little under 20 minutes.

The Blazers finished with 66 points in the paint.

“He basically played the way we expected him to play,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said of Kanter. “I don’t know if you could have asked for a better first game from him.”

In a league dominated by three-point shooting, playing a power game with a big center is a real throwback. But high-percentage shots still have extreme value, particularly late in close games and when the shooters can also make free throws if fouled …

And, of course, on nights when the three-ball isn’t falling – like Thursday night for Portland.

“They are going to change the dynamic for a lot of teams in how they guard us,” CJ McCollum said. “They will be able to get a lot of attention, draw fouls and get us in the bonus a little bit earlier and present some different challenges for a lot of teams.”

The Trail Blazers made just 7 of 32 heaves from distance, with Damian Lillard and McCollum combining to hit only 3 of 15.

But Nurk and The Turk mopped up the mess, collecting a total of eight offensive rebounds.

“Obviously, our two big guys really dominated inside,” Stotts said. “They were a big part of our offense.

“We’ve been good, offensively, all season. And I think now we’re improved. Nurk has always been good on the pick-and-roll and Enes is good on the block.”

“Defensively, it’s going to be a challenge.”

Portland is stockpiling centers. Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard – who have each had good moments this season – did not get into the game and newcomer Skal Labissiere is plopped down at the end of the bench, where he is expected to stay with the four others ahead of him.

“He was tremendous,” Nurkic said of Kanter. ”If he can continue to play that way, it will be huge.”

McCollum said of Kanter: “He’s a monster, man. I’ve seen his work ethic the last few summers, living in New York and living in the same building.”

Kanter, who had been with the tanking Knicks prior to making his escape, was excited.

“The last time I got a win, I think it was two months,” he said. “First, it was amazing, man. I didn’t know any sets. We just went over them yesterday and it was like smoke coming out of my ears. I didn’t know any of them.

“But when you play with guys like Dame and CJ, they make the game so easy for themselves and for everybody else around them. That’s what made it so special.

“Winning is fun again. I hope it keeps getting better and better.”

Best of Quotes: Former Trail Blazers Ed Davis and Allen Crabbe talk after loss in Brooklyn

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Best of Quotes: Former Trail Blazers Ed Davis and Allen Crabbe talk after loss in Brooklyn

The start of the Trail Blazers road trip in Brooklyn brought some familiar faces to the court. Former Trail Blazers Ed Davis, Allen Crabbe and Shabazz Napier all now play for the Nets. 

Crabbe logged the most minutes of the trio, who all came off the bench. AC finished with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go along with his four rebounds. Davis racked up a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Napier added seven points and ten assists. 

It was quite the night for the trio despite the loss to Portland. Here is what the former Trail Blazers had to say after the game...

Top quotes of the night from Ed Davis:

On what he sees different in playing against former teammate Jake Layman:

“Nothing – he’s just getting the opportunity. Everyone over there knows he can play. He’s an aggressive scorer, so for him it’s the opportunity to get more consistent minutes.”

On moving forward this season with an emphasis on rebounding:

“It’s huge. You know, they definitely killed us on the boards tonight. (Enes) Kanter and (Rodney) Hood and the rest of the guys. To win games you definitely need to get stops and get defensive rebounds. Those are key points.”

Davis finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds against the Blazers on Thursday night.

Top quotes of the night from Allen Crabbe:

On where the Blazers hurt the Nets most tonight:

“Offensive rebounds. They got a lot of second chance points, they got a lot of offensive rebounds. It's hard to beat a team when you give up that many offensive rebounds and they get that many looks, second chances aside, you've got to them credit. They outworked us tonight."

On if it feels like he’s hot right now from three:

“I’m just playing basketball confident. Teammates find me within the flow of the offense and like I said, when I went out before I got injured, I felt like I was finding my rhythm, and I told myself to just come back with the same mindset – just stay aggressive out there and good things will happen.”

Crabbe has played just in just 32 games all season after missing nearly two months with the knee injury. In his last 10 games he is averaging 15 points.

Jusuf Nurkic leads strong 1-2 punch in win over Nets

Jusuf Nurkic leads strong 1-2 punch in win over Nets

BROOKLYN – One thing is for sure… The Portland Trail Blazers are loaded with offensive weapons.

And, CJ McCollum said it best after the Blazers 113-99 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night:

“It’s a good problem to have.”

Unlike what fans have become accustom to for the past few seasons with Damian Lillard and McCollum leading the offensive charge, on Thursday night, it was all about Jusuf Nurkic and newly acquired backup Enes Kanter.

Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts knows it’s a luxury to have two big men who can finish around the rim.

“We’re going to spread the wealth, I guess,” Stotts said in regards to the Blazers’ rotations and who is going to get minutes. “We’ve been good offensively most of the season. I think we’re probably improved now with Enes Kanter... So offense is going to be fine. We’ll find ways to score.”

Nurkic finished with 27 points in the win, which ties a season-high, to along with his 12 rebounds after shooting an efficient 10-of-15 from the floor.

The Bosnian Beast bodied up the young Jarret Allen in Thursday night’s win as Nurkic notched his 27th double-double of the season.

Nurkic had it going early when the rest of the Blazers seemed to be shaking off that post All-Star break rust.

At the break, he was the only Trail Blazer in double figures with 10 points.

“Nurk was great. He changed the game, made them have to really double team down in the paint, he attracted a lot of attention, finished strong, was efficient, he helped us a lot,” McCollum said.

But when Nurkic got into foul trouble in the second half that meant more minutes for the newest Trail Blazer.

“It’s not a break for other teams. You come out with Nurk,who is huge, banging guys down low, getting the ball in the paint and then when Nurk’s out of the game you come in with Enes and he’s the same. He’s strong, he’s banging, he’s making those guys work… They’ve got their work cut out for them in the paint,” Lillard said.

Nurkic feels the Blazers offense could see a bit of a change for this second half of the season.

“I feel like with Enes we’re gonna play a little bit more in the post,” Nurkic added.

Kanter logged 20 minutes in his debut for the Trail Blazers. He made his first seven shots and ended the game with 18 points after going 8-of-9 from the floor. Kanter also had nine rebounds with four of those coming on the offensive end.

“I didn’t expect [Kanter] to just be that comfortable… But he played in exactly the way I knew he was capable of – on the offensive glass, scoring on the block. I think that type of game from him, I think that’s something that we can really use,” Lillard said.

Both Nurkic and Kanter realize that with their size there is a big possibility they will create mismatches.

“Somebody is gonna need to guard two big fellas out there,” Nurkic said with a smile.

“Jusuf is one of the biggest men in the league. He kind of plays like I do – physical game, rebounding, post-ups and face-up shots. I think we just want to get better from now,” Kanter said.

Lillard also mentioned how having Nurkic and Kanter both being so effective down low could open up more driving lanes for he and McCollum.

While McCollum pointed out that the Blazers could now be heading to the free throw line a little bit more because of Nurkic and Kanter’s play.

“They’re gonna change the dynamic for a lot of teams and how they guard us. Obviously they’re able to draw fouls, draw a lot of attention, get us in the bonus a little bit earlier and present some different challenges for a lot of teams,” McCollum said.

Nurkic and the rest of the Blazers will look to again take advantage of a smaller team with the Philadelphia 76ers playing without Joel Embiid when the Blazers visit Philly on Saturday.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Nets

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Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Nets

BROOKLYN -- It was a game that was going to set the tone for the Portland Trail Blazers seven-game road trip, according to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and after shaking off the rust; Portland was able to take advantage of the young Nets team.

Both Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter powered their way past Brooklyn to help the Blazers get a win to start the trip.

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 113, Nets 99

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers win over the Nets:

 

1. Kanter imposing his will

Enes Kanter checked in as a Trail Blazer for the first time at the 3:14 mark of the first quarter. He quickly showed Blazers fans what he will bring to this team on the offensive end as Kanter muscled his way past Ed Davis for two back-to-back lay-ins.

The last two days, Kanter has preached that he will bring the energy and against the Nets he showed that energy on both ends. This is a game that Kanter matched up well again with a small frontcourt.

In his first stint as a Trail Blazer, Kanter went 3-for-3 with six points and four rebounds in nine minutes of work.  He made his first seven shots of the game.

2. Going up against Blazers East

Some of Rip City’s fan favorites are now with the Nets and you could tell the former players wanted to take it at their old team.
Midway through the 1st quarter all three former Trail Blazer players were on the court – Allen Crabbe, Shabazz Napier, and Ed Davis.

Shabazz and Davis showed their strong connection early with back-to-back successful pick and roll action. That was the first sign of the element of wanting to play well against your former team. Crabbe was also going hard at CJ McCollum one-on-one early.

Blazers fans should know—Nets fans seem to love/enjoy what all three former Blazers bring to their Nets team.

The second quarter Napier showed off some “Shabazzle Dazzle” with a between the legs pass to Crabbe who calmly knocked down the long three-pointer and the crowd went nuts. Which by the way, I felt like I was at a college game with section 114 chanting and standing for most of the game. It really was like having a student section going crazy for their team.  

Napier had a career-high in assists of a half with eight assists.

 

3. Strong third quarter despite foul trouble

It wasn’t until the second half started the Blazers looked like they were finding their groove on offense. Portland outscored Brooklyn 34-22 in the quarter and that was despite both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic picking up four fouls each by the eight-minute mark of the third.

The triple-double watch for Damian Lillard started midway through the third as well. With just minutes left in the 3rd period, Lillard had 10poimts, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

It was one of those off nights for Lillard, but he found different ways to help his team secure a victory.

The Nets made a run at the Blazers to make it a one-point game 7:25 mark in the final quarter after DeMarre Carroll knocked down a jumper, but Portland was able to take care of business down the stretch.

And, this ended up not being the triple-double game for Lillard, but we all know he always wants the win more than the triple-double feat.

NEXT UP: Portland continues its seven-game trip with a stop in Philadelphia for the second game of the road slate. Tip-off between the Blazers and 76ers is set for 10:00am PT with pregame coverage beginning at 9:00am on NBC Sports Northwest.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

Everything you need to know from pregame as the Trail Blazers prep for Brooklyn Nets

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Everything you need to know from pregame as the Trail Blazers prep for Brooklyn Nets

BROOKLYN -- The Trail Blazers tip-off the second half of the 2018-19 NBA season with a brutal stretch in their schedule as Portland embarks on a seven-game, East Coast road trip starting with this matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.

Before tonight’s game tips off, the Trail Blazers players and coaching staff embraced and said their hellos to former teammates Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier while both teams were warming up.

Before the game Davis talked about what it was like getting to catch up with his former teammates, “I was there for three years. I developed a lot of lifelong relationships. It’s good to see old faces.”

Davis also had a message for Trail Blazers fans:

 

“We’ll be back in [Portland] at the end of next month. It’ll be good to be back. I appreciate all the support,” Davis said.

 

During his pregame media availability Blazers head coach Terry Stotts had plenty to say about what it was like to coach ‘Phys Ed’:

“He’s a pros, pro. He plays hard, he practices everyday, he’s a good teammate. He had good conversations with the players whether it was about basketball or about life. I think his teammates appreciated his willingness to do the dirty work and because of that he had the respect of his teammates and his coaches. I can’t say enough good things about Ed," Stotts said.

Hear more from Coach Stotts here:

 

 

I'm Not Crying, You're Crying: Meyers Leonard makes dreams come true

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I'm Not Crying, You're Crying: Meyers Leonard makes dreams come true

Meyers Leonard hasn’t had an easy life.

At only six years old, Leonard lost his father in a devastating bicycle accident and his mother’s debilitating back injury left the family with a home in foreclosure, little to no furniture and limited running water and electricity.

Leonard knows what it’s like to struggle, and now that he’s in a position to help those less fortunate, the Portland Trail Blazers center is giving back in a big way.

Each year, Blazer's Edge, the Trail Blazers SB Nation site, hosts a special night in March where they collect donations to send underprivileged fans to an NBA game.

This year, a request from a 5th grade teacher made an impression on Blazer's Edge editor Dave Deckard, who became worried they wouldn’t have enough tickets donated to fulfill the requests.

He penned a story “The Trail Blazers Request that Broke My Heart,” detailing the 5th grade teacher’s request to send her class to the game, in particular three students who share a passion for basketball.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

“Basketball turned them from three lonely, isolated boys at the beginning of the year to their own little team. I can only imagine how my class, but especially those three would feel if I got to tell them they could see the Blazers play for real. I think on that day they’d walk away from school with their heads up. If it’s possible my dream is to get a picture of those three boys sitting together at a real game. It’s something I’d treasure for a lifetime.”

The letter apparently struck a chord with Leonard as well, who took to Twitter to share he and his wife Elle would help make the request a reality.

Following Leonard’s pledge, fans praised the Blazers big for supporting the students.

While these acts of kindness typically go unnoticed, Leonard definitely deserves some credit for the selfless gesture.

Giving kids the opportunity to go to an NBA game might be trivial for some, but you never know the impact it could have on those sitting in the audience.

In a post shared on Twitter Thursday, Blazer's Edge announced they had surpassed their goal of 2,000 donated tickets.

Shootaround Notebook: An update on Damian Lillard's ankle

Shootaround Notebook: An update on Damian Lillard's ankle

BROOKLYN – The Trail Blazers announced Thursday morning that both Damian Lillard (left ankle) and Rodney Hood (gastrointestinal) are available for Thursday night’s game at Brooklyn after Lillard was initially listed as questionable and Hood was probable.

Lillard did not go through Thursday’s shootaround because of the sore ankle, but he’s ready to go for the 7:30pm ET tip-off in Brooklyn.

“It’s a little sore right now. In our live contact yesterday I rolled it pretty good. I sat out of shootaround and just kind of watched from the side. We did a lot of treatment yesterday… It felt better this morning. It’s still real sore, but I’m obviously playing tonight,” Lillard said.   

Portland now starts its seven-games in 13 day road trip and for the Blazers team captain it’s all about your mindset for a trip this long.

“You gotta have your mind right now. I know for me a lot of times when I’m at my best is when I make my mind up about stuff and that’s getting rest, staying hydrated, just keeping my mind in the right place,” Lillard said.

The Blazers’ current road trip ranges from 2/21 - 3/5 with stops in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Charlotte, and Memphis.

Portland will play 16 of their final 25 remaining games on the road as the Blazers look to improve its 10-15 road record.

“For a long trip like this I know where I got to be mentally, whereas maybe in the middle of the trip I might be a little bit fatigued physically, a little warn out, ready to get home, I know where I need to be mentally, that’s a key,” Lillard said.

“For any trip, even if it’s a two-game trip it’s important how you start it off,” Lillard added.

CJ McCollum echoed those sentiments that Thursday’s game in Brooklyn is important to get the momentum going for the rest of the trip.

Thursday night not only marks the first game of the trip, but it will also be the debut of backup center Enes Kanter in a Blazers uniform.

Lillard has no doubt that Kanter can make a difference, “I’m expecting him to help us… He’s been on really good teams and he has been a starter on really good teams having a huge impact…  I’m expecting him to help us a lot.”

This will also be a chance for Blazers fans to see a few of the former Trail Blazers who are now with the Nets. Allen Crabbe, Shabazz Napier, and Ed Davis are all coming off the bench for Brooklyn.

Lillard said he still keeps in touch with all three former teammates and they are always texting each other.

He is ready for some friendly trash talking when the game tips off.

“I already know there’s gonna be some words being said out there, so that’s kind of what I’m expecting. There’s always love between us, but I’m expecting, you know, Bazz to have some stuff to say, not negative, and I know Ed will be out there talking,” Lillard said with a smile.         

Let the trash talking commence.

The Blazers and Nets tip-off at 4:30pm PT Thursday.

Blazers Outsiders: What to expect on his long road trip

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USA Today

Blazers Outsiders: What to expect on his long road trip

The Blazers have the unenviable task of starting the "second half" of the season with a seven-game road trip. The trip will see them hit the road for two weeks, play games in two countries, and have tipoffs ranging from 1pm to 8pm. Needless to say, it's going to be an exhausting trip. 

The trip starts on Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets (30-29), then sees the Blazers take on the 76ers (37-21), Cavaliers (12-46), Celtics (37-21), Raptors (43-16), Hornets (27-30), and end with the Memphis Grizzlies (23-36). 

It may not seem like it, but this is a pivotal trip for Portland. The Blazers need to finish the season 16-9 to hit the magical 50 win mark. If the Blazers hit 50 they will almost be a lock to be the four seed in the west. 

Not only will 50 wins help them lock in the four seed, but it could even get them the three seed. Oklahoma City (37-20) needs to finish the season 13-12 to get to the 50 win mark. While that may sound easy for a team like the Thunder, consider that 19 of their final 25 games are against current playoff teams. One small slip up and the door is open for the Blazers. If that happens, the Blazers needs to jump right through. 

A winning record on this road trip will be a great start.

4-3 should be the goal for the Blazers. Anything better is great, anything worse is a step in the wrong direction. There are some tough teams on this trip, but they are all winnable. 4-3 may be the goal, but 5-2 is certainly achievable. 

The Nets, Cavs, Hornets, and Grizzlies should be wins, while the Celtics and Raptors look like losses on paper. The 76ers are a wildcard. Philly is a tough team, but without Joel Embiid in the lineup they are a lot easier to take down. The Trail Blazers can pick this up and go 5-2.

So much hinges on this trip. Finish above .500 and you continue to move closer to locking up a top seed. However, go below .500 and you could easily come back home as a sixth or seventh seed.

First things first, the Blazers need to set the tone with a win over the Nets on Thursday. Tipoff is set for 4:30pm, with coverage beginning at 3:30pm on NBC Sports Northwest.