Trail Blazers keep surging with blowout of the Hawks in Atlanta

Trail Blazers keep surging with blowout of the Hawks in Atlanta

ATLANTA – The Trail Blazers are playing their best basketball of the season and even before Portland demolished Atlanta 113-97 on Saturday, Damian Lillard knew why the team is surging.

“We understand this is when we have to make our push,’’ Lillard said at the team’s practice on Friday. “This is our last opportunity to get to the postseason, that’s why you are seeing the focus we have. This is it. We want to play in the postseason, so this is what it is: You either do it, or you don’t.’’

Behind Lillard, the Blazers lately have the look of a team that is playoff bound.

Lillard continued his torrid post-All-Star pace with 27 points, which included 13 in  the game-deciding first quarter, when the Blazers blitzed Atlanta by making their first seven shots while jumping to a 17-3 lead.

The lead ballooned to as many as 23 in the first quarter before the Blazers settled for a 40-18 advantage, and from there on out the closest Atlanta got was 11 early in the fourth.

Lillard is averaging 29.8 points since the All-Star Break, second highest in the NBA behind Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (35.1), and his play has spearheaded the Blazers’ 8-4 record since the break, which has included wins in seven of the last nine.

That surge has separated Portland (31-37) from Dallas, Minnesota and New Orleans as Denver’s prime contender for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With 14 games left, the Blazers are 1.5 games behind Denver after the Nuggets lost 109-105 at home to Houston.    

Heading into the five-game trip finale on Sunday in Miami, Lillard said the Blazers have to adopt an unfamiliar trait:

"I think we need to not be happy about what we've accomplish in the first four games,'' Lillard said. "I think our mentality needs to be greedy.''

The late-season rally has been more than just Lillard, as evidenced by Saturday’s performance, which bordered on spectacular for long stretches and included all five starters scoring in double figures.

CJ McCollum had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists and Jusuf Nurkic continued to be a revelation in Portland, finishing with 12 points, nine rebounds, six assists and five blocks. His inside presence on defense and his exuberance and craftiness on the court has been one of the biggest subplots to the resurgence.         

Meanwhile, Noah Vonleh continued his solid March with his first double-double of the season (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Allen Crabbe continued to become more of a factor, on Saturday finishing with four three-pointers and 16 points,.

Maurice Harkless made a case to keep his starting small forward position despite Saturday’s return of Evan Turner from a broken hand. Harkless finished with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists while Turner played 20 minutes in his return and finished with two points, eight rebounds and three assists.

Atlanta (37-32) lost its third straight and played without All-Star forward Paul Millsap, who was a late scratch because of left knee tightness. Ersan Ilyasova started in his place and led the Hawks with 23 points and Dwight Howard had 14 points and 10 rebounds, the 11th consecutive game he has had at least 10 rebounds. 

The Blazers jumped to a stunning start, which not surprisingly was led by Lillard. The Blazers made their first seven shots to take a 17-3 lead, and Lillard scored nine of the team’s first 11 points, which included a four-point play.

Portland led by as many as 23 in the first quarter at 35-12 and led 40-18 heading into the second quarter.

Notes: Portland ended a five-game losing streak to Atlanta … Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder had a miserable game, finishing 2-for-14 from the field and finishing with eight points and seven assists.

Next up: Blazers at Miami, 3 p.m. Sunday (CSN)

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Baldwin's dedication to playing the point paying dividends

Baldwin's dedication to playing the point paying dividends

Wade Baldwin is doing something I really didn't think he could do -- and it's probably doing as much to prove he has a role in the NBA as anything we've seen from him.

I knew he was explosive. Knew that while he isn't yet a big-time shooter, he is certainly a scorer. And we've all seen signs of his defensive promise.

But I had no idea he was going to come out in Summer League and show legitimate point-guard skills. In five games, he's averaged a league-leading 8.4 assists per game while turning the ball over only 1.6 times per game. His willingness to transform from scorer to playmaker also reflects a degree of understanding of what he needed to show in Las Vegas to prove (or improve) his NBA value.

In order to win a roster spot with the Trail Blazers, Baldwin was likely going to have to show that he could serve as a viable point guard option. He's done that, even though it often appears he could score at will in summer league with his ability to get to the basket.

Baldwin has continued to show growth as an all-around player. He's doing his thing as a point guard but still managing to shoot .536 from the field and .385 from three-point range. In two previous summer-league stints while a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, Baldwin shot .286 and .380 from the field and .000 and .333 from three-point territory.

Of course, we temper enthusiasm over those numbers from this summer by reminding ourselves again that this is SUMMER LEAGUE, where mediocre players -- particularly the ones with a couple of seasons in the NBA -- can often look like NBA all-stars. But Baldwin's consistency and patience with the way he's running the team are certainly admirable and promising.

And the big plus he will bring to the regular season is that even if his offensive ability goes off the tracks a little bit, his defense and aggressiveness are going to be there. And that's a very big plus.

He is going to be a very interesting player to keep an eye on this coming season.

The Scoop: All They Do Is Win

The Scoop: All They Do Is Win

The undefeated streak is alive! After taking down the Boston Celtics in the quarterfinals Sunday night in Las Vegas, the Trail Blazers will move on to the semifinals vs. Memphis at 7:30pm Monday. 
I went live on Facebook with The Scoop Postgame Show from Thomas and Mack arena just after the game.

Watch:

Summer League Scoop Postgame

All they do is win!!! The Portland Trail Blazers are heading to the semifinals after beating the Boston Celtics, 95-80 on Sunday night. Let’s discuss now on The Scoop.

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Sunday, July 15, 2018

 

Zach “Gun Show” Collins ready to step up for bigger role

Zach “Gun Show” Collins ready to step up for bigger role

The summer between rookie and sophomore seasons in the NBA is typically a critical time for young players, especially one and done college guys.

It took a few weeks of being around Zach Collins, for Summer League head coach Jim Moran to notice the size difference, “The only reason I knew he gained weight this season is because I haven’t seen him wear sleeves all summer. He’s just showing his arms off,” Moran said.

“The days of Zach Collins in sleeves are over, it’s going to be the gun show now,” Moran said with a smile after the win in Las Vegas.

Much has been talked about this offseason; with Blazers big man Zach Collins now developing into a true “big” man.

At quick glance, it’s hard not to notice, Collins has been spending his summer in the weight room.  The 20-year-old has put on about 20 pounds since he started his rookie season.

“He’s worked really hard this summer. I think he’s just continuing to grow, continuing to learn our system. He find his spots, where he’s going to get his shots and I think he’s doing a really good job on the defensive end, especially with those switches,” Moran said.

In 66 games played last season, Collins averaged 15.8 minutes per game primarly at the power forward position. He averaged 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds for the season.

Collins and Blazer backup center Ed Davis became an inseparable duo on and off the court.  Last year, Collins played mostly at the four alongside Davis, where he was more of a spread the floor type player. Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey has already said they are looking to use Collins as more of a back-to-the-basket guy this next season.

A guy who had been nicknamed “Big Skinny” by teammates could now turn out to be the Blazers backup center.

“I’m sure there’s going to be lineups when he’s going to have to slide over,” Moran said.

Does Collins himself think he could play center? “That’s the goal to be able to be a four and five guy and keep the defense on their toes, kind of mess with their matchups a little bit."

But don’t think for a second that Collins is even close to done working on his body for the summer.

“I have the height, now I just need the weight,” Collins said.

To Collins, coming in and having a larger impact in his second season has been on his mind.

“I always want to go in preparing for a big role. Last year, I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good role as a rookie on a playoff team and I can only hope to see that grow,” Collins said.

Sports Illustrated analyst Ben Golliver has been impressed with Collins’ transformation while watching him play at Summer League, “what I notice is the swagger, he’s kind of got this little walk to him like-- oh, I’m the man now,” Golliver said.

“When he’s playing confident basketball his skills takeover. He’s always been a skilled player. I think that’s why he was a big time high school recruit and why he was able to go one and done because he had that level of skill,” Golliver said.

Adding size in the NBA is crucial for any young player, but for a player who is trying to figure out whether he can fit at either the four or five position it’s been the one of the most talked about topics surrounding Collins this offseaon, especially with the departure of Ed Davis.

For Golliver, with Collins adding more muscle, it’s not just about standing your ground on the offensive end and making sure you don’t get bullied around, it’s about becoming that guy that can end up being the bully down low.

“Defensively, that’s where I’ve really seen an improvement with him because he looked lost and overwhelmed at times last year… Now he really has a paint presence, he’s using his length to block shots, and just active hands too,” Golliver said.

During the regular season last year, Collins averaged 0.5 blocks per contest, but in Summer League this year, he is averaging 3.3 blocks. Yes, it’s just Summer League, but it’s easy to see that Collins could become more of blocking machine this next season. Having a one-two punch of Jusuf Nurkic, with Collins coming in for Nurk off the bench could be a real possibility.

But before anyone gets too big picture at this point in July, Collins is making sure to focus on Summer League.

“We came in with a goal to win the whole thing, so now we’re only two games away from doing that.”

Portland will play in the semifinal game Monday night with a 7:30pm tip-off vs. Memphis. 

 

A trip to Sin City with CJ and his Vegas Edition shoe

A trip to Sin City with CJ and his Vegas Edition shoe

LAS VEGAS – CJ McCollum hosted an exclusive release of his Yushuai 12s at the Shoe Palace inside the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon. The special Vegas Edition shoes were limited to only 100 pairs. 

 

Fans eagerly awaited the limited edition shoe and for the chance for a meet and greet with McCollum.  The Trail Blazers shooting guard signed autographs on his new shoes, on Blazer jerseys, and he took pictures with fans.

 

 

Fans from all over the world were in attendance from Portland to Los Angeles to Australia.

 

Check out the video above for more on the Yushuai 12s and to hear from McCollum on his shoe design and what he likes most about these special edition kicks.

Report: Shabazz Napier signs two-year deal with Brooklyn Nets

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USATI

Report: Shabazz Napier signs two-year deal with Brooklyn Nets

Free-agent guard Shabazz Napier has agreed to a two-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The terms of the deal were not initially reported.

Napier, who turned 27 on Saturday, averaged a career-best 8.7 points in 20 minutes a game last season.

He joins former Trail Blazers Ed Davis and Allen Crabbe in Brooklyn and will join the a guard rotation that includes D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris.

Napier will be on his fourth team in five seasons, spending two seasons in Portland, one in Orlando and one with the Miami Heat, where he was drafted 24th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.

SI's Ben Golliver liking Blazer rookies and Collins' progression

SI's Ben Golliver liking Blazer rookies and Collins' progression

I caught up with SI's Ben Golliver, formerly of BlazersEdge, to get his thoughts on the current status of the Trail Blazers. 

In the video above, Golliver talks about the transformation Zach Collins has made from Year 1 to Year 2. 

Click below to hear his thoughts on the new rookies showing out at Summer League plus a bonus video with his thoughts on Seth Curry!

VIDEO: GOLLIVER ON ROOKIES

Golliver: I've always thought Seth Curry was underrated

Blazers rookie Anfernee Simons showing patience and explosiveness

Blazers rookie Anfernee Simons showing patience and explosiveness

LAS VEGAS – The Portland Trail Blazers continue to cruise in Summer League, while rookie Anfernee Simons has been showing poise and is becoming more comfortable on the floor at the next level.

There had yet to be a so-called 'breakout game' for Simons in pool play, but in the first game of tournament action that all changed.

In Tuesday’s matchup, Simons finished the night with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting as the Blazers defeated the Hawks 95-69 to move on to the Quarterfinals. Simons hit 3-of-7 from deep and also pulled down four rebounds in the win.

After playing in his fourth summer league contest, Simons has been getting a better feel of how his game can work in the Blazers schemes, “I just try to play my game and let the game come to me,” Simons said.

The 19-year-old has been getting a lot of feedback over the first four Summer League games. The coaching staff has told him to, “keep playing how you’ve been playing, make sure defense comes first. They want me to learn the defense before the offense. They know I can score the ball,” Simons said.

For being such a young player with no experience against NBA caliber guys until now, Simons is not a guy who is turnover prone. During Summer League, he is averaging just 0.8 turnovers and that’s while getting valuable minutes running point. 

Yet for the most part, Blazers Summer League Coach Jim Moran has decided to have Simons come off the ball. Moran spoke highly of the rookie after pool play ended.

“I think he’s a lot further along than I had anticipated… He’s shown that he can handle ball pressure and not get sped up and out of control,” Moran said.

As for the other end of the ball, it’s hard for Trail Blazer fans to not be concerned about Simons’ size at 6’4, 183 lbs.

Coach Moran has been focusing on Simons' defensive effort and him not getting pushed around, “Defensively he was guarding high school kids, now he’s guarding Euro guys and NBA guys and vets, so him not getting bullied and pushed around has been impressive to see as well.”

For Simons, that has been his main goal, making sure to take advantage of the guy you are guarding.

“I start off playing defense as hard as I can and let the offense come to me," Simons said.

Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum was in attendance on Thursday night, getting his first look at the rookies.

“For Anfernee to be so young, he has good patience, he’s really explosive, he can make shots, creates shots,” McCollum said.

Ben Golliver of Si.com got his first look at Simons on Thursday night as well.  Golliver feels Simons looks pretty composed for a youngster, “Everyone is coming in and saying he’s so small, he’s so young, to me he looks really polished for a guy who is coming straight out of high school.” 

After watching Simons against the Hawks, Golliver could see why the Blazers had their eye on Simons. “You saw the confidence and just a level of skill, that’s probably why Neil Olshey wanted to draft him in the first round,” Golliver said.

Many fans in Portland, have wondered how a kid from IMG Academy can make such a big leap to the next level. Simons is one of eight alumni drafted into the NBA since 2005. Erick Dampier and Michael Beasly are the most recongizable names.

We all know you can't take away too much from Summer League. There have been plenty of players who have looked like dominant superstars and didn't amount to much and vice versa, but there’s still a lot of value in getting game minutes.

“Whenever you get a chance to play game minutes regardless of the level of competition it’s helpful. Learning the offense, figuring out where players are going to be at, getting game reps in terms of shots and closeouts, I think it’s very helpful and guys are taking advantage of their time.” McCollum said.

Simons and Portland can continue to take advantage of their time as they advance to the Summer League Quarterfinals.  The Blazers will play the winner of the Miami-Boston game on Sunday evening at 5pm.

 

 

 

The Scoop: Trail Blazers red hot and rollin' at NBA Summer League

The Scoop: Trail Blazers red hot and rollin' at NBA Summer League

It was just another day at the office for the Trail Blazers NBA Summer League team who racked up a fourth win and advanced to the quarterfinals on Sunday. 

Check out our Scoop postgame show below where we talk about Simons and Collins plus a look at CJ McCollum's new shoe release, and of course I'm taking your questions throughout the live stream!

Summer League Scoop Postgame

The Blazers are moving on! Next up— the Quarterfinals after Portland beat Atlanta tonight, 95-68 #RipCity

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Thursday, July 12, 2018

Getting ready for tonight's Trail Blazers NBA Summer League Tournament Game

Getting ready for tonight's Trail Blazers NBA Summer League Tournament Game

LAS VEGAS - The Trail Blazers get started with the tournament portion of NBA Summer League tonight with a 7:30pm tip-off against the Atlanta Hawks. The Blazers went 3-0 in pool play and snagged the #2 seed for the tournament. 

We'll get you all primed for Summer League action with The Bridge from 6-7pm and then Trail Blazers Outsiders from 7-7:30pm. 

Plus you can watch The Scoop live streaming on Facebook at 7:15pm from Las Vegas inside Thomas and Mack arena.

After the game, keep it locked right here at NBCSportsNorthwest.com for full postgame coverage including highlights, interviews with the players and coaches, plus a special guest apperance from SI's Ben Golliver. 

And be sure to follow me on Twitter, for updates throughout the game and for links to all the postgame coverage. 

WHEN TO WATCH:
7:30pm Tip-off on ESPN2

PREGAME:
6:00pm The Bridge on NBCS Northwest
7:00pm Trail Blazers Outsiders on NBCS Northwest
7:15pm The Scoop live on Facebook

QUICK LINKS:
Ducks and Beavers at NBA Summer League
Neil Olshey's thoughts from NBA Summer League
Jason Quick: Shooters Gotta Shoot
Is Gary Trent Jr. the real deal?