Trail Blazers looking for wins "by any means necessary"

Trail Blazers looking for wins "by any means necessary"

NEW YORK –- CJ McCollum, who just happened to score 31 points, best summed up his team’s 118-114 win over the lowly (4-14) New York Knicks Tuesday night:

“We won. That’s the biggest thing right now. At the end of the season, nobody’s going to go back and say, ‘Oh, you only beat this team by two or three points.’ We just have to get wins by any means necessary.”

Exactly. It really doesn’t matter how it came about, the Trail Blazers survived 50.6 field-goal shooting by New York and their own 70.6 percent free-throw shooting, to come from 10 points behind in the third quarter and post a win that was a struggle all night.

“CJ got hot at the right time,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “We were kind of struggling. We went back to staggering (the minutes on the floor) of Dame and CJ in the second half and CJ took advantage of that opportunity when we really needed it.”

McCollum hit two long three-point shots from the left wing, a layup and then another three to help Portland extend what was a four-point lead out to 11. In the fourth quarter he scored 13 points on 5-8 shooting, including three of his four three-pointers.

With Lillard on the bench, he had the ball in his hands more and made the Knicks pay.

The Trail Blazers were full of praise for their pesky opponents.

“I thought the Knicks played a really good game,” Stotts said. “They played hard. They made a lot of shots and were very competitive. I don’t think their record shows how well they were playing.”

This one was close down the stretch and perhaps the biggest play of the game was an Evan Turner rebound and putback from the right side with 9.5 seconds to play that doubled his team’s lead from two to four.

“Evan’s tip at the end was big-time,” Stotts said.

Turner is experienced enough that it’s no accident when he ends up in the right place at the right time in a big moment.

“Shot clock was winding down. I had seen a couple of times during the game where I could have gotten a tip-in,” Turner said. “I figured on that shot there might be a bunch of mix-ups so I saw when Dame shot it that it could be a free ball. ‘Nurk’ should have gotten an assist on it – he tipped it to me. I just put it in.

“A big play and a big team win. Credit the New York Knicks – they played a tough, hard-fought game.”

Turner isn’t necessarily pleased with the way fouls are being called these days in the NBA. Maybe the whistles are blowing a little too often?

“What made it tough, we could have made it a 15-point lead but in the NBA you can’t touch any-damn-body. You really can’t. It’s getting ridiculous.”

The road trip gets nothing but tougher for the Trail Blazers, with two of the best teams in the league ahead – Milwaukee Wednesday night and Golden State Friday.

 

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: 

Quotables:

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?

No.

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:

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

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

It’s preseason.

That’s one thing to always keep in mind after watching a star-less Phoenix Suns team take it to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Saturday marked the Blazers third exhibition game of the 2019-20 season and it wasn’t a pretty one against the Suns, particularly on the defensive end, and even more specifically, on the perimeter.

In Phoenix’s 134-118 win over Portland, the Suns shot lights out from three. 

Phoenix went 24-of-45 from deep. They did that without Devin Booker on the floor. So, what do the Blazers chalk it up to?

For CJ McCollum, who got it going from three himself, he attributes the Suns knocking down so many deep balls to a number of things. 

“We’ve got a lot we’ve got to improve on, tighten up, but they’re NBA players. They made some tough shots, some of them were wide open, some of them were more contested, but we’ll be better as the season gets closer,” McCollum said.

 

“Obviously they shot the ball really well and some of that is on us,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame. “I don’t think we ever necessarily made them feel uncomfortable with their shot and they got their confidence going. I don’t think we started the game really locked in and that set the tone. Hats off to Phoenix, they shot the ball really well…Like I told the team, it’s a good lesson because on any night teams can get it going and they got it going tonight.”

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

Two Trail Blazers who are notably defensive first guys and always take pride in what they can accomplish on that side of the ball, wanted to make sure they gave credit to their opponents.

“They just shot the crap out of it tonight. That’s the beauty of this league. Regardless of who is playing there’s a lot of talented people and lot of guys got a lot of opportunity and they took advantage of it,” Kent Bazemore said.

Yet Zach Collins was not ready to give them too much credit.

“Our defense wasn’t very good,” Zach Collins added. “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.”

But what about chalking this game up to it just being the preseason?

Damian Lillard believes that would be the easy way out.  

“What I just said was the easy thing to say – it’s just the preseason,” Lillard said. “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.”

Nobody would expect the leader of this Blazers team to give the excuse of 'it’s just the preseason.'

Thus, Lillard and the Blazers now have 11 days to tighten things up before it all really begins.