Trail Blazers return home for must-win game after bowling-shoe ugly loss

Trail Blazers return home for must-win game after bowling-shoe ugly loss

DENVER – It was bowling-shoe ugly. It was battered-1946-DeSoto-on-blocks-in-the-front-yard ugly, No disguising it. No avoiding that or trying to make it sound better than it was.

The Trail Blazers lost 124-98 to the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night and the game wasn’t as close as it sounds.

Portland was outshot, from three-point range and everywhere else, outrebounded, outshot at the foul line and generally just out-everythinged.

The Trail Blazers’ starting backcourt went 14-37 from the field and 4-14 from behind the arc. The starting forwards were 3-11 and 1-4. The starting center was 2-9 and missed three free throws. Oh, free throws? The starters were 6-12.

OK, that’s probably about all you want to hear about it.

The Trail Blazers thus fell behind 3-2 in the best-of-seven series with a must-win rematch Thursday night in Portland.

But it would not be wise to go overboard on the depth of this loss. Stuff happens. Let Damian Lillard explain it:

“Whether you lose by one or by 25, it’s just one loss,” he said.

And sometimes a good slap in the face from a horrific loss is better than the heartbreak of a one-pointer. Portland now needs to win Thursday to send the game back to Denver for a deciding seventh game Sunday.

“I think our mindset should be, just take care of home,” Lillard said.  “We know that we are more than capable of getting it done. We’ve played our best basketball with our backs against the wall.”

The Nuggets were in this same situation in their first-round series against San Antonio, holding a 3-2 lead going back to Texas but lost Game 6 and had to return to Denver to wrap up the series – which they won more because of San Antonio’s off-night than their own barely average game.

“We know going into Portland for Game 6, it’s going to be a really tough game,” Denver Coach Mike Malone said,. “Game Six in San Antonio, we did not come ready to play, mentally or physically. I hope that we have a much different mindset going into Portland for Game Six.”

The Trail Blazers opened the game with a new wrinkle they’d toyed with earlier in the series – using Al-Farouq Aminu to defend Nikola Jokic, which left Enes Kanter to guard Paul Millsap.

Jokic finished with 25 points and 19 rebounds while Millsap was his usual Blazer-killer self with 24 points and eight boards.

“Gives us something different,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said afterwards. “Jokic spends a lot of time out on the floor and Chief is pretty active in their ball screens and gives us some athleticism out there. They didn’t look to post him much… When you get beat like this, there’s a lot of things that didn’t go well. I think it’s hard, right now, to evaluate whether that’s something we’ll do going forward or not.”

Stotts was terse when asked about his defense.

“We didn’t have a very good defensive game,” he said.

Kanter said, “They just played harder than us. We’ve just got to learn from this and just go home and take care of home, because right now, that’s the most important game of the season, of the year.”

Maurice Harkless put it in perspective.

“We knew we didn’t play the way we do and we know they played very well tonight,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in here feels like we can’t beat them. We know we can compete with this team, we can beat this team.

“It happened. It’s over with. We can’t really focus on that anymore. That’s the beauty of this game and the beauty of the playoffs, as well. Next game, it doesn’t matter.

“We have to make it happen.”

No question about it.

Now it’s simply win or pack up the gear and go home.

Damian Lillard: 'It’s almost do or die time'

Damian Lillard: 'It’s almost do or die time'

We’ve seen this movie before.

Damian Lillard has turned on the jets either right before or right after the NBA All-Star break.

This season though, Lillard’s takeover is a bit earlier than most.

Lillard earned the Western Conference Player of the Week while averaging a whopping 52.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists while guiding the Trail Blazers to a 2-1 record over the past week.

[RELATED]: Damian Lillard named Western Conference Player of the Week

After Tuesday’s practice, Lillard discussed what it was like seeing his insane stat line on graphics all over social media.

When you playing and you just trying to do whatever you can to win the game, it kind of sets in later. Like, at first, it was like a crazy run and then you see the numbers and then, I saw a picture of just them saying I was Player of the Week and I just saw the stat line and I was like- '52 points- that’s a lot, that’s crazy.’ Like, when I actually saw it I was just like that’s kind of crazy.” -- Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard  

Yes, Lillard’s average of over 52 points is crazy in itself, but the percentages are what Blazers head coach Terry Stotts focused on after Tuesday's practice.

The 4-time All-Star shot 53.4% from the field, 57.4% from three-point range, and 94.9% from the free throw line.  

“I was more impressed with the percentages, obviously 50 points in a week is pretty good too. Look, he had a fabulous week,” Stotts said.   

Lillard also became the first player in Trail Blazers history to score at least 40 points in three consecutive games, as well as becoming the second player in league history to make at least eight three-pointers in three consecutive games during that time frame.

So, is Lillard doing anything different?

He has talked about how he has been honing in on taking care of his body even more than usual this season.

“Just being responsible for my rest and my body, being hydrated, making sure that I’m still doing training, keeping my body strong, functioning right, and the other half of that is just mental – I think it’s just will – that’s what I think it is.” Lillard said.

Here’s the thing though: the Blazers are 20-27 and Lillard feels that time is quickly running out to make their push in landing a playoff spot.

We at the point where it’s like almost do or die -- Are we going to do this or are we going to keep going back and forth? So… I think it just happens in your mind just as the other things I just mentioned. – Damian Lillard

Lillard started the week by scoring a franchise-record 61 points to go with 10 rebounds, seven assists and one steal in an overtime victory over Golden State on Jan. 20.

Over the last 10 games, the Trail Blazers have gone 5-5, while Lillard is averaging 34.7 points, 8.2 assists, and 4.4 rebounds.   

This week, Lillard was the first to say with the numbers he is putting up, he wants his performance to convert to wins.

For his coach, who knows him best, Stotts hasn’t noticed anything different in Lillard’s approach.

“He’s the same player, same guy,” Stotts said.

Yep, he’s the same player looking to lead his team to the playoffs. 

If James Harden plays, will the Trail Blazers have another diamond for him?

If James Harden plays, will the Trail Blazers have another diamond for him?

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Trail Blazers went into Houston and stunned the Rockets 117-107, using gimmicky defenses to hold the home team to 39.6 percent shooting and James Harden to 13 points.

Portland employed a rarely used diamond-and-one defense against the Rockets, defending Harden with a player -- usually Kent Bazemore, who is no longer on the team -- and getting help for him from the four other Blazer players stationed in a diamond-shaped zone defense.

Other times, Portland sent random double-teams after Harden or used other forms of zones.

Harden, who has missed his team’s last two games due to a thigh bruise, went only 3-13 from the field in that loss to the Trail Blazers, 1-6 from three-point range and was just beginning a stretch where he’s had shooting problems.

In his last nine games, Harden has averaged 2.6 three-point field goals made on 22.3 percent shooting -- after shooting 42.2 percent on 5.7 attempts per game in his previous 28 games.

Would the Trail Blazers give those defenses an encore performance Wednesday night against the Rockets in Moda Center?

“We’ll try it,” Coach Terry Stotts said after practice Tuesday. “I’m sure they’ll be prepared for it. We don’t know if Harden is playing or not but we’ll give it a shot. Having Trevor (Ariza) gives us a different dimension, so we’ll see.”

Harden, Russell Westbrook (rest) and Clint Capela (right heel contusion) sat out Houston’s game at Utah Tuesday night and then the Rockets got a career-high 50 points from Eric Gorden to beat the Jazz 126-117.

Both Harden and Capela were listed Tuesday as “questionable” for the game against the Trail Blazers.

“Having Harden play or not play changes the dynamics for them and so it changes them for us,” Stotts said.

The Rockets shoot a lot of three-point field goals but Stotts said that doesn’t apply pressure to his team to match their three-point output.

“It’s important to play our style,” Stotts said. “If we can get some open threes… the challenge against them isn’t necessarily shooting threes, it’s that they do a lot of switching (on defense) and staying engaged and they kind of force you to play one-on-one at times.

“It’s just the challenge of playing against them and attacking them in the best way possible. If it means shooting more threes, so be it.”

Terry Stotts looks ahead to Staples Center meeting with Lakers: "It's going to be a difficult night"

Terry Stotts looks ahead to Staples Center meeting with Lakers: "It's going to be a difficult night"

Following the devastating loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others, the NBA has postponed Tuesday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, meaning the Lakers next scheduled game will be against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday at Staples Center.

Coming off of one of “the hardest game I’ve ever had to play,” according to Carmelo Anthony, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts now has to prepare his team for a game that might even be harder. 

“It’s going to be a difficult night,” Stotts said on Dan & Nigel in the Mornings on NBCS Northwest Rip City Radio 620 Tuesday. “I think you’ll see a range of emotions. There’ll be sadness. There’ll be celebration. I think it’ll run the whole gamut of emotions and it’s going to be a difficult night for everyone in the building.”

What will actually take place before, during and after the game is still in the works. But, it will be hard not to be affected by the raw emotion that will be in the building Friday night. 

Everyone has a Kobe Bryant story. But, the players were bonded to him like a brother. Carmelo Anthony was overcome with emotion during Sunday night’s game vs. the Pacers to where he says it was hard to stay mentally locked in.   

Forward Mario Hezonja was overcome with emotion and was seen wiping tears away from his eyes during Sunday’s warm-ups. 

Trevor Ariza, who was teammates with Kobe, was not available to the media Sunday because of the effect Bryant’s passing had on him. 

Still, a basketball game must be played. 

“I don’t know that we’ll do anything differently,” Terry Stotts said of the team’s preparations leading up to Friday’s contest. “I’m sure it will still have an impact on everybody in the building, including our players, our coaches.”

While the Lakers are off until Friday, the Blazers can’t look to that game just yet. They are preparing for the Houston Rockets, who come to town Wednesday night, which tips off at 7pm on NBCSNW. 

CJ McCollum discusses the human aspect of NBA trades on latest Pull Up Podcast

CJ McCollum discusses the human aspect of NBA trades on latest Pull Up Podcast

"It’s a business."

NBA players regurgitate that sentence over and over especially when the trade deadline is approaching.

Of course, players know that trades happen and must happen because… It’s a business.

But, sometimes it’s as if professional athletes chose to answer the media’s questions about trading away a teammate with -- ‘it’s a business’ to continue to convince themselves of that fact.

Yet, to some fans, they really forget it’s not just a business.

It's the ugly truth of the NBA.

People can't get enough of it, though. Fans flock to their trade machine generators to see how they can ship players out for more desirable ones. They post on social media talking about players as commodities rather than actual people.

On the latest Pull Up Podcast with Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum, he discussed the human element often overlooked in NBA trades. 

Mostly, how families are impacted.

McCollum was getting treatment on his ankle in Oklahoma City when the news broke last Saturday that his teammates Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver were being traded to Sacramento for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan.

On the podcast, McCollum talked about how normally he would be taking a nap at that time before a game, but instead was watching Netflix while rehabbing his sprained ankle.

Bazemore was asleep when the news broke, however, while AT was on a conference call with one of his business ventures.

“It’s tough man, this is a tough business to be part of,” McCollum said. 

It’s a sick business in the way it operates. The trade happens, physicals are cleared. They take the nametags down, the gear’s getting sent to the next city, and it’s all she wrote. It just gives you perspective. It’s definitely bittersweet, because you enjoy the company, you enjoy being around the guys and then you kind of fast-forward and you go to practice and they’re not there. -- Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum on the human element of NBA trades

In the 43 games that Bazemore played for the Trail Blazers, he showed his veteran experience on the floor. He awed Portland fans with his tenacity and his chase down blocks that he would always seem to do with such ease.

Bazemore also shared his thoughts on many occasions of how both McCollum and Damian Lillard were such great leaders.

Plus, he showed off his dance moves numerous times before the Blazers would run out on the court to warm-up before games.

But, he failed to develop offensive consistency and his expiring contract made him ripe for the trade block. Why? It's a business. 

In Tolliver’s 33 games played in a Trail Blazers uniform, he exemplified what it means to be a true professional. Whether it was on the court or off the court Tolliver was a go to guy for wisdom.

He had been there, done that.

But, he also couldn't find his shot and his veteran's minimum deal made him an attractive candidate to be thrown into a larger deal to balance out rosters and money for trades. Why? It's a business. 

And lost in all of this, is how it all goes down. There's little to no heads up. Teammates find out about the news on social media. Players are used to this by now, though. They're numb to it. 

But, McCollum explains on the podcast what it’s like for the families once a player has been traded. 

“You more so feel sorry for their families,” McCollum said. “When you play, you get caught up in the business, you get caught up in the day-to-day life. But, the families have to adjust most. Guys have kids, they have wives. And, the kids are in school. So, you have to figure out if you’re going to uproot your kids— do you take them out of school or do you let them stay for the year? And, if you let them stay for the year, you’re by yourself. There’s a lot that goes into that dynamic and a lot of people in the outside world don’t see it.”

But, just because an old teammate is moving on and beginning a new chapter that doesn’t mean a current player can’t shut the door on the new teammates.

McCollum preached just that.

You have to be respectful of the business and understanding that you can’t mourn the loss of teammates because now you have new teammates that have come in. You have to make them feel welcome. You can’t have any ill will towards them; it’s not their fault. It’s apart of the business. The business is what it is, and the organization has to do what’s best for themselves. So, you’re sad that you lost some teammates, but also looking forward to playing with new guys and getting them accustomed to how you do things. – CJ McCollum

Listen to the entire Pull Up Podcast RIGHT HERE.

Lakers-Clippers postponed, LAL returns to court Friday vs. Blazers at Staples Center

Lakers-Clippers postponed, LAL returns to court Friday vs. Blazers at Staples Center

Following the devastating loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others, the NBA has postponed Tuesday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.

According to a release from the NBA, the decision was “made out of respect for the Lakers organization, who is deeply grieving the tragic loss…”

This means the Lakers next scheduled game is against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday at Staples Center.

The night will likely be an emotional one for the city of Los Angeles and the greater sports community. During Sunday's game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers, the Blazers began the game with a 24 shot clock violation and 8 second backcourt violation, honoring the two numbers Kobe Bryant wore during his career. 

Trail Blazers veteran Carmelo Anthony held back tears as he spoke to the media, just hours after the news broke. 

“It probably was the hardest game I’ve ever had to play,” Anthony said. “Honestly knowing him, the way that I know him, he would’ve wanted me to play.”

Forward Mario Hezonja was overcome with emotions and was seen wiping tears away from his eyes during Sunday’s warm-ups. 

Blazers guard Damian Lillard made history along with Bryant when he put up 50 points in Black Mamba’s honor. He became the only player in Blazers history to score at least 50 points in a game three times in a season. It’s the seventh-highest three-game total in NBA history since the merger, three of which belong to Bryant.

It only seems fitting that the Lakers first game back be against the Trail Blazers, who have not only a storied rivalry, but mutual respect for one another. Tip off for Friday's game is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which will air on NBCSNW. 

Channing Frye: If Kobe Bryant had a superpower, he would be the Hulk

Channing Frye: If Kobe Bryant had a superpower, he would be the Hulk

After the sudden and shocking passing of Kobe Bryant along with his daughter Gigi and seven others Sunday, the world is sharing their favorite memories of those who have passed. 

“Just to see the reception across the country, how many lives [Kobe] impacted from people that didn’t even know him, that shows you how special he was outside of basketball,” CJ McCollum said after Sunday’s 139-129 win over the Indiana Pacers.

Everyone has a Kobe story. It might be good, it might be not so good. But, they’re equally memorable.

NBC Sports Northwest’s Talkin’ Blazers podcast host Channing Frye has both. 

Bryant was a relentless competitor. He was a tenacious in his preparation. And he would never be outworked. 

His work ethic was second to none. 

“We had the same agent,” Frye told Dan & Nigel in the Mornings on Rip City Radio 620, which simulcasts on NBCSNW. “I would always ask Rob Pelinka what Kobe was doing to be who he was. How to get his game to the next level-- how does he get that good?

Kobe Bryant helped change the game of basketball. He spent 20 years playing with one team, the Los Angeles Lakers. It was there that he became a five-time NBA Champion, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and 18-time All-Star, four-time All-Star MVP, 11-time All-NBA First Team, nine-time All-Defensive First Team… the list goes on.

“Kobe Bryant is one of those guys I never imagined being on the same court with,” Frye said. “It was always an aspiration.”

“When you played Kobe, it was something different. When you went to LA, you made sure your shoes were tied extra tight. You made sure you got sleep, you made sure you ate better. He just made you better. You really had to look at yourself and say mentally, ‘Am I willing to push myself, or did I do more than Kobe yesterday. Did I prepare the right way?’”

“If everyone had a superpower, Kobe would be the Hulk. Kobe could take on a whole team by himself and he’s willing to do that. So, Kobe is like I’ll go 5-1, I don’t care. I’m still going to win. I put in more work than all five of you guys.”

Bryant was the youngest player in league history to reach 30,000 career points. He finished his career with 33,643 points. Just one day before his death, LeBron James surpassed Bryant for third all-time on the NBA’s scoring list. 

“All Kobe wanted to do was win,” Frye said. “He was willing to take 70 shots if it was willing to win. His attitude, if you’re willing to put the work in, he’s willing to concede part of the win with you. If he sees you being lazy, he’s not going to pass you the ball and he’s going to ride you because you’re not going to mess up his time. He’s sacrificing time, time with his family, things he wanted to do to be a champion and to be a winner and to be the best. And that’s why certain guys didn’t mesh with him. That’s why certain guys got bbq’d every time you played him.”

Bryant was a player you loved if you were a Lakers fan and hated by all other NBA franchises. 

But, his game was respected by all. 

And he will be missed. 

Damian Lillard named Western Conference Player of the Week

Damian Lillard named Western Conference Player of the Week

Tell me if you're shocked to hear this news!

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has been named NBA Western Conference Player of the Week for the week ending January 26, the NBA announced Monday.

Lillard averaged 52.7 points (53.4% FG, 57.4% 3-PT, 94.9% FT), 7.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists while guiding the Trail Blazers to a 2-1 record over the past week. Lillard also became the first player in Trail Blazers history to score 40-plus points in three consecutive games and became the second player in league history to make at least eight three-pointers in three consecutive games during that time period.

Lillard started the week by scoring a franchise-record 61 points (17-37 FG, 11-20 3-PT, 16-16 FT) to go with 10 rebounds, seven assists and one steal in an overtime victory over Golden State on Jan. 20. His 61 points are the most points scored in an NBA game this season while his 11 three-pointers were also a franchise record. In a loss to Dallas on Jan. 23, Lillard recorded 47 points (16-28 FG, 8-15 3-PT, 7-7 FT), six rebounds, eight assists and one steal. It was his 25th career game with 40-plus points. Lillard closed the week with 50 points (14-23 FG, 8-12 3-PT, 14-16 FT), six rebounds and 13 assists to lead Portland to a win over Indiana on Jan. 26. It marked the fifth time in NBA history that a player scored 50-plus points on 23 or fewer field goal attempts.

For the season, Lillard is averaging 28.8 points (45.5% FG, 38.2% 3-PT, 88.8% FT), 4.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists. He ranks fifth in the league in scoring average, sixth in assists per game and is second in both three-pointers made  (170) and free throws made (317).

It is the eighth time in his career that Lillard has won the weekly honor and the first time this season.

Blazers and Rip City show their appreciation for Kobe Bryant

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Blazers and Rip City show their appreciation for Kobe Bryant

There have been plenty of cheers for Kobe Bryant in Portland over the years, only typically they'd be chased by boos.

The purple and gold clad Lakers faithful would pack the Rose Garden and then the Moda Center when Bryant would come to town. It wasn’t uncommon to see a quarter of the building rooting for the road team with thousands of No. 8s and No. 24s dispersed throughout the building.

Laker fans would cheer for the hero while Blazers fans would drown them out jeering a hated rival.

Make no mistake Bryant was a villain in Rip City. It was a well earned reputation that came from defeating the Blazers in 2000 Western Conference Finals, and then ushering Portland out of the playoffs in each of the next two seasons. Then there was a double overtime game-winner in Portland 2004, and the 65 points in Los Angeles in 2007.

He tormented the Blazers with brilliance and bravado. The thousands of Lakers fans that would pile into the arena in Portland only added to his aura and fueled the boos from the Rip City faithful. In his final game in this building in 2016, Bryant thanked Blazers fans for booing him wholeheartedly one last time.

Bryant died on Sunday afternoon in a helicopter accident that also took the life of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. It was a sudden tragedy that rocked the basketball world, and beyond. 

There was an unmistakable weight in the arena, a heaviness that draped across a game that felt at best secondary to the news of day. And on Sunday likely for the first time in Portland basketball history, Kobe Bryant received cheers from the entire building.

It started early when both teams took intentional turnovers to begin the game. The Blazers holding the ball for a 24 second shot clock violation before the Pacers held the ball in the backcourt for an eight-second violation. The building erupted at the tribute, recognizing the nod to Bryant's jersey numbers and honoring him with a standing ovation.

Then in the third quarter the Blazers game operations team showed a fan on the screen holding a gold No. 24 jersey. In the past, the game ops crew would find Lakers fans filing out of the building, the only time a Kobe jersey would get cheers was if it were headed for the exits. However on Sunday, as the camera lingered on the young man displaying the last name on his Lakers jersey the entire building gave a full throated cheer for Bryant, honoring a basketball legend as the big screen flashed to handwritten signs that read “I Love No. 24” and “Kobe” adorned with hearts.

“Everybody felt the weight today. Hurt today. We had to carry on,” Damian Lillard said afterwards. “I think it was the right decision to go out and compete in his honor. I think that’s what he would’ve wanted. I think that’s what was on everybody’s mind. Obviously throughout the game you think about it ... Timeouts and just random dead moments of the game he’s on your mind just because it’s such an unfortunate, sad situation. It was just a tough game to play just as far as your energy and where your heart is, to say the least.”

While Bryant was a villain with the Blazers fan base, he is a friend if not idol to most of the players in the Blazers locker room. Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza were both very close with Bryant while Lillard and CJ McCollum had forged relationships with him over their careers.

Ariza chose not to speak with reporters after the game, understandably not yet ready to publicly process the loss of a close friend just hours after it happened. Anthony was emotional as he answered questions postgame, explaining that Bryant would have wanted him to play even under difficult circumstances.

“Our friendship, relationship was deeper than basketball,” Anthony said. “It was family. It was friendship. Basketball was the last piece of connective tissue between those two.”

Lillard said the game offered him moments to escape while McCollum noted how challenging it is for those in the NBA that knew Bryant to truly mourn with games coming every other day. But they both fondly remembered Bryant for his impressive work ethic, and his willingness to offer advice to them when they were young players first entering the league.

When pressed for a memory of competing against Bryant, Lillard mentioned his NBA debut and then trailed off when a reporter noted another matchup the two had at the end Lillard’s rookie season.

“Best player I ever played against,” Lillard said. “I don’t know what else to say.”

There will be more time to reflect on Bryant the imperfect player and imperfect person in the days and months to come. Sunday was mostly about catharsis, and a city appreciating its once hated archrival.

Forever the cheers for Kobe Bryant in Portland would get swallowed up by boos and jeers until Sunday when the fans stood and the roars lingered.

Kobe Bryant: The player CJ McCollum was always afraid to meet, but probably had the greatest impact

Kobe Bryant: The player CJ McCollum was always afraid to meet, but probably had the greatest impact

The NBA lost a legend Sunday. 

Kobe Bryant, gone too soon at the age of 41, died in a helicopter accident outside of Los Angeles in Calabasas. Nine people, in total, died as a result of the crash. 

For those who saw him play, they watched in awe. 

For those who covered him playing, they marveled at his relentless pursuit of perfection and high standards of excellence. 

For those who played with him, they called him a brother. 

Kobe Bryant set the standard for what preparation and work ethic looked like.

His relentless obsession for perfection is something the sports world may never see again. 

He was a renaissance man. 

It shouldn’t have happened like this. 

Now, those who played with him, who learned from him, attempt to put into words where no words would do it justice. 

But, they try anyways. 

“I’ll never really be able to express the impact he had on my life,” Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum said Sunday night after the Trail Blazers 139-129 win over the Indiana Pacers. “My work ethic, my approach — our whole family, we were all Kobe fans.”

Kobe Bryant helped change the game of basketball. He spent 20 years playing with one team, the Los Angeles Lakers. It was there that he became a five-time NBA Champion, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and 18-time All-Star, four-time All-Star MVP, 11-time All-NBA First Team, nine-time All-Defensive First Team… the list goes on.

Kobe Bryant, whether you love him or hated him during his playing days, will go down as one of the greatest players in NBA history. He lived on a stratospheric superstar level. 

That’s why, when other NBA players played against him, it was impossible not to notice. 

“The first game of my career was against Kobe,” Damian Lillard said Sunday. “I don’t really get nervous or get butterflies. But, I walked on the court and was like that’s Kobe over there. I’ll always have that memory.”

“I always tell people, he was the guy that I was afraid to meet,” McCollum added. “Him and Michael Jordan. I knew LeBron growing up, so, although he’s Mount Rushmore great, Kobe was the one I didn’t really know. So, that was a guy I was afraid to meet.”

Bryant was the youngest player in league history to reach 30,000 career points. He finished his career with 33,643 points. Just one day before his death, LeBron James surpassed Bryant for third all-time on the NBA’s scoring list. 

Back in 2015, McCollum and Kobe shared a moment on the court, which he described after the fact.

“I’ve been watching you since I was a kid,” McCollum told Kobe. “I appreciate what you’ve done for the game and I appreciate your work ethic. People don’t understand what he’s been through and how much he appreciates the game. And coming back from all of those injuries, it takes a special type of person to mentally re-focus and come out and play at a high level.”

Beyond basketball, Bryant had many business ventures, which included those in and out of sports. He touched countless lives. Almost everyone has a Kobe Bryant story. 

“Just to see the reception across the country, how many lives he impacted from people that didn’t even know him, that shows you how special he was outside of basketball,” McCollum added. 

“I just pray for his wife and for his family because Lord knows what they’re going through right now.”