What can Blazers do to fix their season? They better do something!

What can Blazers do to fix their season? They better do something!

OK, as we finish up a healthy post-Christmas break and near the end of the calendar year, it's probably a good time to assess the Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland sits in a tie for the seventh spot in the Western Conference, with a 17-16 record. So far, the Blazers have been the definition of a .500 team -- win a few, lose a few, neither sinking nor swimming but just treading water.

It's really not much different than the past two or three seasons. But I sense the natives are getting restless. It feels as if Trail Blazer fans are tiring of it all. Where is the excitement? Where  is the buzz? There hasn't been much so far.

So what must a franchise do? Just stay the course and hope that the anticipated roster improvement expected this season finally kicks in? Or is time to make a move?

I think it's time for a change.

And I mean something that changes the nature of this team. Something that changes the course of the franchise.

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What are we talking about here? Well, there's only so much that can be done. But the first order of business would be to figure out the nature of the problem. Is it the roster or is it the coach? When you examine that question you could find answers on both sides of the issue.

This team's roster isn't balanced. It isn't complete. But it's a very high payroll for a .500 team seemingly headed nowhere.

Or is the problem on the sidelines with the coaching staff? Is Terry Stotts getting the most out of his team? Are they playing hard for him? Is the team fully prepared for each game?

If you believe the answers to the questions above are "yes" then you must look to the front office. Has Neil Olshey done a good job of putting a winning roster together? Has he drafted and traded well? Is he doing a better job than could be done by somebody else? And you ask the same question you'd ask with a coach -- is there someone out there available who could do a better job?

I often look at the Portland roster and think it's not ideal for the kind of offense Stotts favors. There aren't enough outside shooters, for sure. But then the question becomes this: Is this Olshey's fault for not getting his coach the pieces he needs to do his job or is it the coach's responsibility to take the talent given him and tailor his offense to their talents, rather than stick with his own system?

Of course, we haven't even talked about the players yet. Changes can come there, too.

Is it finally time to give up on the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt? I ask that question because it seems to me the only trade piece of real value would be one of those guards. Most likely that would mean McCollum. What could you get for him? Do you really want to give up on a player on the verge of all-star status?

And what about Jusuf Nurkic? Once thought to be the team's franchise center of the future and a reason to be excited about the team's potential, Nurkic is shooting just .458 from the field and acting sa if he doesn't have a care in the world. Nurkic Fever? So far this season he seems to be infected with a bad case of Nurkic Disinterest.

But would any team be willing to take Nurkic in a deal? Maybe -- but not with a lot of value in return. And that's the case with a good many Trail Blazers. Highly paid doesn't necessarily mean highly valued.

So where do you go with the Trail Blazers? What do you do? How do you fix this?

All I can say is that this point you better do SOMETHING before it's too late to salvage the season. This franchise is begging for a change of direction, a momentum-changing event. The fans are, too.

And it's time.

Game opening plays have become a quiet competition for the Trail Blazers

Game opening plays have become a quiet competition for the Trail Blazers

Just over 30 seconds into the game, the Dallas Mavericks had already earned a subtle win against the Portland Trail Blazers, and Rick Carlisle glanced at Terry Stotts to make sure he knew it.

The two coaches caught eyes and smiled at each other. It was 2-0 Dallas and the ‘Scout Game’ had officially been won by the Mavericks.

This season Stotts started a new tradition with the Blazers, letting whichever assistant coach build’s the scouting report for that night’s opponent draw up the first play of the game. When Stotts told Carlisle about giving assistants the first play of the night, Carlisle immediately adopted it for his Mavericks staff. So when the Mavericks stopped the Blazers on the first possession of the game and scored on the other end, Carlisle could celebrate with a knowing grin aimed toward the home team’s bench.

The first play has become a quiet rivalry among the Blazers assistant coaches. When games open with a successful play there will be high-fives and fist pumps up and down the bench. If it flops there’s sometimes exaggerated silence.

“I don’t want to say it’s an inside joke,” Stotts said. “But everybody knows that it’s that guys play, and if it works, everybody celebrates. If It’s a dud, everybody lets him know.”

The first play of the game is installed at morning shootaround. Although it sometimes looks like something out of the Stotts’ playbook, it’s created whole cloth from the mind of whichever assistant coach has been assigned the scouting report for that particular opponent.

When the players walkthrough it at shootaround at the practice facility, it’s the first time they and Stotts have seen the new play. The team will go over it again when they meet in the locker room prior to that night’s game, again with an assistant coach commanding the dry erase board to draw up the actions. Stotts is hands off in those moments, letting his assistants run the show.

Then shortly after tip off the entire team, and particularly the seven-man coaching staff, anxiously wait to see if the new set works.

“They’re always getting on us like, ‘Don’t mess it up’ or ‘Make sure you score,’” Moe Harkless said of the Blazers assistants. “It’s a fun thing we do. It’s pretty cool.”

Inspiration for the opening plays come from a variety sources. Sometimes it’s a play an assistant coach ran with a high school team he coached or an old set the Blazers used to run that’s been lost as personnel changes and the playbook evolves. But considering the playful ribbing that comes from a failed first play, most coaches keep it pretty vanilla.

“It’s always a mix of an action that we already do and then it’s like a new little wrinkle in there,” Damian Lillard said.

Against the Mavericks, the Blazers opened the game with an action they used to run for Chris Kaman, in part because Kaman happened to be in attendance at the Moda Center that night. Blazers video coordinator and player development coach Jon Yim drew up the play -- named "CK" -- for Nurkic, but the Blazers center fumbled the final pass out of bounds.

Blazers assistant Dale Osbourne had the scout against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. He came up with a double-baseline screen to free up a Lillard-Nurkic pick and roll on the left wing. Only the Pistons double teamed Lillard, and he had to pass over to Jake Layman for a rushed three-pointer.

“He probably won’t get more first plays,” Harkless joked. “[The play] wasn’t really for Jake but he’s gotta take the fall.”

Some of the first plays drawn up by assistants can even get absorbed into the Blazers’ regular playbook. A first set the Blazers ran against the Lakers earlier this season is now a somewhat regular play call. And other actions the assistant coaches have experimented with in their plays have been adopted here and there.

There is some logic to how these game-opening plays get drawn up. Sometimes coaches want to get a particular player going early so they’ll draw up a post up for Harkless or an early touch for Nurkic down low. Al-Farouq Aminu quipped that he’s the only starter that doesn’t get first plays drawn up for him.

Stotts had let coaches draw up the first play of the game sporadically over the past few seasons, but this year he’s fully embraced the idea of: ‘Your scout, your play.’ That tradition has made for entertaining moments to open games when Blazers assistants are either wildly excited or playing it cool when their play call goes south in a hurry.

“It’s good just for having a little bit of ownership,” Rodney Hood said. “It’s a little thing between the assistant coaches. If we score on the first play everybody gets all happy for whoever the coach is. I think they keep tabs of it. I think they got an ongoing thing for the season, whoever’s got the besting scoring percentage or whatever. It’s a lot of pressure on the players to score.”

Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard overwhelm Pistons down the stretch

Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard overwhelm Pistons down the stretch

The Detroit Pistons had won seven of their last 10 games and brought their “A-Game” to Moda Center Saturday night.

But the Trail Blazers countered with an “A-plus Game” and finished off the Pistons with a flourish in the final two minutes to win 117-112.

Damian Lillard led the Portland parade, as usual, with his passing and his shooting. He finished with 28 points – hitting 9-16 from the floor, including 6-10 from three-point territory – to go with nine assists and six rebounds.

And down the stretch he was dictating the game, chapter and verse. But make no mistake, he had a lot of help on this night – the Trail Blazers got winning performances from just about everyone who played.

Portland trailed 109-103 with four and a half minutes to play but held the Pistons scoreless for the next four minutes.

Lillard hit Maurice Harkless knifing through the lane for a layup. He found Jusuf Nurkic for another layup and the game was tied with 1:58 to go.

Then, with the score tied, Nurkic made a terrific block on an Andre Drummond layup. Seth Curry found Lillard in the front court and Lillard nailed a 28-foot jumper to push his team into the lead, was fouled, and made the free throw.

It was downhill from there. Harkless passed to Nurkic for a dunk and then Al-Farouq Aminu jumped on a missed Lillard shot and banked in a basket with 4.1 seconds to go that provided the final margin.

It was a terrific outing for the Trail Blazers, who shot .544 from the field, .423 from three and outrebounded the bruising Pistons 42-29.

“A gutty and gritty win,” Terry Stotts said. “Basically we held them scoreless the last four and a half minutes. We made a lot of good defensive plays, big shots.”

You can find contributions everywhere:

  • Harkless had 10 points, four assists and some big defensive plays.
  • Aminu had a season-high 22 points, a lot of hustle plays and a solid defensive job on Blake Griffin.
  • Nurkic had 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
  • Enes Kanter mixed it up inside with Drummond and came away with 10 points and seven rebounds.
  • Zach Collins had his usual quota of energy plays, as well as 4-6 from the field, four boards, a block and nine points.
  • Seth Curry was 5-9, had 16 points and five rebounds.

It was quite a night for the home team, whose interior passing was a thing of beauty.

“When guys draw double-teams or guys just drive and somebody steps up, we’ve done a good job of finding the open man,” Harkless said.

Lillard probably had four or five “hockey assists,” where his pass led to the pass that resulted in the score. And that’s indicative of how well the Trail Blazers moved the ball around.

“Those are the plays you have to make in order to take advantage of what they were trying to do,” Lillard said. “I’m not always going to be the guy getting the assist when they’re out so high on me. Can the guy I pass the ball out to, make the next play? We had guys doing that.

“That’s what I mean when I say we’re making the right plays. The ball is going where it’s supposed to go. When it does that, you take advantage of what the other team is trying to do. Tonight we did a great job of that.

“We’ve been playing the style of play we want to play,” Lillard said. “And we can sustain that.”

Pistons Coach Dwane Casey, who has done an outstanding job with his team, loaded up against Lillard.

"You're not going to stop everything," he said. "They're one of the top offensive teams in the league. And we made a decision that we were going to try to keep the ball as much as possible out of Lillard's hands. And again, you take away one thing, you're going to open up something else."

The Blazers play host to the Brooklyn Nets Monday night before heading out on a four-game trip to Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Minnesota.

Confidence is high with Al-Farouq Aminu's ball handling... and it's showing

Confidence is high with Al-Farouq Aminu's ball handling... and it's showing

The seconds are ticking off the clock.

It’s a three-point game.

Damian Lillard’s tough floater gets blocked.

Al-Farouq Aminu snags the offensive rebound and puts in a 9-foot bank shot.

Four seconds remaining on the clock when the Pistons call a timeout.

It was a crazy finish on Saturday night in Portland. It’s Aminu who seals the deal in a Trail Blazers gritty win over the Pistons by a final score of 117-112.

“I knew the shot clock was low, so I just wanted to get it off the glass. I didn’t want to rush it. Sometimes when you’re in that predicament you rush it because you’re thinking you’re going against the clock and I figured, let me at least make it and see if it was late or not,” Aminu said with a smile.  

Portland continues to play without CJ McCollum (left knee) and continues to rack up wins from a collective effort with role players continuing to step up.

Saturday night was Aminu’s night.  

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame he was pleased with Chief’s “heads up playmaking,” which is a perfect way to describe that last Trail Blazers possession.

Aminu finished with a season-high 22 points and has now reached double figured for the second time in the last three games. His previous high was 20 points, which he had reached twice this season.

Is there a variable to Aminu’s game that people aren’t talking about when it comes to him getting more buckets?

How about his ball handling skills?

Coach Stotts has no doubt that this is one aspect of Chief’s game that has changed this year.

“I think it’s pretty obvious -- his ball handling has really improved this year. He’s made some nice drives throughout the season. He put a lot of time into it. He’s making some nice moves, whether it’s in transition or in the half court. I think he’s being aggressive when he has a chance,” Stotts said.

As Lillard shouldered the scoring load once again, leading the Blazers with 28 points and nine assists, he couldn’t agree more with his coach when it comes to Aminu’s improved dribbling.

“A lot better,” Lillard said of the difference he has seen of Aminu’s ball handling from this year to years past. “Sometimes when he catches it and they close the gap where he can’t get a shot off, he’s putting it on the floor and making plays to the rim. You know, sometimes in transition, he’s bringing the ball up and we’re getting a quality possession out of it, so it’s not like guys gotta chase the ball down and try to go get the ball or when he doesn’t have a shot, we’ve got to rush to get the ball,” Lillard added.   

Lillard also believes the mental part of Aminu’s game has helped too.

“When your mind is in the right place and you’re doing all these things, doing whatever you can for the team-- good things happen and he was on the good side of things, just because he was in it. He was in it mentally and it worked out. He was huge for us. He pretty much made all the big plays for us,” Lillard added.

Having your coach and teammates confident in you is always a helpful, but Aminu also trusts himself to it bring the ball up the court or drive hard to the rack.   

“It’s a thing that when you’re in the game and you notice that you’re not losing the ball… Obviously, you’re going to go to it more. The confidence comes from doing it… Just glad that it’s working,” Aminu said.

Being able to score a season-high after exerting so much energy on the defensive end with the difficult task of defending Blake Griffin also was noted postgame.

Maurice Harkless, who scored in double digits for the fourth straight game with 10 points, gave props to Aminu and how valuable he was on both ends of the floor. 

“He made a lot of big shots, especially down the stretch. He played really good defense on Blake and when we got switches he played good defense on the guards too, so he was huge for us. That last rebound and putback was big time too. It kind of sealed the game,” Harkless said.

Aminu had his good luck charm in the front row too. Maybe having your wife sit baseline can help boost the confidence as well.

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

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

The Trail Blazers entered Saturday’s game having won five of their last six games and two straight at Moda Center.

Saturday’s game marked the first of two meetings between Portland and Detroit this season.

It was a high scoring affair with both teams hot from three. The Trail Blazers pulled out a win in the final minutes, defeating the Pistons117-112.  

Portland now improves to 45-27 overall. These two will face each other next Saturday in Detroit.  

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 117, Pistons 112 

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers fourth straight home victory:

1.Jackson got to the hoop, knocked down 3s

When facing this Pistons team much of the focus goes to their bigs Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. With the Blazers switching defense in the first quarter, Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless didn’t let Griffin or Drummond get much on offense. Drummond struggled on offense all night.

But to start the game, Reggie Jackson had an efficient first quarter going 3-of-4 from the field and a perfect 2-for-2 from three to finish with 10 points in the first 12 minutes of play.

Jackson was able to break free on the perimeter with the Pistons twin towers commanding so much attention.  He then had his way with Portland in the second half off the dribble, easily getting to the rim. He looked a step ahead of the Blazers for most of the night. Plus, Griffin got it going with his aggressive moves to the basket. Between the two of them and the Pistons three-pointers, Detroit made it close throughout.

2. That extra effort

You hear that a guy is a spark plug off the bench all the time. On Saturday, that is exactly what Zach Collins was for the Blazers. He fought down low to gobble up offensive rebounds and had a couple of nice putbacks that helped keep the Blazers in the game in the first half and kept the crowd involved.

3.  A different-looking Lillard Time?

As the Blazers continue to play without CJ McCollum (left knee), Damian Lillard carries the scoring load. Lillard was dialed in from deep. He made his first four three-pointers. Late in the fourth quarter, it was all about distributing for Lillard and that made the difference in the game. And of course, there was the Lillard Time three-pointer to give Porltand the lead with 1:37 to go, but hey, it was his passing that got them back in the game.

 

NEXT UP: Portland concludes its four-game homestand on Monday night when the Blazers host the Brooklyn Nets at 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest. Our pregame coverage tips off at 6:00pm. 

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 Trail Blazers prep for Detroit Pistons

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Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Detroit Pistons

Tonight marks the first of two meetings between Portland and Detroit this season. They will see each other twice over the next week.

Before tonight’s game, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Pistons head coach Dwane Casey spoke with the media to talk key matchups and more.

Blazers Injury Update: CJ McCollum (left knee) is out for Saturday’s game vs. Detroit.

McCollum is scheduled to be re-evaluated by Monday, but Coach Stotts said McCollum is getting evaluated daily as he goes through rehab with the Blazers training staff.

Coach Stotts also addressed the issues that come with defending Blake Griffin:

“Griffin is a handful. The ball is in his hands a lot. He’s a facilitator, he’s a scorer, he’s a rebounder, he can get out in transition, a lot of what they do goes through him,” Stotts said.

Stotts was also asked if he or his team ever take the Trail Blazers fan base for granted.

Stotts was quick to answer:  

“I never lose sight of how good the fans are here… It’s a great basketball environment.”

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

The Pistons reported no injuries for this game.

Coach Casey discussed how tonight his team’s defense is going to be the key to getting a win in Portland. Casey also gave a lot of praise to the Trail Blazers fans at Moda Center, saying, “Their fans are some of the best in the league.”

Hear from Coach Casey right here:

Scoop Podcast with Enes Kanter: Jersey Shore, ketchup everything, draft night and more

Scoop Podcast with Enes Kanter: Jersey Shore, ketchup everything, draft night and more

It's time for this week's Scoop Podcast brought to you by Toyota of Portland on Broadway. 

This week’s guest is Trail Blazers backup center, Enes Kanter!

We take a trip down memory lane to when Kanter was focused solely on schoolwork and soccer. 

Also, we find out just how competitive Enes and his younger brother Kerem are on the court still to this day.

And, wait until you find out what type of food Kanter enjoys with ketchup?

He loves his ketchup.

Plus, it’s obvious by chatting with him that he is trying to use his platform to help others and be the best role model he can be for today’s youth. Kanter mentioned how important it is to set a good example on social media for all the youngsters that look up to professional athletes.  

We also talk about how the team chemistry on this Blazers’ roster is incomparable to other teams as well as Kanter’s love for SpongeBob and Jersey Shore.

Oh, and… You should never expect Kanter to own a pet Lizard.

Never.

Check out this jam-packed podcast with Enes Kanter below.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons: How and Where to Watch

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USA Today Images

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons: How and Where to Watch

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.


GAME DETAILS

Where to Watch: NBC Sports Northwest

Where to Watch on the go: Stream the game live on the new MyTeams App

Tip-Off Time: 7:00 p.m. 

Point spread: Portland -5

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (3:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the game). 

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio

 

INJURY UPDATES

The Trail Blazers have listed CJ McCollum (left knee) is out for Saturday’s game vs. Detroit.

The Pistons have no injuries to report.

 

QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: Damian Lillard goes old-school point guard again in Portland win

Jamie Hudson: Scoop Podcast with Enes Kanter: Jersey Shore, ketchup everything, draft night and more

VIDEO: The clock struck Dame Time on Wednesday against Mavs

VIDEO: Collins playing lights out, making an impact for Blazers
 

Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is the app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Here's what watching my first-ever NBA game was like 20 years later

Here's what watching my first-ever NBA game was like 20 years later

The first game I ever went to was a matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Portland Trail Blazers on March 21 1999. How do I know this? Do I have a stub? A photo of me heading out to the game? An in-game program? Nope, I don't have any of that.

I know the date of my first NBA game because because Rick Mahorn yelled at me.

Mahorn, of Detroit Bad Boys fame, was in his final season in the NBA while playing with the Sixers in '99. He DNP-CD'd the game, but after the buzzer sounded he stopped to sign autographs as kids hung over the railing leading to the locker room tunnel. 

Admittedly, I didn't really know the proper protocol. What do I do? Do I ask? Do they ask me if I'd like an autograph? Do they just grab the pen? It wasn't clear.

Eventually one big fella walked up to me. We met eyes, and what followed was an awkward silence. After some time looking at each other, Mahorn got angry and eventually asked me “WHAT? YOU CAN’T TALK?”

Set aside the basketball for a moment — the awkward post-ups, the teams combining to go 1-of-21 from the 3-point line, the Greg Anthony lockdown of Allen Iverson — it was Mahorn yelling at me that I'll remember forever.

Thanks to our friends over at the Trail Blazers, I was able to re-watch the entire first game, including being able to see myself in the crowd (we were sitting two rows behind the Sixers bench). The basketball is archaic, and unintuitive, but still just as grabbing as it was when I was 10 years old. Mahorn eventually did sign my magazine, having walked back over to me to apologize for shouting but also sternly telling me that I needed to ask players for their autograph directly next time.

Watch the full video above to see a breakdown of the actual basketball play. And Rick, if you’re watching this — buddy — I don’t know where that signature is. 

Sweep hooks, yells and The Answer: Remembering my first NBA game on its 20th Anniversary 

Sweep hooks, yells and The Answer: Remembering my first NBA game on its 20th Anniversary 

Many of us don’t have the luxury of knowing when our first NBA game was. Either our parents don’t remember, or the ticket stub has been lost, or there were too many to mark it as unique. Today many arenas around the league have special areas dedicated to kids getting special swag while attending their first game, usually with a sticker, a sign, or some kind of trinket. Kids in 2019 will have photo or video record of their first game uploaded to social media where it will live on Facebook’s servers until our sun goes supernova.

That’s why I feel lucky enough to know the exact date of my first game. It was March 21, 1999, exactly 20 years ago today. It came during a lockout-shortened season when and Allen Iverson, in his third season in the NBA, would lead the league in scoring for the first time. Iverson, who was battling hip soreness and was questionable heading into the game, led his Philadelphia 76ers into the Rose Garden for a sleepy 3:00 PM game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Both squads were battling for playoff position in their respective conferences, with that Sunday’s game representing the halfway point of the shortened 50-game season. The matchup would turn out to be an odd affair, with Iverson and Matt Geiger scoring for the 76ers with little help from their teammates. It would take a herculean effort for Portland to pull ahead, with Greg Anthony annoying the future scoring champ Iverson, batting away steals and jumping passing lanes to the tune of a 31-point Blazers fourth quarter.

Portland would get the win, 95-71, in what now might be looked at as a laughably late-’90s NBA score. All this was witnessed by a crowd of 19,980, including a 10-year-old Dane Delgado sitting right behind the Philadelphia bench in Section 103, Row B, Seat 4. I was there with my friend Jacob Davis, his cousin Cory, and his father Bob, who had secured the tickets through his work.

This 20 year anniversary was a special moment for me, and thanks to our friends over at the Trail Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest was able to secure the entire video broadcast of the game. It’s not often in our lives we get to relive one of the critical moments of our childhood in its entirety, with the full production value that comes with an NBA broadcast.

So I decided to watch my first ever NBA game, with my own face in full view on the left edge of the backboard during every possession at the north end of the floor. I had eyes on this game once as an adolescent, and now I have it as an adult — as someone who covers the NBA and this team for a living, no less. It felt like there might be some treasure left to unbury from the video archives at the start of Iverson’s NBA, so without further ado, here’s some of the takeaways from re-watching my first game two decades later.

There’s too many post-ups

Watching this game got to be sort of a joke after a while, particularly from perspective of how the offense works in contrast to today's game. The modern NBA has shifted in the past few years in the amount of 3-pointers taken, but having seen some old games before it also surprises you how few common actions are missing from a game like this just 20 years ago.

The pick-and-roll is absent, at least on scale, and although the point guard revolution from 2008-2012 has passed us by, the two-man game is a staple in 2019. That didn't appear to be the case in this 1999 matchup, with no more evidence being clearer than in this play early in the first quarter. 

If this play was run in 2019, you might expect Damon Stoudamire to run across screens on the weak side, receive a pass in front of the Blazers bench, then move into a sideline pick-and-roll with Arvydas Sabonis. Instead, he wastes five seconds of shot clock trying to get an entry pass so Sabonis can hit his patented sweep hook. 

After watching this whole game, Portland tried to post up nearly every single player on their roster outside of Stoudamire. By contrast, Philadelphia's game plan was to give Iverson the ball and let him do his thing. 

Are NBA players bad at basketball?

As this game opened, I remember thinking in 1999 that these two teams were not as good at basketball as I was hoping. Watching game film back, it appears they might have been feeling a bit lethargic on a mid-afternoon game on a Sunday. Here's what the first 2:30 of gameplay looked like from a play-by-play standpoint. 

PHI — Missed 19-foot jumper

POR — Turnover, Iverson scores

POR — Sabonis scores on a sweep hook 

PHI — Missed 17-foot jumper

POR — Rasheed Wallace point blank miss

PHI — Missed Iverson 3-pointer

POR — Missed point blank Stoudamire layup

PHI — Missed Matt Geiger hook shot

POR — Wallace airball

It got better from there … at least for Portland. The Sixers wound up scoring just 75 points in the game.

Local TV legends

The old Blazervision had Bill Schonely and Ann Schatz calling this game, not to mention the late Steve “Snapper” Jones as the color man during the actual broadcast. Everything about the production —  particularly in the three-dimensionality of the intro —  screamed 1999. If a graphic could have a gradient on it, it did, and that went the double for the local television ads that ran during the breaks (the Northwest Ford Store and Godfather's Pizza ads were something else). But check out this intro.

Greg Anthony went HAM on Iverson

Greg Anthony averaged double-digit points once in his career, adding 14 PPG in 1995-96 when he was with the Vancouver Grizzlies. Anthony was a career backup, and the athletic, annoying, pestering guard had the capacity to aggravate star players from opposing sidelines.

Anthony was the saving grace for the Blazers in this game, and boy did they need it. The teams combined for 30 points in the third quarter alone, and despite playing with a nagging hip ailment, Iverson was on his way to scoring big points heading into the fourth quarter.

The pesky 30-year-old was everywhere, helping to force Iverson into four turnovers including during a stretch run midway through the fourth that helped Portland contain the 76ers to 16 points.

These performances in front of kids are the things that make uneven impressions, and no doubt I forever gave Anthony too much credit as a defensive mastermind. The reality is that Anthony was a career -0.4 defensive box plus/minus player, although 1999 was one of three positive DBPM seasons for him.

To me he was The Guy Who Shut Down Iverson until I was around 20 years old.

Rick Mahorn yelled at me after the game

Rick Mahorn (seated) watches a play in Mar. 21, 1999. The author sits behind him (white hat, second row behind the railing).

Rick Mahorn was a Bad Boy with the Detroit Pistons, winning the 1989 NBA Championship and taking home all-defensive honors in 1990. The Bad Boys were badasses, and not to be trifled with in an era where physicality and brute force were more accepted as part of the game.

So perhaps I should have expected Mahorn to yell at a 10-year-old Dane Delgado?

Because of where our seats were located, behind the Sixers bench and to the right of the visitor’s hallway, we were able to move to the railing where players from Philadelphia were signing autographs at the conclusion of the game. Jake's dad had given me a Sharpie and the in-arena magazine to collect signatures, but I had never done that before and I was less than confident.

At the railing, I failed to recognize anybody outside of Matt Geiger. Iverson was gone, and not knowing what the protocol was but seeing everyone else leaning over the railing with pens and paper, I simply did the same. 

Eventually Mahorn made his way to my outstretched Sharpie and looked in my direction. A pregnant silence filled as our eyes met, and the forehead of the 40-year-old bruiser slowly wrinkled. My childhood pal Jacob Davis described the moment from his point of view in a recent phone interview with NBC Sports Northwest.

"He turned and looked to you, and you just sort of held [the magazine] out to him," laughed Davis. 

Maybe it was wanting to defer to an adult, or maybe it was shock from the sheer size of the 6-foot-10 Mahorn standing just feet away from me, but I didn't dare utter the first word. Perhaps it was his duty to say something as the player (and I as a child)? It's been two decades and I still haven't decided who was in the wrong. In either case, Mahorn didn't bite, so I doubled down. 

"Then you just held it out to him again — very imploringly — it was very obvious what you wanted," said Davis.

The air hung between us, and eventually Mahorn practically spit the words at me. 

"What?! You can't talk?"

Mahorn then walked away, taking a couple steps before eventually realizing his error and returning back to the stricken grade schooler. Mahorn took the issue of "Rip City" magazine that Bob had brought for this occasion, dutifully signing the photo of Blazers guard Jim Jackson before issuing me some advice about speaking up and asking players directly.

Rip City Magazine from March 1999.

"When he came back, he was like 'Ah, I'm sorry," said Davis.

As I walked back to Jake and his dad, they looked at me expectantly.

“Who’d you get?”

I looked at Jacob, then at Bob, then back at the magazine. I studied the lines on the cover, trying to read each squiggle letter-by-letter to read it out. Finally, I gave him the answer about the signature from the NBA player who yelled at me for not being able to talk.

“... I don’t know.”

To this day I still can’t find that damn magazine.

Rick, if you’re reading this — I need a replacement autograph. This time I'll be sure to ask directly.