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.

Trail Blazers make second half adjustments and find sparks off their bench in win over Phoenix Suns

Trail Blazers make second half adjustments and find sparks off their bench in win over Phoenix Suns

Foul trouble, a pinky injury, and a ton of fastbreak points and that was all in the first quarter of action between the Blazers and Suns on Thursday night.

The Blazers were able to overcome whatever was thrown their way in the desert as Portland beats Phoenix 120-106 and heads home with a 2-1 record to finish their current road trip.

Dealing with the cards you're dealt

Before the game tipped off, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talked about how playing against this young team who is without their top two centers, he expected a fast paced game with the Suns going with small ball lineups.

And boy, was he right.

In the first quarter, 19 of the Suns’ 31 points were fast break points in comparison to the Blazers two fast break points (out of 30 in the quarter). Phoenix finished with 23 first half fast break points.

Often times young teams would much rather try and get out and run instead of waiting to setup a half court set and that’s exactly what the Suns did on Thursday night.

The Blazers were able to stay in the game in the first half with help from their bench and second chance points. Plus, Portland made adjustments in the second half to get out and run themselves. Portland finished the game with 16 fast break points of their own.

Some fans out there might think a game like this against the lowly Suns team is a waste of time, but to witness Portland making adjustment and controlling tempo is encouraging because they are showing the ability to adjust to the style of play of their opponent. You hear it all the time – postseason series are all about adjustments. No, the Suns are not even close to a playoff team, but thinking long term, it’s good to see the Blazers play the small ball and match what was thrown their way.

“We gave up too many transition points in the first quarter. We played much better in the second half, obviously… I think the fact that we missed shots, we didn’t necessarily get back quick, it was all tied together (in the first half),” Coach Stotts told reporters postgame.

“We weathered that storm in the first half… The second half we made our adjustments and took over the game," Damian Lillard said postgame in the locker room.

The Devin Booker effect on CJ McCollum

In Thursday’s win, Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum played just over eight minutes in the first half, but was still able to score 11 points.

For the opening minutes of the game, it looked like everyone was in for a treat – McCollum and Suns shooting guard Devin Booker were putting on a show. The two were exchanging buckets, but Booker got the better of McCollum early.

The Suns fourth year guard was in attack mode and that meant McCollum was vulnerable to pick up two quick fouls.

McCollum then picked up his third foul at the 3:46 mark in the first quarter and was sent to the bench for the rest of the half.

Booker made the Blazers pay to going 7-for-8 from the free throw line. He finished the game with 27. But it really is no surprise that Booker made such a big impact on McCollum and on the Blazers – that’s what he does for this Suns team.

Lillard knows how important it was to slow down Booker in the second half.

“He was getting downhill, getting fouled, getting to go one-on-one and a guy that can score that well with that much skill, he’s gonna score points if you allow him to play that free and easy and I think as the half went on… We started to do a little bit better… In the third quarter we were there. We loaded up, made him play against bodies that led to a few turnovers. We made the right adjustments,” Lillard said.     

Aminu hand injury

Al-Farouq Aminu headed straight to the Trail Blazers locker room after suffering a left pinky injury at the 3:57 mark of the first quarter and that meant the Blazers rotation was all out of sorts in the first half, especially with McCollum also on the bench with three fouls.

The good news is Aminu says his hand feels fine after coming back and playing in the second half.

“I’ve dislocated my fingers before, but never where I saw the bone a little bit… Thankful for the doctors here, they did a great job… I feel good. My hand feels okay,” Aminu told our Dwight Jaynes after the game.

Aminu played 16 minutes and had seven points and five rebounds in the win.
This season we have seen many different Blazers’ lineups with Maurice Harkless dealing with his knee issues, so this was nothing new to the Blazers and the next man had to step up.

Luckily for the Blazers, two role players did just that in the second half.

The Layman and Curry factor

Portland entered the fourth quarter with an 88-76 lead over the Suns. Why is this important? Well, if you have not been keeping up with the Blazers, you should know that before this game, the Blazers were undefeated when leading after the first three quarters (29-0). On the flipside, yes, that means Portland has not had a come from behind win if they were not leading to start the fourth.

The Blazers defense showed up big in the second half as Portland was able slow down the Suns late in the third and into the fourth quarter. The Blazers also found some welcomed scoring from its bench, particularly from Jake Layman and Seth Curry. Layman scored 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, while Curry added 17 points after going 7-for-13 from the field and 3-of-7 from three.

Layman has now scored 44 points total against the Suns in the two games played against Phoenix this season.  

“It was a game made for him. It was up and down. They played a small lineup. I think it catered to his style of game,” Stotts said on Layman’s performance. 

The Blazers have been searching for consistency from their bench. Could Layman be that consistent scorer? With Game No. 50 in the books, only time will tell.

But for now, Layman continues to play well against the Suns and the third quarter streak lives on and Portland will look to play another good three quarters vs. Atlanta on Saturday.

Blazers Outsiders: Grading the Blazers at the halfway point

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USA Today

Blazers Outsiders: Grading the Blazers at the halfway point

We've reached the halfway point of the season and Blazers Outsider Chris Burkhardt has taken the time to hand out his midseason report cards for the Trail Blazers. 

41 down, 41 to go. The Blazers have officially reached the halfway point of the season, and it hasn't been without its ups and downs. The Blazers started strong out of the gate, at one point holding the best record in the Western Conference. But then they hit an early season bump in the road and fell toward the bottom. Despite the rough patch the Blazers have still managed to put together one of their best first halves in recent memory. Portland currently sits at 24-17, which is two games ahead of last season's 22-19 record, and is the team's best record through 41 games since they went 30-11 in the 2014-15 season.

The Western Conference is so stacked right now, that even though the Blazers are off to their best start in four seasons they are still just the seventh best team in the west - 3.5 games behind the first place Denver Nuggets (26-12).

With all that being said, it's time we sit down and grade the Trail Blazers at the halfway point:

DAMIAN LILLARD:
Grade: A+
Damian Lillard is doing Damian Lillard things. He's averaging 26.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game. In fact, he is one of just five players in the league averaging 26 ppg, 4 rpg, and 6 apg: The other four being James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those are all MVP candidates, and Lillard deserves to be in that conversation this season. 

CJ MCCOLLUM:
Grade: B
CJ McCollum has struggled to find his shot this season, shooting a career-worst 32.9% from three-point range. Despite his struggles from deep he has still managed to shoot 45.4% from the floor and score 20.8 points per game. He has also managed to come up clutch when the team needs him. I'll take an off shooting night if he redeems himself with buckets in crunch time. The plus side is there is still time for McCollum to find the shot and get back to his normal self.

MAURICE HARKLESS:
Grade: D
Moe Harkless has struggled all season long, but it's really no fault of his own. Harkless has tried to will himself to play but his body just is not cooperating. He has missed 15 games this year, and had to leave Portland's last game after his left knee soreness returned. He is also averaging just 5.9 points per game, his worst average since his last season in Orlando. When healthy Harkless is an integral part of the lineup. Staying healthy is the struggle. 

AL-FAROUQ AMINU:
Grade: B+
Aminu is quietly having a very strong season, nearly averaging a double-double. While his three-point percentage isn't great at 35.6%, his overall field goal percentage of 42.7% is actually the best he has shot the ball in his time in Portland. He is also averaging a career-high 8.2 rebounds per game, and his defense continues to be the best on the team.

JUSUF NURKIC:
Grade: A
The Bosnian Beast is currently in the midst of the best stretch of his career. He has scored 20 or more points in four consecutive games which is something he has never done before. He is averaging 15.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and shooting 50.8% from the floor - All career-highs. Add in the 1.1 steals, 1.3 blocks, and 2.9 assists and Nurkic is just filling up the box score. Earlier this season he became the first player in recorded history to have a 5x5 with 20 or more points and rebounds: 24 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, and 5 blocks. Now that's a stat line. 

EVAN TURNER: 
Grade: B-
Evan Turner has been the man behind the wheel of the second unit and has been very solid doing so. While his 7.8 points per game is his lowest average since his rookie season in 2010-11, his 46.7% shooting is the best of his career. He rebounds and assists per game are also the highest they have been while in Portland, and he has easily been the Blazers second best defender all season. While he hasn't been bad, it would be nice to see him score the ball more. 

SETH CURRY:
Grade: B
Curry started the season slowly but has shaken off the rust and come into his own as of late. He is shooting a career-best 48.5% from three-point range, which leads the entire NBA (among qualifying players). If he continues to come around there is no reason he shouldn't see all his averages continue to rise and become the bench unit's go-to scorer.

NIK STAUSKAS:
Grade: C-
Stauskas started the season with a bang, scoring a career-high 24 points in the season opener and scoring in double-digits in five of the first eight games. However, he has scored double-digits in just two of the last 33 and has fallen out of the rotation.

JAKE LAYMAN:
Grade: B
Jake Layman has been the ultimate team player this season. He started the season as the starting small forward but was relegated to the end of the bench once Maurice Harkless returned. He then registered DNPs and garbage minutes. Through it all he never complained once, continued to work hard, and has since passed Stauskas on the depth chart. Lillard said last game the Layman is "instant offense," and he has proven so as of late.

ZACH COLLINS:
Grade: C
It's not that Collins has been bad, in fact, he has been pretty solid off the bench. The disappointing part for Collins is that he hasn't really made the sophomore jump we wanted and expected. While he is averaging career-highs across the board, his stats are not much better than they were last season. He is averaging just 2.6 points, .9 rebounds, and .1 assist more than he was last season. Better, but not by much. 

MEYERS LEONARD:
Grade: B-
Meyers Leonard needed to step up with the departure of Ed Davis and he has certainly done that. He is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and most importantly he has finally found a level of consistency. He has become a reliable threat from deep, shooting 41.7% on the season, and has helped anchor a strong bench unit. While he continues to be the most polarizing player in Portland, it's nice to see him finally silencing some of his critics. 

GARY TRENT JR, ANFERNEE SIMONS, WADE BALDWIN, CALEB SWANIGAN: Grade: Undecided 
None of these players have played enough this season to give a true grade. The four have combined to play in just 38 games this season, most of the minutes coming in garbage time. Trent and Simons or currently on the active roster, while Swanigan and Baldwin are on assignment in the G-League. 

Trail Blazers learn about life without its second floor general in loss to San Antonio Spurs

Trail Blazers learn about life without its second floor general in loss to San Antonio Spurs

SAN ANTONIO - Roughly thirty minutes before the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs tipped off from the AT&T Center, Blazers PR informed the media that backup wing Evan Turner would not suit up on Sunday night due to left Achilles tendon inflammation.

With Turner out that meant a shakeup for the Blazers’ rotation. In a game of runs, it was San Antonio who made the last push to snag a 131-118 win over the Blazers.

However, after getting outscored 38-26 in the first quarter vs. the Nuggets on Friday night, Portland, and namely Damian Lillard, made sure to not let a slow start happen again.

Lillard scored seven of the Blazers first 11 points and finished the quarter with 16 as Portland outscored San Antonio 33-32 in the first.

“They went on a nice run... They went on the last run. I thought we started off with aggression. We had some pretty good scoring all around from our starters,” Turner said.

But, there was a void in the second unit that was obvious to start the second quarter. The Spurs outscored the Blazers 30-22 after starting the period with a 17-4 run. 

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts made the decision to leave Lillard in the game for the entire first quarter and then stagger Lillard and CJ McCollum's minutes so that McCollum would fill in as the backup point guard.

With ET out that meant high minutes for Lillard, who tied a season-high in minutes played with 41.

“When I saw ET wasn’t playing pregame, I still didn’t even think about it and then in the first quarter, I got it going a little bit… ET would usually be coming in to play point and Coach left me in to the second quarter and that’s when I was like, ‘well, maybe I’m gonna be playing some high minutes tonight,’” Lillard said.

Lillard finished with a game-high 37 points, while Al-Farouq Aminu chimed in with 20 points, tying his season-high for the second straight game.

This was a Blazers team relying solely on its starters for offensive production Sunday. But, it was also a night where the Spurs’ stars and second unit got it going.  San Antonio shot 60.2% from the floor and whopping 73.3% (11-15) from three-point range.

“You have to tip your hat to them. There were able to put together a little run and make some tough shots tonight,” Aminu said.

San Antonio’s bench ended up outscoring Portland’s Turner-less bench, 31-13. The Spurs All-Stars were the ones to carry the load, though. DeMar DeRozan had 36 points, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 29.

“Well, obviously, Evan has been an important part of the bench unit. Their bench was the difference tonight. If you look at the +/- of their bench they made their runs with the bench guys on the floor. As well as DeRozan and LaMarcus, plus their bench guys made a difference,” Stotts said.

In the last 10 games, Turner has averaged 6.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists while playing 27 minutes of action, but to his teammates, it’s not the stats Turner records that makes the difference, his presence overall that was missed on Sunday night.

“Another ball handler, play-maker, especially with some of those lineups they had out there, another defender, and just another guy that has a huge impact on our team, our morale just as a whole. I mean, he has impact on that, some of those situations, being able to stop runs and turn the game around, just make those game changing plays,” Lillard said.

“That second unit, I think they just didn’t have their general out there… ET calls a lot of plays… He knows how the feel of the game is going… It’s different when you have a floor general, just like when we have Dame out there and he’s able to see certain things, that coach might not necessarily see because it’s different when you’re in the game, than when you’re just looking at it,” Aminu said.

Turner has been going through treatment over the past two days and is doing a lot of active stretching to try to minimize the tightness in his left Achilles tendon. 

Don’t get it twisted, though, Turner’s teammates or Turner himself are not saying because he was not on the floor the team took the ‘L’ on Sunday.

“Basketball is a game of runs, and obviously the way the West is going, you know, we need everybody. It’s not a me thing, it’s just like a unit, and you know, trying to adjust faster, that’s all,” Turner said. 

“There’s no pointing fingers, no blame game. You’re going to have adversity. I think our togetherness and knowing who we are as a group is going to help us come out of it, which we will,” Lillard said.

Adversity.

Oh yes, this team knows all about adversity, losing six of their last nine games, but now the question is, how do you respond to it? And, how does Turner’s Achilles respond to a couple of days of rest?

Sloppy Blazers throw away game at Milwaukee

Sloppy Blazers throw away game at Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE -- The Trail Blazers literally threw away a chance to win their fourth straight on Wednesday, as a turnover-filled fourth quarter doomed Portland to a 115-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Portland (12-11) committed nine of their 16 turnovers in the fourth quarter, including miscues on their first three possessions of the final quarter, when they entered facing an 85-76 deficit. The Blazers had a nine point lead in the first quarter and a seven point halftime advantage, but fell apart in the third, when Milwaukee outscored them 34-18. 

The Blazers rallied late, cutting an 11-point deficit to 101-99 with 4:17 left when Allen Crabbe capped a string of three-pointers on three straight Portland possessions. But Matthew Dellavedova hit three floaters in the key and Jabari Parker dunked off an inbounds pass to seal the Bucks' win. 

Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo recorded his second triple-double of the season, finishing 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Parker scored 13 of his 27 points in the first quarter and Dellavedova finished with 17 for Milwaukee (11-9), which won for the fifth time in six games. 

Damian Lillard led Portland with 30 points, 22 of them in the first half, and CJ McCollum added 23. Crabbe got hot late and finished with 14, nine of them in the fourth.

Milwaukee took control in the third quarter as Portland sputtered offensively to 18 points while the Bucks made five three-pointers. 

The Blazers took a 58-51 lead after closing the first half on a 12-2 run that was fueled by some hot shooting from Lillard. He hit four three-pointers in the final 4:23 of the second quarter and fed McCollum for another three with 6.9 seconds left in the half. This was the first time in 11 games the Blazers lost after leading at halftime.

Notes: Mason Plumlee, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds, became the fastest Trail Blazers player to have 150 rebounds and 100 assists (23 games) since Scottie Pippen did it in 22 games in the 1999-2000 season.

Next up: Blazers at Memphis, 5 p.m. Thursday (CSN).

 

Fourth quarter surge leads Blazers past Bulls

Fourth quarter surge leads Blazers past Bulls

CHICAGO -- A fourth quarter surge keyed by the offense of Evan Turner and Damian Lillard and the defense of Ed Davis carried the Trail Blazers to a 112-110 win over the Chicago Bulls on Monday. 

Turner scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth and Lillard had 11 of his 30 points down the stretch as the Blazers pulled away with an 11-0 run midway through the quarter, a run that was sparked by two blocks from Davis. The push gave the Blazers a 103-93 lead with 5:55 left and the Blazers hung on for dear life down the stretch as they scored only five points over the next 5:30 before sealing the game with free throws. The final score looked closer than it was after Jimmy Butler hit an uncontested three-pointer as time expired.

Portland (12-10) kick-started a five game trip and avenged a 113-88 loss to the Bulls on Nov. 15, when Chicago bolted to a 35-14 lead after one quarter. Chicago (11-9) lost its second straight despite 34 points from Dwyane Wade. 

The fourth quarter spurt was special for Turner, who went to high school in Chicago and was cheered on by family members sitting behind the Blazers bench. Turner hit five-of-six shots, including three in a row in the fourth quarter, and finished with 10 points, four assists and two rebounds. CJ McCollum added 24 points and Allen Crabbe had his second consecutive strong game off the bench with 17 points. 

Chicago entered the fourth leading 87-86, taking control in the third quarter with a 12-1 start to the second half. Portland trailed by as many as six in the third but closed within one when McCollum hit a three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left. 

The Blazers held a 65-57 halftime lead, thanks in part to a 12-2 run late in the second quarter that was fueled by the strong bench play of Crabbe, who scored 11 of his 15 first-half points in the second quarter. 

The Blazers welcomed the return of Al-Farouq Aminu, who missed 13 games with a left calf strain, during which the team went 6-7. Coach Terry Stotts pregame said Aminu would be limited to between 16 and 20 minutes on Monday, while bringing him off the bench. 

Aminu entered with 3:23 left in the first quarter and the Blazers leading 23-20 and almost instantly recorded an assist with a pass inside to Mason Plumlee. He played seven minutes in the first half, during which he showed some rust (0-for-2), but also some of the top-level defense the Blazers had been lacking with a nice block of a Wade jumper.

Aminu finished with three points, three rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes.

Next up: Blazers at Milwaukee, 5 p.m. Wednesday (CSN).

 

Trail Blazers notebook: Ezeli's knee, Aminu shoots and Plumlee faces younger brother

Trail Blazers notebook: Ezeli's knee, Aminu shoots and Plumlee faces younger brother

NEW YORK – On Monday, when Trail Blazers’ center Festus Ezeli was asked about his recent visit to a knee specialist, he was stopped short of answering.

“He’s unavailable,’’ a member of the team’s communication staff said while stepping into the conversation.

Ezeli, who hasn’t played since signing a two-year, $15 million deal with Portland in July, went ahead and answered anyway.

“If there is anything up, I will … we will say what is up,’’ Ezeli said.

Ezeli recently re-joined the Blazers after missing games in Houston and New Orleans to see a doctor about his ailing left knee. The knee, which had an injection of bone marrow aspirate concentrate in August, has troubled him since last season, when he missed 31 games after undergoing surgery in January.

The Blazers initially placed him on six-week timeline following his Aug. 23 procedure, and he did take part in two practices on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18, but suffered a setback when his knee swelled after the practices.

On Nov. 15, before the Blazers left for their five-game trip, the team announced Ezeli would seek a medical opinion on his knee.

His agent, Bill Duffy, has not responded to messages. Ezeli signed a two-year deal, but only this season is guaranteed, at roughly $7 million.

Aminu shoots: Injured forward Al-Farouq Aminu put up shots at the end of Monday’s workout in New York, but his session was nowhere near game-like activity.

Aminu has been out since straining his left calf four minutes into the Nov. 8 game against Phoenix. The team said he would be re-evaluated in “a couple of weeks” which would theoretically mean Tuesday.

Coach Terry Stotts, however, has said there is no update to provide.

Aminu is the Blazers’ starting power forward who was leading the team in rebounding (6.6) at the time of his injury. He is widely regarded as one of the team’s top defenders. The team is 3-4 in his absence.

Plumlee comforts brother after hectic first day:  Blazers center Mason Plumlee got an unexpected and panicked call Sunday morning from his younger brother, Marshall.

Marshall, a rookie with the New York Knicks, was called up that morning from the Knicks’ Development League team in Westchester after Joakim Noah was deemed unable to play.

The only problem? Marshall was called at 10 a.m. and the Knicks played the Atlanta Hawks at noon.

Marshall took a commuter train from White Plains to Grand Central and according to the New York Times jumped into a cab and paid the driver $60 to run a red light.

“He called me on the way (and asked) ‘Am I going to get fined? Am I going to get in trouble?’’’ the older Plumlee recalled. “I said, ‘Marshall, you didn’t know. It’s not your fault.’’’

Marshall made it to the game in the middle of the first quarter and played five minutes.

“He was expecting to play in Westchester that night,’’ Mason said. “In the car, he was more worried about getting in trouble with the team. I was like, ‘Marshall, it’s not college … they might fine you, but they are not going to hold it over you. He was losing his mind.’’

Al-Farouq Aminu strains left calf, doubtful to return vs Suns

Al-Farouq Aminu strains left calf, doubtful to return vs Suns

Trail Blazers starting power forward Al-Farouq Aminu limped off the court midway through the first quarter after his left leg buckled on a non-contact play.

The injury happened near eight-minute mark. Aminu playing off the ball, guarding the Suns’ power forward Marquese Chriss, when he planted he left leg to change directions and the leg buckled.

Aminu stayed on his feet, but immediately motions to the bench for a sub. before limping off the court and heading straight to the locker room.

According to Trail Blazers PR, the injury is a left calf strain and he is doubtful to return. 

We will provide an update as soon as we have more information.

 

Blazers: No time to panic... but is it time to be concerned?

Blazers: No time to panic... but is it time to be concerned?

Coaching is a rough profession. I was thinking about that last night when mulling over the Trail Blazers' slow start to the season. Yes, the team is 2-2 and has played only four games. Not much of a sample size, for sure.

But Portland is not getting much offense from its frontcourt and this isn't exactly a new problem. We saw it at times last season. But if Coach Terry Stotts makes a move to change his starting lineup or playing rotation, he runs the risk of his players thinking he's making a panic move if he switches gears this early in the season.

You always want to show your players that you have confidence, faith even, in them.

But how long is too long to wait if this continues? Exactly when can changes be made. What makes sense?

There are moves that could be made. Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard can shoot. Maybe even Jake Layman is a possibility. Yes, I'm aware that Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless give Portland a better defensive presence -- but there is no way this team is going to play good enough defense to overcome its struggling offense right now. Getting outscored by the Warriors in the paint 60-28 was ridiculous. It was a layup drill in the second half. Golden State hit 30 of its 41 shots in the paint -- meaning there was very little resistance on most of those shots.

And while we're suggesting moves, there's also the problems with the Trail Blazers' second unit, many of which surround Evan Turner.

In case you missed it, Ben Golliver tweeted this out last night after the loss to Golden State:

"Through 4 games...
Blazers w/ Evan Turner off court: +27 in 97 minutes
Blazers w/ Evan Turner on court: -47 in 95 minutes"

Yes, again... small sample size. But my point is, at some point if these things continue, a change must be made. But when is that point? When is change the right thing to do? It's not as if Stotts has not made changes in his lineups and rotations previously. This isn't a lineup that's been in place for two or three seasons. But I don't expect this is a time yet when changes will be made.

But if not now, when?

If I knew the answer to that I'd be campaigning for a job coaching in the NBA at about $6 million a year.

 

Trail Blazers lose, but may have settled on starting lineup

Trail Blazers lose, but may have settled on starting lineup

It is beginning to look like the Trail Blazers will start the 2016-2017 season like they ended last season.

Coach Terry Stotts is giving indications he has decided on the Trail Blazers' starting lineup for opening night, as it appears Maurice Harkless will be the team's starting small forward.

Stotts doesn't talk about lineups, but in Sunday's exhibition against Denver he started Harkless at small forward for the second straight game and the third time in five exhibition games. Considering the regular season opener is Oct. 25 and the team has said it wants to start developing cohesion, it seems likely Stotts has settled on the unit opening the season against Utah. 

Stotts has used the same starters in every preseason game -- point guard Damian Lillard, shooting guard CJ McCollum, power forward Al-Farouq Aminu and center Mason Plumlee -- except at small forward, where he alternated between Harkless, Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner until using Harkless the last two games. 

Harkless has probably played the best out of the three and was the starter last season for the team's final 11 regular season games and two playoff series. 

Denver beat the Blazers 106-97 at the Moda Center, and the best the Blazers looked all night was with the starting unit on the floor to start the game. Behind fluid movement and selfless passing the Blazers outscored Denver 21-14 in the opening six minutes of the game, before Stotts made his first substitutions, inserting Crabbe, Turner and Ed Davis for McCollum, Harkless and Plumlee. That first unit was especially effective in spacing the court and creating drive-and-kick opportunties that led to three pointers. The Blazers hit six three-pointers in the opening six minutes -- three by Aminu and two by Harkless. 

Any feelings of cohesion quickly disintegrated in the second quarter, when the Blazers were outscored 33-18, which included a 16-0 Denver run. In particular, the backcourt of McCollum, Crabbe and Turner struggled during the quarter, with Turner still appearing out of sorts and not comfortable. The free agent signee went 2-for-10 from the field and finished with six points, four rebounds and one assist in 24 minutes. 

Notes: Ed Davis fouled out with 4:29 left in the third quarter after recording four points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes ... Damian Lillard went 1-for-10 from the field and played a preseason low 18 minutes ... CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting that included making 4-of-6 three pointers ... Fromer Blazers guard Will Barton started for Denver and had 17 points and 7 assists ... Wilson Chandler led Denver (3-3) with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting. 

Next up: Portland at Utah, 7 p.m. Wednesday