Alvin Gentry

Trail Blazers benefit as Zion Williamson's usage called into question

Trail Blazers benefit as Zion Williamson's usage called into question

Zion Williamson played only 15 minutes Thursday in New Orleans’ 106-104 loss to the Utah Jazz. It was a lift for the Trail Blazers, who need to stay ahead of the Pelicans in the race for the Western Conference’s No. 8 playoff spot.

In those 15 minutes, Zion scored 13 points on 6-8 shooting. And there’s quite a fuss about the fact that he didn’t play in the final 7:19 of the game. Gentry blamed a minutes restriction:

"Of course we wish we could've played him down the stretch, but we used the minutes that were given to us and that's the way it is," (New Orleans Coach Alvin Gentry) said, according to ESPN's Rachel Nichols. "The medical people said we played them in the minutes that were allowed for us to play him, and just move on."

Minutes restrictions are common -- but they must be managed. And even though New Orleans is being ultra-careful with its prized rookie, it seemed to a lot of people that Gentry should have saved some of those Zion minutes for a game-ending situation.

But there’s another side to this story -- as there usually is.

In the 15 minutes he played, Williamson did not get a rebound, had two turnovers, three fouls and was an incredible minus-16 -- in 15 minutes! Would he have helped the Pels win down the stretch?

Maybe Gentry knew what he was doing.

The Pelicans drop to 27-38 on the season and drop a half game behind the Trail Blazers.

D'Antoni, Popovich or Gentry not coaching in Orlando? That's a huge asterisk

D'Antoni, Popovich or Gentry not coaching in Orlando? That's a huge asterisk

Can you imagine the San Antonio Spurs showing up in Orlando for the NBA’s return-to-play and Gregg Popovich not coaching them? Or what about Mike D’Antoni not heading up the Houston Rockets?

Well, those two coaches, along with New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry, are at risk of being barred from the NBA’s “bubble” because of their age, which lands them in a high-risk category for contracting COVID-19.

The National Basketball Coaches Association has spoken out about the possibility of the coaches being barred and so has an agent who represents two of those coaches.

"The health and safety of all NBA coaches is our main concern," the NBCA told ESPN in a statement. "However, we are also concerned with a coach's opportunity to work and to not have their ability to secure future jobs be severely jeopardized. The league assured us that a coach will not be excluded solely because of age.

"We feel the medical review process is designed to flag only those individuals who pose significant threats of substantial harm to themselves that cannot be reduced or eliminated by the NBA's considerable steps to create a healthy and safe atmosphere in Orlando.

"Adam (Silver) and the NBA have created a situation in Orlando that is likely far safer than in our coaches' home markets. Absent a significant threat, we believe a coach should be able to understand and assume their individual risks, waive liability, and coach in Orlando."

Popovich is 71, D’Antoni 69 and Gentry 65.

Warren LeGarie is the agent for D’Antoni and Gentry and his statement about the situation probably qualifies as a threat to file legal action against the league:

"I hope there is a basketball solution to this issue rather than a legal one."

I would assume that the deciding factor in allowing the coaches to be able to work in Orlando will be the opinions of medical professionals. If a doctor clears a coach and he signs a waiver, it would be assumed the coach could participate.

It's hard for me to imagine any of these coaches being kept from their duties, unless a severe health condition is found during an examination.

If that coach couldn’t? Having someone else run their teams during a playoff series would certainly put a unique, very large, asterisk on whatever happens in Orlando.

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for New Orleans Pelicans

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Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for New Orleans Pelicans

This is the second of three meetings between Portland and New Orleans this season.

 

Before tonight’s Western Conference showdown Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry addressed the media.

 

Blazers Injury Update: Maurice Harkless (left knee) and Caleb Swanigan (right knee) were listed as questionable for tonight’s game vs. New Orleans. Coach Stotts said Harkless was “to be determined” while Swanigan will be inactive tonight.

 

***About a half hour before tip-off, the Blazers announced Harkless is available for tonight’s game.  

 

Coach Stotts also discussed the challenges that a healthy Anthony Davis brings to the Blazers’ defense.

 

“They’re a really good offensive team… They’re a top three offense. [Davis] is having a great year, single-handedly, but the team around him his really playing well. He’s a challenge to guard individually and as a team,” Stotts said.

 

In his last nine games, Davis is averaging 33.3 points per game to go along with 15.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.0 steals per game.

 

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

 

Pelicans Injury Update: Earlier this month, Nikola Mirotic returned from a month-long absence due to an ankle injury. Coach Gentry says Mirotic will not play 38 minutes tonight, but he won’t be restricted to 25 minutes either.

 

Coach Gentry praised the Blazers backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, talking about how both Lillard and McCollum are great at creating their own shots in such a variety of ways and in so many different situations. 

 

Hear from Coach Gentry right here:

NO's Gentry: "(Lillard) every night gives you everything he has"

NO's Gentry: "(Lillard) every night gives you everything he has"

The New Orleans Pelicans made short work of the Trail Blazers in the playoffs last season but that doesn’t mean their coach, Alvin Gentry, doesn’t still have a lot of respect for the long-term viability of what Portland has built here.

His post-game comments shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of the game-after-game-after-game short-attention-span theater of the NBA.

Gentry spoke at length about the difficulty of getting all the Portland shooters defended at the three-point line.

“We’ve gotta get guys off the line,” he said after his team’s loss Thursday night in Moda Center. “You know, the point differential is 30 points from the three-point line, I mean, we dominate the paint, we shoot more free throws, but it’s really, really difficult to make up a 30-point deficit from three, so we’ve gotta get them off the line and make a few more of our own.”

Sounds easy, Coach. But how do you do that?

“Well, we’ve just gotta have, you know, we’ve gotta have multiple efforts, that’s all,” he said. “I mean, they’re really good because they’ve got guards that can dribble, penetrate, and finish and they’ve also got bigs that can step out on the floor and make threes.

“Dame is capable of pulling up and shooting a three from anywhere, but we’ve got to do a better job with that, not just against this team but against most of the teams. We’ve gotta take away the dare shot, you know where we’re just leaving one guy open to shoot them, and we’ve gotta have multiple efforts and run those guys off the line because our offense is good, but it’s not good enough to sustain that.”

Gentry respects what Terry Stotts has done over his tenure as the Portland coach.

.”We’re playing a very good team,” said the coach of the Pelicans. “This team has been good for a lot of years, and I know people talk about last year and the playoffs and things like that, but what they’ve done over the course of the last five, six years that Terry’s been here has been amazing, I think, considering how many changes have happened here.”

“One year, they were left with Dame as the only starter coming back and they still did a great job. I don’t think Terry gets nearly the credit he deserves.

“But what he’s done as far as coaching this team, and then I’ve always thought that Damian was one of the best players in the NBA, and from a competitive standpoint, I think he’s as competitive as any guy in the league and you can see every night out he gives you everything he has.

“I know CJ didn’t play as well as he would normally play, but to me when you’ve got Dame on your team, the level of play is gonna always raise because he’s gonna compete at the highest level.”

The Trail Blazers’ 39.4 percent three-point shooting ranks fourth in the NBA and their 87.4 percent free-throw shooting leads the league.

The percentage from the foul line is in large part due to how frequently Lillard is getting to the line. Lillard is shooting 94 percent on an average of 8.4 attempts per game. Only Anthony Davis and James Harden are averaging more free-throw attempts per game and Lillard is tied with Joel Embiid for third.

Stotts: Trail Blazers considering Game 2 changes

Stotts: Trail Blazers considering Game 2 changes

The Trail Blazers’ brain trust has discussed changes for Game 2 after New Orleans opened the series with a 97-95 win at the Moda Center.

“We’ve discussed matchups,’’ Blazers coach Terry Stotts said Monday after practice. “Whether we pull the trigger on change, that’s to be determined.’’

Stotts wouldn’t reveal whether those internal discussions involved lineup changes or assignment adjustments. 

Game 2 is Tuesday night in Portland. 

“I think you have to be prepared to do something like that,’’ Stotts said, referring to a lineup change. “Matchups certainly matter. Changing the start lineup can have an impact. But I also think it depends on how you feel after that game – if you feel something that significant is worthwhile.’’

Throughout the course of Sunday and Monday's media availabilities, it did not sound like Stotts felt the Blazers needed major changes. In fact, he felt the Blazers' defense was sound, and that the offense executed the game plan, outside of making open shots.

Still, coaches often don't telegraph big moves, and both Stotts and New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry have experience in changing series with surprise decisions.

In 2010, when he was head coach of the Phoenix Suns, Gentry and the Suns lost Game 1 at home to the Trail Blazers after Andre Miller bullied Steve Nash with 31 points. In Game 2, Gentry switched assignments, moving 6-foot-8 wing Grant Hill to guard Miller and stashing Nash on second-year player Nicolas Batum. 

With Hill’s length, Miller was neutralized for the rest of the series, scoring 12, 11, 15, 21 and 4 points as Phoenix rebounded and won the series in six games. Meanwhile, Blazers coach Nate McMillan never tried to expose Nash guarding the taller Batum, saying Batum at the time didn’t have a post-up game and wasn’t ready to assume a scoring role.

Stotts, meanwhile, was part of the Dallas staff in 2011 that switched its starting lineup in the middle of the NBA Finals, inserting jitterbug JJ Barea into the Game 4 starting lineup instead of Deshawn Stevenson. Down 2-1 at the time, the Mavericks went 3-0 with Barea and secured the NBA title in six games.

“It’s a tough call,’’ Stotts said. “It often depends where you are in a series. When we went to the finals in Dallas and changed the starting lineup and brought in JJ Barea, which was pretty significant, that kind of turned the tide for us.’’

So is there a tide-turning change in store for Game 2?

One change that could happen is the return of Maurice Harkless for the Blazers. The starting small forward has been upgraded from out to questionable for Game 2 after he missed the season’s final nine games and Game 1 recovering from a March 28 surgery on his left knee. 

Other possible changes: Starting Zach Collins or Ed Davis on Anthony Davis, moving Al-Farouq Aminu to Davis, or using the athleticism of Pat Connaughton to combat Jrue Holiday. 

Stotts on Monday also openly analyzed the defensive performances against three of New Orleans’ top Game 1 weapons – Anthony Davis (35 points, 14 rebounds), Holiday (21 points) and Nikola Mirotic (16 points).

Stotts said he felt starting center Jusuf Nurkic “did a good job” against Davis, noting that five of his eight baskets against Nurkic were outside shots, which indicated Nurkic did a good job of keeping Davis away from the basket.

And he indicated that Evan Turner on Holiday and Aminu on Mirotic were not so much matchup problems as much as momentary breakdowns in team defense. 

“It’s easy to say Evan started on Jrue and he had (21), maybe you have to change the matchup,’’ Stotts said. “I think you have to look closer at it, than just making changes. It would be different if a guy was posting up all night and it was 1-on-1, but the way he’s moving around, it’s not so much about matchup. And if they are scoring off pick-and-roll, is it about the matchup or the pick-and-roll defense? I just think there are a lot of factors that go into it.’’

Either way, Game 2 became a little more suspenseful after Stotts acknowledged his staff has talked about making changes. When told his answer was intriguing, Stotts smiled.

“Well, so was your question,’’ Stotts said.