Indiana Pacers

Trail Blazers pass first test without CJ McCollum... Is there reason to rush him back?

Trail Blazers pass first test without CJ McCollum... Is there reason to rush him back?

Energy plays.

Collective play.

Staying ready to shoot.

These are all key components to the Trail Blazers 106-98 victory over the Pacers and Portland’s first game without starting shooting guard CJ McCollum.

Just as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talked about in his pregame interview, it was a collective group who found themselves getting extra minutes with McCollum out.

Jake Layman got the starting nod in place of McCollum, but then Rodney Hood started the second half.  Hood, Layman and Seth Curry, are all expected to get more minutes with McCollum sidelined.

Also, as expected, Damian Lillard carried the load as he notched his ninth double-double of the season by the end of the third quarter. Lillard finished with 30 points and 15 assists, which is a new season-high in assists and just one shy form tying his career-high.

With 15 assists on the night it shows how the game plan is to play as a team in McCollum’s absence. Lillard discussed how it’s not about playing hero ball during this stretch without his running mate.

“I think having a guy that’s such a huge part of our team go down and not be out there, it’s not gonna be just me going out there trying to be the hero. It’s going to have to be done by committee,” Lillard told Blazers sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam immediately after the game.

“Against a very good team, we had a lot of guys step up. It was really encouraging and that’s how we’re going to have to play,” Lillard added.

ENERGY PLAYS AND CHASE DOWN BLOCKS

Zach Collins also saw the floor more, which proves Coach Stotts is going to fill McCollum’s minutes in a variety of ways. 

Collins made sure to make the most of the opportunity early and Coach Stotts was quick to recognize him postgame.

“Collins came in and made a lot of energy plays. I thought we scored more off of our energy than anything else,” Stotts said.

Even though this is just Collins’ second year in the league, he showed his wisdom in the locker room.

“[CJ] brings so much to our team... We just gotta come together and pick up the slack. Without him on the floor -- that’s a lot of buckets that we have to come up with and obviously, Dame has a lot on his shoulders and now that teams have to focus a lot more on him without CJ, we’ve got to help him out a little bit, just come together” Collins said.

Collins also noted that he always wants to “make energy plays that gets the crowd in to it,” and that’s exactly what he did midway through the second quarter with a chase down block on Tyreke Evans.

So, what goes through Collins’ mind when he’s going up for a chase down block like that?

“Move as fast as I can,” Collins said with a big smile.

“I need to get a little faster, but just try to get there as quickly as I can and try to time it right,” Collins said.

BE READY TO CATCH AND SHOOT

Al-Farouq Aminu picked up some of the scoring slack. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from three in the third quarter as he ignited the Blazers’ offense in the second half.

For Chief, it’s all about making sure he is ready to catch and release.

“Obviously Dame did a good job distributing, making sure everybody got involved… We just gotta continue to be ready to shoot,” Aminu said.

“I think what we did tonight was impressive, to be honest, I’m proud of everybody from top to bottom, the way we were able to step up without CJ and get a quality win,” Aminu added.

Aminu finished 4-for-5 from long distance and 5-for-8 from the field to score 16 points.

It’s all about that Blazer ball movement though.

“We just gotta play the same way and make sure we’re continuing to distribute the ball,” Aminu said.

NO NEED TO RUSH CJ BACK

Before Monday’s game both McCollum and Coach Stotts did not give any type of timetable on McCollum’s return.

Lillard knows one thing though—

He doesn’t want McCollum to hurry back before he’s ready.

Lillard has had this conversation with McCollum about taking his time to get the proper rehab.

“I don’t want [CJ] to have to rush it,” Lillard said. “And, when he does come back, I want him to be himself and be healthy... In my mind we’re going to finish the regular season without him... We’d rather have him healthy and strong for the playoffs.”

Trail Blazers get the most (30 points, 15 assists) out of Damian Lillard's 40 minutes

Trail Blazers get the most (30 points, 15 assists) out of Damian Lillard's 40 minutes

The Trail Blazers managed to hang on for a 106-98 home win over Indiana Monday night… but it wasn’t easy.

Neither, I’m sure, was it easy for Portland to play back-to-back games in New Orleans and San Antonio on Friday and Saturday, then play again Monday.

But that’s the NBA. ESPN needed a game and they must have badly needed it to put a Blazer-Pacer game on the national airwaves.

Damian Lillard delivered this win with a scintillating 30-point, 15-assist performance in 40:10 of very hard work.

Portland Coach Terry Stotts has made it clear he doesn’t want to have to play Lillard 40 minutes every night but he’s in a race for playoff seeding and with it, homecourt advantage.

Winning, obviously, takes precedence. And when the Pacers staged a late-game rally, Lillard was back on the for the finish.

“Dame is special,” Stotts said. “When we got up 21 in the fourth I was feeling comfortable. I think you guys know I’ve been trying to manage his minutes but through this stretch, with the race the way it is, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”

After missing their first nine three-point field goal attempts Saturday night in San Antonio, the Blazers opened the game by missing their first 10 against Indiana.

But then Lillard hit a couple of deep ones to break the ice at the end of the second quarter and Portland connected on 13 of its last 22 after the 0-10 start.

“I think we were getting quality looks,” Lillard said. “We were missing some good looks. That was the encouraging part of it. When it’s going that way, you know they’re going to fall eventually. You’re not just going to keep getting those kind of looks and keep missing them.

“That’s what happened. They just started to fall.”

Lillard did not seem too concerned with what could become a heavier workload with CJ McCollum out of action for several games.

“My rookie year I was playing 40 minutes all the time and that was hard, but I’m physically prepared for it. One thing is that you’re physically prepared for it but mentally, I know how to put myself in certain situations if I feel myself getting a little more tired, I know what actions we can run against what they’re doing so I’m not impacting the play but I’m involved in the play.

“And then on defense, I know when I hear a play call, I know how to position myself so that I know what I have to do. So mentally and physically, I am prepared.”

Lillard hit nine of his 16 shots and four of nine from long range.

After the shaky start, Portland made 46.8 percent of its shots and 13 of 32 from three. Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out late in the game. And the Blazers got a plus-13 off the bench from Zach Collins, who had a couple of spectacular blocks.

Al-Farouq Aminu chipped in a 4-5 night from the three-point line and ended with 16 points.

Portland plays host to Dallas Wednesday night.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Indiana Pacers

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USA Today Images

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Indiana Pacers

The Trail Blazers returned home to face the Indiana Pacers on Monday night, tipping off a four-game homestand. 

Portland entered Monday’s game having won nine straight home games against the Pacers and looked to make it 10 in a row, the Pacers did not make it easy.

This was the Blazers first game without guard CJ McCollum, who will miss at least the next week with a popliteus strain in his left knee.

It was a hard fought game with the Blazers very active on defense. Portland also exploited the smaller Pacers defenders down low and that helped them pull away from the Pacers.

Portland defeated Indiana 106-98. The Blazers improve to 26-9 at home this season.

The Blazers have swept the season series against the Pacers for the second straight season.

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 106, Pacers 98

Here are some quick thoughts from Portland’s first game of its current four-game homestand:

1.Multiple Blazers getting extra minutes as expected

Just as Blazers' head coach Terry Stotts talked about in his pregame interview, it was a collective group who got extra minutes with McCollum out.

Rodney Hood, Jake Layman, and Seth Curry all played more minutes. Layman got the starting nod, but played the least minutes out of three wings. Hood started the second half. Maybe Stotts will go with Hood on Wednesday to start against the Mavericks after Hood had more of an impact on the offensive end than Layman on Monday night.  

When you have a player who gets 34 to 35 minutes a night, there’s an adjustment period and that was clearly what was going on with the Blazers early. Portland started the game 0-for-10 from three.

Midway through the second quarter, people were most likely saying the Blazers need some #3J.

Damian Lillard got things going from deep at the end of the second quarter and it seemed to be the momentum Portland needed for the second half.

Stotts also talked pregame that there was a chance one of the rookies, Gray Trent Jr. or Anfernee Simons, could also see the floor, but that didn’t happen.

2. Blazer bigs take charge early

Jusuf Nurkic powered his way down low against Myles Turner. He had his way with the smaller defender on offense for most of the night.

If Nurkic hadn’t got into foul trouble early he probably could’ve gone off for 30 points, but after picking up his third foul in the second quarter that disrupted his minutes and his scoring.

Nurkic and Zach Collins saw the floor together for a little bit. The twin towers proved to be too much on defense. By the end of the third quarter, Indiana had just 28 points in the paint.

With Collins getting more minutes, it proves Coach Stotts is going to fill McCollum’s minutes in a variety of ways.  

3. Lillard a passing machine

Damian Lillard notched his ninth double-double of the season by the end of the third quarter.

Whether it was the pick and roll with Nurkic or kicking out to find his teammates in the corner for a three, Lillard was dropping dimes.

Portland's ball movement was on point for most of the game and that is going to be such a necessity with 21.3 points per game from McCollum not an option right now.

Lillard had 14 assists and 24 points after three quarters.  

NEXT UP: Portland continues its four-game homestand with game number two on the slate as the Blazers host the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday at 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest. Our pregame coverage starts 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.

Outsiders Podcast: Biggie and Collins power the Blazers to victory

Outsiders Podcast: Biggie and Collins power the Blazers to victory

It was a big night for the Trail Blazer bench once again as Zach Collins (17 points) and Caleb Swanigan (11 pts-10 reb) led the way in a Blazer victory. 

The Blazers battled foul trouble early in the game with both Jusuf Nurkic and Meyers Leonard having to sit down early. 

Damian Lillard managed only one basket in the entire first half. 

Trail Blazers "bench" the Indiana Pacers

Trail Blazers "bench" the Indiana Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS – Through the first five games of the season, the Portland bench has been making its mark, outscoring benches from other teams and generally holding leads for the starting lineup.

But Monday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, that bench came up with something special that isn’t likely to be duplicated anytime soon.

Evan Turner’s Tribe outscored the Pacers’ bench 54-15 and more amazing, outscored its own starting lineup 54-49. And don’t think that domination was just on offense – the plus-minus for Portland told a big story.

The Trail Blazer starters were minus-17 and the bench was a whopping plus-67.

On this night the Portland bench bailed the starters out against a gritty defensive effort from the Pacers.

Turner, of course, was the ringleader of that effort by the reserves, He was at his passing and shooting best, hitting six of his nine shots , hauling in eight rebounds and flipping three assists. And as you would expect, he had plenty of help.

Nik Stauskas had 10 points and five assists, Zach Collins 17 points, three rebounds and three assists and Caleb Swanigan came back from obscurity to chalk up 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“It’s a team thing,” said Turner trying to deflect the spotlight. “We’ve been stepping up and doing our job, When it came down to the game being close, our starters stepped up and made some big shots and put the game away.

“We’re really confident in our second unit. We think we can go at a lot of second units and prevail.”

Turner’s role is as a point forward, distributing the ball to open teammates, many of whom are outstanding shooters.

“One thing I know for sure,” Turner said with a smile. “When I come in I look for number zero (Damian Lillard). That’s for sure.

“Usually when we’re in there we just keep running but I thought it was huge tonight that we were able to slow it down and turn it into a possession game.”

Stauskas, who is proving to be a better playmaker than advertised, is in heaven. Not only does he like his role – he likes having a role.

“I’ve never really had a role on a team before,” he said. “When I come into a game now I know what my role is. My four years in the league, I’ve never had a defined role and I never knew when my minutes were going to come – if they were going to come at all. It’s hard to get into any kind of rhythm when you play like that.

“I’ve really enjoyed myself out there with this team and we’re all having fun playing with each other.”

Curry, who combines with Stauskas to form a reliable three-point shooting package for Turner to work with, is still feeling his way back after missing all of last season due to injury.

“Still trying to get my full game back after missing a year,” Curry said. “But we’re playing well as a team and I’m trying to do a lot of other things besides score the ball.

“It’s fun when you’ve got ET out there handling the ball and pushing the pace,  We have a good little chemistry going as a bench right now.”

On Monday night, it was a great big chemistry.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Blazers win over the Pacers

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Blazers win over the Pacers

Zach Collins and the Blazers bench helped Portland get back in the win column with a victory of the Indiana Pacers. Collins was on fire, and Caleb Swanigan worked his way to the floor and had the best game of his career. 

Here are some quick thoughts from our reporters on the scene...

Final Box Score: Blazers 103 - Pacers 93

Dwight Jaynes, Trail Blazers' Insider: Blazer bench absolutely carried them in this game, The Pacers defense was as solid as Portland has seen all season, Collins continues to be the man in the middle down the stretch as Nurkic again sits out the fourth quarter.

Jamie Hudson, Trail Blazers' Reporter:  Caleb Swanigan performed well in front of his hometown crowd. Swanigan got big minutes after both Nurkic and Leonard got into early foul trouble. Biggie showed poise and that he wasn't going to get pushed around down low. He and Collins had a nice pick and roll working too. Swanigan finished with a double-double, 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Kevin Berry, NBC Producer at the game:  Zach Collins looks good. After Summer League, I wondered if the success would translate to early regular season games against real NBA talent and it clearly has. He's showing a nice combination of smarts and explosiveness so far this season.

***Be sure to check back here throughout tonight for locker room videos with Coach Stotts and the players, plus locker room reports from Jamie Hudson and Dwight Jaynes***

NEXT UP: The Blazers wrap up their four-game road trip on Tuesday when they take on the Houston Rockets. Tip-off is set for 5pm, with coverage beginning at 4pm on NBC Sports Northwest. 

McMillan with high praises for Trail Blazers' "elite scorers"

McMillan with high praises for Trail Blazers' "elite scorers"

INDIANAPOLIS – Both Pacers' head coach Nate McMillan and Trail Blazers' head coach Terry Stotts had high praise for each other’s ball clubs in their pregame media availability before Portland and Indiana tip-off tonight.

*Coach McMillan discussed how the Blazers have elite scorers in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum saying, “Their guards are guys that can feel it up. It’s a challenge because of their range… They really force you to spread your defense.”

*McMillan has been impressed with how quickly Domantas Sabonis has progressed in his early career and says he plays just like his dad, former Trail Blazers Arvydas Sabonis.  

*The Pacers are looking to take better care of the ball and work on rebounding.

*Coach Stotts says that they are not doing anything different with the treatment of Maurice Harkless’ knee, but that rest is the key right now.

*Stotts isn’t going to change the minutes or give players minute restrictions even though the Blazers are nearing the end of playing five games in seven days.

*Rookie Anfernee Simons is on the active list in place of the injured Harkless (left knee).

*Coach Stotts gave credit to the way the Pacers are able to score. ”They take quality threes… They’ve got good shooters,” Stotts said.

COACH MCMILLAN

COACH STOTTS

 

Trail Blazers beat Pacers and the talk once again is defense

Trail Blazers beat Pacers and the talk once again is defense

INDIANAPOLIS – The Trail Blazers rolled past their second straight opponent Friday night, this time a 114-96 dusting of the Indiana Pacers, and once again all anyone wanted to talk about was the Blazers’ improved defense.

Portland is 2-0 in the regular season, and dating back to the preseason has won seven in a row, all of the games examples of a connected, alert and active defense.

“We’re playing defense,’’ Al-Farouq Aminu said when asked what he likes most about the Blazers’ start. “I mean, in the past it hasn’t been one of our strongest suits, and this year, top to bottom, everybody is playing defense.’’

So how can a roster where 12 of the 14 players are the same as last season make what appears to be such a dramatic turnaround?

The answer is layered, but may best be explained with two simple concepts: The Blazers, Aminu says, are talking more on defense; and that communication is happening, CJ McCollum says, because the players are finally seasoned enough to know what to talk about on defense.

“Early on in your career you don’t talk because you don’t know,’’ McCollum said. “What do you say? If you don’t know what is going on, what do you talk about?’’

When teams bring up defensive communication, it could be anything from recognizing and then anticipating another team’s play, to calling out screens, to letting teammates know where they have help.

They are subtle developments that come through film study, game experience and repetition.

McCollum, for example, says as he begins his fifth season, he is talking more than ever.

“A lot more,’’ McCollum said. “My rookie year, I didn’t say anything, I was just trying not to vomit on myself … going down the court just trying to stay in the right spot and try not to mess up.  Think about it, you are young, you don’t know. All I know is: ‘Go score.’ That’s it.’’

The Blazers for the past three seasons have been among the youngest in the NBA. But that youth has experience. Damian Lillard has been a starter going on six seasons. McCollum is going on his third season as a starter. And Aminu and Harkless are beginning their third season where they are paired as interchangeable defensive forwards.

So even though Portland starts this season with the fourth youngest roster in the NBA (24.317 years), it is a roster that has not only played a lot of games, but done it together.

So now, Lillard and McCollum can recognize a team’s play call and can better anticipate where they need to be. And Harkless and Aminu are doing a better job communicating where and when their help is coming from the weakside.

“The big change that I’ve noticed is just how much we are talking,’’ Aminu said. “Guys are saying the coverages … and it becomes contagious.’’

After two games, Blazers' opponents have combined to shoot 37.7 percent from the field.

But that doesn't mean the Blazers’ defense is a finished product, or that there still aren’t lapses.

On Friday in Indiana, on the Pacers’ second offensive play, forward Bojan Bogdanovic went backdoor on Maurice Harkless for a layin. Irritated he wasn’t alerted to a back screen, Harkless motioned with his hands that his teammates needed to talk to him.

Still, coach Terry Stotts was pleased Friday with the overall defensive effort, particularly the team’s transition defense, which has been a point of emphasis.

And while nobody is going to confuse the Blazers’ first two opponents – Phoenix and Indiana – with a playoff-caliber team in the West, they are both teams that last year put up 118 points on the Blazers. That fact wasn't lost on Lillard.

"We came in here ready to guard,'' Lillard said. "We’ve had a lot of fun actually playing defense; we see what it can do for us.''

 

Welcome Back CJ! Blazers roll to 2-0

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Welcome Back CJ! Blazers roll to 2-0

Early on in this young season the Trail Blazers defense looks much improved and is a big reason they are 2-0 following a 114-96 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday. Portland scored 62 points in the first half, and defensively was giving the Pacers fits. The second half started sloppy, but then CJ caught fire, scoring the final 12 points of the third quarter. Once The Closers checked in, it was all over. 


Final Score: Portland 114 - Pacer 96

Trail Blazers' defense to get biggest test to date tonight against Pacers

Trail Blazers' defense to get biggest test to date tonight against Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS – So is this Trail Blazers’ defense for real, or what?

Portland on Friday night will get its best answer to date whether its defense is indeed new-and-improved when it plays at Indiana, which is coming off a 140-131 win over Brooklyn on opening night.

The Blazers’ defense looked great during the preseason, but Toronto played without DeMar DeRozan, the Clippers without Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers, and the Kings without four of five starters.

Then in the season opener, a 124-76 win at Phoenix, the Suns looked like a team that will vie for the worst record in the league.

It’s why coach Terry Stotts and the players have taken a cautiously optimistic approach when it comes to crowning the Blazers’ D as rehabilitated from last year’s disaster.

“It’s one game,’’ Damian Lillard cautioned after the Suns win. “I was happy to see it carry over. From camp, to preseason, then come the first road game, we did it again. We showed what we can do if we are committed to the defensive end.’’

While the Pacers figure to be a middle-of-the-road team in the East, they will be a better test than the rebuilding Suns. Plus, behind guards Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo and Corey Joseph, the Pacers are emphasizing a fast-paced approach under coach Nate McMillan.

“Nate has done an unbelievable job of letting us take the onus as point guards, and kind of let us run the show,’’ Collison told the Indy Star. “He was a point guard himself. He knows what it’s like to let us see the game, instead of micromanaging every single play. If we can play like that, call a guard game, play with one another, we will be all right.’’

The Pacers’ 140 points was the franchise’s opening night record, and if there has been a soft spot in the Blazers’ defense during the preseason and the opener, it has been in transition.

But the Blazers have been as active and connected as we’ve seen since the days when Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez vaulted Portland into the Top 10 in defense.

Stotts has repeatedly referred to this defense as “alert” and “focused” and on Wednesday in Phoenix the trio of Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu on the perimeter was as imposing collection of arms and length as I can remember from a Blazers team.

So another game, another test to see whether the Blazers really are ready to defend. Should be interesting. NBC Sports Northwest will carry the game at 4 p.m. with Rip City Live pregame show starting at 3 p.m.

Today's Blazers' links:

I wrote about Evan Turner and his defensive job on Devin Booker.

The Indy Star previewed tonight's game.

It's an Indiana homecoming for Pat Connaughton and Caleb Swanigan.