Trail Blazers take their home-run swing with Hassan Whiteside

Trail Blazers take their home-run swing with Hassan Whiteside

Neil Olshey should just go take a nap. He’s earned it.

Olshey’s Trail Blazers engineered a blockbuster trade Monday morning, finishing off – unless he’s got something else up his sleeve – the team’s major off-season work with a flourish.

Already this summer, Olshey has upgraded the team’s shooting from the wing, drafted a promising rookie with just the No. 25 pick, signed Damian Lillard to a supermax contract and Monday, brought in a starting center, Hassan Whiteside, on an expiring contract to stand in for Jusuf Nurkic.

And Whiteside isn’t just another center. He has led the league in blocked shots and rebounds per game and has a career true shooting percentage of .589. Last season he averaged only 23.3 minutes per game but chalked up a double-double, 12.3 points and 11.3 rebounds along with 1.9 blocked shots per game.

Portland made the trade without touching its core players, sending Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless to Miami in return for Whiteside. All three are embarking on the final season of their deals. The Heat are trying to clear cap space in order to complete a complicated deal for free agent Jimmy Butler and they will gain about $4 million with this trade.

Sunday, Portland added free agents Rodney Hood and Mario Herzonja, bolstering the small-forward position already strengthened by the addition of Kent Bazemore in an earlier deal for Evan Turner.

Whiteside does not come without some baggage. The 7-foot, 265-pounder has complained about playing time in Miami, where he became another big man who was a casualty of small-ball lineups and eventually lost his starting job to Bam Adebayo. Famously, he came under fire from Miami President Pat Riley after the 2018 playoffs:

“There's no doubt he was in a bad state in the playoffs,” Riley said of Whiteside. “Whatever the reasons why, I have not really sat down with Spo and really talked about all of these things. Hassan was less than without a doubt in the playoffs. I'm not going to give him any kind of excuse. But the season started with an injury and all year long there was a dilemma of some kind. By the time we got to the playoffs I don't think he was ready. He wasn't in great shape. He wasn't fully conditioned for a playoff battle mentally. He and we got our heads handed to us.

“The disconnect between he and Spo (Coach Erik Spoelstra) that's going to take a discussion between them and it’s going to take thought on the part of Coach and also Hassan. How will Hassan transform his thinking – 99 percent of it – to get the kind of improvement that Spo wants so he can be effective? How can Spo transform his thinking when it comes to offense and defense or minutes or whatever? However he uses him, that's what you do. I have the same problem with Hassan. That problem is that he's going to have to do something to change because he's a helluva player.”

In Portland, where the Trail Blazers are accustomed to using Nurkic (and then Enes Kanter) in the post, Whiteside should be a much happier player. And if he isn’t, he’s a $27 million expiring contract at the trade deadline.

Leonard was a polarizing player in Portland for fans who wanted seven-footers playing inside instead of shooting three-pointers. He did not get consistent playing time in Terry Stotts’ system. But he made a big splash in the playoffs last season in the final two games against Golden State and has a career 47.9 field-goal percentage and a 38.5 percentage from three-point range. Harkless, a starter for most of the last three seasons, has averaged 7.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for his career. He was a solid defender, especially when used in concert with Al-Farouq Aminu, for the Trail Blazers.

The Trail Blazers made it to the Western Conference finals last season without Nurkic, who sustained a broken leg late in the season. It would be hard to argue that they aren't a better team now, after the flurry of activity the past few days.

 

 

 

Trail Blazers reportedly trading Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard for Hassan Whiteside

Trail Blazers reportedly trading Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard for Hassan Whiteside

Updated at 2:37 p.m. ---- Harkless heading to the Los Angeles Clippers as a part of the Jimmy Butler trade to Miami.

---------------------------------------------

It looks like the Portland Trail Blazers have their new starting center until Jusuf Nurkic returns.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, a trade between the Blazers and Miami Heat has been agreed upon.

In the reported deal, the Heat will send center Hassan Whiteside to Portland for forward Maurice Harkless and center Meyers Leonard.

With Nurkic’s timetable still up in the air, this gives the Blazers a starting caliber big in Whiteside who is on an expiring contract.

Whiteside averaged 12.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks last season for the Heat. Over the past five seasons in Miami, he has averaged 14.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.

His 2015-16 season with Miami, he was named second-team all-defense after averaging 3.7 blocks. Following that season, Whiteside earned a four-year max contract worth $98.4 million from the Heat.

The 30-year-old will bring rim protection, and be a much-needed defensive stopper as Portland looks to build on its Western Conference Finals run from last season.  

What went wrong on Portland's wing this year?

What went wrong on Portland's wing this year?

The Portland Trail Blazers had the same fatal flaw this season that they had last season. And the season before that, and the season before that. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, embattled by double teams in the playoffs, were better this year at moving the ball before opponents could cause turnovers. But they needed the recipients of those passes — or the recipients of the passes from those passes — to knock down open 3-pointers.

They didn’t.

Portland had a wonderful season, and its strength was largely due to the rise in production by Jusuf Nurkic and the faith its bench unit had in each other. Both of those things were taken away in the postseason. Nurkic sat out with a broken leg, and with Terry Stotts shortening his rotation in the playoffs, the backups looked unsteady.

That put pressure on the Blazers’ high-minute wing players to perform. Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, Rodney Hood, and Al-Farouq Aminu were on the attacking end of plays where imbalances on McCollum and Lillard should have let them dominate. They got more open looks, and were in better positions during these playoffs.

In part, Portland used those gaps in the defense to punish opponents with passing. The ball moved more, particularly to the high post. The nail acted as a pivot point: cutters ran the baseline and collapsing defenders dictated whether a layup or a corner 3-pointer was the best shot available.

Aminu, with his trebuchet-style shooting form, hit just 24 percent of his corner treys, per Cleaning the Glass. Harkless knocked down 14 percent from the same area, an astonishing number. Turner took and hit a single three all postseason.

This resulted in defenses being able to clamp down a bit more on Hood and Seth Curry, the two known quantities as shooters. Portland’s designated bench gunners — both subject to taking above-the-break threes already — were more predictable and thus, easier to guard.

Hood shot 33 percent on non-corner threes, and his stats from deep ranked him in the 59th percentile for the playoffs at his position. Curry put up better numbers, but his game log was uneven. He played heavy minutes for the Blazers in the postseason but in 12 of 16 games played, Curry’s jumper accounted for either one or zero 3-pointers. Without volume, Curry’s effect was limited. With that limitation, Hood had to do the bulk of the bench 3-point scoring. It just wasn’t enough.

That’s without mentioning Turner, whose inability to shoot one again hurt the Blazers. Turner was brought in to relieve trapping pressure from Lillard and McCollum in 2016. It didn't quite go as planned, but this season Turner finally found his niche as the independent leader of the bench unit. That was a positive for the Blazers, but the reason why Turner wasn't able to act as a release valve for Portland’s stars remained.

That takes us back to Aminu and Harkless. The younger forward, who battled nagging injuries all season long, came on strong in the final two months of the year. Although his shooting suffered, he was an effective scorer and his offensive rating jumped in March and April. But Aminu was never a threat, and in the playoffs opponents often allowed him space to shoot so they could prevent Portland from dominating the offensive glass. As Harkless’ percentages in the postseason rounded out, eventually he was left more space, too.

At their core, the Trail Blazers need more wing shooting. They know that — it's why they’ve stuck with Harkless for so long. Where Aminu provides defense and others must make up for his lack of 3-point consistency, Harkless could provide both. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, including during his first season with Portland in 2015-16, when Harkless was exactly the player Neil Olshey wanted in the postseason. The Queens native was able to guard the best opposing wing player while also shooting effectively from 3-point range. He thrived as a cutter. He passed the ball.

This postseason, Portland was forced to revert back to their old ways. Harkless, Aminu, Turner, Curry, and Hood provided one or two skill sets when the Blazers really needed each to give them three or four. Their compartmentalization of tasks laid bare Portland’s biggest flaws, its lack of fluidity apparent when Stotts’ rotation shrank in the postseason.

There's no easy fix for what ails this team. The front office knows exactly what they are trying to get from the wing. This summer will perhaps be their biggest test, with both Harkless and Aminu’s status with the team up in the air. Whether by trade, draft, or free agency, Portland needs a more dynamic wing lineup. It’s now their most glaring weakness, and next season can’t be played with such large disparities created by the trade-offs in roster construction as it’s stood for the past few seasons.

ET and Moe take on Paris

turner.jpeg
USA Today

ET and Moe take on Paris

The Blazers offseason is in full swing and thanks to social media we have a great idea of what our favorite players are doing all summer long. 

Meyers Leonard is taking his talents to YouTube, Evan Turner and Maurice Harkless are taking over Paris, while CJ McCollum is in China. 

Here is a quick look back at some of the Blazers best social media posts of the last week. 

View this post on Instagram

Merci!

A post shared by Maurice Harkless (@moe_harkless) on

View this post on Instagram

Mercí, Paris

A post shared by evan turner (@evanturner) on

Damian Lillard wasn't hitting the vacation road, but he did stop on Instagram to take the time to say goodbye to assistant coach David Vanterpool. Vanterpool is leaving the organization to become an assistant coach in Minnesota, and Lillard had some parting words for this friend and mentor. 

Olshey: "Everyone who comes through here has gotten better"

Olshey: "Everyone who comes through here has gotten better"

It was exit-interview day for the Portland Trail Blazers, the final chance for the media to interview the key players, coach and management of one of the most surprising teams in the franchise’s 49-year history.

There weren’t a lot of shocking happenings – other than President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey announcing that the team has extended the contract of head coach Terry Stotts. But that wasn’t much of a surprise, either, since Stotts had just engineered a run to the Western Conference finals for a team predicted before the season to win 42 games and miss the playoffs.

The pertinent video is on this website and I invite you to peruse it, but in the interest of time, let me hit a few of the highlights for you, in order of the players’ appearance:

CJ McCollum: “It was an incredible season based on what we went through. Expectations weren’t that high. It was a pretty incredible year.”

Meyers Leonard: “The last two games were what I know in my heart I can do. Heading into this offseason I feel very confident in what I’ve done. I’m happy to know I feel I gave the staff and the organization confidence in me. I’m going to come back next year ready for a more definite role.”

Evan Turner: “It was dope. We did a lot of great things this season. We went from being a playoff-caliber team to a potential championship-caliber team. We’re legit.”

Al-Farouq Aminu: “I’ve been here four years now. It’s the longest I’ve ever been at one organization. I don’t think you heard me complain too much.”

Damian Lillard: “People who might not have believed before, people who thought I was crazy for thinking we could push that far, now I’m sure a lot of people believe it more than they did before. We were coming off a sweep in the first round (last season). It’s a great feeling just to know, OK, we had a 15-plus lead in three of the four games. We know that we were capable of winning those games. And if those things go our way, we’re looking at going to the Finals.”

Maurice Harkless: “Overall, we have a lot to be proud of this season. We would have liked a better outcome. But that’s a huge accomplishment by us as a team.”

Enes Kanter: “It’s been an amazing experience. This team made me a better person and a better player. It was the best thing that ever happened in my career.”

Rodney Hood: “I’m not sure (about his free-agency). Obviously, we know it’s a business. We’ll see how everything works out this summer. I’m on the record with how much I love it here and I want to be back. I want to be embraced. That’s a big word that means a lot to me. Whether that equals to a dollar amount,  that’s what I’m looking for.”

Zach Collins: “(On whether he’d like to be a starter next season) Yeah, absolutely. I think this playoff run, not only for myself but for the team, it was a great experience. And now we’ve been there and we know what to expect. For me personally, going through that and being able to play a big role and help our team win a lot of games the playoffs, I’ve already learned so much, just in the last month in the playoffs.”

Anfernee Simons: “(The last game of the regular season) obviously gave me a lot of confidence. It was a good kick-start for the summer. (And in the summer league) I want to prove myself. I am young but I’m still able to play with the best of them. I can’t wait.”

Neil Olshey: “(On Stotts’ contract extension) We win every year. It’s year No. 7 – six straight playoff appearances. Two division titles. A trip to the conference finals. And we still have one of the youngest rosters in the league. But it goes beyond wins and losses. It’s alignment, partnership, Our young players develop. It’s a commitment to a longer-term view. One of the things I’m most proud of is everyone who comes through here has gotten better.”

Terry Stotts: “(On where he ranks on the list of Trail Blazer coaches) Doctor Jack (Ramsay)  is a Hall of Famer and Rick Adelman will be. I’m not going to touch those guys. They are idols of mine. I don’t even presume to be in that category. There have been a lot of great coaches here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stotts was terse when asked about his defense.

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

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

Maurice Harkless put it in perspective.

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

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

“We have to make it happen.”

No question about it.

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

Trail Blazers show their character in epic, four-overtime win

Trail Blazers show their character in epic, four-overtime win

When it was finally over some three and a half hours after it started, and the Trail Blazers had survived the marathon there were a mix of emotions as the team huddled at the center of the pinwheel at mid-court.

A pulsing whirlwind of elation and exhaustion swept over the group that had just wrapped a four overtime thriller to take a 2-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets.

“It was just relief,” Al-Farouq Aminu said. “At the end of the day no matter how long it took we completed the task at hand. So it was just a relief. There were so many moments where it looked like the game might’ve slipped away or we missed on opportunities. And for us to just continue to battle and get that ... it was just a great feeling.”

This night was just the latest affirmation that this team, this season and this playoff run is truly special. Not just because Moe Harkless shrugged off the ‘questionable’ tag to log 45 minutes on a bum right ankle, and not because Enes Kanter is playing with essentially one arm after re-aggravating an already separated left shoulder. Not because CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard scored every single point for the Blazers in the first three overtimes periods, doing what stars do in crucial moments. And not because Rodney Hood came off the bench to deliver the game-clincher, after telling his teammates he would do just that.

It’s affirmation is because of all those things happened in one night for one team. Rip City is a metropolis built on heartbreak and cynicism, but nights like Friday at the Moda Center threaten to convert even the most ardent non-believers.

What this game exposed was what makes this group of Blazers special. Kanter spent his postgame media session groaning through excruciating shoulder pain, explaining that he thinks he further separated his already injured left shoulder at some point in the first overtime. He had to tuck his arm into his jersey in order to run down the floor. He then played three more overtimes with an arm he could barely feel.

In the locker room, his left shoulder was wrapped in what has become a customary ace bandage, and he also had another smaller wrap on his right elbow, a new injury earned from diving out of bounds to track down a long rebound.

“Sometimes you got to make some sacrifices to get a win,” said Kanter, who logged 56 grueling minutes. “I’ll get painkillers for next game. I hope I can play. But I’ll be fine.”

Harkless’ night didn’t end with as quite a dramatic scene. Instead he answered questions at the podium while his as eyes kept drawing back to the box score on the table in front of him.

“65 minutes. That’s crazy,” Harkless said, catching the workload for Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. “A lot of guys played a lot of minutes tonight. Man ...”

When he showed up at the arena, Harkless’ official injury designation was still ‘questionable’ with a right ankle sprain. He always knew he was going to play and told the Blazers coaches and training staff that he didn’t want to be on a minutes restriction. The ankle injury that he suffered Wednesday night that kept him out of the final 29 minutes of Game 2 wasn’t going to stop him from pouring himself into Game 3.

“It’s the playoffs,” he said. “I’d go out there with one ankle if I had to. So it was just -- as long as I was able to run up and down the court I was going to play.”

The nights from Harkless and Kanter epitomize this group. This team lost its star center to a gruesome leg injury in late March, and barely had a lull, surging forward when things could have easily tumbled in the other direction. When Jokic bullied them in Game 1 to give Denver an early series lead they responded by gutting out two gritty wins, the latest in historically epic fashion. Instead of looking for excuses the Blazers have looked at each other to find their collective strength.

“I mean, it doesn’t surprise me,” Lillard said. “We all depend on each other. We lean on each other. Those guys [Kanter and Harkless] know how important they are to our team, so the fact that they’re out there playing through injuries, I think it just shows how tough they are for one, and it also shows how bad they want it, how much they’re invested into our team, how much they care. They’re willing to go out there not 100 percent, banged up, and still fight with the team. They know how much we need them.”

Friday night’s win was revealing not for its new discoveries, but for its confirmation. All those things you think about this team: The toughness, the perseverance, the unshakeable will. They were all there. This was less stunning than it was affirming. Of course they came out on top in a game like that. This is a determined group on a remarkable run, and they keep finding a way. Adversity can break teams. It has forged this one.

“It showed a lot about us,” Aminu said. “To be in the condition and to be able to do that that’s tough. And guys just kept on making plays, kept on stepping up and kept on doing what we had to do, and we pulled it out. It was beautiful.”

Trail Blazers win "Instant Classic" but there was nothing instant about it

Trail Blazers win "Instant Classic" but there was nothing instant about it

It was after 11 o’clock Friday night and three hours and twenty-five minutes into a four-overtime game when CJ McCollum jumped in to steal a full-court pass and finally – FINALLY – put an end to a 140-137 four-overtime win for his Trail Blazers over the Denver Nuggets.

A long night. A long game. And a game that might have an even longer impact. It felt throughout the overtimes that the team that lost this one was going to hurt.

And hurt bad. And maybe even have a difficult time recovering from what must have been an emotional gut punch.

So many things happened. More twists and turns than the Hana Highway on Maui. More nerve-wracking, too. Let Portland Coach Terry Stotts explain that .part of the night:

“I have no idea what happened in the first half or the second half or in the first three overtimes,” he said. “I’ve never been involved in a game like that, regular season or playoffs – but it was an amazing effort by both teams.”

Well, most of the people who have been involved in a game like that are no longer with us. There has been only one other four-overtime game in NBA playoff history and that one featured the Boston Celtics and Syracuse Nationals on March 21, 1953.

“This game was an instant classic,” Denver Coach Mike Malone said. “It was a hell of a basketball game for two very good basketball teams.”

The minutes-played category was a classic, too. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic played a massive 64:58 and got an apology from Malone after the game. “That’s unheard of,” Malone said. “That’s ridiculous. I can’t do that to him. That’s too many minutes.”

Both coaches leaned on their starters through most of the fourth quarter and their overtimes. But it was a man with relatively fresh legs, Rodney Hood, who dropped the curtain on the evening. Hood came off the Portland bench with 1:59 to go in the final overtime period and tied the game with a 14-foot jumper 52 seconds later. He hit another jump shot with 44.9 to go that put the Blazers in front by a point.

Then, after McCollum missed a jumper and rebounded his own miss, he found an open Hood – who calmly buried a 26-foot three-pointer to pull the Trail Blazers from a point behind to two points in front. Seth Curry knocked down a pair of foul shots with 2.8 left to seal it.

“I think everybody is pretty tired, mentally and physically,” Stotts said. “The game was won or lost so many times by both teams, It was a roller-coaster. Every overtime, it was a roller-coaster.”

A quick summation of those up-and-down rides:

The fourth quarter ended with a Denver turnover followed by a desperation 61-footer by Maurice Harkless.

The first overtime finished with Jokic clanking a 27-foot step-back, three-pointer.

The second overtime culminated in a Damian Lillard missed three from 29 feet.

The third OT had the Blazers trailing by four points with 32.2 seconds to go and reeling. Denver got a little too careful – worried about fouling – and allowed Lillard to make a quick drive to the basket for a layup with 27.3 left and then McCollum stole the ball from Jamal Murray, knocking the ball off Murray out of bounds. That set Lillard up for another layup with 8.4 to go.

“We were down by four with 30 seconds left and I was just like, ‘I know it’s not a lot of time, we’re probably going to have to foul.’ Something is going to need to work out because I started thinking about how I would feel when I got home tonight.

“I was just like, ‘We can’t have this right now.’ I’m sure everybody was thinking that same way, about how they would feel if they went home tonight and knew that we left this game out there and didn’t take care of business.

“We got it done.”

After Lillard’s two layups, the Nuggets managed just a 31-footer from Murray that banged off the backboard.

McCollum finished with 41 points on 39 shots while Lillard got 28 on 24 shots. Enes Kanter fought through the pain for 18 points and 15 rebounds. Hood got 19 points.  Harkless, who said he knew all along he’d play in spite of a sprained ankle, had 15 along with 10 rebounds.

Jokic had 33, Murray 34 for the Nuggets and Will Barton came off the bench for some brilliant play in overtime, scoring 19.

The teams have a quick turnaround, with Game 4 scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday.

Malone, you recall, nominated this game for “instant classic” status. In retrospect, it was a classic.

But there was nothing instant about it.

Who will start if Maurice Harkless can't go tonight for Trail Blazers?

Who will start if Maurice Harkless can't go tonight for Trail Blazers?

Five questions I keep being asked, with my attempts at answers, on the morning of Game 3:

WHO WILL START IF MAURICE HARKLESS CAN’T GO?: A great question because Terry Stotts is one of the most unpredictable coaches you’ll ever find when it comes to his lineups.

If you just want to move up the most effective bench player capable of handling the position, you would plug Rodney Hood into that spot. In this series, Hood has been borderline spectacular off the bench.

But do you want to take Hood away as the No. 1 scoring option for that bench unit? And he gets many more opportunities to score as a reserve than he would as a starter, when Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Enes Kanter are getting a majority of the shots

Throughout his tenure as the Portland coach, Stotts has been reluctant to mess with his bench unit when a starter is out. More often, he has reached down past the rotation players and plugged in a player who hasn’t been part of that rotation.

That would likely mean Jake Layman, who started the second half of Game 2 when Harkless, fighting an ankle sprain, wasn’t available after halftime of Game 2. Layman had not played at all in Game 1 of the series.

My hunch would be Layman would get the start. And I do believe it’s possible his movement on offense would be a help in the halfcourt. And his activity on the boards might be a boost on the other end.

WILL THE PORTLAND DEFENSE BE THE SAME IN GAME 3?: It might change. And it probably should. Yes, the Blazers did a great job of holding down the Nuggets’ shooting percentages by packing the middle and swarming Nikola Jokic off the dribble. But keep in mind, the Blazers were fortunate to get away with that defense Wednesday night.

Denver people, by its own calculations, had 17 uncontested three-point shots – many of them from the easiest spot on the floor, the corner. The. Nuggets, by their count, made just three of their 17 open threes. In the first quarter Denver missed corner threes time after time.

It would be wrong to believe that will continue. While the Nuggets were only a middle-of-the-road three-point shooting team during the regular season, even average teams make those shots on a fairly consistent basis.

The Trail Blazers are going to have to do a better job of contesting the threes.

WILL OFFICIATING CHANGE IN GAME 3?: I believe it will. The league and its referees are constantly perusing video of these games and they had to see the number of times Jokic hacked Portland shooters. I wouldn’t expect him to continue to get away with that.

I would also assume they’d be watching his time spent in the lane more closely. He camps in there.

SHOULD PLAYERS HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED FOR THIS GAME?: I would say definitely. The NBA rulebook makes no mention of players leaving the area of the bench to participate in an altercation during a timeout being exempt from penalty:

Rule 12 (A, Section VII, c): During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their (bench.) Violators will be subject to suspension, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.

As you can see, there’s a word missing in the online version of the rulebook, which is included here in parenthesis. As you can also see, there is no mention of players being exempt from the rule during a timeout.

And another consideration in this case is that Jamal Murray dashed on the court to actually START the altercation. And he did so under the false assumption that Enes Kanter intentionally did harm to one of his teammates. In fact, Kanter was pushed into that player by Jokic – a full, two-handed push, which, by the way, should have been Jokic’s sixth foul.

For me, the fact that Murray misread the situation and caused a fracas without real provocation should count for something, too.

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO THE BLAZERS TO WIN THESE TWO HOME GAMES?: Critical, I would say. They have taken away Denver’s homecourt advantage but losing a home game would mean Portland would need another win at Denver to capture the series. That would be difficult in a Game 5 situation and VERY difficult in a Game 7.

Maurice Harkless listed as questionable for Game 3 after MRI confirms right ankle sprain

Maurice Harkless listed as questionable for Game 3 after MRI confirms right ankle sprain

The Trail Blazers announced Thursday afternoon that Maurice Harkless is listed as questionable for Game 3 against the Nuggets on Friday.

The Blazers also said an MRI confirmed a right ankle sprain.

Harkless suffered the injury at the 5:42 mark of the second quarter of Game 2. He did not return to the game on Wednesday night.

The Trail Blazers starting small forward was attempting to block Nikola Jokic’s shot, but then came down awkwardly on his teammate Zach Collins.

[RELATED]: Despite adversity, Trail Blazers "stayed together" and steal Game 2

 

Harkless said after the game, he is going to "take it day by day."

The Blazers and Nuggets tip-off Game 3 on Friday night in Portland at 7:30pm.