Mike D'Antoni

When was the last time the Trail Blazers lost a home opener?

When was the last time the Trail Blazers lost a home opener?

The last time the Trail Blazers lost a home opener, a relatively unknown guy at the time by the name of Mike D’Antoni was one of their assistant coaches and their roster featured the likes of Shawn Kemp, Rod Strickland, Rasheed Wallace, Scottie Pippen, Damon Stoudamire, Stacey Augmon, Will Perdue and Arvydas Sabonis. Mike Dunleavy coached the group and it won 50 games, good enough that year for only seventh in the Western Conference.

That 2000-2001 Trail Blazer team lost its home opener to the Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal Los Angeles Lakers 96-86 and it was nothing to be embarrassed about. Those Lakers lost only one playoff game en route to the championship that season, including a sweep of Portland in the first round.

But that, obviously, was a long time ago.

When the Blazers take the floor Wednesday night in Moda Center with their 18-game win streak in home openers on the line, it may prove to be one of their toughest battles since that night when it squared off with those talented Lakers.

The Denver Nuggets, who took Portland to seven games in the Western Conference playoffs last spring, are back with a talented young team bolstered by the addition of two very good bench players, Starting guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are talented and improving. Power forward Paul Millsap has been a Blazer killer for years and center Nikola Jokic is a superstar in the making. Ex-Trail Blazer scoring machine Will Barton comes off the bench and the Nuggets have added smooth three-point shooter Jerami Grant and highly touted second-year forward Michael Porter Jr., who sat out his rookie season with an injury.

The Nuggets are talented, deep and hungry after earning the No. 2 seed in the West last season and being bounced out of the playoffs by Portland, which won the series on Denver’s court.

“They’re a really good team,” said Damian Lillard. “They were a two seed last year. Jokic, Murray, Millsap. Will, Gary Harris – they’re deep and they’ve got everything you need on a team. They’ve got good shooters, good bigs, their bigs can score on the block, their bigs can score from the perimeter, they pass the ball well, they have good guard play, good defenders, good size.

“What else you want?”

Meanwhile, the Blazers embark on season No. 50 with perhaps the best guard combo in the league of Lillard and CJ McCollum and a probable starting frontline that makes its regular-season debut as a group. Hassan Whiteside will be the center, between Rodney Hood and Zach Collins.

Mike D’Antoni is not expected to be there.


Rockets get Westbrook -- Did they watch him play in the Blazer playoff series?

Rockets get Westbrook -- Did they watch him play in the Blazer playoff series?

So the Houston Rockets wanted Russell Westbrook so bad they gave up Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two first-round swaps Thursday?

To get a point guard who seems very close to being an impossible partner for James Harden.

And I really think somebody should ask the question in Houston – did you guys watch any other playoff series but your own last spring?

The Westbrook we saw in the Portland-Oklahoma City, first-round series was one who was far below the public perception of what Westbrook is supposed to be. He’s a guy who thinks he can make all the big shots late in games and doesn’t understand that the reason the Trail Blazers were sagging about eight feet off him is that they WANTED him to shoot.

Don't fall for all that triple-double hype -- this guy is more relentless about that stat than he is about winning. He's prickly with not just the media but most people he comes in contact with, doesn't know how to gear his game down when the situation calls for it and, oh yeah -- he can't shoot.

I think this deal also sets up a situation with the starting Houston guards – Westbrook and Harden – fighting over the ball and ending up resenting each other. The only way I see this working is if Westbrook defers to Harden – because Harden isn’t going to defer to Westbrook. Nor should he.

And I don’t think Westbrook will defer to ANYBODY.

I can’t wait to see this in action. And to watch some Harden eyerolls after Westbrook clanks a few jumpers off the rim in the fourth quarter. And how crazy Westbrook is going to get while Harden is pounding the ball at the top of the circle waiting to beat somebody off the dribble.

Mike D'Antoni is going to need the touch of Houdini to make this work.

And that leaves the final question – Will the Thunder buy out Paul’s contract, freeing him to move to one of the superteams? I can’t imagine him being happy in OKC for more than a minute.

But of course, I can’t imagine anyone being happy in OKC.

Everything you need from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Houston Rockets

Everything you need from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Houston Rockets

With a current 5-7 road record, the Portland Trail Blazers visit the Houston Rockets who hold a 5-5 record at the Toyota Center. Before Portland and Houston tip-off in H-Town, both Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni addressed the media. The rotations for both Portland and Houston were a big topic of conversation.

The Rockets will change up their rotation tonight vs. the Blazers in order to shake things up. Coach D’Antoni said he is going to start Eric Gordon in place of James Ennis. "We just need a litte bit of more oomph in guys' performances," Coach D’Antoni told reporters.   

Coach D’Antoni also talked about how the Rockets haven't had too many bad starts, but he discussed how the second half of games, they have had a hard time scoring. Coach D’Antoni added, "we've got to cure that problem."

Hear from Coach D’Antoni:

Trail Blazers Injury Update: Maurice Harkless has been looking good and not been favoring his left leg as much. Coach Stotts has been pleased with the type of impact Harkless has had since coming back from the left knee injury. Harkless has now played the last nine games. 

Coach Stotts talked about how difficult it has been managing minutes between Harkless and Jake Layman. Stotts said it depends on the matchups, but he felt Layman earned minutes vs. Minnesota after his performance against the Suns. Coach said Layman's workload will be decided on a game-by-game basis. 

Hear from Coach Stotts:

Mature Trail Blazers take care of business against Rockets

USA Today

Mature Trail Blazers take care of business against Rockets

HOUSTON – On the second night of back-to-back games against a team that had three days to prepare, the Portland Trail Blazers showed some maturity we haven’t seen from them in recent seasons.

The Houston Rockets and the Trail Blazers sleepwalked through the first quarter and a half –- missing shots and turning the ball over at an alarming rate. But Portland woke up about halfway through that quarter and took a 51-36 lead into halftime.

The Rockets, admittedly playing without their best player, James Harden, never did wake up and the result was a 104-85 win over the Rockets – the Blazers’ third on the final game of a four-game trip.

That 15-point halftime lead has been precarious for the Trail Blazers in past seasons on the road. It can be erased in a hurry. But not on this night, Portland took care of business.

A couple of Jusuf Nurkic dunks, a jumper by CJ McCollum, a wide-open three-pointer from Jake Layman, a layup by Nurkic and the Blazers had taken over the game at 64-42.

“It’s part of maturity,” Damian Lillard said. “If you go up by 15 in the first half and maybe at halftime you think it’s going to be easy. A lot of times you forget how hard it was to do what you did in the first place.

“You might think it’s just going to continue. That shows growth on our part – we came out and we jumped right back into it. We kept the pace up, we defended, we screened, we got to spots and we kept the pressure on them. Once we figured out all the switches and the lead grew I sort of sat back and waited for the change but they never changed it. So I was like, ‘So all right, let’s just keep going downhill and keep going at it.’

“And the lead grew, I think if we can be that team consistently, we can be fine.”

It took the Trail Blazers a while to figure out the Rockets’ switching defense but once they solved the riddle they punished Houston’s small-on-big switches inside.

The Rockets beat the Blazers in a game last season without Harden but they are nowhere close to that same team right now. Their defense is in shambles, thanks in some degree to the addition of Carmelo Anthony to the squad.

Houston Coach Mike “D’Antoni made no attempt to sugar-coat how his team played.

“Last year, we played well,” he said. “Right now, we’re playing like crap. That’s the difference. We’re just not playing well. You know, I don’t have a whole lot of answers for you right now. We’ll look, we’ll fight it.

“Not making shots, not making foul shots, not making layups and last year we did.”

Somebody asked him if his team was searching for an offensive identity.

“Not identity,” he said. “Just searching for a basket every once in a while would be nice.”

D’Antoni also had a fresh way of describing what Portland did to his team to open the second half.

“The team basically smacked us a little bit,” he said.

Portland Coach Terry Stotts was proud of the way his team started the third quarter.

“That was really good,” he said. “To get a quick lead and jump out on them like that and get it up to 20, rather than give them any life early I think that was really important.”

Lillard knows by now what his league is like. Things can change – fast.

“The NBA,” he said, “It’s fragile. Things have to be done a certain way and there has to be a commitment made to keep it that way.

“I mean, I thought they were going to beat Golden State. But it’s not easy to be at that level. One guy gets hurt, one bad game – but you know they’re going to be one of the better teams.”

But they certainly weren’t Tuesday night.

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Pregame Notebook: Houston Rockets still trying to find their defensive identity

Pregame Notebook: Houston Rockets still trying to find their defensive identity

HOUSTON -- Before the Trail Blazers and Rockets tip-off at 5 p.m. tonight on NBC Sports Northwest and on the 'My Teams' App by NBC Sports, both coaches talked with the media pregame to discuss defensive schemes. 

Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni made a point to discuss how Houston's defensive issues so far this season is not on one player or a couple of players, it's a collective team problem that they are working through. 

When asked-- Did you have to re-sell the players on the defensive strategy?

Coach D'Antoni answered, “Yeah (laughs). I had to sell them on everything we do…Everybody’s got to be on the same page. Just showing them film and talking and trying to make a case for it (the defensive plan)…we gotta play better.” 

On if the switching defense style is struggling:

“It’s not the switching that hurts us. It’s the transition, it’s the turnovers early, it’s not matching up defensively when we get back there, it’s causing a silly foul at the end of guarding somebody well and bailing them out by fouling, it’s the low guy wasn’t here there and he should have been there….the one on one, everyone will do the best they can do. That doesn’t hurt us.”

For the Trail Blazers, head coach Terry Stotts was aksed, how having Maurice Harkless (left knee) in and out of the lineup due to injury impacts his preparation for games. 

“Not having Moe, affects the rotation, we’re not as good of a team probably without him because he’s a very versatile player,” Coach Stotts said.

In Harkless' absence, Jake Layman will start tonight again.

Coach Stotts also noted that the Rockets switching on defense is something his team is going to need to be aware of from the start. 

“It puts the onus on the offense to compete a little harder, read how their switching…if the slips are there, if the pop backs are there, rather than just conceded the switch and play one on one. That’s the easy thing to do. That’s what teams that move well and pass well can counter switching.”

During this four-game road trip for Portland, there's been a lot of talk about Zach Collins' defense. The Rockets media was very curious to hear more about what has made Collins such an elite defender in his young career.  

“I think he has great timing, good length, he’s fearless, he wants to be a good defender. I think he has defensive instinct. Defense is a talent. I think more than anything for a young big, sometimes the game moves too quickly but from day one he’s had good instincts,” Stotts said. 

Stotts also added that playing defense is not all about working hard... 

“Defense is a skill, it’s a talent. It’s more than just effort, that’s an easy cop-out…it’s experience. There’s a reason that the more experienced teams are generally the better defensive teams…I think the mental aspect of defense is every bit, or more, important than the physical attributes.”