The Trail Blazers, no doubt, will get their chance to fight for playoff berth

The Trail Blazers, no doubt, will get their chance to fight for playoff berth

When the NBA finally figures out what the end of the 2020 season will look like when it gets together, likely in Florida's version of the Magic Kingdom, rest assured the Trail Blazers will have some way, some path, to competing in the playoffs.

It will happen.

This league is smart enough to know that as many of its superstars and their fan bases as possible need to be a part of the NBA’s grand reopening. This is going to be happening in the middle of the summer in an unprecedented time of other sports also launching at approximately the same time -- with no fans present at any of the games. And at least in the NBA, no home games for any team.

Television ratings will be everything. And that’s going to be a dogfight between MLB, the NHL and NBA -- with the NFL looming. Anything that can be done to bring eyeballs to games should and will be done by all the leagues.

That means compelling players and matchups. Storylines. Proven ratings-getters. It also means games that count. Real games. And if teams not currently in the top 16 in the league standings aren't given a chance to somehow play their way into the postseason, they won't be playing meaningful games.

They shouldn't even be there.

The NBA is not shy about attempting to make its product as relevant as possible. It has always done everything possible -- above board and maybe sometimes not above board -- to bring fans the matchups the league thinks people want.

Damian Lillard drew a line in the sand Tuesday, telling the league that if his team doesn’t have a chance to play its way into the playoffs, you won’t see him on the court.

And you can bet the league office listened. But I would also wager that the NBA already knew that not only Lillard, but many of the league’s best and most important players feel the same way. I do not believe the NBA wants any part of a situation that leaves Lillard, or other great players, on the sidelines.

If teams aren’t competing for a playoff berth at some point, they’re just playing exhibition games -- and the best players don’t bother much with non-counting games.

So there will be a mechanism for several teams -- not just the Trail Blazers, who should be rejuvenated by the presence of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins -- but several other teams on the fringes of a playoff berth to have a shot at the playoffs.

The league wants Damian Lillard to play meaningful games. That translates into TV ratings.

Something else does, too -- and it plays into Portland’s playoff chances. Obviously, LeBron James is a ratings monster and the NBA was hurt all season by James playing on the west coast, making his games difficult to watch in the east. Ratings suffered.

And the league’s new ratings monster is Zion Williamson. Everyone knows this and you can’t talk to many people around the league who don’t believe that Zion makes a playoff/play-in scenario a necessity.

And guess what? The Trail Blazers have one more loss than Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans but also one more win and thus, if league standings are frozen now and used to determine playoff eligibility, Portland is one single, scant percentage point ahead of the Pels in the standings.

I don’t see any way the entire remainder of the schedule will be played -- there isn’t enough time. Something will be done based on the standings as they sit now.

So if Zion is in, the Trail Blazers are in. It’s that simple. You can’t put New Orleans in without putting Portland in. 

The league needs Zion and Dame -- and I just can’t see any way they will be left out.

It won’t happen. They will get their chance. Maybe not a great chance, but a chance.

Is Damian Lillard still underrated? One NBA player thinks so

Is Damian Lillard still underrated? One NBA player thinks so

Over the past five weeks, with no live sports and people staying home to help flatten the curve, many sports teams have been reaching out to their players for fun, unique interviews.

In a recent interview with Pelicans writer Jim Eichenhofer, New Orleans fans got to know rookie guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker a little bit better.  

The No. 17 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft shared a few of his favorite things away from basketball.

Alexander-Walker’s go-to healthy snack is “nutri-grain bars." He added, "the Nature Valley honey and oats bars, I probably eat about four of those a day from (the practice facility).”

As for his favorite musician, Alexander-Walker is listening to Drake.


The 21-year-old also revealed who he thinks is the most underrated player in the NBA right now.

The youngster may not have picked Dame D.O.L.L.A as his favorite musician, but he does believe Damian Lillard is the most underrated player in the league at the moment.

It’s going to sound weird to say, but Damian Lillard in my opinion is underrated. Countless years he proves himself to be one of the top point guards in the league. Oftentimes he’s left out (of the conversation) for the top 10 or top 15 players in the league, because there are a lot of household names, but I feel like he really deserves to be in that talk. -- Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker

In 58 games played this season, Lillard averaged a career-best in several statistical categories including field percentage, shooting an efficient 45.7 percent. 

The Trail Blazers' five-time All-Star has become more of “a household name” recently. But, with Lillard putting career-best numbers in points (28.9) and assists (7.8) this season, Alexander-Walker thinks more people need to take notice.

Trail Blazers have left themselves little margin for error in 'The Race for Eighth'

Trail Blazers have left themselves little margin for error in 'The Race for Eighth'

You could call it “The Race for Eighth.”

The Trail Blazers kicked off the critical final portion of their schedule Wednesday night with a home win over Washington.

And make no mistake, there are several winnable games ahead -- but Portland has left itself with very little margin for error if it is going to climb into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Six of the Blazers’ next seven games are at home, almost all of them against teams either virtually even with them in the standings or below them. Meaning, of course, those games must be won.

Portland travels to Phoenix for a Friday night game, returns to Moda for a Saturday contest vs. Sacramento, followed by home games vs. the Suns, Memphis, Houston, Minnesota and Dallas. After that, it’s back to the road for six games -- the last long trip of the season.

Portland is chasing Memphis in the standings right now, but New Orleans, Sacramento and San Antonio are also in the race. Keep in mind, the Trail Blazers have played Memphis just once so far and lost that game to the Grizzlies on the road. There are two contests left against Memphis, both in Portland, and they are close to must-wins for tiebreaker purposes.

Memphis is four games better than Portland in the loss column, which sets up some dramatic scenarios for the Blazers.

The Grizzlies are a .500 team and have 20 games left and if they win just half of them, they will finish at .500 -- 41-41. For the Trail Blazers to finish at .500, they must win both games vs. Memphis and 13 of their remaining 19, which is a lot to ask from a team that’s compiled a 28-35 record so far.

And that’s not even mentioning the possibility that one of the other teams in the Race for Eighth will get hot and pass up both Portland and Memphis.

Obviously, that record would be easier to attain if either Zach Collins or Jusuf Nurkic returned to the active roster to provide depth in the middle. But there is no word on when or if either of those players will be back this season.

You could find out launch codes for guided missiles easier than you can uncover condition reports on rehabbing Trail Blazer players.

Caleb Swanigan has been serving as the team’s backup center, but is more of a power forward than center and doesn’t provide the rim protection this squad needs to make its defense barely adequate. He fouled out in 10 minutes Wednesday night vs. the Wizards.

But the Trail Blazers have Damian Lillard back in the lineup and he doesn’t have an ounce of give-up in him. Surrender is not in his vocabulary.

“It’s a great opportunity to do something special,” he said with conviction Wednesday, prior to the game. “It’s going to be fun.”

CJ McCollum worried about stops, not buckets

CJ McCollum worried about stops, not buckets

It was a vision of what could have been: A glaring sight during Friday’s home contest against the New Orleans Pelicans.  

Smack dab in the middle of Portland’s bench sat Zach Collins, Mario Hezonja, Jusuf Nurkic, and Damian Lillard – all in suits, not suited up. 

Just out of view, sat Rodney Hood, who was watching from the second row of the bench wearing a boot on his left foot. 

Thinking about what this season could’ve been with a healthy Nurkic, Collins and Hood is something many have thought about over the past few weeks, but now, adding Lillard to the injured list, and his status is still relatively unknown, the Blazers looked to CJ McCollum Friday night. 

McCollum had no problem taking over the starting point guard duties. He can get his teammates involved when asked to do so, and he has every bit of confidence in running the team. 

It was just that the Pelicans were knocking down threes from all over the perimeter and in transition. 

New Orleans defeated Portland 128-115, but that wasn’t without a fight from McCollum and the Blazers.  

Stepping into his new role for the foreseeable future, McCollum was particularly active in finding the open man, especially early on. He had seven assists in the first quarter.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was pleased with how the 28-year-old shooting guard managed the game. 

“I thought CJ had a very good game. In the offense he picked his moments to try and score, obviously double-digit assists, I thought he played the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” Coach Stotts said postgame. 

With confidence in his voice, McCollum echoed a similar message in the locker room, but he would like to take better care of the ball from here on out. 

McCollum led all scores with 27 points on 10-of-22 shooting, to go along with tying his career high in assists with 10. 

Portland as a team shot 45.7 percent for the game. 

That’s not the problem and McCollum knows it. 

“I did a decent job. I had like five turnovers –too many turnovers, but outside of that, I thought offensively wasn’t the problem. Defensively was the bigger problem. We figure out ways to score, we always have, we’ve just got to tighten up at the other end.”

I think we competed, but I think just some lapses defensively. We fouled a lot in the first half. I think they shot like 28, 29 free throws in the first half which is too many easy points, so we’ve got to tighten that up but overall, I thought we competed. Just didn’t play well enough defensively to win. -- Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum 

New Orleans shot an efficient 53.6 percent from the field, including an impressive 52.9 percent from behind the arc

With Lillard expecting to miss three to five games with a right groin strain, it’s not just putting a strain on McCollum, even though his teammates are recognizing that it is McCollum who will have to overcome the most.

As the season has progressed, so has Lillard and Hassan Whiteside’s pick and roll action. 

McCollum had a good connection with the Blazers starting center early on Friday night, but those two will need to continue to develop a good two-man game with Lillard out. 

Whiteside finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, good for his 42nd double-double of the season. 

The Blazers 7-footer mentioned after the loss that a lot of the play calling now falls on McCollum, even though coach Stotts said pregame that he would help in facilitating some of the plays more with Lillard out. 

“I know it’s going to be tougher for everybody,” Whiteside said when talking about not having Lillard for the next handful of games. “It’s going to be tougher for me, it’s going to be tougher for CJ because we’ve been playing a lot through [Lillard] and he makes a lot of decisions out there, but like I said, we’ve got to come out here and keep competing. We’ve got the first one under our belt, let’s move on to Detroit and get a win there. That’s a must win.”

Keep competing along with running opponents off the three-point line and getting back in transition to limit easy fast break buckets -- those are just a few of the Blazers’ action items while their five-time All-Star is sidelined. 

And with that, the 19-39 Detroit Pistons might be just what the doctor ordered for Portland. 

New Orleans outside shooting upstages Zion as Blazers fall at home

New Orleans outside shooting upstages Zion as Blazers fall at home

A whole lot of people came to see rookie sensation Zion Williamson Friday night in Moda Center as his New Orleans Pelicans hit town to meet the Trail Blazers.

Williamson gave them a 25-point show, hitting 10 of his 17 shots on the way to 25 points. It wasn’t spectacular, though, as he claimed only four rebounds, hit just half of his 10 free throws and finished with a zero in his plus-minus column, while his team posted a 128-115 win over the Trail Blazers.

The more spectacular show was the New Orleans outside shooting. The Pels were 18-34 from three-point range and every time Portland mounted any sort of rally, somebody stepped up to knock down a three to kill the momentum.

“That’s always tough,” Carmelo Anthony said. “You play a whole possession of defense and they get an offensive rebound or a kick out for a three. We make a run and they silence that with a three. Those are always momentum killers, right there.”

The starting New Orleans guards, Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball, were a combined 7-11 from three-point range, Brandon Ingram was 3-4 and Josh Hart 3-3. The Trail Blazers never led in the game and were tied just once.

And while the Pelicans were firing away at a 52.9 percent pace from the outside, Portland just couldn’t keep up, hitting 10 of 27 -- meaning the Blazers were beaten by 24 points from the three-point line.

The Trail Blazers didn’t defend well enough to win and it would be difficult to blame their offense for this loss.

The Pels got pretty much what they wanted, when they wanted it. The game was as close as it was only because New Orleans managed to make just 20 of its 33 free throws.

It was Portland’s first full game after Damian Lillard’s groin injury and the Trail Blazers were very short-handed even before that happened. But with Lillard out, nothing is going to come easy.

“I know it’s going to be tougher for everybody,” said Hassan Whiteside, who had 19 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks for the Trail Blazers. “It’s going to be tougher for me, tougher for CJ -- because we’ve been playing a lot through (Lillard). And he makes a lot of decisions out there,

“But like I said, we’ve got to come out here and keep competing. We’ve got the first one under our belt, let’s move on to Detroit (Sunday night in Moda) and get a win. That’s a must-win.”

At this point, you could call all of them must-wins.

There are only 25 games left in the season and nobody knows how many of those will be played without Lillard. Portland still trails Memphis by four games in the loss column for the final playoff spot and must hold off the Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs in their rearview mirror.

It’s not going to be easy.

Instant Analysis: Short-handed Blazers can't slow down Zion, Pelicans

Instant Analysis: Short-handed Blazers can't slow down Zion, Pelicans

With no Damian Lillard (groin strain) Friday night, Gary Trent Jr. got the starting nod as CJ McCollum shifted to point guard with Portland hosting the New Orleans Pelicans.  

And the Pelicans were red hot against the Blazers both inside and out.

New Orleans started the game hitting 12 of its first 16 shot attempts (5-of-6 from three).

Behind Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram’s 10 points each, the Pelicans scored 40 first quarter points.

New Orleans didn’t cool down until early in the third quarter. Portland cut the lead to seven midway through the third after the Pelicans had led by as many as 19 points.

Just when it looked like the Blazers could be within striking distance, the Pelicans went on a 12-0 run to close the third quarter. The Pelicans took that momentum into the final period to run away with the win. 


Here are three quick takeaways from Friday’s loss:

1. McCollum steps into new role

Following Thursday’s practice, CJ McCollum discussed how he would have to get his teammates involved and be able to manage the game with Lillard sidelined. McCollum was very active in finding his open teammate Friday night. He had seven assists in the first quarter. He also had as many points in the first 12 minutes. McCollum and the rest of the Blazer wings made a conscience effort to get the ball down low to Carmelo Anthony. Melo took advantage of smaller defenders, bodying them up on the block. He found success down low and at the free throw line.  

2. Pelicans don’t cash in on free throws

After not blowing the whistle that much to start the game, the Blazers started racking up fouls midway through the first quarter. By halftime, Portland had committed 18 personal fouls. Yet, the Pelicans weren’t able to convert from the free throw line. Their 10-point lead at the break could’ve been much larger.

New Orleans went 16-of-28 from the charity stripe in the first half.  Zion Williamson had 19 points at the half, but he went just 5-of-10 from the line.

3. Portland struggled to get stops

The Trail Blazers were able to put up plenty of points on the board. It was on the other end of the ball where the Blazers struggled.

When Portland would make a run, the Pelicans would knock down a corner three or rack up second chance points, or find a way to get a timely bucket.

Up Next: The Trail Blazers continue their three-game homestand Sunday night when Portland hosts the Detroit Pistons. The Blazers and Pistons will tip-off at 6:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams App.

Be sure to check back throughout the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Gary Trent Jr. will get the start vs. Pelicans

USA Today Images

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Gary Trent Jr. will get the start vs. Pelicans

Before the Trail Blazers and Pelicans tip-off at 7:30p.m. tonight on NBC Sports Northwest and on the 'MyTeams' App, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts discussed how his team needs to be much better in transition and make sure they don’t turn the ball over too much to give New Orleans more transition opportunities.  

Coach Stotts also described Zion Williamson as ‘dynamic,’ but mentioned that the Pelicans ‘have a lot of good shooters.’

Stotts added that Gary Trent Jr. will get the start with Damian Lillard (right groin strain) out.



Damian Lillard (right groin strain), Mario Hezonja (left ankle sprain), Rodney Hood (left ruptured Achilles tendon), Zach Collins (left shoulder dislocation), and Jusuf Nurkic (left leg fracture) are out for Friday's game vs. New Orleans.


Darius Miller (right Achilles surgery), Kenrich Williams (lower back soreness), Josh Gray (Two-way) and Zylan Cheatham (Two-way) are out.


Friday's game will be the fourth and final matchup between the Trail Blazers and the Pelicans during the 2019-20 season. New Orleans leads the season series, 3-0.

-- LAST MEETING: New Orleans beat Portland, 138-117, in New Orleans on Feb. 11. CJ McCollum led Portland with 20 points (7-17 FG, 4-8 3-PT, 2-2 FT), one rebound and three assists, while Zion Williamson paced the Pelicans with a career-high 31 points (10-17 FG, 11-14 FT), nine rebounds, and a career-high five assists.

-- Portland and New Orleans have split their last 10 meetings, 5-5. The Trail Blazers swept the 2018-19 season series, 3-0.

-- CJ McCollum has scored at least 20 points in each of his last five outings against the Pelicans, going 14-of-35 (40.0%) from 3-PT range over that five-game span.

-- Hassan Whiteside recorded 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go with 14 rebounds, three assists and one block against the Pelicans on Feb. 11. Whiteside has recorded a double-double in each of his last four games against New Orleans.

-- JJ Redick had 20 points (5-10 FG, 4-7 3-PT, 6-6 FT), two rebounds and two assists against Portland on Feb. 11. Redick is averaging 18.0 points (50.0% FG, 50.0% 3-PT, 91.7% FT) in three games against Portland this season.

-- Brandon Ingram missed the Pelican's last game against the Trail Blazers with a right ankle sprain, but on Dec. 23 put up 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals against Portland. He is averaging 20.0 points (36.8% FG, 30.0% 3-PT, 100% FT), 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.00 steals in two games against the Trail Blazers this season.

How to watch, stream Blazers vs. Pelicans tonight at 7:30pm

USA Today Images

How to watch, stream Blazers vs. Pelicans tonight at 7:30pm

That’s a wrap on the 2020 NBA All-Star break. The Trail Blazers (25-31) are back at it Friday night when Portland hosts the New Orleans Pelicans (23-32).

After Thursday’s practice, Damian Lillard, who suffered a groin strain in the final minutes of Portland’s loss to Memphis on Feb. 12th, said he would miss at least three to four games starting with Friday’s contest.

The good news for Friday’s game: Blazers forward Nassir Little is making his return. Little suffered a left ankle sprain while trying to block a shot from Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar with 37.9 seconds remaining in the Blazers 127-99 loss in Denver on Feb. 4.

You can watch all the action between the Blazers and Pelicans game on NBC Sports Northwest, the Official Network of the Portland Trail Blazers and you can stream the game on our website or by downloading the MyTeams app!

And, have you heard about Blazers Pass? Tonight's Warriors game is the first game of the "Blazers Pass Season!"

You can get 15 live Trail Blazers games, pre and postgame shows, and on-demand full-game replays with Blazers Pass! (Only available to fans located in Blazers Territory, pursuant to NBA rules and agreements. No TV provider required. Subscription Period: November 4, 2019 - April 16, 2020. Subscription auto-renews prior to start of next season.)

Don't miss any of the coverage of tonight's game:

3:30pm Blazers Game Day with Chad Doing

6:30pm Blazers Warm-Up

7:00pm Trail Blazers Pregame Show

7:30pm Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans

After the game catch Blazers Outsiders with hosts Joe Simons and Dan Marang!

Plus, we’ll have full coverage of the game from Dwight JaynesJamie Hudson and our digital team. Follow us on social throughout the night for the latest updates. 


"Just play hard. That's the biggest thing. Play hard, try to execute, keep the game close and win it down the stretch. Protect home court and just make sure I'm putting guys in the best position to succeed. Dame does a lot for us offensively - calling plays, facilitating and scoring -  I'll have to do a little bit more of that. At the same time, one person isn't gonna replace his production. We gotta all be better." - CJ McCollum on stepping up while Damian Lillard is sidelined  

Zion Williamson is virtually unstoppable and the Trail Blazers learned the hard way

Zion Williamson is virtually unstoppable and the Trail Blazers learned the hard way

NEW ORLEANS – Seeing is believing, believing is seeing... Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson live and in person... it's something else.

Tuesday night, the Trail Blazers got their first look at Zion and he proved to be a force down low.

After Portland got off to a hot start in the first quarter, it looked as though the Blazers could be on their way to an easy victory in the Big Easy.

But, the Pelicans climbed their way back into it, in part, because of the points in the paint from the 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick. New Orleans ended up taking it to the Blazers, blowing out the Trail Blazers, 138-117.  

It was Williamson’s first game back from an ankle sprain. It’s safe to say he’s feeling a lot better.

He scored a career-high 31 points on 10-of-17 shooting in just his ninth game of his young NBA career.  

At 6’6” and 284 pounds, Zion is a beast to deal with. But, the Blazers seemed a bit surprised by Williamson’s quickness. 

Following Tuesday’s game, Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts described the challenges that the 19-year-old brings to the court. 

“He’s dynamic. He’s very explosive, quick jumper, quick reactor, and he was quick to the ball. He first step was quick, so with that strength and quickness it’s a tough matchup,” Stotts said.

Williamson is averaging 19.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists so far this season.

He played just 28 minutes Tuesday night thanks to both teams pulling their starters early in the final quarter with the game well in-hand.

Damian Lillard, who finished with 20 points, six assists, and five rebounds in the loss discussed how the Williamson has found success so early in his NBA career. 

He’s just really strong, really physical, athletic and you know, he lives in the paint. I think with his strength and athleticism it’s a lot of pressure on guys to try not to foul him and also, just try not to give him position to where he gonna be getting dunks and lay-ups… It’s just him being tough to deal with. -- Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard 

Yes, Williamson got to the free throw line, too.

A lot.

He went 11-for-14 from the charity stripe.  

It begs the question: Can an NBA rookie get ‘superstar’ calls already?

If you ask CJ McCollum... yes, he is... 

“He’s strong, finishes well, and is a fast kid. He already gets the superstar calls.” McCollum said with a smile.

It’s not just Zion’s bullish way about him, it’s also that there hasn’t been too many opportunities to scout him with him only playing a total of nine games up to this point.

“You defend him with all five,” McCollum said. “Try to make it difficult. Keep him off the line. I think he had 30 on all lay-ups and free throws… Try to keep him away from the basket and hope the refs don’t call fouls. I don’t know. He’s only played like seven games, so people haven’t figure out how to stop him yet.”

The game will undoubtedly catch up with Zion. Players will figure out how to defend him. But, Zion will develop and grow, too. Which makes for an intriguing chess match for many years to come. 

The 3rd quarter and 3-point shots doom Trail Blazers in New Orleans

The 3rd quarter and 3-point shots doom Trail Blazers in New Orleans

The number three was a big problem for the Trail Blazers Tuesday night in New Orleans.

The third quarter was the turning point of the game, where Portland was outscored 41-21 by the Pelicans. And three-point field goals? Mission impossible.

Between them, Damian Lillard and Gary Trent split a 0-8 shooting night from distance and their team was an anemic 7-29.

Three strikes and you’re out. And Portland, which led by 16 points during a furious first quarter, by nine when the quarter ended and by two at the half, were steamrolled in the third quarter and Zion Williamson was driving that machine.

It was a downright brutal 12 minutes.

“Transitions for the most part,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Offensively, I don’t know what we shot in the quarter, but we gave up a lot of transitions. Some of it was them and some of it was us. I think the boxscore had them for 17 fast-break points.

“When we didn’t score, they were getting out and running. In the third quarter, we missed some shots and gave them momentum.

“We made our run in the first quarter. That minute and a half where we got a lot of turnovers and converted them in transition. That little minute and a half stretch was kind of an anomaly.

“Other than that run, the first half was kind of even, as well.”

The Pels made 18 of their 28 third-quarter shots and Portland hit just 6 of 18. The rebounds were a ridiculous 17-4 and the assists were 13-3.

Talk about getting slapped around -- the Trail Blazers were the JV team playing against the varsity in the third quarter, when the Pelicans did have 17 fast-break points to Portland’s 2.

That won’t work.

“Our energy wasn’t there,” Lillard said. They made all the effort plays. They just outplayed us. We lost that quarter by 20. When you have that kind of quarter, it’s tough to win on the road.”

And on Wednesday, the team travels to Memphis for a big contest against a team the Blazers trail in the standings by guess how many games?