Orlando Magic

The NBA's return to play format could be rife with schedule inequities

The NBA's return to play format could be rife with schedule inequities

The NBA has announced dates and teams for the resumption of its 2020 season, but there is still one big important factor that hasn’t been revealed, at least to the public:

The schedules for those six teams hoping to play their way into the 16-team playoff bracket.

Keep in mind, teams with schedules that featured games vs. non-playoff teams late in the interrupted season will lose their opportunity to play those teams. Any games included in their final eight scheduled for Orlando will have to be against the 22 teams that are there in the bubble.

Some of the six teams trying to play their way into the playoffs have already had the benefit of playing those softer teams. Some were awaiting the chance, but won’t get it because those teams won’t be in Orlando.

And some of the six may end up getting Washington or Phoenix on their eight-game schedule and others may not. This sets up serious inequities in the format.

I believe what should have happened is that the eight teams in contention for the two playoff berths should have played a round robin. Same schedule, same chances for advancement. Instead, the league has reportedly chosen to try to stick to original schedules as much as possible, even though eight games won't be enough to complete that full 82-game schedule.

It isn't going to make much sense. And in fact, Phoenix and Washington, the two unexpected teams added, did not have a realistic chance to climb into the 16-team field had the season not been halted. Nobody has explained why they were included.

An interesting question now will be answered when the eight-game schedule is revealed -- who gets to play Phoenix and Washington? Who gets to play Orlando, which wasn’t expected to have to protect its No. 8 spot in the weak Eastern Conference?

And the teams that do play them will most certainly prefer those games over contests versus some of the league powerhouses.

And that, in itself, could have been enough reason for a franchise to vote against 22 teams, rather than 20, playing in Orlando.

Sources say NBA likely to go with 22 teams -- what will that look like?

Sources say NBA likely to go with 22 teams -- what will that look like?

The NBA is expected to announce later this week its plans for resuming the season this summer in Orlando, Fla., at Disney World. A part of that announcement should be a glimpse of what that plan will look like and who will play.

According to league sources, a format involving 22 teams has the most support. But the exact look of this has apparently still not been decided.

However, playing the numbers game provides some possibilities. The NBA uses a 16-team playoff structure and a 22-team field would mean six other teams aside from the 16 now sitting in the playoffs at the conclusion of the truncated season, would be included in some sort of expanded postseason scenario.

Figuring out those six teams is an interesting guessing game.

There are five Western Conference teams, Portland, New Orleans, San Antonio, Sacramento and Phoenix, within six games of Memphis, the eighth-place team in the West. There is one team, Washington, within six games of Orlando, the No. 8 team in the East.

That would be a six-team addition to the playoff field, which would, we assume, be involved in some sort of tournament to earn playoff inclusion. The idea of World Cup/group play has not gained much support.

Of course, given that this format includes teams in both conferences, it would be assumed that the eighth-place teams in each conference would also be included in this playoff. You would be competing with those teams for their spots and it would set up an eight-team tournament.

I would also surmise, then, that two teams would advance from this mini-tournament into the usual 16-team NBA playoff. The two winning teams could be split in each conference to be part of a 1-8 playoff or, more likely, just be the final two seeds in a 1-16 playoff format, with no regard for conferences.

I have no idea how the league would stage an eight-team mini-playoff -- whether games played prior to that tourney or regular-season standings, would provide seeding, or if current eighth-place teams would get a bye.

But this format would be innovative, include a lot of fanbases and provide some new teams a chance to jump into the postseason. Got a better idea? I’m open to suggestions.

Gary Trent Jr. 'phenomenal' in Trail Blazers' win over Magic

Gary Trent Jr. 'phenomenal' in Trail Blazers' win over Magic

Sometimes, good things can come about because of bad happenings. And when Damian Lillard was sidelined with a groin injury just prior to the All-Star break, it was most certainly a very bad thing for the Trail Blazers.

But there’s a silver lining in that dark cloud and its name is Gary Trent Jr.

Trent had slowly been emerging as a positive factor off the bench for Portland all season, but since he moved into the starting lineup alongside CJ McCollum in the backcourt, he’s been terrific.

Monday night in Orlando, Trent hit 9 of his 16 shots from the field and went 4-6 from three-point range on the way to 24 points in 34 minutes.

“He’s aggressive, he gets to his spots, he defends well, he’s strong and he’s confident,” said CJ McCollum, who continued his standout play with 41 points. “He showed you guys what we already knew about his scoring ability.”

And in the fourth quarter, which the Trail Blazers entered with just a four-point lead, Trent stepped into a starring role, hitting five of his seven shots, including 2-3 from three-point territory, scoring 14.

“That’s what you work hard for,” Trent said of the final quarter. “The fourth quarter is when you’re relatively tired, you’ve been playing the whole game, that’s when you’ve got to lock in.

“You put in hours and reps into it. You have the mentality to not let fatigue take away from the mental aspect or physical part of it. Just staying ready and staying locked in.”

And Portland was locked in enough to outscore the Magic 38-19 in the fourth quarter.

Trent was a plus-15 in that period. "Gary was phenomenal," Carmelo Anthony said simply.

“Gary made a lot of good plays to get his shots,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Gary’s had a really good season. He’s gotten better as the season has gone along.”

In his six games in the starting lineup since Lillard’s injury, Trent has made 45.8 percent of his shots from the floor, including 44.8 percent from three-point range.

“We need it frankly, without Damian.,” Stotts said. “He’s gained a lot of confidence.”

And it isn’t all about Trent’s shooting, as his coach is always quick to point out.

“As much as you look at his shotmaking,” Stotts said, “his defense is what has kept him on the court more often than not.”

It is believed that Lillard will return to the lineup for Wednesday night’s home game vs. Washington and that means Trent will likely return to the bench.

But that will give the beleaguered Portland reserves a shot in the arm that they need on both ends of the court.

CJ McCollum took over for the Trail Blazers, 'doing what he does'

CJ McCollum took over for the Trail Blazers, 'doing what he does'

ORLANDO – It’s been a trying season for the Portland Trail Blazers, to say the least. 

They’ve faced a lot of adversity.

But, when they suited up against the Orlando Magic Monday night, their faces said it all.

The look of determination was clear from the jump.

CJ McCollum, particularly played with a little extra fire. And, it wasn’t just the third quarter technical foul that he received after arguing an offensive foul call, which he simply said postgame he wasn’t happy about that call.

Monday night was all about McCollum and the Blazers playing a complete game in order to walk away with a 130-107 drubbing of the Magic

Portland stuck to its guns Monday. There was not one player who didn’t look determined and confident to end their three game trip on a good note and snap a three-game losing streak.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was most pleased with his team playing a more complete game than we have seen in awhile.

Of course, it was also helpful that McCollum got hot from three and dropped 41 points. He shot 14-for-24 from the floor and an efficient 6-of-12 from deep.

“Offensively, CJ had a great first half,” Stotts said. “He came back in the second half and obviously played well… I like the way we moved the ball. I think we had 16 assists at halftime… I thought we just played a solid game from start to finish.”

McCollum also finished with five of the team’s 27 assists.

Sharing was definitely caring on Monday night, and Carmelo Anthony knew it.

“Moving the ball, playing the right way. I thought that today we played the right way… We shared the ball… CJ put us on his back tonight,” Melo said. 

In taking over the point guard responsibilities with Damian Lillard out for his sixth straight game due to a right groin strain, McCollum also made sure to get to the free throw line more than usual. He went a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe in the win.

The Trail Blazers guard had some help, too, from Gary Trent Jr., who finished with 24 points after going 4-for-6 from three.

Some may a bit surprised about how Trent’s season has come along. He is playing with a lot of confidence and looking comfortable out there, but there was no surprising Trent with McCollum’s performance Monday.

It’s just what Trent and many have become to expect with McCollum. 

It’s not surprising. That’s CJ. That’s what CJ does. He does it day in and day out. I get to see him work on it every day in practice, so when it comes to game time and it look as effortless and flawless as it does, it’s no surprise.   – Trail Blazers shooting guard Gary Trent Jr.

McCollum is averaging 33.3 points while Lillard has been sidelined. Monday’s game was McCollum’s second 41-points performance during that span.

Just like it was written on his face before and during the game, after the game he discussed how important his effort was in order to get the W.

“I just got to my spots,” McCollum said of putting 41. “Guys set good screens, got to the free throw line a little bit. There was a good pace to the game. I just tried to put my emphasis on my effort on the game, and help us get a win.”

The Blazers now sit in ninth place in the Western Conference in what is a tight race between the teams just outside the final playoff spot. Portland is three games back of the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies. 

This may have been McCollum’s final time filling the starting point guard role with Lillard reportedly returning Wednesday night when the Blazers host the Wizards. But, all McCollum and the Blazers wanted to do was get the victory before going back to Portland.

“We wanted to get at least one going back. We dropped two of them. We felt like we should’ve won at least one of those two, but we didn’t. That’s our reality. We had to right some of our wrongs before we go back home.” 

Instant Analysis: Things got heated, but Blazers finish road trip with win over Magic

Instant Analysis: Things got heated, but Blazers finish road trip with win over Magic

ORLANDO – The Trail Blazers put the first seven points on the board before the Magic went on a 17-4 run.

The first quarter was a battle from the three-point line; while CJ McCollum took it upon himself to help his team get back on track following Orlando’s big run early in the quarter. Portland held a 35-28 lead behind McCollum’s 17-first-quarter points. The Blazers started off the game 6-of-11 from behind the arc, while Orlando hit 4-of-11.

All season, Portland’s opponents have taken advantage of open looks from three and Monday was no different.

However, the Trail Blazers ball movement and hot shooting helped them take a 69-58 lead at halftime.

Monday’s game was real chippy in the second half. McCollum was hit for a technical foul late in the third quarter after arguing an offensive foul that was called on him. Earlier in the third, Hassan Whiteside was called for a technical for what looked like a stare down following his putback dunk.  And then, in the fourth quarter, Mario Hezonja and Mo Bamba were charged with double technicals with the two getting into it right under the basket.

Despite the techs, Portland was able to hold on and beat Orlando, thanks to Gary Trent Jr.’s late game heroics from three. With the win, the Blazers snapped a three-game losing streak.  

FINAL BOX SCORE: TRAIL BLAZERS 130, MAGIC 107

Here are three quick takeaways from Monday’s win:

1.  McCollum taking his time

The Blazers pick and roll action between CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside worked well against the Magic, particularly early on. McCollum showed off is his patience in the pick and roll, making sure to see what the defense gave him before executing his next move.

He also took his time one-on-one against Evan Fournier. There were even a couple of times that Orlando fans oohed and awed over McCollum’s midrange game.  Heading into the final quarter, McCollum had notched 32 points and four assists.

In taking over the point guard responsibilities with Damian Lillard out for his sixth straight game with a right groin strain, McCollum made sure to get to the free throw line more than he has been this season. Whether it was his three-point shooting, midrange game, or finishing at the rim, McCollum was determined to get back in the win column.  

2. Three-point shooting an issue again for Blazers

As has been the major problem during Portland’s three-game road trip, Orlando was able to connect from long distance with a good majority of the threes being uncontested.

With four minutes into the second quarter, Terrence Ross knocked down the Magic’s 9th three-pointer. Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was then quick to call for Trevor Ariza to check back into the game. Portland’s second unit struggled to get a hand in the Magic’s face from deep.

Once the Blazer starters returned to the game, Orlando’s three-point shooting started slipping late in the second quarter. Ross though made 4-of-11 from three in through the first three quarters. He was a huge boost off the bench for the Magic.  

3. Vucevic taking over

Nikola Vucevic kept Orlando in the game in the first half. The big man took Hassan Whiteside out to the three-point line, but with Whiteside reluctant to come out that far, Vucevic had some great looks from three that he knocked down. At the half, he had 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 2-of-4 from deep. But, he was also cleaning up the glass. Vucevic had 8 rebounds in his first 19 minutes of play. He wasn’t as involved in the offense in the second half, but still managed to finish with 30 points and 11 boards.

Up Next: The Trail Blazers head back home to host the Washington Wizards Wednesday night. Catch all the action between the Blazers and Wizards at 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams App.

Check back throughout tonight and tomorrow for more articles and videos from the player!

Pregame Notebook: Magic Aaron Gordon out vs. Blazers

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Pregame Notebook: Magic Aaron Gordon out vs. Blazers

ORLANDO – The Trail Blazers are looking to finish their three-game road trip on a high note Monday night.

Before the Trail Blazers and Magic tip-off at 4:00p.m. PT today on NBC Sports Northwest and on the 'MyTeams' App, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts spoke with the media about tonight’s matchup.  

The Magic announced about two hours before tip-off that forward Aaron Gordon will be out due to right knee inflammation. With no Gordon and forward Jonathan Isaac, Orlando will have a thinner frontcourt.

Coach Stotts discussed how no Gordon on the floor changes the Magic.

“What he brings with his athleticism at both ends it just changes. To be honest it will be interesting to see how Steve [Clifford] uses his lineups, whether he stays big – I would imagine there will be some smaller lineups out there,” Stotts said.

HEAR FROM COACH STOTTS HERE:

BLAZERS INJURY REPORT:

 Anfernee Simons (right ankle sprain) is questionable; Damian Lillard (right groin strain), Rodney Hood (left ruptured Achilles tendon), Zach Collins (left shoulder dislocation), and Jusuf Nurkic (left leg fracture) are out for Monday's game at Orlando.

MAGIC INJURY REPORT:

Aaron Gordon (right knee), Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee; torn meniscus) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee; posterior lateral corner/media bone contusion) are out.

STANDOUT GAME NOTES:

-- Monday's meeting will round out the two-game series between the Trail Blazers and Magic during the 2019-20 season. Portland leads the season series, 1-0.

-- The Trail Blazers have won six consecutive games against the Magic, dating back to Jan. 13, 2017.

-- PROTECTING THE PAINT: Portland and Orlando are two of the top-five teams in terms of blocks per game. The Trail Blazers are third at 6.2, while the Magic are fifth at 5.9.

-- LAST MEETING: Portland defeated Orlando at Moda Center on Dec. 20, 118-103. Damian Lillard paced Portland with 30 points (8-17 FG, 3-9 3-PT, 11-12 FT), seven rebounds, six assists and one steal, while Nikola Vucevic led Orlando with 23 points (9-20 FG, 5-7 FT), 12 rebounds, one assist, a career-high six steals and two blocks.

-- CJ McCollum scored 31 points (12-20 FG, 4-8 3-PT, 3-3 FT) to go with seven rebounds, four assists and one steal in Portland's Dec. 20 win over Orlando. McCollum's 31-point performance was a career-best against the Magic. He has scored at least 20 points in seven of his last nine games opposite Orlando.

-- Hassan Whiteside had 10 points (3-9 FG, 4-6 FT) to go with 17 rebounds and five blocks against Orlando on Dec. 20. He has reached double-figures in scoring in each of his last six games against the Magic, averaging 12.8 points on 53.0% shooting over that span.

-- DJ Augustin recorded 17 points (6-16 FG, 2-8 3-PT, 3-4 FT), one rebound and three assists for the Magic against Portland on Dec. 20. Augustine has scored in double-figures in four of his last five games against the Trail Blazers, and is 14-of-15 from the FT line over that stretch. 

Trail Blazers Shootaround Notebook: Anfernee Simons feeling good ahead of Magic

Trail Blazers Shootaround Notebook: Anfernee Simons feeling good ahead of Magic

ORLANDO – It was late in the third quarter of Saturday’s loss to the Hawks, when backup guard Anfernee Simons suffered a sprained left ankle.

He played through the pain for nearly three possessions after rolling his ankle while going up for a defensive rebound. 

As the Blazers went through shootaround Monday morning in preparation for the Orlando Magic, Simons said he felt ‘good’ going through shootaround.

The No. 24 pick of the 2018 NBA Draft had his left ankle taped, but was able to get shots up and work on his footwork with no real ill-effects.  

I feel good. It’s not that bad to where I should sit out, but you know, I think I’m going to go through my pregame warm-up and see how it feels. -- Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons 

Simons had a smile on his face knowing, that he had been listed as questionable for tonight’s contest, but he really feels like he will give it a go.

“Right now I’d say I’m a game-time decision, but I’m leaning towards playing though.”

Which, of course, is a positive for the injury-riddled Trail Blazers, who will be without Damian Lillard for the sixth-straight game as Lillard continues to rehab a strained groin while back in Portland.  

The Trail Blazers and Magic tip-off from the Amway Center at 4:00 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams app. 

How to watch, stream Trail Blazers at Magic today at 4:00pm

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How to watch, stream Trail Blazers at Magic today at 4:00pm

ORLANDO – The Trail Blazers (26-35) loss 129-117 to the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night. As Portland heads into its final game of this current three-game road trip, the Blazers are now 1-4 since the All-Star break and losers of six of their last seven.

Now Portland turns its attention to the Orlando Magic (27-33), who are coming off a 94-85 victory over Cleveland. The Blazers took game one of the series, 118-103 back on Dec. 21. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 67 points.

The Blazers fell 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies and one game behind the New Orleans Pelicans following Saturday’s loss.

You can watch the Blazers-Magic 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?

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:

1:30pm Blazers Game Day with Chad Doing

3:00pm Blazers Warm-Up

3:30pm Trail Blazers Pregame Show

4:00pm Trail Blazers vs. Magic

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

Plus, for full coverage of the game make sure to follow Dwight JaynesJamie Hudson and our digital team. Follow us on social throughout the night for the latest updates. 

Quotable

“The defensive play before, we was trying to get the rebound. I kind of landed on somebody’s foot and I kind of rolled it. I tried to play through the offensive possession and I tried to shoot the lay-up and I came back down and couldn’t go no more, so I asked to come out.” -- Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons on his sprained left ankle

REPORT: Damian Lillard will not travel to meet team in Orlando

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REPORT: Damian Lillard will not travel to meet team in Orlando

ATLANTA – It sounds like the Trail Blazers will wrap-up their current three-game road trip in Orlando with no Damian Lillard.

According to a conversation between Lillard and The Athletic’s Jason Quick, the five-time All-Star will not meet the team in Orlando following tonight’s game in Atlanta as Lillard continues to rehab his right groin strain.

There was a possibility that Lillard could meet up with the team at a later date after the Blazers flew out of Portland to Indianapolis Wednesday morning.  

Monday’s contest against the Magic will mark the sixth game that Lillard will miss with the injury. Heading into Saturday’s game in Atlanta, the Blazers are 1-3 with Lillard sidelined.

Trail Blazers facing reality on upcoming three-game road trip

Trail Blazers facing reality on upcoming three-game road trip

The Portland Trail Blazers have 23 games remaining on their regular-season slate.

Twenty-three games to try and move up and seize the eighth and final playoff spot out West. Entering Wednesday’s games, the Trail Blazers currently sit in the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings, 3.5 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies.

And, it's now confirmed that the Blazers will have at least a couple more games without their All-Star Damian Lillard.

Lillard did not travel with the team Wednesday morning as the Blazers set out on their current three-game road trip.  

Following the All-Star break, Lillard was asked how many games he expected to miss as he continued to rehab a right groin strain. "If I had to guess I would say at least 3-4 games. Maybe five games," Lillard said. 

The Trail Blazers point guard has already missed three games with the injury. There’s still a chance Lillard could meet the team at a later date on the trip.

But, as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts discussed following Tuesday’s loss to the Celtics, the team’s medical staff must clear Lillard first and foremost. 

“It’s usually a mutual decision,” Stotts said of Lillard and the medical staff. “We have to clear him medically, and this is not just Damian, it’s any player. He has to be cleared medically and then the player has to feel if he’s up to play or not. That’s not specific to Damian, that’s just the right thing to do. Ultimately, the player knows whether he feels 100% and if he’s ready to go.”

Portland has been relying heavily on CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony with Lillard sidelined. The two veterans have mentioned that they have to step up, but they also realize the number one priority is for Lillard to only come back when he is completely healthy.

“It’s an adjustment. It’s an adjustment for everybody, starting with the guys on the bench, as a team, and as a whole, you lose a component like that to injury, but… Dame's got to get healthy, that’s the most important part -- is for him to be healthy,” Melo said.

With Lillard sidelined, the Blazers have gone 1-2. It’s been apparent that Portland has missed the two-man game between Lillard and Hassan Whiteside. 

Late in Tuesday’s game vs. Boston, McCollum and Whiteside showed that they too could have a pretty solid connection. Whiteside finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds in the losing effort.

But the big fella understands that they have to continue to come together with their team captain out.  

“There’s nothing we can do about injuries. Injuries pretty much have been haunting us all season,” Whiteside said.

Now as the Blazers embark on their current three-game trip starting off with Thursday’s contest in Indiana, followed by Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, before wrapping up the trip in Orlando Monday, it’s all about the playoff push.

It’s about catching Memphis, while still dealing with so many injuries.

It’s our reality so we’ve got to figure it out -- how to get as many wins as possible starting in Indiana and progressing forward. I don’t know how many –we’ve got 20 games left, 21 games left? 23 – so we’ve got to win the majority of them to give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs. – Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum said following Tuesday's game

The reality a month ago was Lillard went off for 50 points against Indiana with the Blazers beating the Pacers 139-129 at home.

Melo’s mentality heading into the road trip is all about how the trip starts off against the Pacers. 

“To win in Indiana. For me, that’s the only thing that we should be thinking about. Because the first game on the road trip is always the one that if we have a chance to get, we want to go in there and get it. I’m sure they’ll be thinking about them coming in here losing to us on our home court and they want to get that win back.”

While, Whiteside put it simply:

“We just gotta get some wins on the road. Let’s get a couple of wins on the road, and pretty much that’s all there is to say.”

That’s the truth. There really isn’t much more to say or do, the short-handed Blazers just need to go out and win on the road.