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How the Trail Blazers will repeat the magic of '77 in 2021

How the Trail Blazers will repeat the magic of '77 in 2021

On Sunday, NBC Sports Northwest aired the first of 12 Trail Blazers Classic Games, starting with none other than Game 6 of the 1977 NBA Finals. 

In case you aren't up to speed on Trail Blazers history, it was on the afternoon of June 5th, 1977 that the Blazers beat the 76ers in Game 6 to claim a 4-2 series victory and the franchise's first and only NBA Championship. 

The next morning, Portland was bursting at the seams. Fans lined the streets of downtown as the team celebrated with a victory parade. 

It has been 43 years since that parade took place. But, what if this were the last summer the Trail Blazers had without one? What if next season all the cards were dealt in Portland's favor? What if 44 years after making history, the Blazers did it again? What if there was a '21 championship parade?

Just imagine for a minute what could happen next season...

It's late October 2020. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 the NBA suspended and later canceled the remainder of the 2019-2020 season. 
Finally, all the quarantines are lifted and it's back to business as usual. 

The NBA, one of the first sports leagues in the United States to feel the impact of the pandemic, is finally taking back to the court. 

For the Blazers, there is more than just a return of the game, but the return of key players as well. 

Jusuf Nurkic, who was supposed to make his return on March 15th, will finally see game action after a 17-month hiatus. Zach Collins, who was dealing with a shoulder injury and missed most of the 2019-20 season, is returning as well. Except for Rodney Hood, who is in the final stages of recovering from a ruptured Achilles, the Blazers are finally close to full strength. 

Continuity is key in the NBA, and the Blazers have a lot of it at this point. 

Thanks to a shortened offseason, the Blazers wasted no time signing their own free agents. 

Hassan Whiteside returned on a team-friendly deal and Carmelo Anthony, staying true to his word about seeing himself retire as a Blazers, signs a multi-year deal to ride off into the sunset wearing red and black. 
Trevor Ariza's contract was also guaranteed for the season and the team signed Wenyen Gabrial to a multi-year after he showed great potential in limited time last season.

However, Caleb Swanigan walked as a free agent, signing a lucrative deal to be the starting center for the New York Knicks. Needing to find another big to fill the roster, the Blazers turned to a familiar face: Meyers Leonard.

The seven-footer signed a veteran minimum deal, and with Leonard and Hezonja, the Blazers had the best Call of Duty duo in the league.

The roster was fully loaded and ready to roll. 
PG: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, 
SG: CJ McCollum, Gary Trent Jr
SF: Trevor Ariza, Nassir Little, Mario Hezonja
PF: Zach Collins, Carmelo Anthony, Wenyen Gabrial
C: Jusuf Nurkic, Hassan Whiteside, Meyers Leonard
INJURED: Hood

The Blazers were primed for a run, but first they had to get through the stacked Western Conference. 

Atop the west were the two favorites, the Lakers and the Clippers. 

Unfortunately for the Lakers, LeBron James showed up to camp out of shape having treated every day of the quarantine as Taco Tuesday.
Now you know why Taco Wednesday, Taco Thursday, etc were trending all summer. 

As for the Clippers, they were laser-focused. Kawhi Leonard has always been the self-isolation king. He was the only NBA player in his element all summer, and Clippers would reap the benefit. 

Next, you had teams like the Nuggets.  

People would continue to sleep on Denver and burn Jokic for being "out of shape," yet no team has an answer for the Joker. If he is a triple-double machine "out of shape," I'd hate to see him in shape. They were deservedly a Top-3 team. 

The rest of the conference is a wild card. The Thunder, Mavericks, Jazz, and Grizzlies. Any of these teams could finish top four, but they could also finish out of the playoffs. How and where they finish all depends on if they remember to tuck in there jerseys any time they play CP3.

As for the Rockets, they lost their luster. During the pandemic, the CDC recommended against facial hair. To cover his bases and stay safe, James Harden did the unthinkable. He shaved his beard. 

Now clean-shaven, he was no longer intimidating. He could no longer hide behind his beard. Russell Westbrook became the alpha, and Harden just became a run of the mill spot-up shooter. 

The season played out as many expected. The Blazers started slow out of the gate as they tried to figure out lineups and build some chemistry. Anthony and Whiteside had never played with Nurkic before, and for all intents and purposes had never played with Collins. It was like adding two new free agents to the mix. 

Come mid-December, the Blazers were starting to put it all together and found themselves in the Top-8 out west. Then they got reinforcements. Rodney Hood was finally ready to return. 

He started as a bench player behind Ariza, playing on a minutes restriction, but quickly rounded into form and earned his starting spot back. 

By mid-January, the Blazers starting lineup was Lillard - McCollum - Hood - Collins - Nurkic, with a bench rotation of Simons - Trent Jr - Ariza - Anthony - Whiteside. That is a championship-caliber roster, and they went into All-Star break as a Top 5 team in the West.

Speaking of All-Star break, the Blazers had three, yes THREE, representatives at the game. Lillard, Nurkic, and McCollum 

Nurkic was having the best year of his career, and behind Jokic was the best center in the west. McCollum was also having one of the best years of his career and grabbed the vacant spot left by James Harden. 

You see, baby-faced Harden suddenly started getting called for traveling and wasn't being sent to line anymore. Without the beard he was nothing. He would later decide to grow the beard back out, but it wouldn't be ready until 2022. The Rockets were sent to the lottery while they waited.

Flash forward to the end of the season, the Blazers ended strong and finished behind the Clippers and just ahead of the Nuggets. Oh, wait, what about the Warriors? The entire league forgot about Klay Thompson and Steph Curry returning. This wasn't the Eric Paschall show anymore...

With Steph, Klay, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and first overall pick and rookie of the year Anthony Edwards, the Warriors were once again unstoppable. And for some reason, no one noticed. 

Final Western Conference Standings:

1) Warriors
2) Clippers
3) Blazers
4) Nuggets
5) Jazz
6) Thunder
7) Mavericks
8) Lakers

FIRST ROUND: BLAZERS VS THUNDER

The Blazers matched up with the Thunder in Round 1. Ironically, this Thunder roster, led by Chris Paul, was made as a direct result of what happend the last time these two played in the playoffs. The Bad Shot. 

There were no bad shots this time around, only good ones, and the Blazers swept the Thunder. 

The rest of the field:
1) Warriors over 8) Lakers: 4-2
Over the season LeBron swore off tacos, and got back in shape. But, it wasn't until late in the season that he was the LeBron we had come to know. The King was ready, and so were the Lakers. Unfortunately, they had to meet up with the Warriors. Golden State was LeBron's kryptonite for years, and it didn't change with him in a Lakers uniform. The Warriors were back...

7) Mavericks over 2) Clippers: 4-3
This was, by far, the best series in the first round. Every game was decided by single digits, with Game 7 being won on a Luka Donic buzzer-beater. 

4) Nuggets over 5) Jazz: 4-2
Two boring teams put on a boring series, and boring Jokic averaged the most boring triple-double and tore the boring Jazz apart in the most boring way. 

SECOND ROUND: BLAZERS VS NUGGETS

The last time the Blazers made it to the second round they played the very same Denver Nuggets. They beat the Nuggets in seven games in 2019, but things are different this time around. In 2019 they didn't have Melo, Whiteside, and most importantly they didn't have a healthy Jusuf Nurkic. With a full complement of weapons, the Blazers went to battle with the Nuggets. 
The Blazers defense was able to hold Jokic to only double-doubles in round two, but he still helped the Nuggets put up a fight. But in the end, the Blazers depth was too much and Nurkic wished the team from the Mile High City a "happy summer" after his 20-20 game sealed the deal in Game 6. 

Rest of the field:
1) Warriors over 7) Mavericks: 4-1
The ol' gentleman's sweep. The Mavericks didn't go down without a fight, but Donic and Co. just ran out of gas after that grueling seven-game series against the Clippers. One thing is for certain, the Mavericks will be a force for years to come, 2021 just wasn't their year. 
Curry and the Warriors shimmy into the Western Conference Finals. 

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: BLAZERS VS WARRIORS
Déjà vu or what? In 2019, the Blazers beat the Thunder in the first round, Nuggets in the second round, and met the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. 

The Blazers were swept that season, but no one would forget the magical performance of Meyers Leonard in Game 4. The Blazers reserve center got the start that night and went off for a career-high 30 points. 

After a season filled mostly with DNPs, it was time for the Hammer to do his thing. Coach Stotts tinkered with his lineup, moving Melo to backup SF  in an effort to get Leonard minutes. 

The move proved to be the x-factor. 

Every Curry bomb was matched by Lillard. 
Every Thompson trey was matched by 3J. 
Every Wiggins bucket was matched by Nurkic. 
Every Green brick was countered by a Leonard swish. 

The extra firepower was the difference, and just like he did in Game 4 in 2019, Leonard found his groove. 

It took six games, but the Blazers finally got over the Golden State hump. For the first time since 1992, the Blazers were heading to the finals. 

THE NBA FINALS.  BLAZERS VS ???? 

The Blazers flew across the country for Game 1 against the (checks notes)... Philadelphia 76ers! It was like 1977 all over again, and the series played out like an epic remake of a classic movie. 

The 76ers jumped out to a 2-0 series lead and had the Blazers on wobbly legs. 

But, Game 3 in 2021 started like Game 2 ended in 1977. 

Zach Collins and Ben Simmons both went up for a rebound late in the first quarter, but became tangled up and wrestled to the floor. They both jumped up, fists clenched ready to fight. The benches started to clear. Surprisingly, Joel Embiid elected to stay out of it and remained calm away from the fight. And before anyone could get in to separate the two, Trevor Ariza came flying in. Ariza, playing the role of Maurice Lucas, came in and gave Simmons a Goldberg-esque spear to the floor. 

Ariza was ejected and suspended for Games 4 and 5, but the message was sent loud and clear: Portland wasn't going down without a fight. 

Immediately following the fight the Blazers went of a game-deciding run and never looked back. The Blazers won Games 3, 4, and 5, and in a perfect storybook ending Ariza returned in Game 6 only to hit the series-clinching bucket as time expired. 

Fans rushed the court as Mark Mason yelled the loudest "Blazers win" of all time. Damian Lillard came over, grabbed the mic and yelled "RIP CITTTTTYYYYY."  

On TV you heard the epic call, "And the Blazers win the series for the first time in 44 years."

Rip City was ready to party like it was 1977. 

Luckily for those watching at home, they got to see the full celebration. There was no cutting to the Kemper Open!

The next morning was one giant party in Portland. 

Lillard and Co. boarded the parade bus and went around the city to celebrate with the hundreds of thousands of fans in the streets. 

They started at VMC, went over the Broadway Bridge, all the way down Broadway, found their way onto the 405,  crossed over the Marquam Bridge, up I-5 North, eventually ending with an extravagant rally inside Moda Center. 

It was an event 44 years in the making. 

A long wait worth every second. 

Will it happen in 2021? Only time will tell. 

Two Trail Blazers fans snuck into the 1977 Championship game... here is their story

Two Trail Blazers fans snuck into the 1977 Championship game... here is their story

The date was June 5th, 1977. 

The Portland Trail Blazers were about to host the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. 

The Blazers were the hottest ticket in town and fans would go to great lengths to see the action live. 

More than 12,000 fans filled Veterans Memorial Coliseum on that afternoon, with thousands more packing the streets outside. 

But two ticketless fans found a way to outsmart the system. 

For those listening to the TV broadcast that afternoon, or the replay aired on NBC Sports Northwest on Sunday, the finely tuned ear may have picked up on an epic story. 

In the final minutes of the game, play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger told the following story. 

"We had a basket of fruit brought over to the table for Rick (Barry) and I before the game and the note said it was from Sam and Phil. We later found out that Sam and Phil had come in through the back door and said they were florists delivering this to us. They just wanted to get into the basketball game." 

That's right, two fans were so eager to see the Blazers that they snuck in the back door, risking life and limb to see history. 

Ok, they may not have risked life and limb, but they did risk what would have been a stern punishment.

There was a risk, but there was also a reward. The pair got to be in the building on one of the most historic nights in Trail Blazers history.

With the security protocols used today, it would be nearly impossible to pull this off again. 

But for one night in 1977, Sam and Phil embodied what it meant to be part of Rip City, doing anything it took to watch the Blazers win it all. 

Social media in 1977? Rip City reacts to Trail Blazers Classic '77 Championship Game

Social media in 1977? Rip City reacts to Trail Blazers Classic '77 Championship Game

After a 49-33 record during the regular season and a three-seed in the Western Conference, the Trail Blazers, led by first-year Jack Ramsey, which became a franchise in 1970, were in their first-ever playoff appearance.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Game 6 tipped off in the Memorial Coliseum on June 5th, 1977...

And on a sunny day amidst the NBA's current extended break, Portland was treated to this Trail Blazers Classic Game re-airing on NBC Sports Northwest.

 

One of the best parts about re-watching the Trail Blazers '77 Championship game, was seeing Rip City show their excitement on Twitter.

Down 2-0 in the series against the Sixers, the Trail Blazers stormed back and won both games at home to tie the series at two games apiece. They went back to Philly and defeated the 76ers in Game 5.

And then... it was this magical Game 6.

1976-77 NBA FINALS SCHEDULE:

Game 1

PHILADELPHIA 107, Portland 101

Game 2

PHILADELPHIA 107, Portland 89

Game 3

PORTLAND 129, Philadelphia 107

Game 4

PORTLAND 130, Philadelphia 98

Game 5

Portland 110, PHILADELPHIA 104

Game 6

PORTLAND 109, Philadelphia 107 

Bill Walton averaged 18.2 points per game, along with 15.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists in 39.7 minutes of action during the 1976-77 postseason.

Walton finished with 20 points and 20 rebounds in the title game. 

The Enforcer, Maurice Lucas, who averaged 38.5 minutes, 21.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game during the 1976-77 playoffs, was also trending during Sunday’s classic game.

But, what many were posting about on Twitter is just how much the game has changed. 

For the Godfather and our Trail Blazers Insider Dwight Jaynes, he can’t help but think about how much better the pace and outlets passes were back in the day.

One thing that is the exact same from the ’77 Championship run to today is:

BlazerMania and the Rip City Faithful have always showed up for the Trail Blazers whether it was in the Memorial Coliseum or the Rose Garden/Moda Center. 

CJ McCollum trade rumors stir up again: Here's why there's no merit to them

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CJ McCollum trade rumors stir up again: Here's why there's no merit to them

NEW YORK CITY – As the Trail Blazers took the floor to warm-up before Wednesday night’s Blazers and Knicks game, a trade rumor surrounding CJ McCollum started circulation on social media.

NBA Twitter caught fire after people on Twitter were talking about how ESPN’s NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski was discussing trade rumors on ESPN regarding Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum.

According to the speculation, the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers are all interested in McCollum.

In what is now a deleted tweet, the proposed trade was 76ers forward Al Horford for McCollum. 

There's a couple issues here and ultimately why there's no merit behind the speculation. First, ESPN has been airing college football all day. ESPN and ESPN2 are currently airing the 106th Rose Bowl between Oregon and Wisconsin? When would Woj have said that? There's currently no video evidence suggesting he did. 

And is if we needed any further clarification... 

The Trail Blazers have also said in the past that they are not going to break the duo of McCollum and Damian Lillard. Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has never wavered from that. 

Plus, the Blazers and McCollum agreed to a three-year, $100 million contract extension this past July, meaning McCollum now has five years left on his deal.

Because of the contract extension McCollum would not be eligible to be traded until January 30th.

Like our Trail Blazers Insider Dwight Jaynes tweeted: Why would anyone believe the McCollum and Horford trade?

Horford’s contract is A LOT.

Horford signed a 4-year deal worth $109,000,000 with the 76ers, including $97,000,000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $27,250,000.

It seems this speculation is just that, and we can all move on.

Now, let’s get back to the action. Catch the Trail Blazers and Knicks right now on NBC Sports Northwest.

A suggestion for the Trail Blazers: Why not try a little more zone defense?

A suggestion for the Trail Blazers: Why not try a little more zone defense?

The Trail Blazers have pulled a zone defense out of their very small bag of tricks recently, using it for just a possession or two in games over the last couple of weeks. They’ve had mixed success with it on a very limited basis.

And I’ve always wondered what would happen if NBA teams really worked on zones – actually practiced them more than a little bit – and put them out there in games more than a few times, so their players could get used to their roles and responsibilities.

And face it, NBA teams playing so many games with little prep time, cannot spend hours getting ready for something your team does that others do not do. You will profit from doing something different.

Toronto has had success this season with all sorts of zones, using what the old timers used to call “junk defenses,” like "box-and-one” and “triangle-and-two.” The Raptors have had the ability to take star players away from their teams by loading up on them with those defenses. Of course, the Raptors have some pretty solid defenders to use in those situations and that matters, too.

But Miami, a zone user over the last few seasons, employed one Wednesday night for a good part of the game and used it to hand the 76ers their first home loss of the season. The Heat used a zone 39 defensive possessions, a full 40 percent of its time on defense:

 

The last time these two teams played in this building, on Nov. 23, the Heat played zone defense on only one possession. That game was uncompetitive, with Philadelphia running Miami out of the building, leading by 20 at halftime and winning by 27.

Wednesday night, though, was a very different story. To combat Embiid's massive size advantage in the middle, the Heat employed a zone on 40% of their defensive possessions -- and held the Sixers to 12-for-32 shooting (38%), including 7-for-21 from 3-point range.

To put that number in context, the Sixers entered Wednesday night having taken 31 shots all season against a zone defense.

On the 59 possessions the Heat played man-to-man defense, the Sixers shot 26-for-58 (45%). More importantly, their average distance from the basket per shot, per Second Spectrum, was 12.3 feet -- compared to 19.7 feet against the zone.

In other words: The Sixers settled for one jumper after another and didn't make enough of them.

Dallas has also done a decent job with zones over the last couple of seasons and I don’t think either Erik Spoelstra or Rick Carlisle are known as dumb coaches. Quite the opposite. And that’s why I’ve wondered this season why the Trail Blazers haven’t experimented more with zones – and not just high-school 2-3 zones but perhaps matchups or something just a bit more sophisticated.

NBA shooters, on a given night, are going to riddle zones from the outside. That’s a given. But on those nights, they’re probably going to do the same thing to man-to-man defenses, particularly if the defensive team doesn’t close out well on long-range shots.

All I’m saying is, for a team that’s undersized, having trouble on the defensive boards and isn’t defending very well, isn’t it worth a try? I know, often it’s difficult to block offensive players off the boards out of a zone… but if zones are taught correctly, rebounders can be shelled off the offensive boards by defenders already put in position to do so.

Hey, just a thought. And there’s no better advice than free advice.

Trail Blazers led 76ers for all but the most important 10.1 seconds of the game

Trail Blazers led 76ers for all but the most important 10.1 seconds of the game

The toughest losses aren’t usually the ones when your team gets blown out. They’re the ones like Portland’s 129-128 defeat Saturday night, when the Trail Blazers – undersized and undermanned – held off the Philadelphia 76ers with their best offensive performance of the season, and lost in the final 2.2 seconds on a corner three by the world-famous Furkan Korkmaz, who came into the game shooting 28.6 percent from three-point range.

The Sixers didn’t even have a lead until 10.1 seconds remained, when they got two free throws from Ben Simmons, whose wacky rotation on his free throws looks like a Clayton Kershaw slider.

But the fact is, the Trail Blazers – as well as they played on offense for about 45 minutes of the game – earned this loss.

Let me count the ways:

  • With Hassan Whiteside, Zach Collins, Pau Gasol on the sidelines with injuries, the Trail Blazers were playing a small lineup most of the game. And they were able to overcome the size disadvantage with hustle and grit, owning a 21-point lead with five minutes left in the third quarter. But then the 76ers started getting serious at both ends of the court. They turned up their defense and started ramming the ball inside on offense. It ended up as a layup drill on offense (Philadelphia hit 13 of its 18 shots on the way to a whopping 26 points in the paint in the fourth quarter.) Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers had five turnovers in the fourth quarter and wilted a bit down the stretch.
  • Portland had a 125-118 lead with 3:25 left and didn’t get another point until Anfernee Simons’ corner three-pointer with 2.6 seconds to go, that could have been a game-winner. During that scoreless 3:23, Portland missed two layups, a three-pointer and had two turnovers.
  • Korkmaz used a solid screen from Al Horford to get a wide-open three that won it for the Sixers with .4 left and Damian Lillard’s desperation three wasn’t close, as the Blazers fell to 0-2 at home.

“They did a good job,” said Portland’s CJ McCollum, acknowledging the Philadelphia defensive effort in the second half. “But we’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball. For the most part, we let them get out and run, which allowed offensive rebounds and threes. Overall, I thought we did a pretty good job. I’d like to get a couple of possessions back but up 20, we have to do a better job of closing the game out.”

Indeed, it was amazing how long Portland stayed with the Sixers on the boards. But in the end, Philadelphia finished with a 46-36 rebound edge and a 13-4 advantage on the offensive boards. Points in the point were crazy lopsided, with Philadelphia owning an 84-40 edge.

The Blazers stayed in the game with an outstanding shooting night, particularly from long range. Portland shot 57.7 percent overall and 55.9 percent from three. Mario Hezonja had 11 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in a starting role and Rodney Hood – who suffered a knee contusion in the fourth quarter – had 25 points on 9-11 shooting. Lillard was terrific from the field (11-16 and 8-11 from three) but it wasn’t quite good enough.

“We played such a great game and they just chipped away and got back into it,” Lillard said. “We let one slip. I think the way we lost sucks.”

Terry Stotts seemed to agree.

“It was tough to lose that one,” he said. “I thought we played a really good game, especially offensively. It was really the first game that our offense really got on track. That was good to see against a good defensive team.

“But the reality is, the second half we didn’t do what we needed to do defensively and we had too many turnovers.”

Instant Analysis: It was raining threes, but in the final seconds Sixers beat Blazers

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Instant Analysis: It was raining threes, but in the final seconds Sixers beat Blazers

It was 70s night at the Moda Center on Saturday night with the Philadelphia 76ers in town. This was Portland’s first ‘Decade Night Game' as the Blazers celebrate 50 years as an organization.

Portland’s frontcourt was as thin as it has been all season. The Blazers were without Hassan Whiteside (left knee) and Zach Collins (left shoulder). The Blazers have been without Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) and Pau Gasol (left foot) as well as they continue to rehab their injuries.

The Trail Blazers announced before Saturday’s game tipped off that Collins will undergo surgery on his left shoulder. The procedure will happen at a later date that is still to be determined. 

Mario Hezonja started in place of Whiteside, while Anthony Tolliver started once again at power forward.

The Blazers hot shooting from long distance was key in battling the bigger Sixers matchups.

In fact, it looked like it was what would decide the game: 

Anfernee Simons hit a corner three with 2.2 seconds remaining in the game to put the Blazers up 128-126.

BUT THEN it was Furkan Korkmaz who hit from three to give the Sixers the win.    

FINAL BOX SCORE: Sixers 129, Trail Blazers 128 

Here are three quick takeaways from the Blazers loss to the 76ers:

1.  Sixers take advantage in the paint

Even without Joel Embiid, who was suspended for two games after getting into a fight with Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, Philadelphia was still taking it to the Blazers lineup.

The Sixers scored 20 of their 27 first quarter points in the paints. Tolliver had the tough task of bodying up Al Horford. Coach Stotts made sure to keep Tolliver on Horford as much as he could. Stotts also tried to have Hezonja on Ben Simmons for the majority of the night when making his substitutions.

Hezonja was a rebounding machine, especially early, which is exactly what the Blazers needed from him. He also got the Blazers off to a hot start offensively.

Portland’s biggest lead of the night was 21 points after three quarters. But, when Philadelphia went back to its bread and butter of lay-ups and powering up the Blazers' smaller defenders, the Sixers made it a game once again in the final period. 

2.  Small-ball lineup means 3s on 3s on 3s

The three ball was contagious on Saturday night. It was a night of ‘Logo Lillard’ deep three-pointers along with Rodney Hood threes from the wing and the corner. Portland looked like the team that everyone was expecting coming into this season: An exceptional three-point shooting team. 

3.  Skal comes alive

Skal Labissiere, the Blazers only player who is taller than 6’9”, came off the bench as Portland’s backup center. He provided a spark down low and showed off offensive moves people have yet to see from the four-year player. Labissiere also showed why Lillard named Skal the MVP of training camp.

Up Next: Portland is back on the road. The Blazers visit the Golden State Warriors on Monday night with tip-off set for 7:30 p.m.

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

Pregame Notebook: Trail Blazers forced to go small vs. Sixers

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Pregame Notebook: Trail Blazers forced to go small vs. Sixers

Before the Trail Blazers and Sixers tip-off at 7:00 p.m. tonight on NBC Sports Northwest and on the 'My Teams' App, both coaches gave their thoughts on tonight’s matchup with their different-looking lineups.

The Blazers will be without starting center Hassan Whiteside (hyperextended left knee) and starting power forward Zach Collins (left shoulder dislocation) tonight.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said that Whiteside did not go through shootaround, but was instead evaluated this morning and then ruled out for the game.

Stotts did not say who would be playing at center in place of the injured Whiteside, but the assumption is Skal Labissiere will get the start. 

Mario Hezonja could also see time at the five spot. Which means get ready for a lot of small-ball play from the Blazers. 

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

Sixers head coach Brett Brown discussed how Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are ‘lethal’ on the offensive end. Brown also mentioned through the 76ers first four games of the season, his team has been hanging their hats on their defense.

Philadelphia will be without starting center Joel Embiid. The Sixers center was suspended for two games, starting in Portland, after he and Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns got into it, and both players went to the floor in the third quarter of Thursday night’s game.

Coach Brown was not ready to reveal his starting lineup during his pregame interview.

Hear from Coach Brown right here:

The Contrarian: Why dodging Joel Embiid is a BAD THING

The Contrarian: Why dodging Joel Embiid is a BAD THING

The Philadelphia 76ers made their one and only trip to Portland on Saturday, and Trail Blazers fans were happy their team didn’t have to deal with 76ers star Joel Embiid.

Embiid had to sit out the game due to a two-game suspension for an on-court altercation with Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. The two came to blow late in a game on Wednesday and had to be separated by teammates. Ben Simmons had Towns in a chokehold, Towns tapped, Embiid went to the locker room to a chorus of cheers from the Philly faithful. It was far more WWE than it was UFC to tell you the truth. But still, the NBA came down and handed Embiid the suspension, meaning he wouldn’t step foot on the court against the Blazers, although Philly picked up the win regardless.

Sure, in this league you have to rack up as many wins as you can over an 82-game season, so grabbing a team at less than full strength is always a plus… or is it?

While most Blazers fans were happy to have an easier path, I’m here to play the role of The Contrarian. Here are just a few reasons why dodging Embiid was bad for the Blazers:

  • The simplest reason it’s bad that Embiid wasn't out there – The Challenge: With injuries to Jusuf Nurkic, Pau Gasol, Zach Collins, and Hassan Whiteside, the Blazers have had to turn to the young Skal Labissiere to play big minutes. While Labissiere is averaging just 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, he has far exceeded expectations. With Embiid, the Blazers were looking at a good test, a measuring stick if you will, for Labissiere. A chance to push him, and really see what they have when it comes to big man depth. Without Embiid, it feels like just another game for Labissiere. It should have been more.
  • The second reason it’s bad Embiid was out – Game Tape: The NBA is wide-open this season. Sure, there are a few favorites, but anyone from one through eight in the playoffs has a chance this season. Philadelphia is a favorite to make it out of the east, while Portland made a trip to the Western Conference Finals last season. Portland won its only championship in 1977 by beating the 76ers, and there is a realistic possibility these two teams could meet up again in the finals. Portland only plays the 76ers twice in the regular season and you want as much game tape of a full-strength 76ers team as you can get. Embiid is one of the best players in the NBA. The last thing you want is for him to be a “wild card” in a finals matchup.
  • The third reason it’s bad Embiid was out – Every hero needs a villain: Embiid may be the biggest heel in the NBA right now, and that’s a good thing. He rubs opposing fan bases the wrong way and ruffles their feathers. It makes him one of the most entertaining players in the league. If Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are Batman and Robin, then Embiid is the Joker (sorry Nikola Jokic fans). Instead of Embiid, the Blazers got a healthy dose of Kyle O'Quinn. That’s like expecting the Joker, and getting Calendar Man… For you non-Batman fans, trust me, it’s as bad as it sounds.

In the end, Portland wasn't able to pull out the win, even with Embiid sitting out, but maybe a battle against Embiid still would have been better in the long run, especially if you were taking the L anyways. 

 

 

 

70s Night! How to watch, stream Trail Blazers vs. Sixers tonight at 7:00pm

70s Night! How to watch, stream Trail Blazers vs. Sixers tonight at 7:00pm

Portland has officially listed center Hassan Whiteside (left knee) as 'questionable' for Saturday’s game vs. Philadelphia, while Zach Collins (left shoulder) will miss his third consecutive game. The Saturday night game at Moda Center is 70s night in celebration of the 50th Anniversary season.

Collins' absence has meant more minutes for Mario Hezonja, Skal Labissiere, and Anthony Tolliver. Even wing Rodney Hood has seen time at the power forward position. Hood admitted on Friday that this is the first time he has played the four spot. 

After Friday’s practice, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts discussed how the Sixers are still a big team even without Joel Embiid. The Sixers center was suspended for two games, starting in Portland, after he and Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns got into it, and both players went to the floor in the third quarter of Thursday night’s game.

You can watch all the action of the Blazers and Sixers 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:

4:30pm Blazers Game Day with Chad Doing

6:00pm Blazers Warm-Up

6:30pm Trail Blazers Pregame Show

7:00pm Trail Blazers vs. Sixers

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

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

Quote of the Day

“We’re basketball players, so I don’t think we should be fighting,” Damian Lillard said of the Embiid-KAT fight. “But we’re men at the same time and if somebody does something that you feel violated or disrespected by, I think that’s what it could end up being -- some type of tussle or some type of scrap. The type of training I do for boxing, the more you’re around it as a sport, the deeper you’re into it and the more you do it yourself, the more you realize how dangerous fighting really is. Especially for grown men.”

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