Trail Blazers

How will Trail Blazers fill gap left by Jusuf Nurkic?

How will Trail Blazers fill gap left by Jusuf Nurkic?

A lot of the worry has been centered around how the Portland Trail Blazers can reproduce the offensive impact that Jusuf Nurkic brings to the floor. The big Bosnian is out for the season with a broken leg, an especially damaging blow this late in the season. Portland has run a lot of passes through Nurkic at the high post this year, and the Blazers offense will spatially function fundamentally different with him sidelined. 

However, I think the biggest change for the Blazers with Nurkic out will be on defense.

Portland’s defense is 5.35 points per 100 possessions better with Nurkic on the floor this season, per PBP stats. He’s an excellent defender inside of six feet, and is a top 10 when it comes to defensive field goal percentage for starting centers according to NBA.com.

With Nurkic out, coach Terry Stotts will need to do something different. However, his alternatives in Enes Kanter, Zach Collins, and Meyers Leonard aren't the same kind of defensive players. What can Stotts do to cobble together an effective defensive lineup that stays out of foul trouble? I think there's some answers yet to be had here.

Then there's the offensive side of the ball. Wednesday night's game against the Chicago Bulls notwithstanding, Collins has slowly lost his scoring confidence. Meanwhile Leonard has regressed after having his minutes cut in March.

What this means is that replacing Nurkic’s offensive production can probably be most easily replicated by Kanter, who has the ability to operate from similar spots on the floor, and draw some of that same gravity from defenders.

 It won't be easy, but watch the full video breakdown above to see how Portland might be able to amalgamate a big man rotation that can keep opponents on their toes as the Blazers try to battle for playoff victory in the weeks ahead.

Sweep hooks, yells and The Answer: Remembering my first NBA game on its 20th Anniversary 

Sweep hooks, yells and The Answer: Remembering my first NBA game on its 20th Anniversary 

Many of us don’t have the luxury of knowing when our first NBA game was. Either our parents don’t remember, or the ticket stub has been lost, or there were too many to mark it as unique. Today many arenas around the league have special areas dedicated to kids getting special swag while attending their first game, usually with a sticker, a sign, or some kind of trinket. Kids in 2019 will have photo or video record of their first game uploaded to social media where it will live on Facebook’s servers until our sun goes supernova.

That’s why I feel lucky enough to know the exact date of my first game. It was March 21, 1999, exactly 20 years ago today. It came during a lockout-shortened season when and Allen Iverson, in his third season in the NBA, would lead the league in scoring for the first time. Iverson, who was battling hip soreness and was questionable heading into the game, led his Philadelphia 76ers into the Rose Garden for a sleepy 3:00 PM game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Both squads were battling for playoff position in their respective conferences, with that Sunday’s game representing the halfway point of the shortened 50-game season. The matchup would turn out to be an odd affair, with Iverson and Matt Geiger scoring for the 76ers with little help from their teammates. It would take a herculean effort for Portland to pull ahead, with Greg Anthony annoying the future scoring champ Iverson, batting away steals and jumping passing lanes to the tune of a 31-point Blazers fourth quarter.

Portland would get the win, 95-71, in what now might be looked at as a laughably late-’90s NBA score. All this was witnessed by a crowd of 19,980, including a 10-year-old Dane Delgado sitting right behind the Philadelphia bench in Section 103, Row B, Seat 4. I was there with my friend Jacob Davis, his cousin Cory, and his father Bob, who had secured the tickets through his work.

This 20 year anniversary was a special moment for me, and thanks to our friends over at the Trail Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest was able to secure the entire video broadcast of the game. It’s not often in our lives we get to relive one of the critical moments of our childhood in its entirety, with the full production value that comes with an NBA broadcast.

So I decided to watch my first ever NBA game, with my own face in full view on the left edge of the backboard during every possession at the north end of the floor. I had eyes on this game once as an adolescent, and now I have it as an adult — as someone who covers the NBA and this team for a living, no less. It felt like there might be some treasure left to unbury from the video archives at the start of Iverson’s NBA, so without further ado, here’s some of the takeaways from re-watching my first game two decades later.

There’s too many post-ups

Watching this game got to be sort of a joke after a while, particularly from perspective of how the offense works in contrast to today's game. The modern NBA has shifted in the past few years in the amount of 3-pointers taken, but having seen some old games before it also surprises you how few common actions are missing from a game like this just 20 years ago.

The pick-and-roll is absent, at least on scale, and although the point guard revolution from 2008-2012 has passed us by, the two-man game is a staple in 2019. That didn't appear to be the case in this 1999 matchup, with no more evidence being clearer than in this play early in the first quarter. 

If this play was run in 2019, you might expect Damon Stoudamire to run across screens on the weak side, receive a pass in front of the Blazers bench, then move into a sideline pick-and-roll with Arvydas Sabonis. Instead, he wastes five seconds of shot clock trying to get an entry pass so Sabonis can hit his patented sweep hook. 

After watching this whole game, Portland tried to post up nearly every single player on their roster outside of Stoudamire. By contrast, Philadelphia's game plan was to give Iverson the ball and let him do his thing. 

Are NBA players bad at basketball?

As this game opened, I remember thinking in 1999 that these two teams were not as good at basketball as I was hoping. Watching game film back, it appears they might have been feeling a bit lethargic on a mid-afternoon game on a Sunday. Here's what the first 2:30 of gameplay looked like from a play-by-play standpoint. 

PHI — Missed 19-foot jumper

POR — Turnover, Iverson scores

POR — Sabonis scores on a sweep hook 

PHI — Missed 17-foot jumper

POR — Rasheed Wallace point blank miss

PHI — Missed Iverson 3-pointer

POR — Missed point blank Stoudamire layup

PHI — Missed Matt Geiger hook shot

POR — Wallace airball

It got better from there … at least for Portland. The Sixers wound up scoring just 75 points in the game.

Local TV legends

The old Blazervision had Bill Schonely and Ann Schatz calling this game, not to mention the late Steve “Snapper” Jones as the color man during the actual broadcast. Everything about the production —  particularly in the three-dimensionality of the intro —  screamed 1999. If a graphic could have a gradient on it, it did, and that went the double for the local television ads that ran during the breaks (the Northwest Ford Store and Godfather's Pizza ads were something else). But check out this intro.

Greg Anthony went HAM on Iverson

Greg Anthony averaged double-digit points once in his career, adding 14 PPG in 1995-96 when he was with the Vancouver Grizzlies. Anthony was a career backup, and the athletic, annoying, pestering guard had the capacity to aggravate star players from opposing sidelines.

Anthony was the saving grace for the Blazers in this game, and boy did they need it. The teams combined for 30 points in the third quarter alone, and despite playing with a nagging hip ailment, Iverson was on his way to scoring big points heading into the fourth quarter.

The pesky 30-year-old was everywhere, helping to force Iverson into four turnovers including during a stretch run midway through the fourth that helped Portland contain the 76ers to 16 points.

These performances in front of kids are the things that make uneven impressions, and no doubt I forever gave Anthony too much credit as a defensive mastermind. The reality is that Anthony was a career -0.4 defensive box plus/minus player, although 1999 was one of three positive DBPM seasons for him.

To me he was The Guy Who Shut Down Iverson until I was around 20 years old.

Rick Mahorn yelled at me after the game

Rick Mahorn (seated) watches a play in Mar. 21, 1999. The author sits behind him (white hat, second row behind the railing).

Rick Mahorn was a Bad Boy with the Detroit Pistons, winning the 1989 NBA Championship and taking home all-defensive honors in 1990. The Bad Boys were badasses, and not to be trifled with in an era where physicality and brute force were more accepted as part of the game.

So perhaps I should have expected Mahorn to yell at a 10-year-old Dane Delgado?

Because of where our seats were located, behind the Sixers bench and to the right of the visitor’s hallway, we were able to move to the railing where players from Philadelphia were signing autographs at the conclusion of the game. Jake's dad had given me a Sharpie and the in-arena magazine to collect signatures, but I had never done that before and I was less than confident.

At the railing, I failed to recognize anybody outside of Matt Geiger. Iverson was gone, and not knowing what the protocol was but seeing everyone else leaning over the railing with pens and paper, I simply did the same. 

Eventually Mahorn made his way to my outstretched Sharpie and looked in my direction. A pregnant silence filled as our eyes met, and the forehead of the 40-year-old bruiser slowly wrinkled. My childhood pal Jacob Davis described the moment from his point of view in a recent phone interview with NBC Sports Northwest.

"He turned and looked to you, and you just sort of held [the magazine] out to him," laughed Davis. 

Maybe it was wanting to defer to an adult, or maybe it was shock from the sheer size of the 6-foot-10 Mahorn standing just feet away from me, but I didn't dare utter the first word. Perhaps it was his duty to say something as the player (and I as a child)? It's been two decades and I still haven't decided who was in the wrong. In either case, Mahorn didn't bite, so I doubled down. 

"Then you just held it out to him again — very imploringly — it was very obvious what you wanted," said Davis.

The air hung between us, and eventually Mahorn practically spit the words at me. 

"What?! You can't talk?"

Mahorn then walked away, taking a couple steps before eventually realizing his error and returning back to the stricken grade schooler. Mahorn took the issue of "Rip City" magazine that Bob had brought for this occasion, dutifully signing the photo of Blazers guard Jim Jackson before issuing me some advice about speaking up and asking players directly.

Rip City Magazine from March 1999.

"When he came back, he was like 'Ah, I'm sorry," said Davis.

As I walked back to Jake and his dad, they looked at me expectantly.

“Who’d you get?”

I looked at Jacob, then at Bob, then back at the magazine. I studied the lines on the cover, trying to read each squiggle letter-by-letter to read it out. Finally, I gave him the answer about the signature from the NBA player who yelled at me for not being able to talk.

“... I don’t know.”

To this day I still can’t find that damn magazine.

Rick, if you’re reading this — I need a replacement autograph. This time I'll be sure to ask directly.

Outsiders Blog: Would you welcome the L-Train back to Portland?

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USA Today

Outsiders Blog: Would you welcome the L-Train back to Portland?

It seems like it was yesterday and at the same time, it feels like it was forever ago that LaMarcus Aldridge called Rip City home. Aldridge, once the face of the franchise, left in 2015 to play with the San Antonio Spurs in his home state of Texas. 

At the time, Aldridge leaving felt like a bitter betrayal. He said he wanted to be the greatest Blazers player of all-time and then bolted in free agency. Fans felt played. Teammates seemed to be caught off guard. Reports started to surface that there may have been a rift between him and Damian Lillard. The whole situation just felt dirty.

But as the old saying goes, time heals all wounds. Now, some four years later, it appears Aldridge and Lillard have mended fences and according to The Athletic, Aldridge is open to returning to Portland. 

"I keep telling him (Damian Lillard) I’m going to come back and finish there," Aldridge said in a recent interview. "That’s something him and I have talked about — playing together again.”

So, the question is, would you welcome The L-Train back to Portland?

The Outsiders share their thoughts:

Chris Burkhardt: Don't let hurt feeling from 2015 cloud your judgment. This is a no-brainer. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. LaMarcus Aldridge is still a high-level player. He was an All-Star this season and can still change the game. As much as I enjoy Al-Farouq Aminu, I would take Aldridge over him 10 out to 10 times without thinking twice. A team with Lillard, CJ McCollum Aldridge, and Jusuf Nurkic as its core is pretty dang good if you ask me. I'm not thinking about this for the story or the reunion, I'm just thinking about basketball. If one of the best power forwards in the game wants to play for you, you welcome him on board.
Will it happen? Probably not. But I won't be upset if it does.

Alex Haigh: This is how I feel, and I think I've come a long way since 2015 when he ruined my life... I am so over that, that I think I'm ok with him coming back. As long as it benefits the team and as long as they aren't a dirty player, bring 'em in.

Jake McGrady: Under the right circumstances. If it's in free agency, he'll be 35-years old when his contract ends in San Antonio in 2021, at that point if we're able to get him on some sort of cheaper veterans deal... even if he were a backup he's still better than most of the power forwards in the NBA. To answer the question, yes. 

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Once upon a time, the Blazers got stuck in an elevator

Once upon a time, the Blazers got stuck in an elevator

BOSTON – As you’ve probably heard by now, the Trail Blazers had an optional practice Tuesday at Emerson College, located in the heart of the city’s Theater District. But it was what happened after the workout that made national news.
A total of 10 Trail Blazers stuffed themselves into an elevator in the gym (yes, right there in the gym) to make their way back to the first floor and the team’s curbside bus.
But that was too many large people packed in a relatively small box. The poor little machine just couldn’t handle the job.
The players got stuck for nearly a half hour between floors and video of their dilemma went out on social media, allowing all of the nation’s sufferers of claustrophobia to get a little neurotic right along with them.
As it turned out, the experience didn’t last long enough for the players to contemplate human sacrifice at dinnertime. But it did get a little warm inside that elevator and some players were a little more nervous than others.
So, from the scene of Tuesday’s experience, here’s an Oral History of the Blazers’ Great Elevator Escapade:

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Nets

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USA Today Images

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Nets

BROOKLYN -- It was a game that was going to set the tone for the Portland Trail Blazers seven-game road trip, according to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and after shaking off the rust; Portland was able to take advantage of the young Nets team.

Both Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter powered their way past Brooklyn to help the Blazers get a win to start the trip.

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 113, Nets 99

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers win over the Nets:

 

1. Kanter imposing his will

Enes Kanter checked in as a Trail Blazer for the first time at the 3:14 mark of the first quarter. He quickly showed Blazers fans what he will bring to this team on the offensive end as Kanter muscled his way past Ed Davis for two back-to-back lay-ins.

The last two days, Kanter has preached that he will bring the energy and against the Nets he showed that energy on both ends. This is a game that Kanter matched up well again with a small frontcourt.

In his first stint as a Trail Blazer, Kanter went 3-for-3 with six points and four rebounds in nine minutes of work.  He made his first seven shots of the game.

2. Going up against Blazers East

Some of Rip City’s fan favorites are now with the Nets and you could tell the former players wanted to take it at their old team.
Midway through the 1st quarter all three former Trail Blazer players were on the court – Allen Crabbe, Shabazz Napier, and Ed Davis.

Shabazz and Davis showed their strong connection early with back-to-back successful pick and roll action. That was the first sign of the element of wanting to play well against your former team. Crabbe was also going hard at CJ McCollum one-on-one early.

Blazers fans should know—Nets fans seem to love/enjoy what all three former Blazers bring to their Nets team.

The second quarter Napier showed off some “Shabazzle Dazzle” with a between the legs pass to Crabbe who calmly knocked down the long three-pointer and the crowd went nuts. Which by the way, I felt like I was at a college game with section 114 chanting and standing for most of the game. It really was like having a student section going crazy for their team.  

Napier had a career-high in assists of a half with eight assists.

 

3. Strong third quarter despite foul trouble

It wasn’t until the second half started the Blazers looked like they were finding their groove on offense. Portland outscored Brooklyn 34-22 in the quarter and that was despite both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic picking up four fouls each by the eight-minute mark of the third.

The triple-double watch for Damian Lillard started midway through the third as well. With just minutes left in the 3rd period, Lillard had 10poimts, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

It was one of those off nights for Lillard, but he found different ways to help his team secure a victory.

The Nets made a run at the Blazers to make it a one-point game 7:25 mark in the final quarter after DeMarre Carroll knocked down a jumper, but Portland was able to take care of business down the stretch.

And, this ended up not being the triple-double game for Lillard, but we all know he always wants the win more than the triple-double feat.

NEXT UP: Portland continues its seven-game trip with a stop in Philadelphia for the second game of the road slate. Tip-off between the Blazers and 76ers is set for 10:00am PT with pregame coverage beginning at 9:00am on NBC Sports Northwest.

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Blazers Outsiders: What to expect on his long road trip

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USA Today

Blazers Outsiders: What to expect on his long road trip

The Blazers have the unenviable task of starting the "second half" of the season with a seven-game road trip. The trip will see them hit the road for two weeks, play games in two countries, and have tipoffs ranging from 1pm to 8pm. Needless to say, it's going to be an exhausting trip. 

The trip starts on Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets (30-29), then sees the Blazers take on the 76ers (37-21), Cavaliers (12-46), Celtics (37-21), Raptors (43-16), Hornets (27-30), and end with the Memphis Grizzlies (23-36). 

It may not seem like it, but this is a pivotal trip for Portland. The Blazers need to finish the season 16-9 to hit the magical 50 win mark. If the Blazers hit 50 they will almost be a lock to be the four seed in the west. 

Not only will 50 wins help them lock in the four seed, but it could even get them the three seed. Oklahoma City (37-20) needs to finish the season 13-12 to get to the 50 win mark. While that may sound easy for a team like the Thunder, consider that 19 of their final 25 games are against current playoff teams. One small slip up and the door is open for the Blazers. If that happens, the Blazers needs to jump right through. 

A winning record on this road trip will be a great start.

4-3 should be the goal for the Blazers. Anything better is great, anything worse is a step in the wrong direction. There are some tough teams on this trip, but they are all winnable. 4-3 may be the goal, but 5-2 is certainly achievable. 

The Nets, Cavs, Hornets, and Grizzlies should be wins, while the Celtics and Raptors look like losses on paper. The 76ers are a wildcard. Philly is a tough team, but without Joel Embiid in the lineup they are a lot easier to take down. The Trail Blazers can pick this up and go 5-2.

So much hinges on this trip. Finish above .500 and you continue to move closer to locking up a top seed. However, go below .500 and you could easily come back home as a sixth or seventh seed.

First things first, the Blazers need to set the tone with a win over the Nets on Thursday. Tipoff is set for 4:30pm, with coverage beginning at 3:30pm on NBC Sports Northwest.


 

Skip Bayless intrigued by Zach Collins & Trail Blazers after hard fought win over Golden State Warriors

Skip Bayless intrigued by Zach Collins & Trail Blazers after hard fought win over Golden State Warriors

Skip Bayless, most recently known for his role on UNDISPUTED, sent the following tweet after the Trail Blazers knocked off the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night to head into the All-Star break on a high note. 

First, let's be clear that Bayless has a less than stellar "hot takes" record and he certainly dipped his toe in the water with this Trail Blazers analysis. 

Bayless however brings up one really good point, perhaps inadvertently: On the same day that the Trail Blazers announce the signing of Enes Kanter, who Terry Stotts said will be the backup center, Zach Collins comes off the bench and plays a fired up game. While it remains to be seen what Zach's future playing time situation will be, one has to assume Kanter will eat into some of Collins' minutes. Wednesday night's win certainly caught the eye of people across the NBA, and it certainly helped that the Warriors exploded like a grease fire late in the fourth quarter.  

Stay tuned for more on the Trail Blazers roster and rotation from Dwight Jaynes and Jamie Hudson after All-Star weekend!

Can the Trail Blazers find success on the road?

Can the Trail Blazers find success on the road?

The Trail Blazers coaching staff gathered in Terry Stotts’ office on Friday night, cracked open a bottle Dom Perignon and toasted the 128-112 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

It was a solid win over a tough opponent and, more importantly, Stotts’ 300th victory with the Blazers. There was plenty of reason to celebrate inside the Moda Center.

“300 here in Portland is pretty special,” said Stotts, who is second on the franchise’s all-time wins list behind Jack Ramsey’s 453.

The champagne popping 300th win was an important milestone, but the win the Blazers are truly searching for is No. 9, as in their ninth road victory of the season.

Portland is 8-12 away from home, the second worst road winning percentage of any of the top 10 teams in the Western Conference.

The Blazers have one road win in January -- albeit in just three tries -- and have a decidedly road heavy schedule to close out the season with 21 of their final 35 games on the road. After the All-Star break in February, the Blazers end the year with 17 road games compared to just nine inside the Moda Center.

Even sitting in third place on Saturday morning, the Blazers are closer to tenth than they are to the top spot in the West. Finding ways to win away from home will be imperative for maintaining playoff positioning.

“We need to do better on the road,” Stotts said earlier this week following road losses at Denver and Sacramento. “I think the goal in any season, if you’re a good team, is to be over .500 on the road. The good thing is that the games we’ve lost recently both have been very competitive games against good teams. But we need to start winning some more on the road, for sure.”

The tough road tests are looming. On Monday in Salt Lake City, the Blazers face the Utah Jazz, who have won six straight and have crushed Portland by an average of 25.5 points in two games this season. That’s followed by a quick turnaround at Oklahoma City on Tuesday before a Thursday game at Phoenix.

No one in the Blazers locker room wanted to speculate too far ahead about the challenging schedule to close the season. Whether ingrained cliche or authentic focus, Blazers players insisted they were taking things ‘one game at a time’, but there was some tempered optimism that can they find success outside of their own building.

“Just because we’ve done it before,” Damian Lillard said when asked why he thinks the Blazers can find their rhythm on the road. “Last year when we had our best stretch we did it at home and on the road. We just kinda stuck to what was working for us. And with this (season) even though we dropped a game in Denver we had a little bit of it in that game; Sacramento we just had moments. I think we’re capable of doing it when we leave (Portland), too.”

The Blazers have played the fewest road games in the Western Conference, they have fattened up on a home heavy schedule and that has inspired some deserved confidence. On some nights inside the Moda Center they look like they’re playing their best basketball in years.

Friday night’s win over the Pelicans was as entertaining as any Blazers victory this season. Jake Layman was electric, Moe Harkless resurfaced and was effective and Portland’s balanced attack held off a late charge from New Orleans.

The question remains, does that show go on the road?

Maurice Harkless vs. Jake Layman: No debate, no rift

Maurice Harkless vs. Jake Layman: No debate, no rift

Maurice Harkless found himself healthy enough to play and back in the starting lineup Friday night vs. the Pelicans. This meant Jake Layman headed back to the bench. Then, Layman exploded for 20 points in the second quarter

Which begs the on-going question: Which of the two should be in the starting lineup?

While debated heavily on social media among fans and written about in the media, there really has not been any discussion internally with the team of Harkless coming off the bench this season even when he is coming back from injury. But with the emergence of Jake Layman, some are still wondering who should start at small forward. Blazers head coach Terry Stotts explained the decision to put Harkless back in the starting lineup after missing the last five games.

“Just from a rotation standpoint, I think we all feel like Moe and the starters is good. I think Jake provides some energy, like he did tonight off the bench,” Stotts said.

“The way Jake was going I had every intention of brining him back at the end of the second quarter, but Jake had it rolling, but I thought, that’s the best I’ve seen [Harkless] play in a long time. The way he started the game, made some dynamic plays. We really needed his minutes in the second half with foul trouble. Played him at the four. But, I thought he looked really good,” Stotts added.

It could be easy to think that Harkless and Layman are competing for the same role and that could bring some rift between the two.

That could not be further from the truth.

Harkless embraced Layman with a hug and was one of Layman’s biggest cheerleaders from the sideline after Layman went on the flurry and ended up scoring 20 points in the second quarter.

“I love watching Jake when he gets like that, man. He gets like that, it’s just like nothing nobody could do. We see it all the time in practice and just for him to be able to be out there, do it in front of everyone, it’s pretty cool and I’m happy for him,” Harkless said postgame.

Layman had joked how his teammates kept encouraging him to shoot once they saw he was in the groove in the second quarter.

“He looked a little tired out there, but we were getting on him like ‘you’ve got to shoot’… That second quarter was a whole lot of fun to watch,” Harkless said.

The Blazers realize it’s not about competing with each other for a spot on the team, it’s about competing together as a team to win.

“At the end of the day it’s about who can give us the best chance to win. When Moe’s healthy, he helps us a lot and then when he’s not, Jake has to be prepared to play more minutes and step up and I think that he’s done a great job staying ready all season, being in and out of the rotation, different roles, he’s been ready to play regardless,” McCollum said.

Whether you are for Harkless starting or Layman starting, just know, these two forwards are starting to really help the Blazers make a big push in the standings as we all start thinking about the postseason.