Wesley Matthews

CJ McCollum moves up on Blazers all-time three-pointers made list

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CJ McCollum moves up on Blazers all-time three-pointers made list

DALLAS -- CJ McCollum is making history in The Big D.

After hitting his first three-pointer of the night early in the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, McCollum moved up to second All-Time for threes made in franchise history.

McCollum surpassed Wesley Matthews for the second spot on the list with a total of 827 threes.

The Trail Blazers shooting guard has a ways to go to get to number one. 

Damian Lillard holds down the number one slot with 1,513 threes made.

From cursed to charmed: 2017-2018 Blazers riding wave of luck, success

From cursed to charmed: 2017-2018 Blazers riding wave of luck, success

By now, it’s getting hard to deny that something special is happening to the 2017-2018 Trail Blazers.

The Blazers are the hottest team in the NBA, having won nine in a row heading into tonight’s game against Miami. But there is a more subtle trend that has become a part of this season:

For once in their tortured franchise history, the Blazers have been favorably affected by injuries.

From teams around the Blazers in the standings, to players being sidelined when facing Portland, the Blazers this season have gone from cursed to charmed.

A franchise that has watched injuries end careers – from Bill Walton to Sam Bowie to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy – and had late-season injuries ruin seasons (Bonzi Wells, Wesley Matthews), the Trail Blazers this season are seemingly catching a break at every turn.

In the hotly contested Western Conference, every team around the third-place Blazers has weathered a significant injury.

Fourth-place New Orleans lost All-Star DeMarcus Cousins for the season.

Fifth-place Minnesota is without All-Star Jimmy Butler for two-months of the season’s stretch run.

Sixth-place Oklahoma City lost Andre Roberson, it’s defensive anchor, for the season.

Seventh-place San Antonio has played nearly all season without All-Star Kawhi Leonard.

And the trio of remaining contenders – Denver (Paul Millsap), the Clippers (Patrick Beverley) and Utah (Rudy Gobert) – have played long stretches with key players out.

But it’s not just the teams around Portland that have been impacted.

In an uncanny trend, the Blazers this season have often benefitted from playing teams without either a star player or key players.

It started in the season opener, when Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe was held out while the team tried to facilitate a trade and has continued through tonight, when Miami will be without starting center Hassan Whiteside and guard Dwyane Wade.

In between, the Blazers have missed Stephen Curry twice. John Wall twice. Jimmy Butler twice. Whiteside twice. James Harden. Kyrie Irving. Blake Griffin. Draymond Green. Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony. Myles Turner twice.

And that list doesn’t include this season’s chronically injured, like Leonard (twice), Mike Conley (twice), Tony Parker (twice).

If you think the Blazers are going to apologize for having to play teams that are short-handed, think again. History has been too cruel.

“For us,’’ Damian Lillard reminded, “luck hasn’t always been on our side.’’

**

On March 5, 2015 the Blazers beat Dallas to improve to 41-19, where they sat in third place in the West. But it was a night their season changed.

Matthews, their starting shooting guard and the heart-and-soul of the locker room, ruptured his Achilles tendon during the game and was lost for the season.

Without Matthews down the stretch, the Blazers’ defense disintegrated, and some of the team’s grit disappeared. The Blazers limped to a 10-12 record, finished fifth and were dispatched by Memphis in five games.

It marked the end of one of the most popular and encouraging Blazers cores in years. LaMarcus Aldridge left for San Antonio. Matthews signed with Dallas. Robin Lopez signed with New York and Nicolas Batum was traded to Charlotte.

Players on that team were left to wonder what would have happened had Matthews’ Achilles stayed in tact? Not only that season, but the future?

It wasn’t the first time an injury derailed the Blazers late in the season.

In April of 2001, the Blazers were trying to stave off an epic late-season collapse when Bonzi Wells went up for a dunk at Golden State.

Moments later, Wells was pounding the court in agony, his left knee blown out. He had torn his ACL and would be lost for the final six games and the playoffs.

After beginning March in first place in the Western Conference, the team started to unravel amid the tantrums of Rasheed Wallace and internal strife amid late-season additions Rod Strickland and Detlef Schrempf.

Coach Mike Dunleavy made a controversial move during the spiral: he moved Wells to the starting lineup in place of Steve Smith, who was coming off an appearance on the Olympic team.

The move was starting to reap benefits as the team headed into April. Wells, who would finish second in the NBA in field goal percentage, was demanding double-teams on the post. And Smith began to flourish as the No. 1 option off the bench.

Coming off the Western Conference finals appearance the season before, the Blazers never got to see how the new lineup would fare in the postseason, and they were swept by the Lakers.

**

Of course, the injury curse has long been a part of Portland’s history.

After leading the Blazers to the 1977 title, Walton broke his foot in Game 60 at Philadelphia. The Blazers were 50-10 at the time, which included a 30-1 record at home, including 26 straight.

Portland finished 8-14 and lost to Seattle in the conference semifinals.

Then there was Bowie … and Oden … and Roy … all promising careers cut short by injury. Even last season, the Blazers’ late-season flurry to the playoffs was tainted by Jusuf Nurkic’s broken leg, which kept him out of all but one playoff game.

But this season, outside of Al-Farouq Aminu missing 13 games with an ankle sprain, and Lillard missing seven games with hamstring and calf injuries, the Blazers have been healthy.

Around here, people figure it’s about time the breaks went Portland’s way.

“People ask me why I’m always so optimistic, why do I always believe?’’ Lillard said. “I know that a lot of things go into an NBA season, and injuries are part of it. Bad stretches are part of it. Some guys don’t have the season you expect them to have … you just never know what is going to happen.’’

So, luck? Sure. Every team needs it.

“If that’s considered outside luck, then so be it,’’ Lillard said. “It’s part of it … Right now, things are going well for us. But we are doing the right things to give ourselves a chance to win these games and take advantage of the fact that other people might be going through things we are not.’’

Blazers at the Break: The rise of CJ McCollum and the path he took to stardom

Blazers at the Break: The rise of CJ McCollum and the path he took to stardom

Editor's note: With the arrival of the NBA All-Star Break, CSN looks at the five most relevant/pressing issues with the Trail Blazers. Part 1 looks at the rise of CJ McCollum and the obstacles he encountered on his journey to stardom.

A couple of weeks ago, CJ McCollum was given a book by teammate Festus Ezeli that has resonated with the Trail Blazers’ growing star.

The book – “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday – uses stories from notable figures such as John D Rockefeller, Amelia Earhart and Theodore Roosevelt to frame obstacles as opportunities.

As McCollum entered the All-Star break, he had read about 100 pages of the book, and one section in particular spoke to him. It was the part that talked about astronauts, and in how before learning how to fly, they first learned the skill of not panicking.

“It’s a mindset thing,’’ McCollum said. “They have to learn how to be calm and cool under pressure before they begin learning how to fly.’’

The mental state is referred to as “apatheia,” a calm of equanimity that comes with the absence of irrational or extreme emotions.

McCollum loves the concept, for he feels like it captures his own approach to basketball. McCollum after games often talks stoically, and usually about statistics and techniques rather than feelings or emotions. He prefers that approach, he says, because emotions are unstable and statistics are facts, and therefore reliable.

“I was like, ‘Wow! I’m just reading this at 25, and this is how I’ve been my whole life,’’’ McCollum said.

He says this as he prepares to head to New Orleans not only as the Trail Blazers lone representative at the All-Star Game (3-point contest), but also as a growing figure within Portland and the Blazers franchise.

But to McCollum, the story is not his astronaut-like ascension toward stardom on a league-wide level, but rather the path that got him here, and the perspective gained during that journey.

And really, the journey’s destination was never calibrated toward stardom, but rather happiness.

“Finding that inner happiness, that’s the key,’’ McCollum said. “And I think I’ve finally found that.’’

That happiness has allowed him to slowly open up more, and it’s why he says he is more easily tempted to be more demonstrative during games, whether that be shimmying his shoulders after he caps off a nice move with a basket, or waving his arms in the air to encourage the crowd to make noise during an opponent’s free throw.

And his happiness is why McCollum says he has been more active in the Portland community. In November, he unveiled a Dream Center at the Boys & Girls Club that promotes learning for youths, and earlier this week he held his second annual CJ’s Press Pass program for young aspiring high school journalists.

 “He’s coming into his own,’’ teammate Damian Lillard said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I know the feeling. It’s like a feeling of certainty, a more sure feeling of things. I think that’s just where you get to, and it’s a good spot to be in. And he’s definitely there right now.’’

This is the path McCollum took to get there, and these are the obstacles he encountered along the way.

Understanding his place

His first lesson came in his rookie season, when he found himself summoned to the office of Neil Olshey, the team’s top executive, who felt McCollum needed some advice.

“It was about understanding your place,’’ McCollum said of Olshey’s talk.

McCollum, it had been reported to Olshey, had been ruffling the feathers of some veterans with what some referred to as an “Ivy League attitude,” creating unease within the Blazers front office that their rookie could become an outcast in the locker room.

The tipping point came during a practice, when McCollum’s supreme confidence sent ripples throughout the team.

“I still remember it,’’ Damian Lillard said of the practice. “He was actually on my team.’’

As the Blazers scrimmaged, McCollum became isolated on then-Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge.

“He did a move that kind of rocked L.A. a little bit,’’ Lillard recalled. “And CJ rose up and took the jumper.’’

As the ball was in the air, Aldridge yelled “That’s off!”

It wasn’t.

The ball swished.

“And when CJ made it, he was like ‘Shut up!.’’’ Lillard said, wide-eyed at the recollection. “That was his response: ‘Shut up.’’’

Aldridge, a prideful and sensitive veteran, was not pleased.

“You could tell it kind of bugged L.A. a bit,’’ Lillard said. “Not so much that CJ scored, but that he had that much confidence.’’

It wasn’t just his confidence, though, that was rankling the veterans. McCollum was refusing to embrace the rookie hazing that is a time-honored tradition in the NBA. Typically, rookies have to carry veteran’s laundry, run errands, and sometimes even wear silly outfits.

But McCollum eschewed the tradition.

“Sometimes, I would just be like, ‘Nah, I’m not doing that,’’’ McCollum said. “I mean, think about it … think about it: You are asleep and somebody comes knocking at your hotel room door, they have a key made and come into your room at 2 a.m. and pour water on you? Come on, man.’’

McCollum would later learn that the pranking teammate – Wesley Matthews – and other veterans who would call at odd hours wanting chicken wings or other errands, were just trying to bond.

So in Olshey’s office, that one day after the scrimmage scene with Aldridge, a message was delivered.

“Understand where you are at and where you want to get to,’’ McCollum recalled. “And just blend in.’’

It was his first lesson about paying dues, and understanding the hierarchy of leadership.

Soon, he was dutifully taking the laundry bags of Aldridge, Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Dorell Wright. He would sometimes make trips to get Wright soft soap or playing cards, and for Aldridge he would have to get Starbucks – on command -- for which he said Aldridge was always paid him handsomely.  He even made a trip or two to fetch wings.

“I got really good at my duties after a while,’’ McCollum said, noting he had to be the team’s “rookie” for two seasons because the team was void a pick in 2014. “Eventually, you figure out it’s about trust. If you show you can be trusted to do these things, they can trust you on the court.’’

Finding balance

Three years later, McCollum has nudged alongside Lillard as the face of the franchise, not only for his entertaining play but also for his impact in the community.

His lethal crossover move has figuratively broken the ankles of players like Victor Oladipo, and sent Draymond Green guarding air in a different area code. And his pullback crossover once sent Dirk Nowitzki through the spin cycle.

But his most important move, McCollum says, was finding balance in his life that allows him to work on what he calls his “legacy” – helping kids.

In November, he partnered with the Boys & Girls club and opened the CJ McCollum Dream Center, an innovative learning room that includes computers, art and more than 200 culturally relevant books. He also has plans to open two more Dream Centers.

And last week, he held his second Press Pass event, where local high school students attended the Blazers game against Atlanta and learned the ins-and-outs of the journalism profession. McCollum majored in journalism at Lehigh University.

“I want to leave a lasting legacy as a guy who did more than just played basketball,’’ McCollum said.

Before he could start working on that legacy, however, McCollum said he learned he needed to find balance in his life.

For much of his early career, basketball was all consuming.

His first two seasons, he stewed as he rarely played. There were injuries --- a broken foot his rookie season that caused him to miss 38 games and a broken right finger his second season that sidelined him for a month --  and a roster that included veterans Matthews and later, Arron Afflalo.

“It’s hard. The injuries and stuff are mentally draining, it wears on you,’’ McCollum said.

He was watching players from his draft class he felt he was better than, getting opportunities and succeeding. Even when he came home to get away from the frustration of sitting the bench, he was reminded of his status.

“I would play 2K (video game) and I was sorry. I couldn’t make a lay-in. Couldn’t dribble,’’ McCollum said.

The hardest time might have been at the 2015 trading deadline, when the Blazers traded for Afflalo, pushing McCollum from second string to third string.

“Think about this: You show up to the arena, and you know you aren’t going to play, and your girl is in town to see you … you know how hard that is?’’ McCollum said. “You are at the highest level, and you are not playing. That’s a hard thing to live with.’’

Looking back, he realizes his approach was unhealthy.

“I was bad early in my career, because even in my relationships everything was basketball,’’ McCollum said. “I didn’t want to go out to dinner the night before a game because we had a game, stuff like that.’’

Now, he has taken an interest in Oregon red wines. He plans vacations with his girlfriend. He hosts a radio show, continues plans for more Dream Centers and finds himself in interviews with the cast of “Portlandia.”

“There was a time when it was 100 percent basketball, and that’s not healthy,’’ McCollum said. “Even Kobe and Steph have an outlet – be it golf or business ventures or something creative. Your mind needs that break.’’

He calls it the developing of his “sense of self.”

“I think as you get older, you just become comfortable in realizing there’s a lot of other stuff that is important besides basketball,’’ McCollum said. “Obviously, it’s still important to me, and I love the game, but there’s more to life than basketball.’’

The struggle for inner-happiness

McCollum doesn’t need to finish the book Ezeli gave him to understand he will be presented with more obstacles throughout his career.

Next season, he will play with the pressures of his $106 million contract, and with growing weight of becoming a franchise pillar.

“The money … I say it doesn’t change the person, it changes the people around you,’’ McCollum said. “With how I was raised, it’s not going to change me. I drive a Chevy. Look … go out there to the parking lot and look, I drive a Chevy Tahoe. I mean, I could buy a lot of cars, and I will buy a car at some point, and I do have a Mercedes I bought as a rookie, but I like my Chevy. I wear Ugg boots sometimes. This is not a competition to see who can buy the nicest house, or most things.’’

He is confident the trials that await him will become triumphs, because as he has matured, he is developing a greater sense of self, a self that still includes shades of that cocksure rookie telling Aldridge to shut up.

“I think at first, (his assuredness) rubbed people the wrong way,’’ McCollum said. “As a young guy, you don’t know any better. I was just out there hooping like I was at the park with my friends. But as I got older, I think L.A. and the rest of the guys started to understand my personality, and they started to like the fact that I’m not going to change who I am – I will adapt to fit in and make sure I don’t disrespect people -- but I’m going to be CJ.’’

The only difference now is this CJ is more balanced, and more securely rooted in who and for what he represents.

“I think it’s a constant struggle to find inner-happiness, because no matter how much money you have, you still need to be content with who you are,’’ McCollum said. “Like J. Cole says: ‘Love yourself.’ You have to find what you truly care about.’’

So he will continue to perfect his game, and continue to create avenues for kids to succeed, all with the hope of turning obstacles into a legacy.

“We have to remember: this is a game. That’s why I try to have fun, why I smile, why I dance … this is a game,’’ McCollum said. “It’s a game that ends. One day, it ends. When it does, I want people to know, I want my kids to know, that I did more than just play basketball.’’

Coming Saturday: Part 2 -- Can the Blazers be championship contenders with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum as a starting backcourt?

Dallas beats Portland with a new point guard and a renewed purpose in playoff race

Dallas beats Portland with a new point guard and a renewed purpose in playoff race

There is a new point guard in the Western Conference, and he’s ushering a new team into the Western Conference playoff race.

Yogi Ferrell, signed by Dallas to a 10-day contract on Jan. 28, scored 32 points on Friday, which included a big three-pointer with 19.3 seconds left, to lift the Mavericks to a 108-104 win over the Blazers at the Moda Center.

With Ferrell starting at point guard, the Mavericks (20-30) have won four in a row and are now 2.5 games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and just 1.5 games behind ninth-place Portland (22-29).

Portland had two chances to tie the game in the final seconds, but CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard both missed three pointers.

The Blazers never led and trailed by as many as 24 in the first half, but tied the score at 92 after Al-Farouq Aminu hit a three-pointer with 4:17 left. Aminu, who started in the second half for Noah Vonleh, had 14 points and eight rebounds and hit a season-high four three pointers.

But the story was Ferrell, who was playing just his fourth game with the Mavericks. He hit 9-of-11 from three-point range after hitting four three-pointers all season. The former University of Indiana point guard played in 10 games with Brooklyn earlier in the season.

Former Blazers guard Wesley Matthews also had a big night, finishing with 27 points and Seth Curry, the younger brother of Golden State star Stephen Curry, added 19 points, nine of them in the fourth quarter.

McCollum nearly brought the Blazers back by himself, scoring 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting, but his backcourt partner Lillard suffered through one of his worst shooting nights of the season, going 4-of-20, including 1-for-8 from three point range.

It was the second straight win for Dallas in Portland, both of the wins coming in similar fashion – a big first half lead followed by a big Portland comeback that comes up short with a miss on a last-second shot.

This time, the Blazers’ comeback was led by Evan Turner, who scored 14 of his 24 points in the third quarter, when Portland cut a 13-point halftime deficit to as little as four.

McCollum, though, was the pulse of the Blazers. He hit a three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer drawing Portland within 84-76. Earlier, McCollum made a mid-range jumper to beat the halftime buzzer.

Lillard, who said after last game that he wanted to be more assertive and aggressive to start games, went scoreless in the first quarter after missing all five of his shots. Meanwhile, Ferrell was hitting four of his five shots and scoring 11 in the first quarter and 22 in the first half.

Dallas hit its first seven shots and took a 17-4 lead out of the gate, and later pushed the lead to 30-10 after Matthews hit a three to cap a 12-point quarter. Portland scored the final seven points of the quarter to get within 35-22 heading into the second quarter.

Dallas pushed the lead to as many as 24 in the second quarter before Portland rallied to within 60-47 at halftime after McCollum hit a mid-range jumper to beat the halftime buzzer.

Next up: Blazers at Oklahoma City, noon Sunday (CSN)

Podcast:

Damian Lillard has long and interesting history of late-game shots against Dallas

Damian Lillard has long and interesting history of late-game shots against Dallas

There is something about the Dallas Mavericks and Damian Lillard that produce dramatic theater.

Four times during his career, Lillard has had shots to win or tie a game against Dallas in the final seconds, including this season, when his three-point attempt against the dogged defense of Wesley Matthews was off, preserving Dallas’ 96-95 win in December.

“I have thought about the last one,’’ Lillard said Thursday on the eve of Friday’s 7:30 p.m. game at the Moda Center (KGW/ESPN). “I felt like I could have had a better look.’’

Last season, Lillard had chances to beat the Mavericks in Portland and in Dallas, but each time he missed long three pointers at the end of regulation, and the Blazers eventually lost both games in overtime.

Also, in 2013, he made a three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left to tie the Mavericks, only to watch  Mavericks guard Monta Ellis hit a jumper off an inbounds pass for the victory at the Moda Center.

“It is, I guess, an interesting history,’’ Lillard said after recounting all his shots.

The freshest memory is from the Dec. 21 game, when Matthews – his former backcourt mate – took the assignment of guarding him out of an inbounds play with 9.8 seconds left and the Mavericks leading by one. Matthews immediately pressured Lillard near the midcourt line, and stayed on him through a series of dribbles and change of direction by Lillard. Teammate Dwight Powell also offered some help, diverting a drive by Lillard and forcing him to heave a long, fadeaway three-pointer.

“They did a good job on that last possession with Wes, pressuring up, knowing how much time was on the clock,’’ Lillard said. “And they had another defender (Powell) right there … I kind of hand my hands tied and was forced to take a tougher shot than I would have liked.’’

Coach Terry Stotts said his main memory from that December game was not Lillard’s shot against Matthews, but how the Blazers allowed 62 first half points and fell behind by 24 points. That being said, Stotts said it is a no-brainer to get Lillard the ball with the game on the line.

“If I can get Dame the ball … getting the ball to your best player and get an opportunity to get a shot, that’s what you want,’’ Stotts said.

Lillard said he always wants the ball in a game-winning situation, and if history tells us anything, there’s a good chance he will get that opportunity again Friday against Dallas.

“I will never shy away from any time the game is on the line,’’ Lillard said. “I want the ball, and I’m going to live with whatever happens. I can take you guys saying whatever you have to say about me not making it, and I’m humble enough to deal with the times when I do make it.

“I’ve made the shot plenty of times, so in that situation, if it comes up again tomorrow night, I’m going to come into the huddle and say ‘Let me get the ball.’’’

Trail Blazers' skid continues after Lillard can't complete comeback

Trail Blazers' skid continues after Lillard can't complete comeback

The Trail Blazers' losing streak continued Wednesday when Damian Lillard missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, sealing a 96-95 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at the Moda Center, the Blazers' fourth consecutive loss and the eighth loss in the last nine games.

The Blazers came back from a 25-point deficit and had two chances to win in the final seconds, but each time Lillard came up short. Portland had the ball with 20.3 seconds left and trailing by one after forcing a shot-clock violation on the Mavericks, but Lillard drove under the basket and his pass was deflected by Dwight Powell, and the carom went off Lillard's chest while he was standing out of bounds with 12.3 seconds left. 

However, Dallas gave the Blazers one more opportunity when Deron Williams threw the inbounds pass to no one, the Blazers finally grabbing possession when Mason Plumlee scooped up the ball near halfcourt and called timeout with 9.8 seconds left. 

That set up Lillard's final shot, which was harried from the defense of former Blazers guard Wesley Matthews, who earlier in the quarter picked Lillard near halfcourt and converted a fast-break layin to make it 94-91. 

Portland (13-18) is now in a three-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot with Denver (12-17) and Sacramento (12-17). Dallas (8-21) won its second road game of the season in 15 tries. 

Lillard finished with 29 points, but he shot 10-of-23 and had six turnovers, while CJ McCollum also struggled with his shot (5-of-16). Dallas was led by Harrison Barnes (28 points) and Williams (23 points) and benefitted from Maurice Harkless fouling out with 4:34 left in the fourth quarter. Matthews, whose defense was key in the fourth quarter, added 16 points for Dallas. 

The Blazers showed some life in the third quarter, outscoring Dallas 33-19, which included a 16-2 run, helping trim Dallas' lead to 81-71 entering the final quarter. Lillard scored 20 in the third and the defense held Dallas to 8-of-20 shooting.

Portland played one of its poorest first halves of the season, trailing the offensively-challenged Mavericks 62-38 at halftime. Dallas, which entered the game as the NBA's lowest scoring team at 94.1 points a game, scored 30 and 32 points in the first two quarters while shooting 50 percent from the field. The Blazers didn't help themselves with 11 turnovers and their two stars -- Lillard (2-for-8) and McCollum (1-for-8) -- combined to go 3-for-16. 

Al-Farouq Aminu returned to the lineup after missing the last four games with a back bruise, but was largely ineffective, save for a diving steal near the end of the first half that resulted in an Allen Crabbe fast-break layin. But the jolt of energy was short-lived as Dallas raced back and beat the buzzer with a Seth Curry three-pointer. Aminu finished with five points and six rebounds in 30 minutes. 

Next up: San Antonio at Blazers, 7 p.m. Friday (CSN).

Podcast:

Wesley Matthews looking for first win, not back at Trail Blazers

Wesley Matthews looking for first win, not back at Trail Blazers

DALLAS – By now, Wesley Matthews says he is over his time with the Trail Blazers, the strangeness of going against his former team long ago worn off.

Plus, his mind these days is occupied with trying to right the ship of his current team, the winless Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas (0-4) plays host to the Blazers (2-3) tonight at the American Airlines Center (5:30 p.m., CSN), and both Matthews and coach Rick Carlisle say the Mavericks’ problems are easy to identify.

“We haven’t been playing hard enough, long enough,’’ Matthews said. “We put ourselves in position to be in every game, just not enough to get over the hump.’’

Matthews is the Mavericks’ second leading scorer at 15.8 points per game, but he is shooting 31.3 percent from the field and 9-of-38 from three-point range (23.7 percent).

“I haven’t been shooting it the best, but you can’t question what I have been doing on the other end of the court,’’ Matthews said. “My shooting is going to come. I’m not going to worry about that part.’’

Matthews at the team’s shootaround wanted nothing to do with reminiscing about his five years in Portland -- “I’m pretty sure they don’t miss me” – and he sounded and appeared like he was already in game mode.

“We have to come out with an approach that we are pissed off,’’ Matthews said. “We are not going to roll over. We are a lot better than what our record says. We have talent in the locker room, we have vets, guys who’ve had success, we have champions, we have youth, we have everything. We just have to put it together.’’

Carlisle said he won’t mess with his lineups as he tries to avoid his first 0-5 start. The Mavericks are expected to start Deron Williams, Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut.

“To me, this is less about lineups and more about disposition, presence, execution and doing little things well,’’ Carlisle said. “Not making the untimely, bad play. Margins are slim.’’

Nowitzki, who has missed two games because of illness, is expected to play against the Blazers, but Carlisle said his minutes will be monitored. Williams is also expected to play after saying his groin injury is feeling better.

“(Nowitzki) is working through this,’’ Carlisle said of the illness. “He’s not feeling super great, but he’s going to play. He just has to work through this period of getting his legs back and back to feeling himself.’’

Damian Lillard: The Mind that Moves the Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard: The Mind that Moves the Trail Blazers

The night before the Trail Blazers would hold their first practice of the season, the team held a dinner at The Foundry on the shores of Lake Oswego, when a player asked to have the floor.

Not surprisingly, the player was Damian Lillard.

And not surprisingly, the team captain delivered a message that lasted well after the fish and chicken dishes were digested.

This was not a team with players who needed motivation, and it was not a team that encouraged rah-rah speeches. But when Lillard stood, the room came to attention.

“When you have respect from grown men, let alone millionaires, that’s a lot. You know what I mean?’’ Ed Davis said. “And he has that respect. So when he talks, everybody listens.’’

What they heard from Lillard set the tone for the upcoming season.

The Blazers’ minds, Lillard told his teammates, had to change.

No longer should the Blazers be the cute story of culture and chemistry. No longer should close losses to top teams be acceptable. And the 44 wins that was good enough for the fifth playoff seed last season? The West won’t be that easy this season.

“What we did last season was really hard,’’ Lillard reminded. “But the fact is, that’s just not good enough no more.’’

This team, he said, should expect to win every game. This team should expect to be better than last season. But it would be even harder than it was last year.

It was a calculated message, one that he felt needed to be delivered before the first practice in order to firmly establish there would be no easing into the season, no figuring things out on the run.

Truth is, his message was spoken partially out of fear. Ever since May when the team flew back to Portland after Golden State eliminated the Blazers in the second round, he harbored uneasy feelings. A part of him didn’t like the exhale of accomplishment the team felt after a 44-win season. He worried whether there were “too many pats on the back” being doled out after the series loss to the Warriors.

So on the first official day of the season, Lillard challenged his teammates. Everything we do, Lillard told them, has to be taken to the next level. Practices. Film sessions. Workouts.

Expectations had changed, he reminded, and simply matching last season would not be good enough.

“It starts in our mind,’’ Lillard said. “However far we want to go, it has to be in your mind first.’’

It wasn’t quite the “Us versus Everybody” fire-and-brimstone speech he delivered in the Los Angeles locker room that spurred their underdog season a year ago, but to his teammates in the audience, it cut a sharp edge to the season’s start.

“I think the things he has said internally, and the way he has played (in preseason) has really set the tone for our mentality and how we are approaching this season,’’ Mason Plumlee said. “Last year was ‘Let’s get better day-by-day’ – and that’s still part of us and what we are going to do – but now we are out to win every game. There is not a team we can’t beat. That’s how we are going to approach the season.’’

By the time the team left that night, the players’ minds didn’t so much change as much as they came into focus.

“He got us back into that mindset that we have to be ready to play, and teams are going to be coming after us,’’ CJ McCollum said. “And, that nothing is going to be easy.’’

If the night showed anything, it was that for all the strengths of the Blazers roster – depth, versatility, chemistry – their greatest asset still might be Lillard and his leadership.

He has a way with these men that is easy yet powerful, for he doesn’t just stir the fire in their belly, he moves their minds. They think not of themselves, but of the team. They think not of expectations, but what is beyond. And they think not what could happen, but what will happen.

On the surface, it may seem natural that a team’s best player is its most forceful leader. But behind the scenes, Lillard’s ascension was years in the making.

Before Lillard could be the mind that moved the Blazers, his own mind had to be trained to become a leader.

And the first step was getting him to speak.

**

Before Lillard’s first practice with the Blazers in the fall of 2012, assistant coach David Vanterpool watched the rookie play pickup games.

He noticed a startling trait from the No. 6 overall pick: he never opened his mouth.

So Vanterpool stopped the game and made a rule: Lillard was not allowed to cross halfcourt until he said 10 words. They could be about an offensive play, or a defensive coverage, or they could be flavors from Wing Stop. It didn’t matter. Vanterpool wanted Lillard to talk.

“I always think back to rookie year … he said ‘You are too quiet to be the point guard,’’’ Lillard said.

At first, Lillard struggled to find enough words to get passage past halfcourt, but soon he was blurting out about providing help defense, and about the need to get back in transition.

It would become the first of many exercises Vanterpool would employ in addressing what became their mantra: Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.

They would practice shooting off the wrong leg. They would play 1-on-1 where Vanterpool had free reign to foul him, and Lillard wasn’t allowed to complain. They would complete grueling workout sessions where quitting wasn’t an option. And they would study film, noting not just Lillard’s  assignments, but also the responsibilities of each teammate.

“He was constantly in my ear, holding me accountable for every little thing,’’ Lillard said. “He has forced me to be a leader and to do uncomfortable things over the course of my career, and now I understand it. I see the value in it.’’

The maniacal workouts were established so he could have room to tell the next guy to work harder. And the film study provided a base in knowing how and when to direct players on the court. Meanwhile, Vanterpool would level harsh criticism to both ground Lillard and harden him.

“I would say something to him about every little thing,’’ Vanterpool said. “And he accepted the criticism. He never wavered.’’

Still, even as Lillard’s game flourished, he remained mostly muted.

**

In 2014, the Blazers locker room was a delicate landscape for a second-year player to navigate.

LaMarcus Aldridge was the designated leader, but he chose to lead with his play more than his mouth or his heart. Wesley Matthews was the heart and soul of the team, a brash, emotional veteran who often reminded that the right to speak was earned rather than given.  And Nicolas Batum was an accomplished player who was content to stay in the shadows.

“I tried to encourage him to say more while (the veterans) were here, but there were sensitivity things going on,’’ Vanterpool said. “It was just tougher for him. But you could see that whole time that he was preparing for what he would say in each situation.’’

Vanterpool knew he had a student on his hands, so he presented Lillard with the classic “The Art of War” in hopes the book would resonate.

Although Lillard said he was able to only read parts of the book, he was drawn to the chapters on leadership and controlling the environment around you.  He found that no matter how much he read, or how much he worked with Vanterpool, leading was difficult and sensitive.

The most difficult part?

“Standing up to people,’’ Lillard said. “For example, Wes would run ahead and Wes would get mad, and I would have to learn how to be in control of that situation. Instead of it being us going back and forth, I had to control and manipulate the situation. Like ‘My bad; I’ve got you … but the next time, maybe you could do this  … ‘ kind of nurse the situation. That was uncomfortable. Wes had been in the league way longer than me, I don’t want to step on people’s toes … but I had to learn to confront those situations.’’

Soon, Lillard would make his breakthrough. Near the end of his second season the Blazers were on their way to winning 54 games, but in March they were caught in a four-game spiral where they couldn’t finish games.

After the fourth straight loss, in San Antonio, the locker room was silent after coach Terry Stotts finished his postgame address until two words came from the stall of Lillard: “Hold on.’’

Before he spoke, Lillard thought about what he was about to do. He thought about Vanterpool’s lessons in being comfortable being uncomfortable. And here he was, thrusting himself into an uncomfortable situation with one question to answer.

“Do I care about guys’ feelings or do I care about what’s good for the team?’’ Lillard remembered thinking. “So I just kind of went out and said what I had to say.’’

The team has kept what Lillard said that night private, but by all accounts it was an impassioned speech about caring and sticking together. It was  a watershed moment for Lillard, and really, the franchise. Lillard felt freed of holding everything in, and the Blazers knew they had a special leader who was beginning to blossom.

“It was big in me being able to come forward as a leader because (the veterans) respected it, it wasn’t like people tried to go at me,’’ Lillard said. “They respected what I said and going forward I felt comfortable saying more and putting myself out there more.’’

A year and a half later, Aldridge left in free agency, beginning a dismantling of the veteran core. The rebuild was built on the foundation that Lillard would lead not only on the court, but off it.

“We had been preparing for the time it became his team,’’ Vanterpool said. “And halfway through his second season, I felt it could be his team, even if all those guys stayed because guys just wanted to follow him.

“And as soon as that door opened it was like he knew exactly what to say, he knew how to say it, when to say it,’’ Vanterpool said. “He knew how to pick one guy up while kicking him in the behind and how to pick another guy up at the same time by patting him on the back. He understood all of that.’’

**

Lillard’s leadership this season didn’t end with that dinner on the shores of Lake Oswego last month.

His play has been exceptional, with games of 30 and 27 points in the preseason, and his ability to gauge the mood of the team unmatched.

He approached newcomer Evan Turner after he sensed Turner was pressing and told the veteran to be himself and let the team adjust to him rather than him adjust to the team. And he continues to set the bar for work ethic, always the first to arrive for practice, and always one of the hardest and longest workers after practice.

But more than anything, he is the pulse of the team.

 “I’ve seen him grab individuals when he sees slippage, or sees someone fall into a bad spot, and he’s like ‘Look that’s not the how we do it here, we have to do it this way because this is where we are going,’’’ Vanterpool said. “He grabs anybody going from the wayside and doesn’t let them get too far. He keeps them close to the group so we can keep moving in a forward direction. And everybody has taken to him. Everybody has definitely taken to him.’’