Western Conference

Western Conference Update: Lake Show bringing back an old friend in Dwight Howard

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Western Conference Update: Lake Show bringing back an old friend in Dwight Howard

What a summer it has been in the NBA.

Many people believe the West got considerable tougher.

And the Los Angeles Lakers got a lot of attention, per usual.

Now in late August, the Lakers are been talked about yet again.

Without DeMarcus Cousins in the mix for LA due to a torn ACL, the Lakers had been looking for its replacement candidate. In a revamped West, any injury has a ripple effect across the conference where just a few wins can mean the difference between home court advantage, the right match-up or a deep playoff run. 

Friday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers had found their man. Dwight Howard is heading back to Los Angeles.

The Lakers are being cautious though as Howard has expressed he has been working on fixing his bad habits.

One thing is certain, the Lakers organization is looking at this upcoming season as a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs, if not win it all with the Warriors dynasty seemingly coming to an end.   

[RELATED]: How the DeMarcus Cousins injury affects the Trail Blazers' chances in the Western Conference

There has also been so much buzz around Rip City. Could this be the year, Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers bring home the Larry O'Brien Trophy?

The Western Conference showdown this season could definitely be one for the record books. 

The Blazers are scheduled to take on the Lakers three times this season. The first meeting is set for Friday, Dec. 6 at Moda Center.

A fun player matchup to watch between Portland and LA will be Howard against Trail Blazers new big man Hassan Whiteside.

In their eight, regular season games played against one another, the two are tied at four wins each.
In their most recent matchup on Nov. 10, 2018, Howard finished with 11 points and 16 rebounds, while Whiteside had 15 points and 14 rebounds.

Howard could prove to still be a useful big for the Lakers, or he could prove to bring more drama to La La Land.

Either way, now that Superman, who played for the Lakers from 2012-2013, is heading back to LA to now play with LeBron James, NBA fans are saying bring on the popcorn.

How does the Mike Conley trade affect the Trail Blazers?

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How does the Mike Conley trade affect the Trail Blazers?

The Western Conference has some movers and shakers this offseason!

Wednesday’s trade between the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies was the second NBA offseason bomb, happening just days after the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Anthony Davis.

Quick Recap:

Jazz get: Mike Conley

Grizzlies get: Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, this year’s No. 23 pick, and a protected 2020 first-round pick

Now, let the chatter of the 2019-20 season begin with how tough the Western Conference is going to be and how it’s currently wide open with the injury-riddled Golden State Warriors. 

Pairing Conley with young rising star Donovan Mitchell sounds like a pretty dynamic duo.

This new Jazz backcourt will most likely be in consideration for one of the best backcourts in the league next season.

Could this duo make some serious noise in the postseason next year?

It’s very possible.

And it looks, like Conley is ready for this next chapter.

The Jazz made the playoffs this year, finishing as the fifth best team in the Western Conference while winning 50 games, but lost 4-1 to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. That was a bit of a letdown after a their big run to the Western Conference semifinals one season prior.

Thus, what does this mean for the Trail Blazers, who finished third in the West with a 53-29 record this season?

With Memphis, Conley gave Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and Portland as a team some trouble.

Since Lillard came into the league in 2012, Conley and the Grizzlies own a 16-7 overall record including three playoff wins over the Blazers with Lillard running the show.

Lillard is a more consistent scoring threat, averaging 4.7 points per game more than Conley, but many would say Conley is the better passer and definitely the better defender.

In their 23 meetings, head-to-head, Conley wins in the assists and steals categories as having a total number of more games with better stats than the other player.

Of course, Lillard wins the age category at this point in his career. Conley will turn 32 on Oct. 11th. And then there’s the injury aspect.

Is Conley injury prone?

He played in just 12 games in 2017-18 because of a left heel injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. However, Conley returned last season to play 70 games while scoring a career-best 21.1 points per game. He was also just off his career highs with 6.4 assists per game and averaged 1.3 steals per game.

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, are in full rebuild mode, so of course, the Blazers will need to keep an eye on them in the future.  Memphis is expected to select another point guard in Murray State star Ja Morant with their No. 2 overall pick.

The West is shaking things up that’s for sure.

Could the Blazers package a trade deal with their No. 25 pick on Thursday night?

Portland fans sure hope so.

The 2019 Draft could be very interesting, and not because of the picks, but because of more potential trades.

Is it Thursday at 4pm PT yet? 

A day in the life in 2000; last time Trail Blazers made the Western Conference Finals

A day in the life in 2000; last time Trail Blazers made the Western Conference Finals

Yes, a lot can happen in almost two decades, when the world was freaking out about the Y2K bug that would supposedly bring about the end of the Earth. 

The last time the Portland Trail Blazers graced the Western Conference Finals was in 2000. The Blazers acquired All-Star forward Scottie Pippen from the Houston Rockets in the offseason, went 59–23, and forced a Game 7 after being after being down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

Down 15 points with 10 minutes left, it appeared as if the Lakers were en route to a historic collapse. The Lakers went on a 15-0 run (and the Blazers missed 13 straight) to tie the score and ultimately win Game 7, advancing to the NBA Finals and winning their 12th championship. The series was widely criticized for controversial officiating and possible tampering. 

Since 2000, a lot of obvious things have changed. Smartphones didn’t exist, the Twin Towers in New York still boldly marked the New York skyline and Mark Zuckerberg was barely old enough to drive. Let’s dive into what a day in the life during 2000 was like.

You woke up with a clock radio. 

If you were driving to an unfamiliar area, you printed out directions from MapQuest because that was the high-tech way to live.

You listened to a CD on your way into work, either your favorite album or one you burned yourself. iPods didn’t exist until 2001. 

What is urgent email? You had no way of knowing what was in your inbox until you were at your desk.

You witnessed one of the most dramatic fourth quarters in Super Bowl history. Once trailing 16–0 in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXIV, the Tennessee Titans roared back to challenge the St. Louis Rams. But the Titans drive ended just short — one yard short, to be exact. On the final play of the game, Titan’s wide receiver Kevin Dyson stretched out towards the end zone, but was wrapped up by St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones to secure the victory.

Netflix was just getting started in 2000, but if you had a monthly subscription... It was to rent DVDs. Three recommended DVDs would show up in your mailbox and you got to keep them for as long as you wanted.

If you had internet in your home (under half of American homes had internet), you probably had a terrible AOL screen name.

The coolest thing on your mobile phone was the “snake” game.

Tiger Woods was everywhere you looked. In record-setting fashion, Woods won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. His U.S. Open performance was one of the most amazing individual feats in sports history. Woods won the tournament by an unbelievable 15 strokes, the largest margin of victory ever at a major tournament.

Hope you enjoyed that trip down memory lane! Cheers to streaming music, not having to memorize phone numbers, non-smoking restaurants, Instagram and the Trail Blazers return to the Western Conference Finals.

Dell, Sonya Curry enjoying Warriors-Blazers moment with Steph, Seth

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Dell, Sonya Curry enjoying Warriors-Blazers moment with Steph, Seth

On Tuesday night, it'll be all business at Oracle Arena when the Blazers and Warriors meet in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

But in the two days leading up to the all-Curry Western Conference title bout, the family is just going to enjoy the moment as Steph and Seth prepare to vie for the right to go to the NBA Finals.

"It's a dream come true for both of us," Seth Curry said Sunday following Portland's 100-96 win in Game 7 over the Denver Nuggets, via ESPN. "Obviously, it's the first time it's been done. It's going to be a lot of fun for our families to be in the building. I'm looking forward to it."

Dell and Sonya Curry already have prepared a plan for which son they'll cheer for during each game. While the tension of the Steph vs. Seth matchup will be high, Sonya is choosing to look at the positive side of the matchup. 

"It's going to be so much fun," Sonya Curry told ESPN. "It is. From our end, to see both of our sons to compete at this level and for the goal to be a championship is such a blessing. We never could imagine this.

"One of them might go home. But we're going to the championship!"

Since it's Seth first time competing in the playoffs, Sonya is especially excited to watch the younger brother on this big of a stage.

"It's fun," she said. "It is really. I actually look forward to watching Seth and doing that. I want him to steal the ball and want him to shoot over Stephen and all that good stuff. I want him to have his moments too."

After going down three-games-to-two to the Nuggets, the Blazers rallied for wins in Game 6 and Game 7 to punch their ticket to their first conference finals berth since 2000, thanks in large part to CJ McCollum's 37-point bonanza in Game 7.

The Blazers now will face a Warriors team looking to head to its fifth straight NBA Finals. The last time the Blazers made the conference finals they faced another juggernaut: The 2000 Shaq-Kobe Lakers. 

[RELATED: Warriors vs. Blazers Western Conference finals schedule]

While the Blazers were battling the Nuggets in their grueling seven-game series, the Dubs had their hands full with James Harden and the Rockets. After Kevin Durant suffered a right calf strain in Game 5, it appeared the Rockets might finally be able to knock off the NBA's Goliath.

But Steph exploded for 33 second-half points in Game 6 on Friday night to send Harden, Chris Paul and the Rockets on summer vacation. 

Durant's status for the Western Conference finals is still up in the air. If he remains out, the load will fall on Curry, the two-time NBA MVP, to carry the Warriors past his brother and the Blazers.

The brothers Curry now will meet a conference title on the line. Steph is 7-2 lifetime in head-to-head meetings with Seth, but both those losses came this season.

Portland might appear to be outgunned, but the Blazers have posted a 4-3 record against the Warriors over the past two seasons, so don't count Seth and Rip City out before the opening bell rings.

Blazers secret ingredient for taking care of business

Blazers secret ingredient for taking care of business

In the last few seasons, the Portland Trail Blazers have been more of “close it out after the All-Star break” kind of team.

But things are changing.

Portland currently sits in the fourth spot in the West with a 31-20 overall record, 5.5 games back of the number one-seeded Golden State Warriors.

A big reason for their early overall success has been their 17-4 record against teams with below .500 records.

With an 81% win percentage against sub-.500 teams, they're taking care of business against teams they should.

Of course, as the coach of the team, Coach Terry Stotts doesn't want to be complacent. 

“I would’ve liked to have played better first halves against a lot of those teams, but in the end, we found a way to win games,” Stotts said after Tuesday’s practice.

Coach Stotts did acknowledge that there is a certain trait that goes into not overlooking teams.

“You’d like to think some maturity has kicked in. We’ve got a relatively veteran team, even though it’s a young veteran team. We’ve got guys that have been in the league for -- four, five, six, seven years and I think having success last year and knowing what’s at stake this year, I think it lends itself to that,” Stotts said.

On the contrary though this season, Portland is 14-16 vs. teams that have a .500 and above record.

In comparison, the Warriors are 16-12 against teams that hold records at .500 or above. The Rockets have the most wins against teams with better than .500 records with 18.

Which really boils down to—

The West is tough and so evenly matched, Western Conference teams are all struggling to rack up wins against top teams.

But, even though coach Stotts is not 100% percent on board that his team is beating teams in the bottom half of the league solely because of the maturation of his team, his players believe it to be true.

Yes, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum chalk up their winning ways vs. sub .500 teams to their experience.

“I think that’s just maturity. In the past few years, I think those are games that we win two, lose one, win one, then lose two… Just giving those games away and I think now we just handling our business,” Lillard said. 

McCollum echo'd Lillard's talk of team maturity. "Understanding that every game is important," he said. "Based on the Western Conference standings there’s no easy nights and everybody is capable of beating each other, so you’ve just gotta stick to the game plan, follow the coaches instructions and execute."

The Blazers backcourt is on the same page both on and off the court and that has a lot to do with not playing down to your opponent, as well.

“We’re not looking at it like it’s an easy game, it’s something we should win – we are preparing, at shootarounds, are mind is right before the game and then we get it done, you know, we move on. So, I think that shows are maturity, our growth as a group,” Lillard said.

And, we can’t forget, Portland is holding down the fort at Moda Center with a 21-7 home record at this point in the season.

“As the years have progressed we’ve figured out ways to win games and then understanding that, you know, after evaluating each season of what we could’ve done better and I think a lot of that is beating sub .500 teams, it’s very important being able to take care of business at home… I think we’ve done a pretty good job of both,” McCollum added.

Last season the Blazers finished the year going 49-33 overall, good for third in the West, but their numbers vs. good teams may be skewed a bit because of their strong finish to the season.

Portland was 28-5 against teams that were below .500 and 24-26 against teams with above .500 records.

But, lest we forget how the Trail Blazers started the season vs. how they finished. 

At this point in the season last year the Blazers were 27-22 as opposed to 11 games over .500 this season. 

Portland dropped some “gimmies” early in the season, most notably against the Nets, Kings, Clippers and the Hawks.

Two seasons ago, Portland went 17-26 against teams with better than .500 records.

“As the season progresses and as we progress within our careers, we learn from failures – losing to the Sixers, back when the Sixers weren’t very good. Those type of games – we can’t allow those to slip,” McCollum said.

Last season, just like in the past few years, the Blazers finished strong post All-Star break.

As most Blazer fans remember, Portland’s magical run at the end of last season began with a win over Golden State the day before the All-Star break began and ended with a win at LA against the Clippers on March 18th, racking up 13 straight victories in the process. 

That streak tied a 2007 record for the second-longest in franchise history.

McCollum acknowledged that this season he feels that they won’t need to rely on such a winning streak to close out the year.

“Being able to kind of refocus and not having to depend on the 10, 12 game win streak, being able to be consistent will be helpful for us and if that 10, 12 game win streak comes then great, but if it doesn’t we’re still prepared because we’ve taken care of our business early on,” McCollum said.

There could now be some worry that Portland will be more complacent and won’t have the sense urgency after the All-Star break as in years past now that they took care of business earlier in the season.

But…

That’s not how a mature team would approach the second half of the season.

So, you should expect this trend to continue.

Scoop Podcast: A national perspective on the Blazers from NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh

Scoop Podcast: A national perspective on the Blazers from NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh

It’s time to take a look around the Western Conference and get a national perspective on the Portland Trail Blazers from NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh on this week’s Scoop Podcast.

We get to know more about Haberstroh in his first week on the job for NBC Sports as he will be covering the NBA league-wide and all seven NBC Sports Regional Networks’ teams including the Portland Trail Blazers.

Haberstroh is high on the Trail Blazers’ second unit, especially the newest additions of Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas. He believes that the development of big man Zach Collins is going to be key in how Portland’s season turns out this year.

[RELATED VIDEO]: Haberstroh talks CJ McCollum, Blazers win predictions 

Plus, what will it take for CJ McCollum to become an NBA All-Star?

Our NBC Sports NBA Insider believes that there is one key piece missing from McCollum’s game that could elevate him to the next level just as it did for John Wall.

And hey, Blazers fans—Haberstroh does not believe in the Lakers making any noise in the West, in fact, he calls the Lake Show “a mess”. So, if nothing else, you’ll want to listen to this podcast to hear him dog on the Lakers.

Have you thought about a dark horse in the league this season? Haberstrogh gives us his team that he believes will surprise some people. Hint he’s going with a team in the Western Conference that did not make the playoffs last season.

All of that and much more right here on the Scoop Podcast.