Zach Collins

Zach Collins answering your Qs: Biggest bubble surprises, his pregame playlist & more

Zach Collins answering your Qs: Biggest bubble surprises, his pregame playlist & more

It’s time to check in with our Bubble Insider Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins as he answers your questions from the bubble.  

This week in ‘Big Z’s Bubble,’ Collins talks everything from what the Blazers did well against Memphis to the biggest surprises living in the bubble to what he was listening to before Tuesday’s game against the Rockets and what he’s always working on when it comes to improving his game.

Yep, there’s a lot to get to on this third installment of ‘Big Z’s Bubble!’

Collins explained why he gave himself a ‘B’ when grading his performance from last Friday in Portland's win Memphis after Rip City Sam on Twitter asked – “How did it feel getting back on the court and how would you grade your performance?”

As for bubble life, it’s hard to believe that the Blazers have been in Orlando for almost a month now after arriving in the NBA bubble on July 9

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]. 

    

Caleb on Instagram wanted to know what has been the “most surprising part about the bubble so far?”

Collins gave props to the NBA with how well the setup feels and looks as far as the arenas and locker rooms go.

HOWEVER, there was one instance when the Blazers’ bathroom was nowhere near their locker room.

Trust me, you’ll want to hear Big Z tell the bathroom story and then realize how it really wasn’t that bad, but in the moment it was before and after the game!  

Plus, thanks to Scott on Facebook, we get Zach’s thoughts on what needs to happen in order for the Blazers to continue their success in the bubble and make the playoffs after Scott asked, “What do you think is the most important take-away from Friday's game vs. Memphis? Where can improvements be made to have the most success in these final games?”

Always having a sense of urgency is something the Blazers have discussed a lot over the first three seeding games.

And shout-out to Curly Girly on Instagram who wanted to know what songs are in Collins’ playlist before the game.

Tuesday’s pregame playlist consisted of a lot of rapper J. Cole.

Yep, Big Z prepared for the Rockets with some old and new J. Cole.

“I’m on a J. Cole binge right now,” Collins said. “I’ve been trying to listen to all of his old stuff because I hear his new stuff all the time.”

But, he added that his pregame music is “all over the place.”

A couple of other pregame favs for Big Z include:

  • 'Gangsta's Paradise' by Coolio
  • 'Hard to Forget' by Sam Hunt

Okay, yes, that's very all over the place, Zach and we love it!

[RELATED]: Big Z's Bubble Week 1 -- Zach Collins takes you on a tour of hotel's barbershop

To wrap-up this week’s mailbag, we go back to a basketball question...

Brad on Instagram wanted to know: 

What’s one part of your game you’re always working on?

Simple answer: Big Z is always working on his shot.

“Just always be ready to knock down threes is important for this team. So, [I’m] always [working on] shooting.”

[RELATED]: Big Z's Bubble Week 2 -- Is Zach Collins a good bowler? Well, we know -- he's eager to earn DPOY 

Check out the third installment of ‘Big Z’s Bubble Life’ right here where he answers all of the above questions and takes you on a tour of the hotel’s “food station.”  

Also, don’t forget to continue to send in your questions for Zach. He’ll be answering the top questions on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram next week while the Blazers make a final push for the postseason.  

Catch Collins and the Trail Blazers Thursday when Portland faces Denver on the official network of the Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest! Coverage starts at 2:30p.m. with ‘Blazers Game Day’ followed by ‘Blazers Warm-up’ at 4:00p.m. and  Blazers Pregame at 4:30p.m. The Blazers and Nuggets tip-off at 5:00p.m.

And then, wrap up a full Blazers Night with ‘Blazers Outsiders’ following the Trail Blazers Postgame Show. Don't miss a second of the action, download the MyTeams App and live stream the game.

Big Z's Bubble: Is Zach Collins a good bowler? Well, we know -- he's eager to earn DPOY

Big Z's Bubble: Is Zach Collins a good bowler? Well, we know -- he's eager to earn DPOY

It’s time to find out how life in the Bubble is going for the Trail Blazers from our Bubble Insider Blazers big man Zach Collins

As Collins and the Blazers continue to prepare for their first of eight seeding games, starting with Friday’s showdown against the Memphis Grizzlies, Collins is also answering the questions you sent in on social media!  

This week in ‘Big Z’s Bubble,’ he takes us on a special bowling trip in Part 2 of 'Big Z's Bubble.' The entire team went bowling earlier this week after CJ McCollum set up the team bonding experience.    

Shout-out to CJ because now we know who can bowl and who needs to stick to bumper bowling.  

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

    

Big Z also opens up about what type of career he would want if he wasn’t in the NBA thanks to Joshua on Facebook asking, “Zach, if you weren't playing pro ball, what would be your chosen occupation?”

"I'd like to work in movies because I'm such a big fans of movies and the whole process behind making a movie really fascinates me," Collins said.

So, does that mean:

Collins is going to be the next Steven Spielberg or George Lucas?

Or, is he the next Brad Pitt?

It sounds like a movie career could be in Collins' future, far, far future!

[RELATED]: Big Z's Bubble Week 1 -- Zach Collins takes you on a tour of hotel's barbershop

But now back to basketball...

Garrett on Facebook asked, “do you think you will make an all-defensive team in the future/Defensive Player of the Year candidate?”

Collins was eager to answer this one:

That’s one of my goals. I definitely am not going to stop and I’m not going to stop wanting to get better and wanting to reach that goal until it happens, until I get multiple all-defensive teams and DPOY candidates. And, hopefully winning the award one day. I think coming into the league, defense is something that really came a lot easier to me than the offensive end of the game, and while that part of my game is there, and it’s going to develop and I know what I’m capable of, defense is more of an instinctual thing with me. I’m able to understand angles and timing a little bit better. So, that part of my game is something that I think is going to allow me to play in this league for a very long time. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins

The Trail Blazers 7-footer also mentioned that he thinks earning all-defensive honors is “realistic” for him, but he knows that it won’t be easy.

And thanks to Kahfitz on Instagram, we now know that Big Z listens to a wide range of music.

A very WIDE range.

Plus, Zach is very honest in answering Ethan’s questions of:

Is Hassan Whiteside good at Warzone?

Spoiler Alert: This answer will make you chuckle.

Zach answers all of these questions and more in the second installment of ‘Big Z’s Bubble Life.’ Check out Part 1 of 'Big Z's Bubble' Week 2 right here.

And, don’t forget to continue to send in your questions for Zach as the NBA restart officially tips off this week. He’ll be answering the top questions on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram once a week while the Blazers make a push for the postseason.  

Plus, catch Collins and the Trail Blazers Friday on the official network of the Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest! Coverage starts at 10:30a.m. with 'Blazers Game Day' followed by 'Blazers Warm-up' at noon and 'Blazers Pregame' at 12:30p.m.. And then it's the Blazers vs Ja Morant and the Grizzlies at 1:00p.m!  Don't miss a second of the action on NBCSNW and by downloading the MyTeams App to live stream the game.

Are the Trail Blazers ready for Friday's restart? 'No question'

Are the Trail Blazers ready for Friday's restart? 'No question'

A lot is going to have to change for the Portland Trail Blazers to have any chance at garnering the No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference.

And it’s going to have to happen quickly.

The Trail Blazers meet the No. 8 seed, the Memphis Grizzlies, Friday afternoon in their first of eight seeding games. That game counts.

A lot.

Portland players have constantly talked about how important it is to beat the Grizzlies, to stay ahead of New Orleans in the standings and move closer to Memphis.

But in three scrimmages, the Blazers have looked a long way from being able to “hit the ground running,” as they’ve said they want to do.

Are the Trail Blazers ready for that challenge? Their coach certainly thinks they are.

“We better be,” Terry Stotts said. “That was the whole objective of these three weeks, to get ready for that game. So, yeah.”

So does “We better be” mean they ARE ready or he HOPES they are ready?

“We’re ready,” he replied. “I mean, there’s no question we’re ready.”

It didn’t look that way for much of Tuesday’s scrimmage or through a lot of the previous two exhibitions.

The Blazers played without starting guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollium and dropped a 131-120 decision to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which played without Chris Paul.

The loss in itself wasn’t distressing. These are non-counting games and the result is to be forgotten. But there were some distressing signs from Portland, particularly on defense.

The Trail Blazers continued to do a poor job of contesting three-point shooters, as the Thunder -- one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league -- hit 20-40 from long range.

But even worse, given the Trail Blazers used a lot of big lineups, with Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside, OKC made 24 of its 44 shots in the paint for 48 points.

Yes, Lillard and McCollum are going to make a big difference, particularly at the offensive end. But Portland had big trouble containing dribble-penetration through the three games, which led to baskets in the paint or kick-outs to open three-point shooters.

The Trail Blazers meet Boston and Houston -- two solid three-point shooting teams -- immediately following the Memphis game. Allowing uncontested threes to those teams could be a big problem.

But things can change rapidly in the NBA and certainly the presence of Lillard on the floor -- and Stotts said he expects his captain to play against the Grizzlies -- can be a big factor.

The results of the scrimmages mean nothing. And Stotts downplayed them. Asked what his team accomplished in the scrimmages, he said, “I don’t know about the scrimmages.”

“I think our practices were probably more beneficial than our scrimmages, but playing extended minutes, playing in nine, 10-minute stretches, from a conditioning standpoint, was probably the most important thing for us.

“We had a lot of practice time and did a lot of things we wanted to get done, so the games were more about just playing games.”

They certainly weren't about winning games. But winning doesn't count until Friday,

Damian Lillard & CJ McCollum will sit out Trail Blazers final scrimmage

Damian Lillard & CJ McCollum will sit out Trail Blazers final scrimmage

Get ready to see the young Trail Blazers get plenty of action in Thursday’s scrimmage against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Portland will be without its starting backcourt in their final scrimmage. Damian Lillard, who is dealing with inflammation in his left foot, will sit out for the second straight game, while CJ McCollum will be out for load management.

Head coach Terry Stotts was asked if there was something wrong with McCollum, to which he replied with a simple, “no, he’s not playing.”

As for Lillard, Coach Stotts said, “I would expect him to play on Friday.”

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

   

Trail Blazers rookie forward Nassir Little will be making his scrimmage debut Tuesday after missing the first two contests in Orlando due to a concussion.

As for the Blazers’ 7-footers Hassan Whiteside (Achilles) and Zach Collins (shoulder)?

Zach and Hassan will be limited minutes and Nassir will have limited minutes…  -- Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said pregame 

The Blazers and Grizzlies tip-off the seeding games Friday on NBCSNW.

But for now, check out the Trail Blazers and Thunder at 3:00p.m. PST in Portland’s final tune-up game on NBCSNW or stream the scrimmage on the MyTeams App

Damian Lillard went through 'non-contact practice,' Tuesday's status is still unknown

Damian Lillard went through 'non-contact practice,' Tuesday's status is still unknown

With just four more days until the eight 'seeding games' tip-off for Portland, and just one more scrimmage on the docket, the Trail Blazers have turned their attention to getting healthy and preparing for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Besides the NBA’s restart scrimmages, the Blazers aren’t getting in a lot of scrimmage time against each other right now.

Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic, who finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds in Portland’s 110-104 loss to Toronto on Sunday, explained that the focus of the teams’ practices are not about getting up and down at the moment.

“Honestly not a lot of playing," Nurkic said after Monday's practice. "We’re down some bodies and trying to figure out the health and trying to ramp up for Memphis... We focus pretty much all days from yesterday and on, on Memphis. That’s our main focus.”

In the Trail Blazers second scrimmage Sunday, Portland was short-handed once again. After not having Hassan Whiteside (Achilles) and Nassir Little (concussion) in the first scrimmage, the Blazers were without Little and All-Star Damian Lillard on Sunday. The Blazers captain sat out to rest his left foot after dealing with inflammation near the bottom of his foot. 

Tuesday will be the one-week mark since Little suffered a concussion in practice and entered the NBA's concussion protocol.

Both Lillard and Little’s status for Tuesday’s scrimmage against the Thunder is still up in the air following Monday’s practice.

The good news though: Both Lillard and Little were active in Monday's practice.

It was basically a non-contact practice with shooting and weights and everything. Dame did everything. Nassir played some one-on-one, which is the last hurdle in his protocol, so hopefully he’ll be available tomorrow. That’s not definite now, but hopefully that leads to him being able to play tomorrow. -- Blazers coach Terry Stotts after Monday's practice

Stotts said Lillard’s status for Tuesday’s scrimmage is “to be determined.”

The Blazers training staff and Lillard himself will have the final say on if he plays or sits out of Portland’s final scrimmage.

[RELATED]: If Damian Lillard isn't at his best, the Trail Blazer restart is 'a waste of time'

Stotts added, “If it would serve him better to sit out tomorrow then he’ll sit out. We’ll evaluate that and make a decision tomorrow.”

Both Hassan Whiteside and Zach Collins, who were limited to 20 minutes of action in Sunday’s scrimmage, had no lingering effects from Sunday’s contest as the two 7-footers look to get as close to 100 percent as possible ahead of Portland’s push for the playoffs. 

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

  

Zach Collins surprises 13-year-old superfan

Zach Collins surprises 13-year-old superfan

Social media is a game changer, no doubt about that.

Some people love it, some people hate it.

But, whatever your social media preference, one thing is certain -- social media interaction allows fans to easily connect with their favorite professional athletes.

While Portland Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins took us all on a tour of the team's pop-up barbershop in their Orlando hotel during his first official week as our Bubble Insider, he also responded to his biggest superfan.  

Emma, a 13-year-old Trail Blazers fan and even bigger Zach Collins fan, received an exciting surprise this past week. 

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

   

With Collins answering the best questions from Trail Blazers fans who send in their comments and questions on Twitter, Facebook, and on Instagram once a week, Emma wrote to us saying, “I’m 13 and Zach is my favorite player by far. I can’t wait until I can finally go to a game and see him in person. If you respond this will make my day.” 

It was then we knew we were going to make this happen and Zach was happy to send in his reply.

Now that we got Emma’s reaction on camera, I think it’s safe to say, this did in fact make her day.

Her smile says it all.

Emma seemed in in awe of Big Z taking the time to chat with her:

Hi Zach!

This is awesome.

THANK YOU, ZACH!

Watch the special video of Emma’s reaction from Collins' message to her above.

Trail Blazers have the footage and the intensity in second scrimmage

Trail Blazers have the footage and the intensity in second scrimmage

The Trail Blazers have been in the NBA's Orlando bubble since July 9.

Portland has endured minor injuries since then.

Big man Hassan Whiteside (Achilles strain) and rookie forward Nassir Little (concussion) did not play in the Blazers' first scrimmage Thursday afternoon against the Pacers.

Then, as Whiteside made his return to the starting lineup in Portland's second of three scrimmage games, the Blazers were without All-Star point guard Damian Lillard Sunday. Lillard is dealing with inflammation in his left foot.

Prior to Sunday’s scrimmage against Toronto, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said the x-rays on Lillard’s foot came back negative. Stotts added that he is ‘hopeful’ Lillard will be able to play in Tuesday’s final scrimmage.

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

  

As the Blazers adjusted to life with no Lillard on Sunday, that meant CJ McCollum made more of an effort on the offensive end, both as a scorer and as a distributor.

But besides McCollum’s impressive stat line, shooting 7-for-12 from the floor to score 21 points in 24 minutes to go along with his five assists, it was also the first glimpse at the Trail Blazers big lineup.

Just how big is this starting lineup of Hassan Whiteside, Jusuf Nurkic, CJ McCollum, Gary Trent Jr., and Carmelo Anthony?

The average height rounds up to be 6’8”.

McCollum and Melo assessed the work of their twin towers following the Blazers' 110-104 loss to the Raptors.

I think they did a good job considering the circumstances of getting their first action out there together -- figuring out who’s gonna dive, who’s gonna pop, we're limited in play calling right now as we get ready for the actual game, so I think all in all, they competed, they protected the basket, they played off of each other. -- Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum

In Whiteside's return to play, he finished with six points, five rebounds and two blocks, in his limited 18 minutes of action, showing off his jumper early. 

But as veteran Carmelo Anthony put it: No matter who is on the block, the two bigs must communicate.

“They played well off of each other,” Melo said of Whiteside and Nurkic. “I’m sure it was different for the both of them -- having two traditional bigs out there and those guys trying to figure out where they should be on the court, but for the most part, their communication was at an all-time high today. They communicated on things that they wanted to do, that they wanted to see, especially on the defensive end, they was in sync.”

Just as the NBA intended teams' scrimmages to be an opportunity to shake off rust, the Blazers are using this opportunity to play with different lineups even if they are forced to do so due to injuries.

It’s the first time that it happened -- that those guys was out there on the court together and it’s a positive for us, and I’m sure it’s a positive for them to feel comfortable. --  Trail Blazers veteran Carmelo Anthony on the Blazers starting Hassan Whiteside alongside Jusuf Nurick

Whether it was Nurkic and Whiteside or Collins and Whiteside or any other combination of the two, the Blazers made Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, OG Anunoby, and Serge Ibaka work down low.

And, nobody was surprised with Nurkic’s competitive nature even in a scrimmage game that doesn’t count towards Portland’s record.

And boy did Nurk get after it.

He also got after Ibaka midway through the second quarter.  

McCollum wasn’t the least surprised by Nurk’s demeanor and activity on the court.

Nurk’s gonna compete every night. Whiteside’s gonna compete every night and that’s what we love about both of them. Obviously for Nurk, he hasn’t played in over a year, so it doesn’t matter if it’s scrimmage or not, he’s still gonna go out there and compete and be his best self. -- CJ McCollum 

As Nurkic and Whiteside continue to figure out how to best play off each other, the Blazers will still need to continue to address their perimeter defensive struggles, which were on display in the second half against the Raptors. Of course, no Lillard meant losing out on his 28.9 points a game and then some, but the Blazers had a tough time scoring both inside and out. 

However, just as McCollum said postgame, the Trail Blazers are limited to a smaller number of plays right now.

The Blazers aren’t showing all of their cards in the scrimmages.

And there's this to keep in mind too:

I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to get into the playoffs. -- CJ McCollum on gearing up to play extended minutes

Portland will have one final tune-up Tuesday when the Blazers face the Thunder in their third and final scrimmage.

The Blazers and Thunder tip-off at 3:00p.m. PST on NBCSNW.

Zach Collins: "If me coming off the bench helps us win a championship, I’m 100 percent in"

Zach Collins: "If me coming off the bench helps us win a championship, I’m 100 percent in"

This hasn’t been the NBA season many could've ever predicted. Who would’ve guessed there would be such a thing as the NBA restart in 'a bubble' due to a global pandemic shutting down the league?

Not to mention, for Trail Blazers fans, there was the assumption at the start of the season that Portland would rely on the 7-footer-duo of Hassan Whiteside and Zach Collins until Jusuf Nurkic was healthy enough to return in the spring.

And then, just three games into the season that plan changed.

Collins had successful surgery to repair his left labrum on Nov. 5 after suffering the injury in the third quarter of Portland’s third game of the season while in Dallas. 

He was then scheduled to be re-evaluated in approximately four months.

[RELATED]: Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back and the Trail Blazers are PUMPED

And now, here we are about to restart the 2019-20 season, and it sounds like Collins will still be playing the four alongside Whiteside, but now he’ll also get considerable minutes alongside Nurkic.

No matter who Collins is out on the floor with, he believes this trio of bigs, himself included, “could be really lethal.”

It’s going to be fun. I think we’re all going to look for each other. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing. We’re going to have a lot of high-low stuff. When the play will be broken and we kind of get into that, I think we'll work really well -- all of us are pretty good passers. I think if we go out there and communicate on the defensive end, offensive end together, I think it could be really lethal for us. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins after Saturday's practice

Blazers coach Terry Stotts has discussed that he hasn’t ruled out starting Nurkic and Whiteside with Collins coming off the bench.

But no matter what, Trail Blazers captain Damian Lillard isn’t concerned because he doesn’t believe Collins’ role will change.

The Blazers are still depending on the 22-year-old’s defense. 

Just ask Lillard.  

“I think regardless of which group he's in the game with, I think he’s the same,” Lillard said. “Nurk and Hassan are different players, so there might be opportunity for [Zach] to do different things… but I don’t think his role really changes. He’ll be the same. Defensively -- Zach is one of our best defenders. He’s a good rebounder, he’s tough, a great defender, he can switch one through five and have an impact on the game that way. He’ll be picking and popping and finding those spots… regardless of which group of five men he’s in the game with… I don’t think much changes for him.”

And it’s not so cut and dry when it comes to Collins playing with the second unit. For Coach Stotts, who has said for weeks now that he will most likely run an eight-man rotation once the eight seeding games begin in Orlando, he isn’t really concerning himself with: Is Collins a starter or a bench player?

“I don’t know if/when we get to the regular season games, we’ll play an entire second unit. I think Dame or CJ will probably be on the floor. I think Nurk or Hassan will be on the floor, so I think evaluating [Zach] and what he’s doing with the second unit, he was only out there for three or four minutes with that group against Indiana, so I wouldn’t say it wasn't much of a test, but I would anticipate that Zach’s role will be the same no matter who he’s out there with.” 

[RELATED]: Blazers' take on arena ambience in Orlando ranges from 'weird' to 'funky' to 'unique' 

In the three games that Collins was healthy this season, Collins averaged 28.7 minutes starting at the four while putting up an average of 9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists.

The Gonzaga standout, who was obviously eager to start at power forward when the season tipped off, knows that whatever role is asked of him, he’s ready to step in and bring the noise.

I’m going to have to be a star in my role, whatever that is -- if I’m starting or coming off the bench and that’s been my motto from day one. You take pride in being a starter and that’s something that I’ve always wanted to be in this league, and I want to be a starter for the rest of my career, but if me coming off the bench helps us win a championship, I’m a hundred percent in. -- Zach Collins

The big fella did describe the differences, though, playing alongside Nurkic versus Whiteside:

“I think with Nurk, he’s -- not that Hassan can’t shoot, he does his little shooter thing [insert shoulder shake here], he can shoot -- but Nurk is definitely looking for that three ball a little bit more. So, in terms of a pick and roll situation -- knowing which guys going to pop or roll.”

Collins also made a couple of comparisons between Nurk and Whiteside to when he played with former teammates: Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis.

"When Meyers was here it was kind of the same thing with him, like he’s a great shooter, but he’s also a good finisher at the rim and same with me," Collins explained. "So, it was hard for us to kind of get out there and communicate, so as long as me and Nurk communicate, we’ll be fine. And then with me and Hassan, it’s a little bit more black and white -- kind of how it was with me and Ed Davis my rookie year. [Hassan] is going to be rolling and I’m going to be popping and it’s going to be me either looking for the shot or he’s going to be sealed after the pick and roll in the post."

One thing is certain: Having a trio of 7-footers, who are eager to work together, is never a bad thing. 

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

  

Blazers' take on arena ambience in Orlando ranges from 'weird' to 'funky' to 'unique'

Blazers' take on arena ambience in Orlando ranges from 'weird' to 'funky' to 'unique'

Certainly playing basketball in a gym without spectators is something most people have done many times. You grow up playing that way.

But for NBA players, doing their work with no fans in the stands is a different deal. No cheering, no booing, no energy. 

So how did that feel for the Trail Blazers during Thursday’s scrimmage vs. the Indiana Pacers? Different, but it doesn’t take long for NBA players to get so deep into the game that the atmosphere is out of sight and out of mind.

“Obviously, a huge difference,” Damian Lillard said. “Warming up, empty arena, it was pretty quiet. It was different for that reason. When the game started, I just got lost into the game. Didn't think much of it.”

What was noticeable on television was the backgrounds behind the baskets, which were done in the color (yellow) of Indiana, the designated home team. That appeared as if it might be distracting.

“A few times, it was light in the background and it looked weird seeing it through the glass,” Lillard said.

He said officials asked for his input about the setup.

“When they asked me about it, I mentioned it to them. Pretty sure it won’t be that way going forward.”

Zach Collins asked out of any discussion about the shooting background.

“I didn’t shoot anything outside the paint in that game so maybe I will give you a better answer when I do get some looks,” Collins said with a laugh.

Collins, like Lillard, pointed out the difference in an arena with no spectators.

“The whole atmosphere was kind of weird for sure,” he said. “No fans.  Even when they tried to put fans on the screen when Indiana scored, they would be throwing highlights up there and usually that’s on a Jumbotron. So when you’re running down the court, you don’t see that.

"But now, you can be worried about your play and out of the corner of your eye you see something going on, on the screen. I don’t know if they’ll change that, I know they’re using these games as a learning process but it was definitely a little funky.”

Again, though, pros have the ability to tune out the static.

“You’re worried about so much in the game, guys are so talented in the league, whether it’s a scrimmage or not, you kind of get lost in the game,” Collins said.

Coach Terry Stotts had the sideline view and liked what he saw.

“I was impressed with it,” Stotts said. “I think everybody was adjusting to the lighting. Just the actual light, before the game. I heard some players talk about that.

"All the ambience they had in, I think it’s going to be different for regular-season games, once they start.

"But more than anything else, it’s very unique. It just takes a little while to get used to, but I think the league has at least made it seem like an exciting environment, even though you’re playing in an empty gym."

And even as a TV viewer, it's much the way the players see it after a while. You get into the game and the peripheral stuff is largely forgotten.

Who will start alongside Jusuf Nurkic? Zach Collins or Hassan Whiteside?

Who will start alongside Jusuf Nurkic? Zach Collins or Hassan Whiteside?

The big question that Trail Blazer fans had going into the NBA restart in Orlando was originally,”Who will start at center?” By now, though, there is no doubt about that answer -- Jusuf Nurkic is going to be there. He owns that spot.

But the answer to that question has led to another question that hasn’t yet been answered: “Who will be starting alongside him?”

I assumed all along that it was Zach Collins’ position. He opened this season (it seems so long ago) as the starter at power forward and is, presumptively, the team’s power forward of the future.

But Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts says he has still not made up his mind about that decision. He wants to see Hassan Whiteside alongside Nurkic in a scrimmage and revealed that he was going to start Whiteside in Thursday’s scrimmage until last-minute Achilles soreness forced Whiteside into street clothes.

Understand that Whiteside would not be playing power forward. If he plays alongside Nurkic, it will be with the more mobile Bosnian at power forward and Whiteside at his normal center spot.

“Mostly, I’m going to play forward with Whiteside in,” Nurkic said after Thursday’s scrimmage. “(With Collins at power forward) we mix it. Me and Zach, we’re going to switch a lot of things. We’re going to read a lot of things. “Four and five are going to be the same thing for us. When we’re on the court together, we’re going to help each other. I thought we looked great (Thursday), to be honest.”

Stotts is taking a neutral position at this point.

“I haven’t made up my mind,” Stotts said Thursday. “I had every intention of starting Hassan tonight with Nurk, to get a look at that. But with him being hurt, or not being available, he will start one of these next two scrimmages.”

And what happens when the eight-game seeding games begin?

“I haven't made up my mind what we will do against Memphis,” Stotts said. “But I want to see Nurk and Hassan out there together and I’ll make up my mind after that. At this point, I'll just keep an open mind about it.”

The Portland coach is in a difficult position. Whiteside has been his starting center all season and leads the league in blocked shots. And with Nurkic back, Whiteside could have bailed on the seeding games, using his pending free agency as an excuse and just staying home.

But he stayed loyal to the team and it would be a tough call for the coach to relegate him to the bench. So I believe Stotts is making every effort to give Whiteside a chance to win a starting berth.

But there are a lot of factors at work with this decision:

Collins is likely this team’s starting power forward next season and for many years after that. He needs time playing with Nurkic and the other starters.

Whiteside may use his free agency to land somewhere else next season, so why should he be anything but a backup?

And another consideration would be Whiteside’s feelings about starting. If he doesn’t start, with free agency ahead and what he has given the Trail Blazers this season, would he pout? Would he be a problem? Without him, the Blazers would once again be down to two playable bigs.

And what about using Nurkic as the power forward? He can probably handle the job, but is it beneficial to him and the team to play him there for long periods?

The mathematics of playing time can be figured out so that Nurkic and Whiteside would be on the court together only about 10 minutes per game, allowing for rest for each player. But should those minutes be at the start of a game?

Stotts has a difficult call ahead. Should Collins lose a starting job because of an injury? Should Whiteside lose his starting job because someone else is coming back from an injury?

There are a lot of questions and Stotts is the one tasked with providing the answers.

It’s not easy being a coach.