LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge Reflects on Damian Lillard Relationship, Regrets About Blazers

San Antonio Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge discussed his relationship with Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard in an interview published Thursday. 

Aldridge and Lillard played alongside each other in Portland for three seasons from 2012-13 through 2014-15, and Aldridge mentioned the struggles he had communicating with Lillard when they were teammates to Michael Pina of Vice Sports:

“It’s always tough for me to find that balance where I want to tell [Damian] not to do this or this is better. But I don’t want him to feel like I’m trying to hold him back from being who he wants to be. I do regret not talking to him at times, but also I feel like he was trying to find himself.”

Aldridge signed a free-agent deal with the Spurs in 2015 and has spent the past three seasons in San Antonio.

In addition to reflecting on the past with Lillard and the Blazers, Aldridge revealed that he has a better relationship with Dame currently:

“I would say him and I have learned more about each other since I left that would’ve helped us when I was there, so I’ve learned from that and I’m trying to be better and not worry if I come off a certain way, because I feel like when people know who I am as a person, they know I have no ill will. I’m more reserved, so I didn’t want to come off as trying to stifle his shine. I just got back in the corner and let him do his thing … I feel like if him and I communicated as much then as we do now, then things would’ve been totally different.”

Portland reached the playoffs in each of the final two seasons Aldridge and Lillard played together, and it made it to the second round in 2013-14.

Both players were named All-Stars in those two seasons as well.

Aldridge initially struggled upon leaving Portland, as his stats dipped significantly. He even requested a trade prior to this season.

After ironing things out with head coach Gregg Popovich, however, Aldridge has rebounded significantly.

With Kawhi Leonard missing most of the season due to injury, Aldridge has returned to All-Star form and is averaging 22.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for a Spurs team that is fifth in the Western Conference.

Lillard is having a great year as well with 26.8 points, 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds per contest, and he has pushed the Blazers into third in the Western Conference on the strength of an eight-game winning streak.

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Blazers’ Corner: Portland’s Late Season Struggles Seem Familiar

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What it is with the Blazers and the second-half to seasons?  Since the beginning of February, Portland is the only Western-Conference playoff team with a losing record at 13-14.  More recently, they’ve three of four and seven of ten.  Their star player, LaMarcus Aldridge, has been out the majority of this rough stretch, but if you’ve followed the team for a while, you know that All-Star player or not, this team always struggles to close regular seasons.

1999-20 Season

Ah yes, the last great Portland team.  Despite ultimately getting to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers in game 7 (I apologize for bringing this up), Portland did not enter the playoffs on a particularly high note.

 

Portland Trail Blazers
Portland lost to the Lakers three straight years in the playoffs in the early 2000s. | (nba.com)

If you recall  on Leap Year Day in 2000, Portland and the Lakers played at the Rose Garden with matching 45-11 records and 11-game winning streaks.  Anyone who followed the league knew these were the best two teams in the NBA and when they inevitably met in the conference finals, the winner would go on to win the championship.

They eventually lost a 90-87 heartbreaker and the tailspin began.  They would go 14-12 the rest of the way and while it didn’t prevent them from reaching the conference finals (they easily dispatched the T-Wolves and Jazz going 7-2 in both series), they did not have home-court when they played Los Angeles which may or may not have played a factor in that series (they lost two home games and won two road games in that series anyway).

2000-01 Season

The very next season, the team was rolling again.  Following a drubbing of the Golden State Warriors on March 3, the team stood at 42-18.  Things were going so well, they decided to bring more depth to the team by adding an aging Rod Strickland.  As it turned out, he was not the final piece to the puzzle.

A five-game losing streak followed, including two losses to the lowly Vancouver Grizzlies, Shawn Kemp got busted for drugs and left the team and the Blazers went 8-14 the rest of the way.

Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells - sikids.com
Portland was often frustrated late in seasons. | (sikids.com)

Despite finishing with 50 wins, Portland’s limp into the playoffs managed to get them the 7th seed and another matchup with the Lakers.  There was no exciting, long series this time around as the Blazers were swept by the eventual champs in three blow-out losses.  Oh, and they fired head coach Mike Dunleavy after the season.  The same guy who won Coach of the Year with the team two years earlier.

2001-02 Season

From mid-February to mid-March, the Blazers were actually playing really well.  At the All-Star break, the Blazers were an average team at 25-23.  But then they reeled off 18 wins in 22 games and were riding high at 44-27.

They then preceded to go 4-6 in the last ten games, finish as the 6th seed and once again got swept 3-0 by the eventual Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.  It’s a smaller sample size, but it’s still noteworthy.

2002-03 Season 

Another strong start and an average finish.  After winning 7 of 9, the Blazers sat at 39-20 on March 2 and possibly had one more deep playoff run in them with aging stars like Scottie Pippen and Arvydas Sabonis.  But once again, the team struggled heading into the post season.

Portland went 11-12 to finish the regular season, met Dallas in the first round as a 7th seed and after being down 3-0 in the series, the Blazers rallied and took the Mavericks to a game 7 in Dallas (the first team in NBA history to force a game 7 after being down 3-0).

But the team would run out of gas in the fourth quarter of the deciding game and eventually lose 107-95.  That was a competitive team with Zach Randolph coming into his own and Bonzi Wells playing the best basketball of his career (remember his 45 points in game 2?).

If only they had had that fire in the last quarter of the season?  They could have gotten home-court advantage and played Dallas four times in the Rose Garden.

2007-08 Season

This team brings back fond memories.  Expected to still be in rebuilding mode, the 07-08 team looked like it was headed there after a 5-12 start.  But then Portland did the unthinkable and won 13 consecutive games and 19 of 21.  On January 14, they were a solid 23-14 behind strong play from a couple of young studs (Brandon Roy and Aldridge), the Vanilla Guerilla Joel Przybilla and the irrationally clutch Travis Outlaw.

Travis Outlaw - wallcoo.net
Travis Outlaw was Mr. Clutch with the Blazers. | (wallcoo.net)

The honeymoon would not last however as the young pups would go 18-27 the rest of the way.  But it was fun while it lasted.

Recent History  

The following two seasons ended with a thud.  The 2011-12 team had expectations going into the season with Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Marcus Camby, Gerald Wallace and newly acquired Jamal Crawford and Raymon Felton as well as rumors of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden’s return.

Yeah… about that.  Felton came in to training camp out of shape, Crawford went from being a streaky shooter to just plain awful, Camby got old overnight, Roy and Oden never played for Portland again and coach Nate McMillan was eventually fired.  The 66-game lockout season is not a fond memory.

And that brings us to last season.  Everyone remembers the 13-game losing streak to end the season, but do you remember that team was 20-15 at one point after beating the Miami Heat at home?  That doesn’t sound like an impressive record, but last year’s team essentially had five players worth a damn.

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns, Game 2
The last two months have been frustrating. | (Getty Images)

It’s because of this that the starters played too many minutes, broke down and the team went 13-34 (yikes?) the rest of the way.  After the win against the Heat, Portland lost six straight games where the margin of defeat was never greater than six.  This gut-wrenching stretch doomed them the rest of the way.

So as you can see, Portland apparently believes in the adage; it’s not how you finish, but how you start.  This season has followed the same formula and unless the Blazers right the ship quickly, they’re in danger of joining a long list of teams that had unmemorable playoff runs.

 

 

 

 

 

Blazers’ Corner: LaMarcus Aldridge Going Home, Fans Get to Design Court

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LA Going Home at Just the Right Time

LaMarcus Aldridge has appeared in three games following time off to nurse a sore groin and he’s looked a little rusty in all of them.  In games against Denver, Los Angeles and Atlanta, the three-time All Star is averaging just 15.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting a paltry 36 percent from the field.  Wednesday’s 1-13 performance was the worst shooting night of the season for Aldridge as he wasn’t hitting any of his patented fade-aways or 18-footers.

Not playing high-level basketball for nearly two weeks will do that to you and LA admits it’s mostly ‘timing’ that he needs to get back.

“Since coming back, I haven’t felt my timing has been great.  Tonight, I was trying to find it in the minutes I was out there,” said Aldridge.  “(The Hawks) were double-teaming some and digging a lot.  I was trying to force the issue, but I never found my rhythm.  I’ll find it (Thursday) at practice.”

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Portland Trail Blazers
There’s no place like home. | (nba.com)

Practice is a good place to start, but it also doesn’t hurt that the first game on Portland’s five-game road trip is in Aldridge’s hometown: Dallas.  LA always seems to play well there and in the team’s last trip to Dallas, Aldridge posted 30 points and 12 rebounds on 61 percent shooting.  He also hit a game-winner there a couple of years ago if you recall.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers reveals that for his career, Aldridge averages more points per game (21.9) against Dallas than any other opponent in the Western Conference.  The 52 percent shooting isn’t bad either.

The most important game of a long road trip is the first one.  It can make or break a team’s confidence and performance.  Dallas has dropped three straight games as they fight to claim one of the last three playoff spots so the Blazers can expect their best effort on Friday.  If Aldridge is going to discover his rhythm again, Dallas is the perfect place to do it.

Fans Get to Help Redesign the Blazers’ Court

In November of last year, it was announced that the Trail Blazers organization was going to replace the court at the Moda Center following the 2013-14 season and that there was serious discussion about changing the look of the court as well.

Blazer court - trailblazers.com
Here’s my design. What do you think? | (trailblazers.com) 

Well it’s official, they are indeed changing the design of the court.  But they need a little feedback from fans before that happens.  Actually, they need more than feedback.

On Tuesday, the organization announced a contest which allows fans to “Create The Court.”  This isn’t some silly, gimmicky online thing either, it’s the real deal.

From the press release:

The team has joined forces with lead partner Moda Health to launch the Create the Court contest.  Beginning today, fans can visit trailblazers.com/CreateTheCourt and choose from a variety of options to create and submit their design.  Among the customizable options: word-marks, color schemes, patterns and tones.  In all, there are 184,320 possible combinations all within the NBA guidelines.

“This will be one of the most visible changes we’ve made to our arena in over a decade, so it’s important that we involve our fans in the decision-making process,” said Chris McGowan, President & CEO of the Trail Blazers and Moda Center.  “Conducting the contest on trailblazers.com and enlisting the help of Rip City is going to be a lot of fun and I am excited to start seeing the submissions.”

The graphics on the Trail Blazers’ current court have been slightly modified over time, but this will be the first time an entirely new court will be installed since the 2002-03 season.

The design process is fairly straight-forward (and easy for people like me).  There are six parts to the court to design — the boards, the baseline, baseline text, center court, the key and the lines.

Old Memorial Coliseum - forums.nba-live.com
My inspiration. | (forums.nba-live.com) 

Each section can be customized with various designs, colors and logos.  The color schemes included the obvious team colors: red, white and black, as well as silver and orange.  The word-marks that can be used are “Portland,” “Trail Blazers,” and “Rip City.”

Personally, I went with a design that feels both new and old-school.  I made the baseline court white like the old days at the Memorial Coliseum and I threw in black for the key lines and red for all other lines.  “Rip City” is featured behind each basket and the center-court baseline at the bottom feature “Trail Blazers.”

Fans have until March 16 to submit their designs.  After that, the team will announced three finalists which fans can vote for.  The most-voted design will be installed for next season and the winner will receive court-side seats to the 2014-15 home opener.

 

Blazers’ Corner: Injuries and Defense Becoming Concern for Trail Blazers

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Trail Blazers Suddenly Paper Thin in Frontcourt

As Blazer fans, we all know that inevitably, injuries will occur.  Up to this point however, the Blazers have managed to miraculously stay healthy amongst a rash of health concerns for other teams like Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Clippers.  In fact, Portland was the only team in the league to play the same starting five for every game through the All-Star break.

But that notable accomplishment ended on Wednesday when Dorell Wright started in place of LaMarcus Aldridge, who will be out a week with a nagging groin injury.  With Joel Freeland already down after a knee injury a couple of weeks ago, the Blazers had just three interior players.  But as is often the case with Portland when it comes to injuries, when it rains it pours.

Meyers Leonard - The Associated Press
Portland hopes to avoid seeing this in the second half of the season. | (Photo/AP)

Backup center Meyers Leonard, who would have seen his minutes increase significantly after Freeland and Aldridge went down, sprained his ankle in practice and will be out 1-3 weeks.

That leaves only Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson as legitimate low-post players to fill the paint for the next week.  This couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Already reeling heading into the break with losses in six of their last nine, the Blazers who were once neck-and-neck with the Thunder and Spurs for the top seed in the west suddenly find themselves battling with Houston and the Clippers for spots 3-5.  The Blazers have managed to build a nice cushion for themselves up to this point, but there’s still 28 games left and a lot of western conference teams itching to take Portland’s spot in the standings.

The organization elected not to make any moves at the trade deadline on Thursday and so now the team will just have to right it out until Aldridge returns and it’s no guarantee he’ll be back in a week.  Groin injuries can be tricky and Portland can’t afford to rush their best player back too soon.

So for the forceable future, it’s up to Lopez, Robinson, Wright and the resurrected Victor Claver to manage the middle.  Doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence now does it?

‘Defense’ Continues to be Hot Topic with Blazers

On Wednesday, The Oregonian’s Jason Quick wrote an interesting column on the Blazers’ defense so far this season and whether they could muster enough of an effort on that end of the floor to make any kind of noise in the playoffs.  He spoke with San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich about the topic and Popovich talked about how a player has to have the right mind frame and character to succeed on the defensive end.

“A lot of defense is focus,” said Popovich .  “And I think it kind of reflects the character of an individual.”

Blazers Struggling - Steve Dykes:USA TODAY Sports
Portland in the midst of its first three-game losing streak of the season. | (Steve Dykes/USA TODAY Sports)

Does that mean Portland has players with character issues?  Probably not.  But what is the purpose of basketball?  To put that little round ball in that little net.  Period.  When that’s the goal, every player is going to be thinking about accomplishing that because that’s the reward for playing the game.

It’s also a reward you can see, literally.  Defense on the other hand has no visible reward so in a sense, a player simply doesn’t put in as much effort or focus in that area because subconsciously, it doesn’t really provide much joy because they can’t physically see a satisfying outcome.

The players and teams that are able to see satisfaction and purpose in defense are the ones that end up winning championships.  Based on that mentality, Portland isn’t ready to contend.

They’re fourth-worst in the league in points allowed and dead-last in forcing turnovers to manufacture easy baskets.  In the playoffs, games are played at a slower, half-court pace and this results in lower-scoring games due to teams being able to have their defense set and ready to go.

As we saw last night, Portland has serious concerns on defense when they are ready to defend.  Patty Mills shredded the Blazers on pick-and-rolls multiple times in the second half and recent three-point champ Marco Belinelli had one wide-open three after another.

Wesley Matthews guarding Kevin Durant. -Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE
Wesley Matthews brings it every night on the defensive end. | (Steve Dykes/US PRESSWIRE)

Quick talked about whether or not the Blazers were rotating correctly, fighting through screens and contesting shots among others.  The answer to all of these things is no.  The only player who seemed committed 100 percent of the time was Wesley Matthews.  You could say that about a lot of games this season.

Popovich mentioned that he thinks Portland has played ‘great defense’ at times this season and it’s because of the personnel.

“They can get to you, and they can contest shots because of their length and athleticism.  That’s important, especially these days, because we all know how important the three-point shot is,” said Popovich.

So at least one coach, the best in the league, thinks Portland is capable of being a great defensive team.  That’s encouraging.  But once again, it comes down to seeing defense as a reward on the same level as putting the ball in the basket and right now, the Blazers don’t seem to see it that way.  With 28 games left to play, they don’t have much time to change that mentality.

 

 

Blazers’ Corner: How Should You Feel About The Season So Far

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It’s Been an Interesting Season No Matter How you Look At It

As the Trail Blazers head into the All-Star break following three difficult and frustrating losses as well as defeats in six of their last nine games overall, how well should they and fans feel about their play in the first half of the season?

If you were told before the season started that Portland would be 36-17 by the break, you would have taken that record and ran with it.  And yet with the way the last two weeks have gone, there is a sense that the honeymoon period is officially over and reality is setting in.  That reality being that Portland is a very good team that got off to a blazingly (no pun intended) hot start before cooling off and realizing that they are very good, but still not quite elite.

Blazers Team - Bruce Ely : The Oregonian
This particular Blazer unit has been very successful. | (Bruce Ely / The Oregonian)

But again, they’re 36-17 and two games behind San Antonio for second in the West.  If not for this recent stretch, the feeling would be one of excitement and optimism.  It probably still is.  I guess it comes down to whether or not you’re a glass half full kind of person or the other way around.  Let’s break down both perspectives.

Half Full

You’ve had one of the best records in the league for the first-half of the season and have consistently been 20 games over .500, a mark only the Heat, Pacers and Thunder can claim.

Against the elite teams (Miami, Indiana, OKC, San Antonio, Houston, Clippers), you’re 7-7 but really should be 10-4 if not for late threes by Chris Bosh and George Hill and a missed open jumper by LaMarcus Aldridge.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers-Training Camp
Coach Terry Stotts has a lot to be happy about this season. | (nba.com)

Your 17 road wins (a good barometer for great teams) is tied for the third most in the entire league and more than the Pacers, Rockets and Clippers.

Seven of your first eight games following the break are at home so the recent slump could be quickly forgotten.

CJ McCollum has played terrific in the last four games which is huge for a bench that has had only one consistent contributor; Mo Williams.  The team already has the best offense in the league and now you can add another potent scorer to the mix.

The last three losses have all been games you could have and should have won.  Against both Indiana and OKC, you had control for most of the game against two potential finals teams and lost thanks to a missed offensive rebound and a missed open jump-shot.  The Clippers loss came down to bad shot selection in the final two minutes.

Blazers Team - Kyle Terada - USA TODAY Sports
Portland has seen a lot of success on the road. | (Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports)

So really, you could chalk up the team’s recent struggles in late-game situations as nothing more than the “Basketball Gods” setting things right.  Sometimes the ball bounces your way, sometimes it doesn’t during a long season.

Half Empty

You should be concerned.  The Blazers are limping into the break and the loss against the Clippers has them tied for third in the West but really fifth because the two teams in front of them have winning records over the team.

The defense, which has been your crux the whole season, isn’t getting any better and now other issues are drawing concern including poor shooting, turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds.

The bench just got even thinner with Joel Freeland going down with a knee injury.  Now the only two players to rely on to spell Aldridge and Robin Lopez minutes are Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson; two players with freakish athletic ability and a lot of potential, but also inconsistent and lacking in basketball intelligence.

Portland losing - sportsrant.com
Portland facing adversity as of late. | (sportsrant.com)

The team has two five-game road trips to look forward to including stops in Dallas, Houston, Memphis, San Antonio and Miami.

The Blazers are the only team in the league that can say they’ve had the same starting five for every game up to this point.  Can that last?  Does another team rely on their starters more than Portland?

The starters aren’t playing quite as many minutes as they did last season, but there is fear once again that they could begin to break down.  Blowouts would be nice, but when the defense can’t stop anybody, convincing wins are hard to come by.

No matter how you view the team’s play so far, you have to admit it’s been a fun ride.  The team has exceeded every expectation, which in that case has to mean it’s been a success, but now they’re feeling greedy which means any loss is considered a big deal.  They were a borderline playoff team before the season started and look how far they’ve come.  The second half should be very interesting.

Blazers’ Corner: Aldridge and Lillard All Stars, Team Gets Break, Fans Content With Jerseys

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Aldridge and Lillard Named to All Star Team

For the first time since 1994, the Trail Blazers will have two players representing the team in the NBA All Star game.  During TNT’s pre-game telecast, the All Star reserves were announced for both the Western and Eastern Conference and Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard were named to the team.  This is Aldridge’s third-consecutive selection to the team and Lillard’s first.

LA and Lillard-sport.net
LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard get All Star nods. | (sport.net)

The selection of Aldridge was a no-brainer as the majority of national pundits believe he should have been a starter in the exhibition game.  Lillard’s selection on the other hand was still a little up in the air.  The Western Conference is loaded with guards, but with injuries to Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Eric Bledsoe and Chris Paul, Lillard’s chances of making the team were greatly improved.

This isn’t to say Lillard didn’t deserve to be on the team.  In fact, he has had a phenomenal sophomore season averaging 20.6 points, 5.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 42 percent from 3-point range.  Other than Aldridge, he’s the main reason Portland is tied for the second best record in the West so his selection is more than deserved.

It will be a busy weekend Feb. 14-16 for the guard as he will not only play in the All Star game on Sunday, but the Rising Stars game on Saturday representing the second-year players.  It’s a lot of attention for Lillard but it’s well earned.

Portland Gets Mini-Break Following Slump

The Trail Blazers have hit a bit of a fatigue wall following back-to-back demoralizing losses at the hands of Golden State and Memphis.  Is this just a rough stretch or should players and fans be concerned of bigger problems to come?

The team has played eight games in 12 days including three back-to-backs.  Yes, they’re professional athletes, but even they can get tired sometimes.  A three-day break before playing the Raptors on Saturday might have come at the perfect time.

A little over a week ago, the team was riding high after two impressive victories over San Antonio and Dallas to begin a tough four games-in-five nights stretch.  But since then the team has dropped four of their last six games.  Emotions have varied from looking disappointed after they felt like they gave away a win in Oklahoma City, going through the motions before rallying in wins against Denver and Minnesota and looking downright tired and dejected against the Warriors and Grizzlies.

The biggest factor in the team’s rough stretch has obviously been the shooting.  The team relies on jump shots and 3-pointers more than any other team, but the last two games have been their worst shooting and scoring performances of the season.

Trail Blazers slump - Associated Press
Portland’s 3-day break comes at the right time. | (Associated Press)

 

Portland failed to reach 90 points in either game and they shot an average of 34 percent from the field.  Even worse, they went 10-for-45 from long distance.  The 3-point shooting has been a growing problem.  Not since the victory against Spurs have Portland shot above 38 percent from 3 as a team.  This has resulted in more emphasis on scoring in the paint, which is very encouraging, but the team’s bread and butter is outside shooting and it hasn’t been there in nearly two weeks.

When your greatest strength is offense and it isn’t working, the defense has to step it up.  But that end of the floor doesn’t seem to be getting better as the season progresses.  Opposing guards are penetrating the middle with ease resulting in points in the paint or open jumpers for wing players.  The normally offensive-challenged Grizzlies looked like an elite scoring team on Tuesday getting whatever they wanted from inside or out.

The Blazers have seven more games before the All Star break and five of them are on the road including a four-game east coast trip.  Whatever problems they’re currently having are going to be tested even more next week.  So far the team has answered just about every challenge, but this next week could end up defining their season for better or worse.

No Changes Coming with Trail Blazers Uniforms

The last few years in the NBA has seen a bit of an evolution in uniforms.  From throwback nights to alternate colors to now sleeved jerseys, the league has apparently decided that the uniforms are in need of a makeover.

The Trail Blazers have been relatively tame in this regard.  They’ve maintained the classic white home jerseys and black road uniforms with the occasional road-flair red alternates making an appearance and only in the last couple of years have they worn the “Rip City” home uniforms every once in a while.

But in an effort to gauge fan interest in the uniforms, the Blazers put out an exploratory survey in November to see if there was any demand or need to change things up in time for the 2015-16 season.

After looking at the fan input however, the team has decided against any uniform changes in the near future.  The survey results showed that fans generally had no issue with the current uniforms, which have been the same since the 2002 season.

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers
Blazers “Rip City” Jerseys will be getting sleeves soon. | (uniformcritics.com)

As someone who doesn’t really like change, I have no problem with the team’s uniforms.  I do however wish they would wear the red alternates and “Rip City” home jerseys more often as well as having the occasional reversal night where they wear their road uniforms at home and vice versa for the opponent.

You may have noticed that Portland has been able to avoid the sleeved jerseys up to this point.  But according to Chris Haynes of CSNNW, at the beginning of next season, any team wearing their “heritage jerseys,” such as Portland’s “Rip City” uniforms, will be required to have them converted to short sleeve jerseys.

The sleeved jerseys have been met with mostly negative feedback from players and fans, but I don’t really have a problem with them.  When Golden State became the first team to wear them, I kind of liked the look.  It reminded me of college hoops and some players just looked good in them.

The Trail Blazer uniforms are classic and elegant.  There really isn’t any need to make any drastic changes and the fans recognize that.

Blazers’ Corner: Mid-Season Analysis

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Mid-Season Analysis

The Portland Trail Blazers have officially hit the halfway point of the season and to say they have exceeded every expectation would be a massive understatement.  I projected them to win 45 games and even that felt like a bit of a reach compared to other predictions.  But here they sit near the top of the NBA standings with a 31-11 record.  So how have they gotten this far?

Health

Portland’s starting five has been the same for every game this season (KNOCK ON WOOD!!!!).  The league has been hit hard with numerous injuries to key players and some how, the Blazers have been able to avoid the injury bug despite the fact that the team’s starters are still playing a lot of minutes (With the exception of Lopez, the other four starters are in the top 50 in minutes per game according to espn.com).

Trail Blazers Trio - NBAE-Getty Images
Portland has been lucky to avoid injuries so far this season. | (NBAE-Getty Images)

While health has never really been a concern for the current roster, there’s always that thought in the back of fan’s minds that someone will go down.  Maybe after all those years of injury after injury, the law of averages is in Portland’s favor.  They could use a break (poor choice of words).

The Offense

Ask any player if they would prefer to play in a structured offense with designed plays the majority of the time or a free-flowing style with improvisation and freedom and they’ll choose the latter every time.

Terry Stotts is an offensive-minded coach and he’s come to the conclusion that letting players do their thing, with a little bit of structure involved, is an effective game plan and it’s worked wonders so far.

Today’s NBA game is about 3-point shooting, ball and player movement on the perimeter and pick-and-roles and Portland leads the league in scoring (109.3 PPG), because they do all of these things really well.  These are the most efficient ways to score the basketball and the Blazers have made it their mission to focus on these areas.

LaMarcus Aldridge

Ironically, the team’s best player relies on taking mostly inefficient shots (the midrange jumper), but he may be the best in the world at it so it’s fine.

 | Photo by
LaMarcus Aldridge and his unguardable jumper. | (Getty Images)

Aldridge is having a career-year in scoring and rebounding by a wide margin and he’s been on a tear as of late (28.8 PPG, 15.8 RPG in his last five).  Despite Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews scoring better than they did a year ago, Aldridge has taken and made more shots than any other player in the league (Yes, even more than Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony).

Teams are rarely double-teaming Aldridge because of the shooters on the perimeter and this is allowing him to take his patented fadeaway jumper or work closer to the rim with his new and improved post moves.

There are only four guys in the league averaging 20 and 10 and LA is one of them. This is thanks in large part to Robin Lopez’s presence, but Aldridge has also made a concerted effort to crash the boards more on the offensive end (he has 20 in the last five games).

At the moment there are four MVP candidates; Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George and Aldridge.  Everyone already knew he was one of the top 15 players in the league, but a possible MVP?  Even being in the discussion speaks to the improvements he’s made in his game over the last few seasons.  Now the team is playing well and he’s getting some well-deserved national recognition.

Defense Still an Issue

Portland ranks 27th in points allowed at 103.5 PPG.  They sit 19th in overall opponent FG percentage and 3-point FG percentage which isn’t bad but isn’t exactly great for an aspiring elite team.

Wesley Matthews guarding Kevin Durant. -Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE
Matthews is one of the few committed to playing defense. | (Steve Dykes: US PRESSWIRE)

The real issue is points in the paint.  Despite the edition of Lopez in the middle, teams are still scoring at will near the basket.  Matthews is Portland’s only legit defender, (Batum is good, but a little overrated) and opposing players are getting around Portland’s guards with ease resulting in 47.6 PPG down low.  That’s second worst in the league and it accounts for 46 percent of opponent’s total offense against the Blazers.

Stotts’ perimeter philosophy on offense is working against the Blazers at the other end.  The scary part is Stotts changed the team’s defensive mindset to deter interior scoring after last year when they were dead last in points in the paint.  This season, there’s been a greater emphasis on the bigs hanging back on pick-and-roles in an effort to better protect the rim.  But they’re actually giving up more points than a year ago when undersized forward J.J. Hickson was forced to play center.

The defense has to improve if Portland has any notion of advancing in the playoffs.  Scoring points is fun, but stopping opponents consistently is what separates the contenders from the pretenders.

So far it’s been a fun and unexpected ride for the Trail Blazers.  They’re playing an entertaining brand of basketball.  Making the playoffs was the goal for this team entering the season, but now expectations are much bigger.  The national media has been waiting for them to eventually falter, but it hasn’t happened yet.  The next test will be sustaining this high level even longer and carrying that momentum into the playoffs where they haven’t been in four years.

 

 

 

Blazers’ Corner: Trail Blazers Struggling, Oden Returns, Aldridge Loses Bet

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Portland Needs to Fix First-Half Struggles As Tough Road Trip Begins

The Trail Blazers just completed a 6-game stretch against some of the worst teams in the NBA and despite finishing with a 4-2 record, the team would probably be the first to admit that other than the first game against Charlotte (a 134-104 blowout), their performance, particularly in the first half of those games, was less than stellar.

Portland Trail Blazers - Getty Images
Portland looking for answers in first half. | (Getty Images)

Against the other five opponents, Portland allowed an average of 27.8 points in the first quarter and they trailed at halftime in 3 of the 5 games.  The deficits were all by single digits, but giving lesser opponents the belief that they could compete and possibly win in the Moda Center is a recipe for disaster.

The Trail Blazers seemed sluggish and disinterested to start the games despite the fact that they had multiple days off in between most of the them and this gave the Sixers, Magic, Celtics and Cavaliers the opportunity to play with confidence.

Portland is “reacting” rather than “dictating” the rhythm of the game and it isn’t until midway through the third quarter and sometimes not until the fourth that the team is playing with passion and desire.

Is this a matter of an elite team going through the motions in the so-called “dog days of January” in the NBA?  Probably, just look at Miami and Oklahoma City right now.  But Portland can’t afford to start slow in their next stretch of games.  Beginning Friday, the Blazers begin a 4-games-in-five-nights trip against the Spurs, Mavericks, Thunder and Rockets.

The good news is Portland has already beaten three of those teams and they have the second best road record (13-5) in the league.  They’re certainly battle-tested this season, but if they want to maintain one of the best records in the NBA, they have to play for 48 minutes, especially in their next four games.

Greg Oden Finally Returns

For the first time in more than four years, Greg Oden played in an NBA game.  In 8 quality but brief minutes, Oden contributed 6 points on 2 for 3 shooting, two rebounds and 2 for 2 from the free-throw line.  But most importantly, he left the court on his own power.

Oden’s last appearance in a regular-season game was Dec. 5, 2009, when he fractured his left kneecap going for a block on Aaron Brooks of the Houston Rockets.  The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft never played for Portland again.  Miami is hoping Oden can finally avoid the injury bug that has plagued him his whole career.

As Blazer fans will remember, the stat line doesn’t tell the whole story of Oden’s impact on the floor.  The Heat were getting blown out on Wednesday night by an inspired Washington team.  When Oden stepped on the floor late in the second quarter, Miami was down 34.  By halftime, they had trimmed the deficit to 21.

Greg Oden-Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Greg Oden playing in a game. I really happened! | (Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

 

By simply being a “presence” on the floor, Oden affected the game by doing what Miami brought him in to do.  With the team trading backup center Joel Anthony on Wednesday, the speculation has been that this will open up an opportunity for Oden as the second half of the season begins.  At least for one night, Oden showed why the Heat have been patient with him.

The Oden era in Portland will forever be thought of as frustrating, disappointing and what might have been.  But I’m sure many Blazer fans are rooting for the big man to get healthy and have a long career in the NBA.  How could you not after all that he’s been through.

LaMarcus Aldridge Pays the Price After Losing Bet

The Oregon Ducks concluded their 2013 season with a 30-7 victory over Texas in the Alamo Bowl and many people in Oregon were no doubt happy about the outcome.  One person who was not was Portland All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.

The power forward went to the University of Texas for two years before entering the NBA draft in 2006.  To make the Oregon vs. Texas game even more interesting, Aldridge made a bet with the Blazers’ basketball communications manager Collin Romer who graduated from Oregon.  The bet was pretty simple:  If the Longhorns won, Romer would have to wear Texas gear for a day, and if the Ducks won, Aldridge would have to do the same.

Well, Aldridge finally paid his bet on Tuesday donning an Oregon hoodie and a pair of Nike Lunar Hypergamer low shoes.  The kicks are an especially nice touch due to the fact that the Oregon players wore them on Nov. 29 during the Civil War game.  The University of Oregon athletic department provided LA with the sneakers as they’re not even available to the public.

Aldridge shared his punishment with fans on Twitter and Instagram.  He looks especially dejected in the Instagram photo, but hey, a bets a bet.

“I lost a bet to Collin, that my Longhorns would beat his Ducks and I lost,” said Aldridge, “so I kept my word and I wore all Oregon gear today.  It was tough, but I did it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blazers’ Corner: Aldridge for Player of the Month

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Another Successful Road Trip for Portland

Despite the latest road trip ending with a bit of a thud with their loss in Minnesota, the Portland Trail Blazers can still walk away (or fly away) happy with a 3-1 mark considering two of those victories could have easily gone the other way.

Following the fireworks display they put on in Philadelphia (21 3-pointers, a new franchise record), the team played a tough back-to-back in Detroit against a talented Pistons team.  Down 13 in the fourth quarter at one point, the team could have easily thrown in the towel and gotten ready for Cleveland.

But instead a combination of things happened.  Damian Lillard caught fire despite having early-game struggles, Detroit decided to go away from what was working all night (post-ups for Josh Smith) and the Blazers took advantage of that by playing stingy defense.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Cleveland Cavaliers
Damian Lillard with another game winner. | (David Richard/USA TODAY Sports)

The Lillard game winner will get all of the attention, but it was the team’s resiliency down the stretch that allowed them to come away with a victory they had no business getting.

And it was more of the same in Cleveland.  Portland has had issues in the first half of games, particularly on defense, and it showed against the Cavaliers.  Andrew Bynum was dominating in the paint and the combination of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters helped Cleveland maintain a slim lead at the half.

But as usual, coach Terry Stotts made great adjustments at half-time and Portland outscored the Cavs by eight.  Then the fourth quarter happened and Lillard once again decided to take over.  It’s only his second year, but Lillard clearly has ice water in his veins when it comes to big moments in games.  He fears no shot and even when he makes them, he acts like he’s been there before.

Blowing a 10 point lead with 2 minutes to go isn’t encouraging, but the fact that Portland is winning close games is a good sign and great practice when the playoffs roll around.  The national pundits keep saying Portland doesn’t have the experience yet to be a true contender in the Western Conference.  Play more close games like their last two wins and that might be all the experience they need.

Aldridge Strong Candidate for Player of the Month

Forget Player of the Week.  LaMarcus Aldridge has been there, done that, after winning his third (and second consecutive) honor for last week’s games.  How about Player of the Month.

Through 11 games in December, Aldridge is averaging 25 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and shooting 52 percent.  Oh, and the team has gone 9-2 in the month with wins over Indiana, Oklahoma and Houston.

 | Photo by
Aldridge is having perhaps the best month of his career. | (nba.com)

The scoring has and will always be there for LA, but it’s the rebounding that is dramatically improved.  He has 9 double-doubles this month and 7 games with at least 13 boards.

The addition of Robin Lopez has been huge for Aldridge’s increase in rebounds, but you can see by watching him that he’s made a concerted effort to go after the ball.  In the past he would wait for the ball to come to him.  Now, he’s pursuing missed shots at both ends and attacking (scoring or passing) immediately to keep the defense on its heels.  It’s almost a lock at this point that the big man will have his first 20-10 season.

Aldridge has won the Player of the Month award before.  In February of 2011, LA averaged 27.8 points and 9.3 rebounds including a pair of monster 40-point nights against San Antonio and Chicago.  That stretch was the best I’d ever seen from the former No. 2 Draft Pick.  That is until now.

Portland still has games against the Clippers and Heat before the end of the month and if the team and Aldridge continue their outstanding play, he’s the clear favorite to win his second Player of the Month award.

Portland’s Amazing Statistical Night in Philly

I already spoke about the Trail Blazer’s record-setting night for 3-pointers against the Sixers, but it’s always fun to look further into a box score after a team puts up 139 points.

Balance:  Despite the season-high in points, Aldridge lead the team in scoring with just 20.  But the team had eight players in double figures and ten guys scored at least 7 points.

Shotchart_1387499609360
The 3-pointer has been very kind to the Blazers this season. | (nba.com)

Sharing this Holiday Season:  Coach Stotts was asked after the game if he knew the team had set a franchise record for 3-pointers.  He was unaware that they had, but he did say he was more impressed with the 41 assists (they average 23).  Every player, with the exception of Meyers Leonard, had at least one dime and four Blazers had at least five.  But no one had more than 9 (again, balance).

Consistency:  The team scored 71 points in the first half and 68 in the second including 40 in the third quarter.  They then toned it down with a measly 28 in the fourth.

Live By the Jump Shot:  87 of Portland’s 139 points came outside of the paint and 40 percent of their 93 attempts (Yikes!) were from 3.  I think it’s safe to say the next time they’re in Portland, the Sixers will be paying closer attention to the perimeter.

You Can’t Rebound a Make:  Philly only had 33 rebounds.  That’s what happens when the Blazers shoot 56 percent from the floor.  To put this in context, Aldridge had 25 boards by himself against Houston.

Blazers’ Corner: Still Proving The Critics Wrong

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Team Passing Every Test

What separates a good team from a great team is one that can not only play their own style to win, but one that can adjust on the fly when what they normally do isn’t working.  The last two victories over the Pacers and Thunder are a prime example of Portland beginning to transition from being “a good little team,” to a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.

Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews said it best following the team’s win over Oklahoma City.  “We played two different style teams — a rugged one with Indiana,  and another up-paced team with OKC,” Matthews said.  We are able to rise to the occasion.”

Perhaps the sign of a great team is one that can dictate the pace, but whether or not Portland is ready for that is beside the point.  They are winning regardless of the style, whether that’s slow grind-it-out performances over Phoenix and Chicago last month and on Monday night against Indiana or in a more fast-paced game against the Warriors, Knicks or Thunder.

Portland Trail Blazers - Getty Images
Portland emphasizing team ball during this impressive run. | (Getty Images)

They would prefer the ladder, but as Charles Barkley likes to say, “you live by the jump-shot and you die by the jump-shot.”  But Portland has won six of their last seven by shooting under 45 percent and have been consistently dominated in points in the paint.

So why do they keep winning?  There’s a number of factors.  For one, LaMarcus Aldridge is playing the best basketball of his career.  We’re just 19 games in and he’s already won a Player of the Week honor, put up a 30 and 20 game and become the first player this season to record at least 38 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 0 turnovers in the win against the Thunder.

While his overall shooting percentage is down a bit, it feels like any turnaround jump-shot or elbow jumper he takes is going in.  He’s also rebounding at a higher rate averaging 10 rebounds.  In fact, when he grabs at least 6 boards, the Blazers are 16-0 and when he doesn’t they’re 0-3.  When your best player is having a career-year, the team is going to win a lot of games.

Another factor is the presence of Robin Lopez in the middle with the key word being “presence.”  He’s not the fastest big-man or the most athletic, but he’s at the very least a seven-footer who can grab 8-10 rebounds, block or affect numerous shots and possess a halfway decent offensive game that keeps the defense honest.

Perhaps the biggest factor is that the team is slowly beginning to improve on the defensive end.  Ranking 16th in opponents points-per-game according to nba.com,  coach Stotts decided to implement a new defensive philosophy where the big-man sags off the perimeter player rather than go over the screen to help with the guard.  This means more emphasis on protecting the paint and while they are consistently being outscored down low, that’s more of a product of the offense focusing more on the perimeter.

There’s certainly room for improvement on the defensive end, particularly in guard penetration, but for now the team is holding its own on that end of the floor.  Maybe with time, the team can creep toward the top 10 in overall defense because at this point, it’s the only factor holding them back from being a true contender.

Terry Stotts Wins NBA Coach of the Month Award

When you coach your team to an 11-game winning streak in one calender month, there’s a good chance you’re going to get some recognition for it.  Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts was indeed recognized for his great work in leading Portland to a 13-3 record in the month of November when he was named the Western Conference Coach of the Month by the NBA on Monday.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers-Training Camp
If my team were 16-3, I’d be smiling like that too. | (Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE)

Tied for the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history, the run included impressive victories over Denver, San Antonio, Chicago and Golden State.  They also went 7-1 on the road with the only loss coming to those suddenly pesky Phoenix Suns.

Stotts becomes the sixth Blazers coach to win a Coach of the Month award, joining Jack Ramsay, Mike Schuler, Rick Adelman, Mike Dunleavy and Nate McMillan.  When asked about receiving the award, Stotts was quite humble and quick to credit those around him for the achievement.

“It feels good, but more than anything else, with awards like this, it’s a team award,” Stotts said.  “Player of the month, those guys are making the baskets.  But when you win an award like this, the players did a great job this month, my staff did a great job, we stayed healthy because of our health and performance department.  So this is definitely a team award.”

The team’s early success was mostly attributed to a soft schedule, but with back-to-back home wins against two title contenders (Indiana, Oklahoma City), Portland is answering every critic with resounding playoff-like performances.

Following the team’s win over OKC, Aldridge credited Stotts with allowing the players the freedom to play loose on offense and not “abusing” that freedom according to Aldridge.

So far Stotts’ is getting through to his players and the results have been phenomenal to say the least.  If this continues, Stotts will most certainly be in contention for Coach of the Year.

 

 

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