Damian Lillard

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.

Read more Portland Trail Blazers news on BleacherReport.com

Damian Lillard Met with Trail Blazers Owner Paul Allen to ‘Spark That Urgency’

Damian Lillard‘s meeting with Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen turned into a discussion of how the franchise can join the ranks of the Western Conference’s elite teams.

In an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Lillard noted he wanted to open up a line of communication with Allen to see if they can improve the entire organization:

“It was just me showing urgency, spark that urgency, figure out, ‘OK, what do we have to do?’ We’re a five, six seed. What do we got to do to make the jump? If you don’t have a line of communication with people who can make the changes or the people who can make impact for things happening for the better, then you’re just going out there playing.”

ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported in January that Lillard and Allen met for nearly an hour at Moda Center before a game against the Indiana Pacers

Haynes noted Allen “feared” Lillard was going to request a trade leading up to the meeting, but it wound up leading to the three-time All-Star reaffirming his place with the Trail Blazers and “to gain assurances that the organization was just as devoted to expeditiously crafting a title-contending team.”

Lillard signed a five-year contract extension through the 2020-21 season in July 2015. He’s been with the Blazers since they drafted him No. 6 overall in 2012. 

Portland entered the All-Star break as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference with a 32-26 record. The team has made the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons but hasn’t advanced beyond the second round. 

Read more Portland Trail Blazers news on BleacherReport.com

Damian Lillard Drops 50 Points in 3 Quarters in Blazers’ Win over Kings

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard scored 50 points in just three quarters in the Blazers’ 118-100 rout of the Sacramento Kings at the Golden 1 Center Friday night.

Michael Wagaman of the Associated Press passed along comments from Lillard about why he didn’t ask head coach Terry Stotts for more playing time.

“I saw we were up 20, and I was like, ‘OK, if we keep this lead, there’s really no reason to go back in there,'” he said. “I’d rather have a 50 in 29 minutes with some character than go out there and chase 60. I feel like that’s bad karma.”

Lillard connected on 16 of his 26 shots from the field, including eight of 13 attempts from beyond the three-point line. He was also a perfect 10 of 10 from the free-throw stripe.

The 27-year-old Weber State product added six assists, three steals and a rebound as part of the dazzling display. Maurice Harkless was the team’s second-leading scorer, recording 15 points.

Kings head coach Dave Joerger joked about his squad’s inability to keep the dynamic point guard in check, per Wagaman: “We did a super job on [Lillard] in the fourth quarter.”

Lillard’s performance moved him into a virtual tie with Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook for seventh in the NBA in scoring, with 25.5 points per game.

He will look to continue his hot shooting Sunday night, when the Blazers return to Moda Center to face the Utah Jazz.

Read more Portland Trail Blazers news on BleacherReport.com

Blazers Trade Rumors: Portland Rejecting Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum Offers

The Portland Trail Blazers are reportedly rejecting trade offers for their star-studded backcourt.

On Monday, Zach Lowe of ESPN.com reported Portland is turning down inquiries regarding Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum even though “some folks have pitched deals centered around” the latter.

Lowe specifically mentioned the Cleveland Cavaliers as a potential trading partner for McCollum. However, he noted Kevin Love and the rights to the Brooklyn Nets‘ first-round pick figures to be too heavy a price for Cleveland to pay, while replacing Love with Tristan Thompson in the package might not be enough for the Trail Blazers.

This comes after Chris Haynes of ESPN.com reported Jan. 23 that Lillard met with team owner Paul Allen to discuss the organization’s direction. Haynes noted Allen was worried Lillard would ask for a trade, but that never materialized.

Even if the Trail Blazers don’t move Lillard or McCollum before Thursday’s trade deadline, they could deal from elsewhere on the roster. Lowe pointed to the fact they are $3 million over the tax, granting “when a non-contender gets that close, it usually tries to duck it.”

He said wingman Maurice Harkless is a possible trade piece, considering he will make about $11 million per season through 2020.

Portland may not be a title contender, but it is 29-25 and tied with the Denver Nuggets for the Western Conference’s No. 6 seed. It is just one game behind the fifth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder but a half-game ahead of the eighth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans and one game ahead of the ninth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers.

There is an opportunity to move up in the standings and avoid a disastrous first-round matchup or fall out of the playoffs entirely, depending on how it plays down the stretch.

Keeping Lillard and McCollum figures to be critical in the postseason push, since they are the two go-to playmakers and leading scorers at 25.1 and 21.8 points per game, respectively.

What’s more, Lillard is 27 years old and McCollum is 26, and both are under contract until 2021.

Barring an unbelievable offer, it appears as if the Trail Blazers will keep their franchise cornerstones.

Read more Portland Trail Blazers news on BleacherReport.com

Blazers’ Corner: EDN Goes to the Portland Vs. Milwaukee Game

////

This week’s Blazers’ Corner is a little different.  Unlike every other column where I watch the team from the comfort of my living-room couch in Springfield, Tuesday brought me a little closer to the Blazers as EDN was granted press credentials to the game between Portland and the Milwaukee Bucks.

But instead of doing a simple recap (everyone does one of those), I thought I’d share my experience at the game as well as provide some analysis on the game itself.

The Portland Trail Blazers defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 120-115
Nicolas Batum scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half. | (Photo: Craig Strobeck) 

My partner in crime for this trip was photographer extraordinaire Craig Strobeck.  We left Springfield at 3:30 and traveled up north in Craig’s Lincoln town car in hopes of beating the 5:00 traffic in Portland.  We did for the most part.

After leaving the car at the first paid parking lot we could find, we made our way down to the Rose Quarter and attempted to find the media entrance which was an adventure in and of itself.  The traffic guy with the funny accent didn’t know.  Neither did the two fellas siting in a Fox Sports media car (you’d think they would know).  Eventually we were escorted by a gentleman in a fancy suit to the elevator that took us down to the loading dock.

Around 6:00 we finally settled in to the media center after obtaining our press passes.  We stored our gear and enjoyed a nice free buffet.  I had the salad, broccoli and some sort of pasta.  Any meal that’s free is a good meal in my book.

The Portland Trail Blazers defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 120-115
Robin Lopez recorded 15 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in the victory over Milwaukee. | (Photo: Craig Strobeck) 

We then got a lay of the land out on the court.  Craig found his designated spot on the hardwood floor where he would spend the next three hours.  I then preceded to walk to the different press tables to find where I would be sitting for the game.  Along the way I sheepishly walked through the camera section where Todd Bosma, Director of Game Operations & Events, put me in my place by saying, “Get low, we’re shooting right now.”  Rookie mistake on my part.

After foolishly thinking I would be sitting with the big boys (The Oregonian, Associated Press, etc..), I quickly discovered that I would be sitting at the kid’s table on this night amongst other smaller publications like Blazer’s Edge and Willamette Weekly in the upper section.  I could care less.

As for the game, the Trail Blazers as usual provided fans with another heart-pounding, stress-induced performance against the lowly Milwaukee Bucks.  If not for Nicolas Batum’s hot start (16 points in the first quarter), the Blazers would have found themselves in a bigger hole after the first quarter.

The Portland Trail Blazers defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 120-115
Wesley Matthews took advantage of small defenders by posting up and getting to the foul line in the second half. | (Photo: Craig Strobeck)

The second period was decidedly better as the Blazers outscored the Bucks by eight points.  Mo Williams was the catalyst in the period scoring 10 points including two 3-pointers.

Through three quarters, Damian Lillard was having perhaps his worst game of the season.  In fact, he had more turnovers (5) than field goals made (2) and yet the team maintained a three point lead heading into the fourth quarter (you can do that when you play the Bucks).

The fourth quarter and overtime belonged to the Portland backcourt.  Lillard emerged from the slump he was in and scored 15 points including the game-tying layup that eventually sent the game into overtime.

Wesley Matthews also poured in 15 points in the final 17 minutes and he mixed outside shooting (two 3-pointers) with post-up plays which led to a five-for-five night at the foul line in crunch time.  The capper on the Blazer win was a Matthews steal which he then turned into a behind-the-back pass to Lillard for the dunk.  The crowd that was left (people actually starting leaving at the end of regulation) erupted.  The Blazers defeated the Bucks 120-115.

The Portland Trail Blazers defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 120-115
Damian Lillard realized the shot wasn’t falling so he attacked the basket more in the second half. | (Photo: Craig Colbert)   

At the press conference following the game, Terry Stotts walked up to the podium looking like he had just ate some bad fish.  Had to have been the most demoralizing victory of the season for coach.

“I’m glad I’m standing here after a win instead of a loss,” said Stotts.  “We didn’t come out with the urgency that we needed. … I hope we understand that we were very fortunate to win the game tonight.”

The mood in the locker room wasn’t exactly jovial.  Lillard was just happy to escape with a win.

“If we would have lost that game everybody in here would have been sick,” said Lillard.

Matthews reiterated that sentiment.  “[The Bucks] should have put us away.  We should have been in the locker room pissed off.  But they didn’t.”

Batum summed it up best.  “That was a weird game.  I don’t want to talk about it. … I want to forget that game.”

I met Craig back in the media center and found a bag of popcorn to eat on the way home.  Exiting the loading dock, a crowd of Blazers fans were excited to see Matthews approaching them for a few autographs.  It’s always a lot easier to please the fans after a win.

The Blazers will play Washington on Thursday night before embarking on another five-game road trip.

Random Game Notes:

The two teams combined for 39 points in overtime which has to be some kind of record.

Batum finished one rebound and one assist shy of a triple-double.

Good Meyers Leonard:  His outlet passes after rebounds.

Bad Meyers Leonard:  Missed dunk, total lack of inside presence, inability to block any shot whatsoever, the camouflage pants he was wearing after the game, etc..

Portland’s 20-4 record (83.3 percent) against the Eastern Conference is the best mark of any West team against the East this season.  And yet they still lost to Philadelphia at home.

Lillard is the first NBA player with at least 3,000 points and 900 assists in his first 150 career games since some guy named Lebron James.

Portland is 22-5 when Mo Williams scores in double figures.

Robin Lopez recorded his 26th double-double of the season.  He had 15 for his career entering the season.

Blazers’ Corner: Portland Woes Continue, Joel Freeland Could be Out for Season

/////

Portland Struggling at Wrong Time

Following a 103-90 loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, the Blazers have now fallen to 0-4 on their current 5-game road trip.  This latest loss led to a players-only meeting after the game.  It’s never a good sign for a team when the players need to discuss things without the coaches present.  Panic hasn’t set in apparently, but the players are certainly aware of their recent struggles.

They’ve lost 5 of 6 overall and have gone winless in their last 11 meetings against Western Conference playoff teams.  Their current four-game losing streak is also a first this season.  To say they’ve played their worst stretch of the season would be an understatement.

And it’s the way they’ve lost that has been even more maddening.  In the Texas-Two Step, Portland blew late fourth quarter leads in spectacular fashion.  In Dallas, after overcoming a 30-point deficit, the team regrouped in the second half and led 89-82 with under five minutes left.  They would go scoreless the rest of the way and allowed Dallas to get back in the game with free throw shooting.

Trail Blazers - sports.net
Portland has a month to turn things around before the real season starts. | (www.sports.net)

The Houston game was even more of a head-scratcher.  Leading virtually the entire way, the Blazers held a 13-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter.  Then suddenly, they couldn’t hit a shot or make a free-throw before eventually losing in overtime.

The last two, against Memphis and the Spurs, weren’t even that close.  Poor shooting continued to plague the team resulting in poor shot selection.  Gone was the crisp ball movement, slashing & cutting and confidence.  With one game remaining before returning home, the Blazers need to rediscover what worked for them earlier in the season.

Remember, this team has two wins each over San Antonio and Oklahoma City and victories against Indiana, Houston, Golden State and the Clippers.  They know how to beat good teams and yet lately, they’re reacting rather than dictating the tone of these games resulting in losses as well as making unforced mistakes like turnovers and missed free throws.

Negative results leads to negative press as well.  The “Damian Lillard can’t play defense” talk is back, LaMarcus Aldridge’s shooting percentage and shot selection are in question and the interior defense continues to haunt the team and fan’s dreams.

Since beginning the season 24-5, the team has gone just 18-18 and after being near the top of the Western Conference standings, they find themselves just a game-and-a-half ahead of the Warriors for sixth in the west.

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns, Game 2
Losses and injuries don’t mix well. | (www.nba.com)

Oh, and I forgot, Aldridge and Mo Williams are now both out with injuries so Portland now has to rely even more on bench players who have been inconsistent to say the least.

They’ve played with house money for the entire year and with a month to go in the regular season, beginners luck has been replaced with a slow losing trend.

Joel Freeland Mostly LIkely Out for Remainder of Regular Season

When Trail Blazers’ backup center Joel Freeland crumpled to the floor; clutching his leg and writhing pain, most people, including me, thought he had torn a ligament in his knee.  The injury, which occurred on Feb. 11 against Oklahoma City, ended up being a sprain of the right MCL.  The timetable for his return following the injury was four to eight weeks.

According to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, Freeland said on Tuesday that he could miss another five weeks, which translates to the remainder of the regular season.

It’s been four weeks and Freeland hasn’t even participated in any basketball-related activities.  He’s been reduced to riding an exercise bike and shooting jumpers in practice.  The regular season officially ends on April 16 and Freeland intends to be on the court when the postseason start.

“I look at it like I’ve got a month to get ready for the playoffs,” said Freeland.

You wouldn’t think the team would miss 3 points and 4 rebounds a game, but it’s Freeland’s defense and basketball intelligence that the team’s second unit is missing.  Yes, Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard have been effective lately, but they still produce head-scratching plays every now and then because they’re still out to prove that they can be high-level players in the league.

Joel Freeland - www.fansided.com
Portland misses Joel Freeland’s presence in the middle. | (www.fansided.com)

Freeland knows what he is and he’s accepted it.  He knows that the team needs strong defense, aggressiveness in the paint, quality screens and a hard foul every now and then.  When Robin Lopez goes out of the game, the team lacks that dynamic and Freeland was the closest replacement the team had.

Freeland is one of the players that you don’t really appreciate or value until he’s out.  His teammates and fans certainly miss his presence and Freeland is in a situation he’s never faced before.

“It’s frustrating,” said Freeland.  “I’ve never had an injury in my life.”

Welcome to Portland, Freeland.

 

 

 

Blazers’ Corner: Defense Improving, Lillard Shooting Better, Former Blazer Felton Arrested

/////

Raymond Felton Appears Unapologetic Following Arrest

Former Blazers guard Raymond Felton was arrested early Tuesday and charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree and criminal possession of a firearm after his wife turned in a loaded semi-automatic handgun to a local precinct.  She made the decision because she no longer wanted the gun in their home.

Felton returned to practice with the New York Knicks on Wednesday and addressed the media.  In less than a minute, not only did he not take any questions regarding the arrest, but he also thanked his family, friends and teammates for their support and insisted the felony weapons charges was “not a distraction” to the team.

Raymon Felton - AP-Darron Cummings
Raymond Felton likes to blame everyone but himself for his troubles on and off the court. | (AP / Darron Cummings) 

He’s probably right about the distraction part (that team is a mess either way), but for him to not apologize or feel contrite in any way regarding the matter is yet another example of how little Felton gets it.

Of course Blazers fans will remember (or choose to forget), Felton’s lone season with the team as one of the worst high-profile pickups in recent memory and it wasn’t for anything he did off the court.

Joining a promising Portland team that included LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby and Jamal Crawford, Felton was thought to be the point guard of the future.  Instead he came into training camp out of shape which greatly affected his and the team’s performance for the first quarter of the season.

Add to that every dribble off the foot, every turnover after a failed split of the double team, every awkward-looking floater and missed wide-open shot as well as blaming everyone (fans, Nate McMillan) but yourself about your poor play and by the end of the season, anyone who followed the Blazers had a pretty good idea of what kind of a person Raymond Felton was.

Watching the short clip of Felton on Wednesday where he appeared to be annoyed at the very thought of having his character questioned or the fact that he was speaking for everyone in the Knicks organization by saying his arrest wasn’t a distraction, it reminded me and probably a lot of fans of just how little he seems to care about anyone but himself.

His time in Portland was short-lived and based on this incident and his play with the Knicks this season (10.4 PPG, 40 percent shooting, 29 percent 3-point shooting), which is worse than his season with the Blazers, it’s safe to say he will be looking for yet another home in the NBA next year.

Portland Suddenly Playing Better Defense

With the loss of Aldridge, as well as the majority of the team’s frontline due to injury, the thought was that Portland’s defense would not only continue to be mediocre, but that it would get worse.  But during the team’s current four-game winning streak, they’ve held all four opponents below 100 points.  That’s a first this season.  So how are they doing it?

First of all, they’re giving a better effort which is half the battle.  In the last three wins, Portland has held each opponent under 40 percent shooting.  Guys are contesting shots better, anticipating double-teams and switching faster and Robin Lopez has decided to host a “Block Party” in the paint on a nightly basis.

Robin Lopez Blocking - therichest.com
Robin Lopez has been a shot-blocking machine this season. | (therichest.com)

Another area the Blazers are thriving in is forcing turnovers which turn into fast break points.  Forced to play smaller lineups with all the injuries, players like Mo Williams, Will Barton and Batum are leaking out on missed shots resulting in at least 19 fast break points in each of their last three games.  They know they give up a lot of points in the paint, so they’re creating easy buckets in transition to counter that.

Portland also may have found a specific lineup that consistently plays defense.  Victor Claver in particular has been a bright spot defensively.  He might be the worst-shooting European player I’ve ever seen, but he’s an intelligent basketball player who can guard multiple positions.  Pairing him with Lopez and wing players who are active and cause deflections and get in passing lanes has been an effective unit.  It’s a small sample, but still encouraging as the season winds down and the team prepares for the playoffs.

Damian Lillard Shooting On the Rise

In the absence of Aldridge, Damian Lillard has become the first option and despite an increase in shot attempts, Lillard has shot the ball considerably better.  Averaging 19 attempts, the young point guard is shooting 51 percent from the floor and a big reason for that is his sudden improvement in finishing at the rim.

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard’s scoring inside is steadily improving. | (nba.com)

In the past, Lillard has driven to the basket and instead of simply shooting, he’s tried to force fouls by drawing contact which has resulted in countless missed and blocked shots.  For the majority of the season, he shot 38-40 percent in the paint which is terrible.  But for the month of February he’s shooting 48 percent overall and 45 percent in the paint which is still below average, but still better than where he was.

He’s always been a great shooter, but when the outside shot hasn’t been there, he’s made a conscience effort to attack the rim and that’s worked for him all month.

 

 

Blazers’ Corner: Damian Lillard in Dunk Contest, Trail Blazers in Slump

/////

Damian Lillard Could Make History All-Star Weekend

Damian Lillard’s goal entering the season was to make the All-Star team.  He accomplished that after being selected as a reserve by the coaches last week.  But playing in the Sunday game might end up being the last of a long list of events for the second-year player.

According to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Lillard has agreed to participate in the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest.  He’s already competing in the Rising Stars Challenge (formerly the Rookie/Sophomore game) and he’ll defend his Skills Challenge title as well.

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard will be flying high All-Star Weekend. | (Associated Press)

But it doesn’t end there.  The NBA has also asked Lillard if he would compete in the Three-Point Shooting Contest.  If he accepted, he would become the first player in league history to participate in every event All Star Weekend.  This unprecedented opportunity has Lillard intrigued and he’s apparently leaning toward doing it.  The NBA will announce the participants in each event today, but it appears Lillard could be representing the city of Portland in a big way.

Of course, this raises concerns about the point guard possibly expending too much energy during a weekend that is supposed to be reserved for limelight and rest.  But Lillard is just 23 and when you can make history, why not.

If Lillard indeed participates in the dunk contest, he would become the fifth Blazer to do so and the first since Rudy Fernandez in 2009 (remember that).  The young guard might need a break from the break.

Rough Mid-Season Stretch Could be Good for Portland

Portland is in the midst of a slump.  It began in the final minutes of the team’s loss at Oklahoma City on January 21 when the squad blew a 5-point lead as Kevin Durant decided to go 1-on-5 in the win.  The jump-shot abandoned them and the offense hasn’t been the same since.

They’ve gone 4-3 since that night and they’ve failed to put together four straight quarters even resembling the number one-rated offense in the league.  But as the team attempts to stay afloat during this rough patch, perhaps this is how it should be.  They were never going to continue shooting at the pace they were at and the mark of a great team is one that can adjust accordingly when times get rough.

LaMarcus Aldridge-Getty Images
Portland is getting more baskets like this lately. | (Getty Images)

One adjustment the team has made is a greater emphasis on points in the paint.  Night after night, the Blazers would get dominated down low, but it wouldn’t matter because of the 3-point shooting and LaMarcus Aldridge’s dominance on the left block.

But the outstanding perimeter play just hasn’t been there since a blowout victory at Dallas on January 18 (the last time Portland shot above 50 percent) and when the outside shot isn’t falling, get closer to the basket.  The Blazers have outscored their opponent in the paint in three out of their last six games and the other three have been pretty even.

This slight adjustment in the offense could be just what the team needs.  “You live by the jump shot and you die by the jump shot,” is one of Charles Barkley’s favorite quotes and he’s right.  One-dimensional teams don’t last in the playoffs and if the Blazers intend to make a significant run, they need to be able to score in different ways to keep the defense honest.  That or get significantly better on defense.  Based on how the season’s gone so far, my money‘s on the former.

New Orleans Pelicans Sign Luke Babbitt

Former Trail Blazers forward Luke Babbitt has found his way back in the NBA.  The New Orleans Pelicans announced on Tuesday that they have signed the former first round pick.  Terms of the contract were not released.

Babbitt joins the Pelicans after playing part of the 2013-14 season for Nizhny Novgorod (Russia).  The forward played in 18 games averaging 13.3 points and 3.7 rebounds.

While those numbers aren’t earth-shattering, New Orleans has been looking to help fill the void left by Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday, who are both dealing with long-term injuries.

Babbitt was a polarizing figure in Portland.  Despite being the 16th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and a supposed deadly shooter, Babbitt could never consistently shoot or get minutes to improve his shooting.  In three seasons as a Blazer, Babbitt appeared in only 126 games averaging 3.8 points and 2.1 rebounds.

The organization opted not to pick up Babbitt’s option for a third year, making him an unrestricted free agent.  No one wanted him during last off season so he made his way to Europe to crack a roster.

Hopefully Babbitt can stick with the Pelicans.  He seems like a nice kid who was never really given much of a chance to succeed in Portland.  There were glimpses in Portland, but perhaps Babbitt can fully realize those talents and carve out a niche in the NBA.  There’s always room for a shooter.

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

/////

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: Early-Season Success, Lillard Shooting Struggles, Everybody Rebounding.

////

Portland Enjoying Early-Season Success

It was a very productive week for the Portland Trail Blazers.  With a tough, sometimes-hard-to-watch win against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, the team won its fourth consecutive game and improved to 6-2 which is good for first in the Northwest Division and second in the Western Conference behind only San Antonio and their one loss (at the hands of the Blazers I might add).

The Phoenix win was especially eye-opening, considering the way the team had to play in order to get the victory.  Following terrific shooting performances (particularly from 3-point range) against Sacramento twice and Detroit, the Blazers had to grind out a victory against a suddenly good Suns team.

  | Photo by
LaMarcus Aldridge | (Bruce Ely / The Oregonian)

Portland shot a terrible 41.7 percent from the floor, committed 16 turnovers and shot a putrid 14-for-23 from the free throw line.  Normally relying on stars like LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the leading scorer ended up being Thomas Robinson with 15 points.  Throwing in 8 rebounds as well, Robinson was the catalyst for the team and the crowd getting back into the game and he did it all in only 17 minutes of action.

The team was lucky to pull out the win considering Phoenix’s multiple point-blank misses at the rim as time expired, but Portland will probably look back on this game as one of the bigger nights of the season.  The mark of a good team is how it deals with adversity and the Trail Blazers dealt with plenty of it in this game.

As pointed out by Mike Barrett following the game, the Blazers just didn’t win games like this a year ago.  In fact, the team was 8-37 in games in which they shot below 45 percent.  So far this year, they’re 3-2.

“You live by the jump-shot and you die by the jump-shot” is something Charles Barkley likes to say often and the Blazers are a perfect example of this.  But perhaps the win over the Suns will prove to be a confidence-builder for the team.  A sign that they can in fact ‘win ugly.’  The white-hot 3-point shooting they’ve enjoyed to start the season won’t be there every night so to get wins like this is important, especially considering they’re about to embark on a four-game road trip out east.

Damian Lillard shooting struggles

There are only five players in the NBA averaging at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists: Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Lebron James, Gordon Hayward and … Damian Lillard.  Okay, technically, he’s averaging 19.9 after the Phoenix game, but I’m counting it anyways.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard struggling to shoot the ball in young season. | (USA Today)

 

When a player like Lillard is in a select group that includes the two best players in the league, he must be doing something right.  But one aspect to Lillard’s game that has struggled so far is his overall shooting.  Lillard’s percentage dropped in each of his first six games, culminating in a horrid 1-for-15 night in Sacramento.  Overall, Lillard is shooting just 38 percent from the floor.  Discounting Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose who are both still shaking off the rust following knee injuries, the only legitimate point guard shooting worse than Lillard is John Wall.

The good news is that Lillard is still getting the same shots.  Never appearing to be out of control or erratic, the young player is getting good looks, he’s just in a bit of a slump at the moment.  Perhaps the greatest strength of Lillard is that he always appears to be calm and in control.  He isn’t a player that will force the issue if things aren’t going well for him so it’s only a matter of time before that percentage will not only go up, but eventually rise above his 43 percent number from a year ago.

The Wings are Rebounding

What has gotten into the guys on the perimeter?  Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are all in the top-12 among guards in rebounding.  It’s gotten to the point where they often can be seen stealing rebounds from Aldridge and Robin Lopez.

Offensive rebounds were a huge problem for the team a year ago and it’s obvious that coach Terry Stotts preached rebounding to everyone on the team and it’s working so far.  All five starters are averaging at least 5 rebounds and the team is ninth in team boards and fourth in differential.

Lopez struggled in that department in the first five games, but he’s now recorded three consecutive double-doubles (along with Aldridge), including a career high 15 against the Suns.

 Dunk of the Week: Thomas Robinson Putback Against Phoenix

http://youtu.be/baTi7jbo0bg

There’s no denying Thomas Robinson’s athleticism.  We saw it in Summer League and a pre-season game against Sacramento and while he’s not getting as many minutes as he would like (who would playing behind Aldridge), he certainly showed why he was the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft against Phoenix.  This dunk proved to be the turning point in the game as it reenergized the team and the crowd.  Hopefully Robinson’s overall performance is a sign of things to come moving forward.

 

1 2 3 8