The Portland Trail Blazers moved to .500 for the preseason season with a 99-92 win against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. It is the second time the Trail Blazers have defeated the Jazz in as many games.
Portland trailed by as many as 12 midway through the third quarter, but the Trail Blazers, spurred by the rugged post defense of Robin Lopez and the long range shooting of Mo Williams, finished the final 5:50 of the third quarter on a 21-8 run to take a one-point lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would not trail again.
“I was pleased that we stuck with our defense,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously, I thought Robin Lopez had a terrific impact on the second half. I don’t know what his numbers were in the second half but you felt his presence out there. He got a lot of run, rebounds, block shots, finishing around the basket. Offense is slow to catch up but our defense kept us in the game to have a chance to win it.”
Damian Lillard, who received a nice round of applause during pregame introductions from the Weber State fans in the arena, lead the Trail Blazers with 22 points on 7-of-20 shooting to go along with four assists, three steals and two rebounds.. He was also a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line, which was especially helpful on a rough shooting night from the field.
“That’s something that I need to do a better job of, getting to the free throw line,” said Lillard. “Shots weren’t falling. I made some shots but, for the most part, I missed a lot of shots, so it was important for me to get to the free throw line and make those free throws.”
Lillard’s perfection from the line was a godsend considering his teammates were a combined 9-of-21 from the charity stripe.
LaMarcus Aldridge (16 points, four rebounds, two assists), Wesley Matthews (11 points, eight rebounds, five assists), Will Barton (10 points, five rebounds) all finished in double figures as did Mo Williams (17 points, three rebounds, three assists), who was playing against the Jazz for the first time since leaving the team to sign as a free agent in Portland in the offseason.
“Mo did what we wanted him to do and that’s one of the reasons we got him,” said Stotts. “He’s a secondary ball handler, a creator, he can make shots, he can make plays for everybody else, he’s got speed. The layup he made at the beginning of the fourth quarter was … not a lot of guys can make that play. He just turns on the jets and gets to the rim. He has composure, he knows the game and I think he and Damian play well together out there.”
Lopez had his first double-double of the preseason with a 13-point, 13-rebound effort and drew praise from everyone in Portland’s locker room for his post defense.
“It was a paint presence on defense that we haven’t have since I’ve been here,” said Lillard of Lopez’s performance. “He did a great job of altering shots just being there. I think him just being there, even when he committed fouls, they knew he was there and they weren’t going to just get layups and easy shots in the paint.”
Wednesday’s victory was the first appearance as a Trail Blazers for Dorell Wright, who started in place of Nicolas Batum (concussion) and finished with three points, four steals and two assists in 14 minutes.
“Shoot, I’ve been working on my game and trying to get better this whole summertime, so finally to be out there for the first time during the season is great,” said Wright, who has been nursing a dislocated right middle finger for much of training camp. “I felt comfortable, I was a little better with my wind than I expected, especially starting the first game being here in Utah with this thin air. So I think I did a good job as far as being on top of the schemes and knowing the plays and being in the right spots.”
Jazz center Enes Kanter scored 16 points in the first quarter and finished the game with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Gordon Hayward scored 10 of his 20 points at the free throw line to go with six assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal in 34 minutes. Derek Favors (10 points, 17 rebounds) was the only other Jazz player in double figures.
Next up, the Trail Blazers travel to Los Angeles where they’ll be hosted by the Clippers Friday night at the STAPLES Center. Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 PM on NBA TV and 620 AM.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”
Though it hasn’t been officially announced, news broke Monday that the Trail Blazers and CJ McCollum have agreed on a four-year maximum extension that will keep the combo guard out of Lehigh in Portland for the foreseeable future. A day later, McCollum joined Dan Sheldon and Aaron Fentress on 620 Rip City Radio to talk about signing the extension and his future in Portland, which you can listen to in its entirety below…
On when he found out that the extension was in the works..
“I found out a little while ago that we were in talks, we were discussing an extension this summer. I actually flew out to Las Vegas for a photo shoot with Nike around the time the Select Team was out there and my agent told me not to fly back to the east coast because I was supposed to fly back to Philly to watch my brother’s 3v3 tournament game. So once he told me to fly back to Oregon I had a pretty good idea things were going to be finalized shortly.”
On whether he was smiling on stage at Damian Lillard’s concert because he knew about the extension…
“I had a good idea they were in discussions and I was excited about the opportunity to extend my career with the Portland Trail Blazers. I love the city, I love the team and the organization. That smile was the combination of a lot of things.”
On why he didn’t hold out for any player options or trade kickers in his extension…
“I love the city and I’m happy here. I’ve actually been looking for homes since my rookie year but I was not going to buy because I’m a business man and I think it’s important you have a secure situation before you begin to make expensive purchases such as purchasing real estate. But I told my agent I like it here and I’m content. I like the situation I’m in, I like the staff and I’m happy to be here with no outs, no trade kickers, ect. I want to be here and I told him that. So I said ‘Do what you’ve got to do to get it done and have me here long term.’”
Regarding whether or not it will be difficult to wait a year before his new contract kicks in…
“No, no no. I do a really good job of keeping my team close. My business manager, my financial advisor, my agent, we do a great job of discussing financial situations and continue to play a budget. I’m just thankful to have the opportunity, but I’m not really counting down the clock or anything like that. This is a game I love dearly, this game is priceless. You can’t really put a price on this game I’ve played my entire life for free, it just so happens I’m fortunate enough to get a max contract and be able to play at the highest level and have a role that’s carved out. But the next step is to continue to get better and not worry about the money, not worry about the labels and all that stuff. You perform well on the court and everything else will fall into place. I don’t really have any dates set. I make good money now and obviously I’ll make great money later, but it’s all in good time. I just try to live in the present.”
How he plans on staying motivated with a max contract…
“I stay paranoid. That’s the thing that got me to this point is being paranoid, playing with a chip on your shoulder understanding that it’s more than just money, it’s more than just playing for a starting spot. You’re playing for your last name, you’re representing the organization, I’m representing Canton, Ohio every time I step on the court, I represent Lehigh University. Growing up my mom and dad always told me you play this game because you love it, you play it because it’s fun and the rest will fall into place and you just have to pretend every time you step on the court there’s a little kid watching you that’s never seen you play before. He’s never seen you play, he’s only heard stories about you and his only impression is going to be of how you perform that day. So that’s kind of how I carried myself and why I put so much time in, because I don’t want that little kid to be disappointed in me. I don’t want him to say ‘Ah man, CJ’s not as good as we thought, doesn’t play as hard as I thought he was going to play.’ I want him to say ‘Wow, he goes hard no matter what, he plays a total game, he plays unselfishly and he had fun doing it.’ So that’s the kind mark I want to leave and eventually when I have kids I want them to understand that I got here through hard work. Nothing was ever handed to me.”