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.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently holding his annual youth basketball camp in Beaverton, and unlike some of these events put on by other players, Lillard is there actually there working with the kids every day. If you send your child to the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp, he or she is going to meet Damian Lillard.
But even though the focus is on the kids, Lillard took a few minutes to take questions from the media about the camp, his recent trip to Asia, working with Special Olympics, the upcoming free agent signing period on his involvement with recruiting and why he declined to to play for Team USA.
Regarding the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp experience…
“When I get up there and speak, I tell them ‘Make sure you thank your parents, make sure you listen to the coaches, follow their instructions, be coachable, work hard.’ Just simple things like that, a lot of basic things that could teach them a lot more than how simple it is, things like that. Just being here and having a presence is the biggest thing. The session that you guys just watched, it’s something that I’ve enjoyed because it allows me to kind of break apart the game for the kids. For them it might be a little bit boring, but it’s 10 minutes of the day where they get to listen and see what’s going on, that it’s deeper than just a pass and a shot. Some of them are probably too young to follow it as well as the older ones, but I think it’s something that you can really teach them at a young age.”
On his relationship with Special Olympics…
“When I was 17, when I first got on campus at Weber State, it was a mandatory thing, we did a one day camp with Special Olympics. The first day I kind of just went in there, I didn’t really know much about it. But then I saw that some of them, they wanted to play against us and they could actually play. They had as much passion with the game as I did, they really enjoyed our company. I’ll never forget, it was a random day like months after the Special Olympics event and there was a kid — I’ll never forget his name — Jason Depper. I was at the mall and he walked up to me at the mall like ‘Remember I made that shot on you?’ and I was just like ‘That’s funny.’ It had that type of impact on him. I’ve been involved ever since.”
On his recent trip through Asia with adidas…
“It was fun, did some pop-ups at stores. I went to some 3-on-3 tournaments, watched a lot of kids play. They’re playing so they can all make it to Beijing and it’s like a super tournament over there right now. I did some promotion for my shoes and things like that, I went back to a store that I opened up after my rookie year in Taipei, I went back to Manila. We did a huge event there, I got to get in the three-point shootout, they let me perform a couple times over there. It was kind of on the spot performances, but I had a lot of fun.”
Why he decided not to be a part of the 2016 Olympic team…
“It was simple: the last three months of the season I played with plantar fasciitis and it really bothered me. There was days the games seemed like the only time I could play, and that was adrenaline and two hours of treatment before the game. I didn’t want to go into next season dealing with it. I actually really wanted to play and I was really close to saying ‘Just forget it, I’m going to go’ but I didn’t want to go to Rio and come back a month before training camp and my foot still be bothering me, then I can’t give what I want to give to my team. That was just more important to me.”
On free agency…
“I think there’s some guys out there that can really help take our team to the next level. I really like the guys we have, too. I’m a strong believer that if guys go home and get better over the summer, we come back, we’ll be that much better. We’ll continue to get better. But my job is to make sure that I’m prepared and when I’m asked about a player that can help us, I’m going to give my honest opinion. That’s my duty to our team.”
His thoughts on Portland’s free agency plan…
“I’m excited, because it’s not hard to see… Our whole roster could look at free agency and say ‘This guy could help us, this guy could help us.’ It’s just a matter of how bad they want to be here, what we have to offer compared to what they would like. We’ll see where it goes. I have no doubt that our team is going to be ready regardless of who we bring in, who we don’t bring in. We’ll come back ready.”
Whether he’s going to help recruit free agents in person…
“Maybe. Maaaaaaybe… I might. To help our team, of course.”
Regarding what he’d tell free agents who might have “red flags” about joining Portland’s locker room…
“When I speak to these guys, I’m going to tell them what it is with our team on how we do things, what will be tolerated and what won’t. If we happen to get someone that has red flags, we don’t know for sure if that’s ‘he said, she said’ or if it’s real or if it’s the situation or people around him or what. But if it comes to our culture and our individual, it will be addressed. Nobody going to back down to nobody, let somebody come in here and think something is going to change, because it’s not. That’s not just me. I’m going to be the first one to say something because that’s just what it is. I know CJ (McCollum) is going to back that up and each guy down the line is going to back that up. We show up every day to practice to work, we show up on time, we hold each other accountable, we allow our teammates to hold us accountable and that’s the bottom line. We don’t do cute stuff, we show up and do what we’ve got to do and that’s it. If you don’t want to do it, it’s not going to work.”
Greetings fans of NBA offseason news. With the 2106 Draft now completed and the free agent moratorium less than 48 away, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
This week, Trail Blazers power forward Meyers Leonard joins the show to discuss his travels around Oregon this offseason, rehabbing from the shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2015-16 season, “sprint mechanics” and his upcoming restricted free agency. As for the rest of the show, we briefly recap Portland’s draft night, which netted the team Maryland forward Jake Layman, discuss what we know about the negotiations regarding the team’s television rights and discuss the unpredictability that is free agency.
The relationship between Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver predates both of their current occupations. When the two first sat down for a interview back in 2010, McCollum had not yet been drafted by the Trail Blazers with the 10th overall pick of the 2012 Draft (though that would happen later that night) and Silver, while already tabbed to take over for outgoing commissioner David Stern, was still pulling duty as deputy commissioner.
Every year since then, McCollum and Silver have met up in New York City after the end of the season to discuss topics pertaining to the NBA and society in general. In 2014, they discussed the situation with the previous Los Angeles Clippers ownership, the age limit, emerging technologies, Silver’s first year as the NBA’s head honcho and their favorite Jay-Z tracks. In 2015, McCollum, armed with a few seasons of experience and a new job at The Players’ Tribune, followed up on some of the questions from the year before regarding the age limit while also bringing up issues such as ads on jerseys, transparency in officiating and head injuries.
And in their fourth annual interview, released on The Players’ Tribune as a part of McCollum’s summer internship with the athlete-owned website, the two discuss how far they’ve come (or in CJ’s case, how much weight he’s lost) since their first meeting in 2012, Silver’s handshakes, whether the NBA would have their All-Star Weekend at “remote locations” like the NFL, whether the league is considering moving the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, the 2016 NBA Finals and the suspension of Draymond Green and recent efforts to increase diversity in NBA front offices. You can watch an excerpt of the interview in the above video, or read the entire Q&A over at The Players’ Tribune.