On Tuesday, Kia NBA Countdown analysts Jalen Rose and Avery Johnson took questions from the media regarding various NBA topics, including the play of the Portland Trail Blazers and whether they will actually make the playoffs despite a ever-tightening race for the last four spots in the West (this was before the Blazers lost Tuesday night to the Magic in Orlando). The former players turned talking heads talk about the play of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Terry Stotts as Coach of the Year and Portland having a successful season regardless of whether they make the playoffs.
Rose was also specifically asked about the bet he made with his ESPN/Grantland cohort Bill Simmons in their video preview recorded before the beginning of the season and whether he thinks he’ll have to pay out on that bet.
Jalen, you had made a bet with Bill Simmons at the beginning of the season about either the Trail Blazers or the Timberwolves making the playoffs. Obviously, it’s not looking like the Timberwolves are going to, but the Trail Blazers after getting off to a fast start, have really come back to the pack. I believe they’re only three games out of not being in the playoffs right now. So one, how do you feel about that bet right now? Two, just your thoughts on how the Trail Blazers have played since the All -Star break? And Avery, same to you as well, though not with the bet portion?
Jalen Rose: I appreciate you bringing that up, because that sounds like another $500 meal at Prime 112 between red wine and lobster tempura. I appreciate you bringing that up. I was hoping everybody forgot about that.
The Blazers have outplayed expectations regardless to what happens with the remainder of their season. Teams like Portland and Phoenix, we hate to acknowledge that there are more victories in sports where teams can’t have successful seasons that didn’t win it all. Well, those two teams have had successful seasons regardless of what happens in the playoffs because they’ve outplayed expectations. Damian Lillard has emerged and became an All-Star, so much so he did every event during All-Star Weekend.
And LaMarcus Aldridge has continued to develop. He’s got a better post-game. He’s able to rebound in traffic. So I really like what Portland has done with their team. I would not be surprised if they didn’t make the playoffs still because the West is that tight. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did make the playoffs and lost in the first round. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that I think they’re having a terrific season.
Avery Johnson: I agree with Jalen, and specifically that Coach Terry Stotts, I think he’s done an outstanding job. Right now, if I had to vote for Coach of the Year, it’s in my mind kind of a three-way tie between Stotts and Jeff Hornacek and also Tom Thibodeau.
But Stotts has really done a great job with establishing an identity with this team. Portland is an offensive team led by a terrific young point guard as Jalen alluded to in Lillard. I think LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the top three or four power forwards in the game. We’ve featured him a lot on Countdown. Just with all of his different offensive skill sets. He’s gotten bigger, stronger and tougher. He’s established a nice post-up game on the left box with the right hook coming towards the middle, which he didn’t have when he first came into the league. Their starting five has played more games together than any starting five in the NBA.
I always liked the addition of Mo Williams and his experience and what he’s brought to the team. They’re just fun to watch. A lot of times if they weren’t playing in Portland, if they were playing in New York City, people would respect this team even more. They’re just fun to watch. They play great offense. Obviously, I’ve always talked about how their defense needed to improve. But they rebound the basketball and they’re a pretty good passing team. So they’re fun to watch.
I think Portland is a team that whatever happens in the playoffs, I still have them making the playoffs. But whatever happens, whether they make it or not, they have had an outstanding year, and I would consider this a check for the Portland Trail Blazers and a year that their fans could be proud of their team.