· In 2009, LaMarcus Aldridge was playing in his first playoff series, coincidentally enough, against the Houston Rockets. The first two games were in Portland, with the series moving to Houston for Games 3 and 4.
After the first two games, Aldridge didn’t fly with the team to Houston, for reasons that were not immediately known at the time. It would eventually come out that Aldridge, who has always preferred to keep his private life private, left the team to be present for the birth of his first child, Jaylen. He would rejoin the team in time for Game 3, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in a 86-83 loss.
Aldridge was back in Houston on his son’s fifth birthday Wednesday night, though his performance and the final result would be much different this time around. Aldridge would finish with 43 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in Portland’s 112-105 victory in Game 2. His game, like his son, has grown significantly in five years.
Young Jaylen didn’t spend his birthday at the Toyota Center watching his father put on yet another dominant performance. After all, an arena in which 18,000 fans are cursing your fathers’ existence is no place for a child, but he was watching at home, perhaps while enjoying some birthday cake.
“He had text me and said — what he say? — I look like Spiderman when I had dunked the one ball,” said Aldridge. “He had fun watching the game. That was just fun for me.”
· Aldridge, prior to his 46-point, 18-rebound performance in Game 1, decided to try something different. Usually the first game of a playoff series isn’t the preferred time to switch up routines, but for whatever reason, Aldridge made one minor change: he drank a carton of coconut water, an elixir that has recently grown in popularity, particularly in Portland, in the last couple of years.
And after Game 1’s overtime victory, Aldridge guzzled down another carton of coconut water in one series of uninterrupted gulps.
So rather than tempting the fates like he had by changing his regiment in Game 1, Aldridge did the same thing before and after to Game 2.
“I did do coconut water pregame and postgame. We did it last game, I played great, so I just did it again this game.”
It’s safe to assume he’ll do the same thing Friday before and after Game 3.
· After reading a story here on ForwardCenter.net about Mo Williams speaking to Nicolas Batum during Game 1 in an effort to shake the small forward out of a first-half malaise, some responded that maybe Williams, whose three-point, two-assist performance in Game 1 wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring, should give himself a pep talk.
It turns out, Williams, along with fellow veteran Dorell Wright, who was also disappointed with his play in Game 1, did just that prior to Game 2.
“Me and Mo spoke before the game because we didn’t have a good showing, we feel like, in the first game,” said Wright. “Just come out aggressive, play our game and do what we do. This is why we were brought here, for these moments in the playoffs and I feel like we both went out there and played a solid game.”
“That’s my buddy right there,” said Williams within earshot of Wright. “Me and D.Wright, we always sit beside each other on the plane, on the bench, we always at dinner or somewhere together. With us both not playing well in Game 1 we just looked at each other, said ‘Hey man, tonight’s the night. We’ve got to come alive and be aggressive. We’ve got to make shots.’ We both did a good job of that.”
They certainly did. After Aldridge, no two players were more important to Portland’s Game 2 victory that Williams and Wright, who scored 28 of the Trail Blazers 30 bench points Wednesday night.
· Robin Lopez wasn’t having the best time of his life defending Dwight Howard in the first half of Game 2. Howard scored Houston’s first 13 points and finished the first half with 25 points on 11 of 17 shooting. And while it might have been personally frustrating for Lopez, he didn’t commit unnecessary fouls or let Howard’s outburst keep him from executing Portland’s game plan. And his teammates wouldn’t let him hang his head, even as Howard was was scoring over and around RoLo and everyone else who tried to check him in the first half.
“My teammates had my back,” said Lopez. “It makes it easy for me to play that way, keep my head up, keep playing.”
Even with Howard’s scoring prolifically, the teams entered the halftime tied 53-53. And in the second half, RoLo would have his revenge, scoring just one less point than “Superman” while also coming away victorious.
“You’ve got to stay with the game plan,” said Wright. “This is a game of runs, it’s the playoffs, it’s a lot of opportunities to hit threes, get our own post game going. You just can’t overreact to that. (Howard) is a great player and you’ve got to expect that. RoLo did a great job making him take tough shots and just trying to contain him. I think we did a great job with him in the second half.”
“Good players, they usually score in bundles,” said Lopez. “He just happened to score at the beginning of the game as opposed to the end. That happens sometimes. I’m not sure if it’s anything we did, he’s just a very good player, a very talented player.”
· Finally, while there wasn’t a single player, coach or staff member who wasn’t absolutely ecstatic to be in attendance for two Trail Blazers victories in Houston, all were very anxious to get back to Portland for Friday’s Game 3 versus the Rockets at the Moda Center.
“We know that the next two are going to be huge and we know Rip City is going to be crazy,” said Nicolas Batum who, along with Aldridge and Wesley Matthews, are the only Blazers who have played in a playoff game at the Moda Center. “I can’t wait to go home.”
The first home game of the postseason is always an exciting one, but to enter that atmosphere with a chance to take a 3-0 lead only adds to the anticipation for the players and fans alike.
“It’s two games, we would really like to get this next one,” said Lopez. “I’m excited to see the Portland fans. I know they’re excited to see us.”
Greetings Trail Blazers fans. With the 2016 NBA Draft scheduled to take place on Thursday and the Trail Blazers recently making changes to their broadcast team, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, felt like it was a good time to break our hiatus to record a new edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
In this edition we discuss the Cavaliers winning the 2016 NBA Championship, talk to Kevin Calabro, fresh off of calling the deciding Game 7 of the NBA Sunday night, about taking over play-by-play duties for the Trail Blazers, discuss Portland’s options going into the draft considering the team doesn’t have a pick in either round and answer a host of your Twitter-submitted questions. Hopefully there’s enough here to get you through until the next time we record, which probably won’t be long.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.
Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.
Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…
On the 2015-16 season…
“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”
On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…
“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”
On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…
“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.
On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…
“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”
On free agency and having a say in the process…
“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”
On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…
“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”
On head coach Terry Stotts…
“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”
On spending time in Portland this offseason…
“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”
On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…
“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.
On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”
On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…
“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”
On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…
“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”
On his mindset going into the offseason…
“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”
On being a restricted free agent…
“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”
On his first season in Portland…
I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”
On his first season in Portland…
“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”
His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…
This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.
On his first season with the Trail Blazers…
“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”
How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…
The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.