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Practice Report: Aldridge Abhors Complacency, Lillard Shakes Off Slump, McCollum Progresses

TORONTO — The Trail Blazers practiced Saturday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre in preparation for Sunday’s matinee contest against the Raptors (tipoff at 10 AM on CSNNW and 620 AM). The Trail Blazers will be looking for their sixth-straight victory while the Raptors are coming off a 96-80 loss to the Bulls, sans Derek Rose, on Friday.

Some notes from Saturday’s practice …

· LaMarcus Aldridge, whose 27-point, 12-rebounds, two-steal performance against the Celtics on Friday night helped the Trail Blazers get their first victory in Boston since 2004, reiterated the need for he and his teammates to keep perspective regarding their 7-2 start. Portland may currently have the third-best record in the league, but Aldridge has been around long enough to know a team has never made the playoffs by winning in November.

“I just don’t want guys to be overly confident too early,” said Aldridge. “In that season that Nate (McMillan) got fired and everybody got traded away, we started out 7-2 that year, too. Then we lost to OKC and it just snowballed from there. I just want everybody to stay hungry. We got here because of hard work and because of guys buying in and playing unselfishly. If we think we already made it, guys are going to feel like they ain’t got to work no more, but we do. We haven’t done anything yet, so it’s like, we have to do what we’ve done these first nine games over the whole season.”

Aldridge has made no bones about his frustration with missing the postseason the last two seasons, let alone never making it out of the first round, and his comments about this season’s hot start are an indication that he’s focused solely on the challenges ahead, rather than the successes in the rear view. And make no mistake: Aldridge is holding himself to the same expectations he has for his teammates. He’s not patting himself on the back for his own early season performance and says, despite averaging 21.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds, that he doesn’t feel like “I’ve played all that well.”

“I’ve had a couple games where I haven’t shot that well or I wasn’t in a good rhythm,” said Aldridge. “I feel like I’ve had some ugly games. I don’t feel like I’m playing all that great. I think the last game was a step in the right direction. I feel like if I can be that dominant more nights, that’s would be great for us. For me, I’m just trying to get better every day and I feel like last game was a great step in that direction.”

There has been plenty written about Aldridge’s growth as a leader this season, but maybe nothing is more indicative of the strides he’s made than his unwillingness to get caught up in a fast start. The idea of even a hint of complacency setting in after a 7-2 start seems to be almost offensive to the seven-year power forward, so if he has to rain on someone’s parade to make sure that doesn’t happen, so be it.

“I’ve seen teams start off hot before; you’ll have down spells,” said Aldridge. “You’ve just got to try to weather each storm. I feel like it’s early, so I don’t want to put much weight on being 7-2. It’s definitely a positive and it’s showing that guys are working hard. But I think on the other end, we’ve got to stay hungry and not be satisfied with it and know that we’ve gotten here because of hard work.”

· After the 7-2 start, the second-most talked about storyline this season has been Damian Lillard’s struggle shooting from the field. He’s shooting 38 percent from the field this season, five percentage points worse than this field goal percentage last season, but is also shooting six percentage points better from the three-point line.

“I get good looks,” said Lillard. “I need to finish in the paint better, it’s crazy some of the shots that I’ve been missing. I’ve just got to make this finishes and probably just wait for those shots to fall. I shoot the same. I ain’t worried about it.”

Part of the hand-wringing is due to his percentages the last five games in which he’s shot just 32 percent from the field. Of course, going one for 15 as Lillard did against the Kings on Nov. 9 will skew the percentages, especially this early in the season. Even though the averages tend to average out (after all, that’s why they’re called “averages”) and he’s legitimately not concerned, especially this early in the season, Lillard knows there are some areas of his offensive game that he could improve. He spent much of practice on Saturday watching film with assistant coach David Vanterpool, looking for areas he could tweak in order to get back on track.

“We were just looking at situations coming off screens and, not forcing the issue, but just being more in attack mode,” said Lillard. “Instead of coming off and seeing what’s happening, just going. I’ve just got to come off more aggressive right off instead of coming off, waiting to see what they’re going to do, just come off and attack … I’ve got to to a better job of getting to my spots. I just haven’t been in a good rhythm offensively. I think I’ve played good games but shots just haven’t fallen. But it’s not a concern of mine or nothing like that. You want to see shots fall but the positive part is we’ve been able to win games like that. It’s working for us.”

Which it is. Lillard is shooting a full ten percentages points better from the field in Portland’s two losses this season than in their seven victories, which he swears is perfectly fine by him. And even though he doesn’t thinking opposing defenses are keying in on him any more than they did last season, it’s worth considering that the attention Lillard draws has loosened things up for his teammates, particuarly Wesley Matthews, who is shooting well above his career averages from the field and from three. Lillard was reluctant to give himself much credit for his teammates’ improved shooting, but he did concede that, as the point guard, there’s some correlation between his and his teammates’ performances.

“They’ve shot the ball well and my job is to make them better, to get them shots and get them the ball so they can be in the position to do good things,” said Lillard. “I think I’ve done a good job of that and they’ve done a good job themselves … When you’ve got guys who are good players like they are, they’ll take advantage of it. When they’re open on the wing when (opponents) crowd me in the paint, they’re going to make the shot. Good things come of it.”

· Finally, C.J. McCollum went into a little more detail Saturday describing the process of rehabilitating the fifth metatarsal in his right foot that he broke in training camp. He recently had an x-ray of his right foot taken, after which he was told by the doctor that the bone was reacting well after undergoing a non-surgical ultrasound procedure on Oct. 16.

“They said I’m progressing as they thought I would throughout the process,” said McCollum. “Basically (the doctor who performed the procedure) said I can continue to progress and they have different type of progression for me on the court, in the weight room, the type of stuff where I’ll increase some of my workload and some of the stress loads. Right now I’m on low stress, limited impact, so I’m trying to limit that with the minimum amount of jump shots a day. We’ll continue to progress as we get closer and closer to the next CT scan.”

That next scan, according to McCollum, will likely take place in a month, as was the original plan of action.

McCollum, much like the people who cover the team, is asked all the time about when he’s returning, which is not entirely surprising considering he was selected with the 12th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. But with the knowledge gained from rehabbing the same bone in his senior season at Lehigh, he says it’s not so difficult being patient, even with the constant stream of inquiries.

“When you go through injuries you’ve got to get used to taking your time,” said McCollum. “You don’t want to rush anything or make anything worse, have lingering effects just because you didn’t want to sit out a complete months or whatever. Just trying to train myself to make sure if I’m supposed to shoot 70 jumpers, I shoot 70 jumper. If it’s an 80 (jump shot) day, you take 80 and you don’t go over just because you don’t want to put too much stress on your foot when you have a fracture.”

What McCollum says isn’t so easy is seeing his fellow rookies playing while he’s relegated to wearing suits and watching from the bench. But he’s trying to view the time as a chance for preparation rather than a punishment.

“It’s tough to watch other rookies, especially guys that you worked out again, guys that you know you can compete with,” said McCollum “At the same time in this situation now there’s nothing I can do about it but get ready and get myself back for when I do return. In the meantime, the best thing I can do is get my body ready and get mentally ready for the roller coaster ride.”