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.”
Greetings from San Fransisco. After the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the Warriors in Game One of their Western Conference semifinal series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, grabbed a couple mics to record the first second round edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which is now available for your afternoon listening…
On this edition, we discuss Sunday afternoon’s loss, Portland’s tough start and whether there’s anything positive to be taken from the last three quarters, dealing with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the eventual return of Stephen Curry and if there any similarities between Sunday’s game and Game One versus the Clippers. We also answer a host of questions about Allen Crabbe, the enthusiasm at Oracle Arena, the quick turnaround from Game Six to the second Game One and give some tips on packing for regular business travel. And we also start the show off with some bad Mike Meyers impersonations. Sorry about that.
Even at full strength, the Trail Blazers were having a hard time keeping up with the Golden State Warriors in the first game of their second round, best-of-seven playoff series. But that task got significantly harder after reserve guard Gerald Henderson, who is averaging 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the 2016 postseason, was ejected after a series of altercations with Warriors center Anderson Varejao that occurred late in the third quarter of Portland’s 118-106 loss Sunday night at Oracle Arena.
The first incident took place at the 3:29 mark of the third. Henderson and Varejao collided during the run of play, sending Varejao tumbling to the floor. As he was falling, he seemed to extend his leg out in an effort to trip Henderson, which ultimately proved successful. Henderson immediately got off the floor and into Varejao’s face, prompting the officials to call assess technicals to both players.
“I bumped him — not on purpose — he tripped me on purpose,” said Henderson. “I fell hard, I didn’t like it, so came together, that’s what happens.”
But that wouldn’t be the end of the tete-a-tete between Henderson and Varejao. Though Varejao was on the bench, that didn’t stop him and Henderson from continuing their less than cordial discussion, which the officials apparently noticed, as both players were once again awarded technicals, resulting in double ejections.
“The ref threw me out from across the way. I guess he could hear what I was saying from across the court,” said Henderson. “We were talking since the first technicals happened, but there’s a lot of talking going on out there. For both of us to get kicked out of the game, it was surprising.”
Despite the tense moments, Henderson said postgame that there was no lingering animosity while noting that he was more mad at himself than at Varejao.
“I been put it behind me,” said Henderson, who finished with five points and three assists in just under 17 minutes. “We lost the game, that’s the only thing that matters. I was pissed I got thrown out, we still had a chance to win the game. I got ejected, I’ve got to be smarter, regardless of if I thought I should have got kicked out or not.”
OAKLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers had roughly 36 hours to prepare for Game One of their Western Conference Semifinals matchup versus the Golden State Warriors after eliminating the Clippers in Game Six at the Moda Center on Friday night. There was only so much film they could watch, only so many Warriors-specific plays they could learn before a 12:30 pm tipoff Sunday afternoon in Oakland.
That was a reality reflected in Portland’s performance to start the game, as they made just five field goals and trailed by as many as 20 in the first quarter before going on to lose 118-106 to the top-seeded Warriors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena.
“Certainly wasn’t the start we wanted,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to get off to such a poor start. Our offense, we had trouble scoring. Their defense got into us. It was just — we struggled at both ends, and probably more so on the offensive end, which fed into their defense. They had second chance point, they had fast-break points. It was a little bit of everything.”
The Warriors now lead the series 1-0 with Game Two scheduled for Tuesday.
“To start the game, we played like a team playing it’s second game in 30 hours,” said CJ McCollum. “We can’t start like that, especially here.”
The good news is the Trail Blazers improved as the game went on. Portland shot 52 percent from the field an 67 percent from three in the second quarter, utilizing small lineups that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” to eventually outscore Golden State 34-28 in the quarter. The Trail Blazers managed to cut the Warriors’ lead to single digits on numerous occasions before the half but were never able to keep the deficit in check for more than a possession or two, allowing the home team to take a 14-point lead into the intermission.
The Warriors, playing without reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a sprained right MCL, would reestablish their dominance in the third quarter, holding Portland to 9-of-27 shooting from the field and a particularly stingy 1-of-8 from three. Between their defense and shooting 50 percent from both the field and three in the quarter, Golden State took a 26-point lead, their largest of the night, before heading into the fourth up 93-73.
Portland was able to give the final score an air of respectability by outscoring Golden State 33-25 in the fourth, but never realistically threatened the defending champs before the final buzzer. And while there was little to like about their Game One performance, the Trail Blazers can take some comfort in knowing they were able to bounce back from a rough start in the first round to win their series versus the Clippers.
“We got beat pretty soundly in Game One against the Clippers and we made some adjustments, we played a little bit better and got better as the series went along, and we need to do the same thing,” said Stotts. “So we’ll watch the video, see what we can come up with for Game Two. But there’s no question that we have to play better and learn from Game One like we did with the Clippers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who finished with 30 points, five assists and four steals in 41 minutes. CJ McCollum added 12 points, three rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes. Portland’s starting backcourt combined to shoot 13-of-43 from the field, with many of those makes coming when the game was already out of reach.
“We’ve just got to be better,” said Lillard, who said he’s been battling a chest cold the last few days (and sounded like it when answer questions postgame). “I got some looks that I need to make, CJ did as well. We just got to be better offensively if we want to have a chance against this team.”
Al-Farouq Aminu shot 6-of-13 from the field and 3-of-8 from three for 15 points in 25 minutes. Harkless added 10 points and three rebounds, with Mason Plumlee grabbing a game-high 13 boards.
Allen Crabbe continued his strong play as of late, going 6-of-9 from the field for 15 points and five rebounds in 33 minutes. Ed Davis went 5-of-6 from the field to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes.
Gerald Henderson finished with five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes before being ejected after getting receiving two technicals for arguing with Warriors center Anderson Varejao, who was also ejected.
The Warriors were led by Klay Thompson, who shot 50 percent from both the field and three to finish with a game-high 37 points to go along with five rebounds in 37 minutes.
“We’ve got to do a better job, starting with me if I’m guarding (Thompson),” said McCollum. “Got to make sure I’m pacing better and making him curl. Hard hedges got to be there, especially if it’s Bogut or somebody setting setting that screen where he’s not really a good shooter. We’ve got to make sure we make them pay for that.”
Draymond Green put up a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 37 minutes. Shaun Livingston added 12 points and with both Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut finishing with 10 points.
Next up, the Trail Blazers will try to regroup before heading back to Oracle for Game Two on Tuesday.
“I got some looks that I usually would have made that I didn’t knock down,” said Lillard. “So next game, I look forward to the challenge again. At this point in the season, all that matters is winning. You either win or you lose; you advance or you go home. At this point, we’re just trying to fix things and make sure that our season keeps going.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.