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 podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”