Practice Report: Another Look At The Suns

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
3 years ago

The Portland Trail Blazers practice Tuesday at their facility in Tualatin in preparation for Wednesday night’s game against the Suns at the Moda Center (tipoff at 7 PM on CSNNW and 620 AM). The Trail Blazers were beaten soundly by the Suns in Phoenix in the season opener, so expect no lack of focus from either team when they meet tomorrow.

Some notes from today’s practice …

· Terry Stotts described the first game against the Suns as a ” setback” immediately following the loss. Portland finished the preseason schedule, statistically, as the best defensive team in the league, so allowing the Suns to shoot 52 percent from the field while scoring 31 fast-break points and 52 points in the paint in the opener served as a reminder that, while improvements had been made during training camp and preseason, there was more work to be done.

“I’ll say that we rebounded well from it,” said Stotts. “Going to Denver after that game we shored up some things that were made pretty evident when we played Phoenix.”

While some issues, particularly allowing points in the paint, continue to be a work in progress, the growth the Trail Blazers have undergone since that first game in Phoenix has been evident, which makes Wednesday night’s contest a potential marker for how far Portland has come the last two weeks.

Then again, there’s an assumption that losing to a team like the Suns has more to do with what you’ve done wrong than what they’ve done right. Phoenix’s victories haven’t been against top competition, but for a team many assumed would be the worst in the league, credit has to be given to the players and coaching staff.

“For a young team, they really established an identity early,” said Stotts. “They know how they need to play, they have a style that they’ve really bought into. I think what’s probably surprising is they’re one of the top defensive teams as well. They’re young, they play with energy, they share the ball. The way they played against us isn’t a fluke. They’ve continued that and they’re playing very well.”

· By trading one of their best players, center Marcin Gortat, to the Wizards for an injured Emeka Okafor and a protected first-round pick in the 2014 Draft just days before the start of the regular season, the Suns front office made their intention of putting more emphasis on the future of the team than the present clear. But that doesn’t mean the players were ever going to roll over. In fact, you could argue the opposite has been true.

“They’re competitors just like we are,” said Damian Lillard. “In this league, anybody can win and lose on any given night. And it’s still early, but right now they’re playing really well. I’m not surprised by it because I’ve never been one to underestimate a team, especially one with the type of talent that they have.”

While some might have accused the Suns of “tanking” going into the 2013-14 regular season, Stotts said the circumstances in Phoenix are not so dissimilar than the plan the Trail Blazers entered last season with, which could be more accurately described as trying to develop talent and establish a system rather than necessarily trying to lose.

“We were in the situation last year where we had a lot of young guys and for five months we played at a higher level than a lot of people expected,” said Stotts. “But expectations were low and in some ways that allows a certain amount of freedom to play a style. Confidence is a big part of his league and when you’re playing with a confidence where you can play through mistakes and expectations aren’t as high, it in some ways makes it easier.”

· The Suns’ guard duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic did the bulk of the damage in Portland’s opening night loss, combining for 48 points on 19 of 33 shooting to go along with 15 assists and just seven turnovers. So it’s no surprise that the Trail Blazers stressed the need play the pick and roll better this time around.

“Probably just get up into them more on pick and rolls so they can’t come off as clean and be isolated with the big man,” said Lillard when asked what he needed to do differently defensively. “For a big to be one-on-one with a guard that can pullup and make those mid-range jumpers and get to the rim and finish, it’s tough for them, especially backpedaling. So as the guards we’ve got to do a better job of getting into they body and not letting them come off clean and just do whatever they want to the bigs.”

And while Stotts, as he has done all year, has stressed the need for the Trail Blazers to force opponents to adapt to their style of play rather than the other way around, he did concede that there might be some opportunity to juggle his rotation, particularly at the center position, to counter Phoenix’s lineups featuring three-point shooting bigs like Channing Frye and Markeiff Morris, who recently won Western Conference Player of the Week honors.

“I think we have to play our style,” said Stotts. “There may come a time in the game that you change the rotation or you look at matchups a little bit but I think it’s important that we establish ourselves and play the way we’re capable of playing.”

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Podcast: The Rip City Report, Finalized Roster Edition

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
37 mins ago

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.

You can find the Rip City Report on SoundcloudiTunes and Stitcher. Thanks as always for listening.

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VIDEO: McCollum Brothers Talk Tournament, Who’s Mom’s Favorite on ESPN

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
5 hours ago

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.

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Stotts Talks Super Teams And Suits On The Doug Gottlieb Show

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
3 days ago

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.”

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