BOISE, Idaho — The Portland Trail Blazers will look for their first victory of the preason tonight when they “host” the Utah Jazz at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, home of Portland’s D-League affiliate, the Idaho Stampede.
Some pregame notes from Boise to get you ready for the game, which you can listen to on 620 AM (there is no television coverage of tonight’s game).
— Injuries continue to be an issue for the Trail Blazers going into Friday night’s game. Nicolas Batum (concussion), Dorell Wright (right middle finger), Earl Watson (left calf contusion) and CJ McCollum (broken left foot) are all out versus the Jazz, though all four players traveled with the team to Boise.
Meyers Leonard, who sat out Thursday’s practice after experiencing soreness in his right foot, is listed as questionable. When asked about the likelihood that he played Friday night, Leonard replied, “Questionable is definitely how I would put it.”
While there are certainly worse times for players to be sidelined with injuries, Stotts said that the growing number of ailments has made it more difficult to settle in on a rotation.
“It’s frustrating,” said Stotts. “I think it’s frustrating for the players because they want to be out there. We’re not able to establish a rhythm, but I think that’s going to come. We’re only, what, ten days into training camp? And I know we’ve got a game in two and a half, three weeks but you’ve got to fight through it. Everybody deals with different issues with their team. This is what we’re dealing with now.”
— Stotts didn’t say explicitly who would start Friday against the Jazz, but it’s likely he goes with the same group he started Wednesday night against the Suns. The one wildcard is at small forward, where it’s possible Stotts goes with Allen Crabbe, who has played well in the first two preseason games, over Victor Claver. Crabbe practiced with the starting unit on Thursday, though Stotts said that had more to do with players sitting out with injury than any potential lineup change.
“We didn’t have a lot of bodies (Thursday),” said Stotts, “so we picked (Crabbe) because Victor was playing four with the second unit.”
Stotts did say that two guaranteed starters, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, might see an increase in minutes from Wednesday’s loss to the Suns, though he’s open to the idea of going deeper into his bench depending on the situation.
“I think LA will probably play a little bit more, I might play Damian a little bit more,” said Stotts. “This is an opportunity for the young guys to get extended minutes, so those minutes have to come from someone. I would think, at a minimum, it would be very similar to the last couple games, especially with three or four days of practice coming up before our next game.”
— The Trail Blazers, by starting the preseason 0-2, are technically in the midst of a 15-game losing streak dating back to the end of the 2012-13 regular season. But while every player worth having on your team wants to win every night, there is no concern in the Blazers locker room regarding the losing streak, especially during the exhibition season.
“You always want to win, but a preseason win doesn’t count for the regular season,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I think every guy wants to win but I don’t think we’re going back to last season. That was last season, a whole different team. This team is different. Different players, guys are older so I don’t think that’s on guys’ minds but I think every guy wants to win every night.”
Aldridge has a point. Seven players on Portland’s 15-man roster weren’t on the roster last season, so the losing streak carries little-to-no significance for them.
But more than anything, the players who suffered through 13-straight losses to end the season last year have turned the page. Having the ability to move on after tough losses or even thrilling victories is an important trait for professional athletes, especially those who play 82 games a season, to have.
“I don’t think about (the losing streak),” said Damian Lillard. “I haven’t thought about it so I doubt anybody else has either. It’s a new season, so it doesn’t really matter… You want to win every time you step on the floor, but that’s not what is most important at this point.”
— Finally, Trail Blazers fans attending tonight’s game are in for a real treat. While CenturyLink Arena is the smallest venue the Trail Blazers will play in this season, it certainly won’t be the smallest crowd they play in front off. It sounds like the game will be a sellout or very close to it, which should produce a great atmosphere in an intimate setting.
“Four or five years ago when I was the D-League coaches consultant, the Showcase was here,” said Stotts. “I have a lot of respect for the D-League with my roots in the CBA, both as a player and as a coach, and then helping the NBA out as a consultant. This environment, this arena, I think this is a great minor league arena because it’s got the right size. I know the fan base here is terrific. So I’m looking forward tonight.”
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently barnstorming through Asia as a part of the adidas “Take On Summer” tour. He’s meeting fans, instructing young players, working on his dance moves and generally having a good time in one of the most basketball-obsessed places in the world.
But even though it’s already Tuesday in Asia, it’s still Monday here in the United States, which means Lillard has a new track to post on his Soundcloud account under his nom de rap “DameDOLLA.” And this week, it’s a freestyle featuring V.I.P., one of Lillard’s regular collaborators, entitled “Shook Ones”…
A few select four bars from Lillard’s latest offering…
Last of a dying breed and they’re taking me for granted
I represent the ones working for it, nothing handed
The world is all backwards. How we lazy and demanding?
We ain’t working towards dreams we’re just working towards mansions
I see my people struggle when they still don’t ask for nothing
We always gonna keep it solid, I know when the times are toughest
I know when they gonna be fine and i know when to give them something
Don’t ever try to finesse me, I know when a sucker bluffing
Good stuff. “Shook Ones” is just the latest of Lillard’s growing number of tracks, which include Soldier In The Game, Full Stomach, Why?, Free Bands, The Villains and last week’s Isley. All of these tracks and more can be found on Lillard’s Soundcloud page.
In between playing a few rounds of golf and enjoying some of Oregon’s finest beverages (I’m assuming), Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts joined Chris Mannix on “The Vertical” podcast to discuss his past as a player and coach and Portland’s unexpected 2015-16 season…
Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA oracle and head of “The Vertical,” leads off the podcast, with Stotts’ segment with Mannix starting just before the 42 minute mark. Whoever put the post together was kind enough to break down the topics in case you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, and I’ve transcribed a few segments for your reading pleasure…
Stotts on CJ McCollum’s season, which culminated with the third-year guard being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player…
“I knew he was going to have a good year and I knew he would probably be in the conversation for Most Improved. Now, I wouldn’t have said how many points he was going to average or anything else, but I knew that the opportunity was going to be there and he was going to take full advantage of it because he’s extremely skilled, he can put the ball in the basket and. There were some question marks — one was his health — because he had had injuries each of the three previous seasons, we made him our backup point guard, that was something that he hadn’t done at this level. So there were certainly question marks in certain areas, but the fact that he could score and do what he can do well, I don’t think that surprised anybody within our organization.”
Stotts on Damian Lillard using slights from the media, perceived or otherwise, as motivation…
“I will say in this day and age, I think everybody knows what everybody is saying about everybody. If they don’t read it, a friend reads it or a friend retweets it or forwards the tweet. It’s really hard not to know what’s going on out there and people can try and say, ‘No, I don’t pay any attention to that’ but Damian is a very honest person and he’s true to himself. To say that he doesn’t know what is being said, it wouldn’t be truthful. I think a lot of players and a lot of people in general use that as motivation. I find it funny how people think that Damian is alone with that because you have goals and he wants to do well, he wants to prove what he can do. I think it’s more about what he’s capable of rather than what people are saying.”