After a week of practicing in relative secrecy, the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers showed the public what they had been working on during training camp at the 2013 Wells Fargo Fan Fest, with the White team defeating the Black team 64-61 in an inter-squad scrimmage.
“I thought we just wanted to finish out the strong week that we had the right way,” said Damian Lillard, who finished with nine points, three rebounds and two assists for the Black team. “I thought everybody competed this whole week. We got better this week. We tightened up all our plays, all of our sets and we got better defensively and I think we wanted to come out and not take steps back and I thought we did a good job tonight.”
White was lead by Thomas Robinson, who was playing for the first time on the Moda Center floor in front of Trail Blazers fans after being acquired via trade this offseason from the Houston Rockets. The 6-9 forward took home MVP honors with a 17-point, 12-rebound, five-assist performance, and while he was satisfied with his Moda Center premier, he said it was the support from the Trail Blazers faithful in attendance that was the highlight.
“I’m more happy that the fans came out and supported us,” said Robinson. “We could have been jumping rope and I think that many people would have showed up to watch us. I heard all summer about the fans and how supportive they are win, lose or draw. I really enjoy that. It makes me feel like you’re home and you’ve really got somebody having your back.”
Robinson started alongside Dee Bost, who finished the night with 15 points and seven assists, Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright and Meyers Leonard. Victor Claver came off the bench for Black and finished with 13 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
The “White” squad was lead by Will Barton, who finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the losing effort. Barton had been sidelined with a concussion, but was cleared to play at Fan Fest after passing the NBA-mandated protocols.
“I’m fine, I felt good, said Barton. “Couple days afterward felt like everything was going good, just had to finish some tests up, get my wind back up, start working out and see how it felt under game situation. Doing that I felt good, so translated it to the scrimmage today and I feel like I’m 100 percent.”
But while Barton was feeling better, many of his teammates sat out Fan Fest with various injuries. LaMarcus Aldridge (left quad strain), Mo Williams (right ankle sprain), Earl Watson (right calf contusion) and CJ McCollum (broken left foot) were all sidelined for the event and their availability for Monday’s preseason opener against the Clippers at the Moda Center is yet to be determined.
Even though he wasn’t able to play, Aldridge was satisfied with what he saw from his teammates.
“Played good, played hard. I thought everybody competed, said Aldridge. “I thought (Robinson), he gave the fans a little taste of who he’s going to be this year. Active, a physical guy, crashing the boards, things like that.”
With the Wells Fargo Fan Fest over, the Trail Blazers turn their attention to the Los Angeles Clippers, who’ll they’ll host Monday at 7 PM at the Moda Center. It will be a more intense contest that Sunday’s scrimmage, though the goals will be roughly the same.
“Preseason is still just as much of a learning curve as training camp is,” said Robinson, “the only difference is you’re doing it against other people. That’ll be good to go against somebody else finally. Just keep learning and get ready for later this month when the real thing starts.”
It’s well known that Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has many interests. While practicing and playing basketball is how he spends the vast majority of his time, the 6-3 guard out of Weber State is an aspiring rapper, a pitchman for the likes of adidas, JBL and Spalding and an ambassador for Special Olympics. And now, he can add “cartoon character” to his list of roles, as he, along with Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Indiana’s Paul George voiced characters for an upcoming episode of “We Bare Bears” on Cartoon Network…
Some additional information from the folks at Cartoon Network…
… A special episode of the Cartoon Network Original Series We Bare Bears, featuring Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, premiering Thursday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. (ET/PT). The episode, “Charlie Ball,” features characters voiced by the players. The “All-Star” episodes of Teen Titans Go! and We Bare Bears will replay on Cartoon Network throughout NBA All-Star weekend.
Cartoon Network continues its NBA All-Star 2016 celebration with special segments integrated into some of its leading television shows beginning on Thursday, Feb. 11. Through its popular CN Sayin’ app, Cartoon Network will provide kids with an opportunity to send questions via video submissions to their favorite NBA players. Select questions and responses will then be featured within Cartoon Network’s on-air integrations throughout NBA All-Star.
Sports-themed episodes of Cartoon Network series will be available on VOD and TVE. Highlights from the All-Star special episodes of We Bare Bears and Teen Titans Go! will be on Cartoon Network’s YouTube Channel, the Cartoon Network app, CartoonNetwork.com, as well as VOD.
Not being named to the 2016 All-Star Game was certainly disappointing, but being immortalized in an All-Star themed cartoon seems like a decent consultation prize.
The Portland Trail Blazers held a light practice Wednesday afternoon at their facility in Tualatin in preparation for Thursday night’s game versus the Toronto Raptors at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7 pm on KGW and Rip City Radio 620 AM).
• Second-year forward Noah Vonleh, who suffered a left ankle sprain in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s win versus the Bucks, did not practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable for Friday’s game versus the Raptors. The 6-9 forward in his second season out of Indiana has started the last 39 games and is averaging 3.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game this season. His playing time had been on the uptick — he averaged 18.3 minutes per game in January after averaging 15.8 and 14.6 minutes per game in December and November, respectively — though it is possible that trend reverses depending on the severity of the injury.
As is often the case, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts declined to say who would start in the event that Vonleh is unable to play Thursday night, though one assumes that Meyers Leonard, whose shoulder injury early in the season allowed Vonleh to move into the starting five, would be the likely replacement. The one caveat is that Portland’s bench has played so well recently that Stotts might opt to replace Vonleh with someone currently out of the rotation — think Allen Crabbe starting in place of Wesley Matthews last season — in order to preserve that momentum.
“The bench has played well but it hasn’t always been the same lineups out there, especially in the second half,” said Stotts. “Certainly those guys playing together and having the rhythm of a rotation has helped.”
While it won’t be known whether Vonleh plays or who will replace him if he doesn’t until closer to tipoff, what is known is that the Trail Blazers have more options to look to on the bench than they’ve had in recent seasons.
“I think, so far this season, every time somebody has gone down, including myself, the next man has been ready to step up,” said Damian Lillard. “That’s why guys come in and prepare themselves. Obviously it will be different because Noah has gotten a lot better for us but I think the next man will step in ready. Guys just have to be ready and hopefully he’ll be healthy enough to play.”
• One of the biggest boosts to Portland’s bench during their recent five-game winning streak has been the play of Gerald Henderson. The 6-5 guard in his seventh season out of Duke is averaging 10.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22.6 minutes in the last five games, which is roughly five minutes more than he’s averaged per game this season.
“(Henderson) looks very comfortable playing the game,” said Terry Stotts. “Since his minutes have increased I think he’s letting the game come to him but he’s being aggressive when he has the opportunity, playing with some confidence. I think he’s adapted probably more since he knows he’s going to be out there a little bit longer, I think he’s adapted to our offense a little bit better as well. And defensively, I think the last two games in particular, he’s been very good defensively.”
Henderson had been splitting time with Maurice Harkless and the ninth and tenth men in Stotts’ rotation, but over the last five games, Stotts has opted to increase Henderson’s minutes while playing Harkless just seven minutes combined during that stretch.
“He and Moe, it’s been difficult for both of them through the course of the season playing in the first half, not knowing if you’re going to play in the second half,” said Stotts. “It’s been a difficult situation for both of them, so making the decision just to give Gerald those minutes and it’s worked out well and we go from there.”
It’s possible that Harkless, who is averaging 16.6 minutes in 48 appearances this season, will have a chance to reclaim some playing time, especially if Vonleh is unable to play due to a sprained left ankle, but it won’t come at the expense of Henderson’s hard-earned minutes.
“It’s difficult for Moe not getting in because he’s been a part of what we’ve been doing all year,” said Stotts. “With Noah possibly being out he’s going to have to be ready because that opens up some minutes, but it’s a zero-sum game, 240 minutes. So somebody else’s opportunity comes at the expense of somebody else.”
• The Trail Blazers wrap up a seven-game homestand Thursday versus the Raptors in a game that expects to be tougher test than they’ve enduring during their current five-game winning streak. Toronto has the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 33-16 and have won 12 of their last 13 games going into Thursday’s contest.
“A dynamic backcourt, to begin with,” said Stotts of Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. “They’re both All-Stars, they both score the ball really well, they got to the basket, they get to the free throw line. That’s the first challenge. Secondly, they’re very well coached, they’re a good defensive team. You just sense they have a belief in their identity as far as what they have to do to win.”
While the Raptors do boast one of the better backcourt combinations in the NBA, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was quick to point out that Portland’s starting guard combo ain’t too shabby either.
“DeMar is a good friend of mine, I know him pretty well, I know Kyle pretty well,” said Lillard. “They’re All-Stars, both of them are All-Star level players. It’s another challenge for me and CJ (McCollum) on both ends of the floor. I think it’s really important that we take the challenge defensively and go out there and guard those guys physically, be aggressive on them. But also on offense, we’ve got to go at them, just like we’ve done to everybody else. People talk about us having to guard big guards but people have to guard us, too. Nobody seems to mention that. We’re going to take the challenge defensively and we’re going to go after them on offense, too. So it’s going to be a huge game for us.”
Lillard also noted that, while the Raptors are certainly the best team Portland has played since during their soon to be completed homestand, they’re not at the level were they can assume any game is going to be a gimme.
“We aren’t in position to say that anybody isn’t an equal or better opponent,” said Lillard. “I just like how we’ve been locked in, how we’ve competed, we’ve executed offensively, tightened up a lot of things defensively. But going forward we’re going to be playing against some really good teams, especially Toronto tomorrow. Everything that we’ve done we’ve got to take it to even a higher level now.”
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was recently listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the top athletes under the age of 30 in terms of marketability, and it’s easy to see why. Between his all-star caliber performance on the court and the interests he has outside of basketball, it’s easy to see why companies like adidas, JBL and State Farm have all aligned themselves with the 25 year old Oakland native.
Spalding, the official provider of basketball for the NBA, is also in the Damian Lillard business, as he, along with Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, are the faces of a new campaign for the sports equipment company entitled “True Believers” …
Some more information about the campaign from the folks at Spalding…
Amplified by NBA superstars Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors, who will engage in a special Periscope interview on Feb. 3rd prior to their showdown in Portland on Feb. 4th. The gentlemen will discuss their upcoming match-up and what it means to be a True Believer. The #TrueBelievers rallying cry will also be heard via digital takeovers on NBA.com and BleacherReport.com websites. The multi-platform campaign includes layers of video-storytelling, rich media, events, a robust social media presence and a new content hub on TrueBelievers.Spalding.com featuring the Spalding Nickname Generator.
I’ve heard that Periscope chat is going down sometime after the 5 o’clock hour, but you might want to keep an eye for a tweet from Lillard about specifics. Oh, and the generator came up with “The Firewall” for my nickname, which seems pretty apt.