The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround Monday morning at American Airlines Arena in preparation for tonight’s game against the Heat in Miami (tipoff scheduled for 4:30 PM on CSNNW and 620 AM). Some notes …
— Monday night’s game marks the first time the Trail Blazers will play against center Greg Oden, who the team selected with the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Oden’s career with the Trail Blazers, which was hindered by multiple microfracture surgeries on his knees and a fractured left patella, ended in March of 2012 when the team waived the 7-0 center out of Ohio State. A little more than a year later, Oden signed a one year contract with the Heat and has been gradually working his way back into form ever since.
Oden, averaging 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 8.9 minutes, will get this fifth start of the season and the 65th of his career Monday night against the Trail Blazers. He, along with Heat coach Erik Spoelestra, Blazers coach Terry Stotts and former teammates Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, spoke with the media about his playing against his former team.
How are you feeling about where you’re at and getting the start tonight?
Greg Oden: “It just helps me out getting in the rhythm of the game. But there’s still a lot of work to do, a lot of rhythm to get back, a lot of stuff to work on.”
How would you describe your emotions facing your former team tonight?
Greg Oden: “It’s a game we need to win. We’ve been up and down. It’s just about this team and us getting a win right now.”
There’s nothing personal for you to kind of get back out there?
Greg Oden: “I would like to win.”
Have you circled this date?
Greg Oden: “No. Every game I play is basically a circled date. I’m not trying to look at any team just because I used to play for them. I’m happy just to be out there playing against anybody.”
Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you’d come back?
Greg Oden: “A little bit. I’d be a liar if I said their wasn’t. But it’s been some ups and downs, but I’m here now.”
Where are you at physically? How do you feel?
Greg Oden: “I’m playing. That’s all that matters.”
Spoelstra approached you the other day and told you about the start. Were you caught off guard about getting the start?
Greg Oden: “Yeah, I thought I did something. I’m happy I get to do that and, like I said, it just helps me out with getting a better rhythm. I get to get in the rhythm of the game as everybody else gets in the rhythm of the game instead of coming in when everybody has played about 45 minutes of basketball and then I’m coming in cold trying to catch up even though I’m already a little behind anyway. I like it.”
Have you thought about how different the Trail Blazers look since you left? There’s only Nic and LaMarcus around from when you were on the roster.
Greg Oden: “Nic, LaMarcus and Wesley.”
Have you thought about how much time has passed?
Greg Oden: “I think it’s been two years since I was there. Guys move on. It’s a business like that. I’m happy those guys are still there and doing their thing. Especially happy for LaMarcus, who’s an all-star. Got to move on.”
You said you’d be lying if you said you didn’t have doubts. What was your motivation in coming back?
Greg Oden: “I just wanted to play. I was sitting at home last year watching everybody else. I wanted to come back and definitely give it a shot and show that I can still play this game.”
Thoughts on playing against Oden for the first time?
Wesley Matthews: “It’s cool to see him be able to play. They ruled him out of being able to play again, he had tough first years in the NBA. For him to be able to play and start and contribute to a team, that’s cool. Hope he doesn’t do so tonight.”
On seeing him return after so many injuries …
Wesley Matthews: “This whole NBA thing is a family, it’s a brotherhood, it’s a fraternity. To see Greg be able to overcome the obstacles that he had and to play, from his health and all of that stuff, it’s cool.”
Thoughts on seeing Oden return to the court …
Nicolas Batum: “I’m very happy for him. He’s been through a lot. A lot. I was with him a couple of years. When I broke my shoulder I did my rehab with him so we talked a lot. I’m just happy for him. I know people get mad about him, but he had no luck. If it was up to him he would be on the court for the last four or five years. He worked hard to be back, to get back and he’s done it. He’s been pretty good so far. I wish him the best and wish him to stay healthy right now and do well with Miami. Not tonight. If he can wait until the next game, that would be cool for us. But seriously, really happy for him and proud of him because I don’t think many people could go through that and be back and keep playing. I don’t think a lot of guys could do it.”
“I don’t know if I could do the same. When you’re the No. 1 pick, you’re everywhere, there’s a huge expectation around you for the last 10 years almost. To go through that, to
come to another team, get a minimum contract, that’s huge. He do it. I always said that to him, ‘You’re going to do it.’ I always tell people, ‘Don’t sleep on Greg.’ Trust me. I’ve been saying that a lot. He’ll be okay. Greg is good. He’s not a flop, he’s good. He had some bad injuries but he’ll be okay. He deserves it. He worked hard for that, so i’m glad he’s back.”
Whether he ever thinks about what could have been if Oden and others hadn’t suffered injuries …
Nicolas Batum: “No more. I’ve thought about it. The first year we didn’t make the playoffs, I thought, “What if? What if?’ Last year was different. It was a new era, so we got new guys, new coaches. The year that B.Roy retired and Greg left, I’m like, year. I remember my first season, my rookie season, we got like 54 wins. My second year when we had Greg, LA, B.Roy, Dre, I’m like, we could be a very good team. But it didn’t happen. I can’t stay in the past and think, ‘What if?’ I thought about it a little bit a couple years ago, but I don’t think about it anymore.”
On Oden starting …
Erik Spoelstra: “It’s special for him. This has been a four year journey for him just to get to this point. He’s put in a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes. We couldn’t be happier for him to get to this point. The word that we never used with him is fast track, the word we’ve used is patience. This has been a very slow, methodical process where it’s taken an incredible fortitude and patience, on his part, and commitment to do all the work behind the scenes. And now he’s able to contribute, virtually on an every night basis. We’re not playing him on back-to-backs right now but every other night he’s available, and i think that’s the biggest victory of all.”
What do you like most about what he’s been able to give you on the court?
Erik Spoelstra: “He’s a big-time talent. When you have somebody that talented, what usually comes with that is not only the god-given basketball abilities, but the competitiveness, the size, but also a very intelligent player. I think all of those qualities, once you start to get to know him, you realize why he was such a highly regarded player coming out of college. He’s been unfortunate to deal with something most players have never had to deal with, but in the end, he’s show incredible resilience with that. His strength is something that we’ve needed and he’s been able to provide it in short bursts.”
On what Oden provides for the Heat …
Terry Stotts: “To state the obvious, he’s a big presences inside. I think he buys them some minutes with a big man in the middle. Their defense has been so much predicated on creating turnovers and using their athleticism and closing out. (Oden), along with (Chris) Anderson, give them more of a traditional defensive look.”
It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,
Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.
For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.
But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.
“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”
Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.
“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”
As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.
“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.
“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”
While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.
“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”
He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.
“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”
“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”
It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.
HOUSTON — The old saying goes that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Saturday’s result in Houston is any indication, the Trail Blazers’ collective memory is well intact.
After losing to in overtime in the last game in Houston despite owning a 15-point fourth-quarter cushion, the Trail Blazers did a much better job protecting their lead in the second meeting, with the result being Portland besting the Rockets 96-79 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 18,308 at the Toyota Center.
“That was a really good win, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we came out. Defensively we were solid all night, for the most part… They’re a dangerous team. They can get the threes going and I liked we kept our composure when they made their run.”
Portland is now 25-27 overall and 10-16 on the road this season after playing their last seven games in the cozy confines of the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers have now won 10 of their last 13 games and are currently mere percentage points behind the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers looked to be the better team Saturday night from the opening tip. Portland shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the first quarter while scoring eight points on six Rockets turnovers to take a 29-23 lead into the second quarter. They’d start the quarter a 13-2 run to take their first double digit lead of the night and would go up by 21 by way of holding the Rockets to just four made field goals in the second quarter while turning six more turnovers into seven more points. Add with the Portland bench outscoring Houston’s 18-0 in the first half and it was easy to see how the road team took a 55-36 lead into the intermission.
“We played really well defensively, I thought,” said Damian Lillard. “We set the tone from the start of the game with active hands, getting our hands on the balls. We just weren’t fun to play against to start the game. That’s what we wanted to go coming out tonight and we did a great job.”
Portland would take their largest lead of the night at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter, though Houston managed to get that down to 21 before the start of the fourth. The Rockets would continue to slim the Trail Blazers’ lead, getting it down to 11 points in late in the fourth quarter. One can imagine there had to be a little nervousness on Portland’s bench after seeing two-thirds of a 32-point third quarter lead evaporate, especially with the specter of the last game in Houston still looming. But after a 10-0 Rockets run cut the lead to 91-76 with two minutes to play, Portland scored the final five points of the game to secure the 17-point lead.
“I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but certainly the way (Houston) won the last time here, I think that was probably in the back of everybody’s mind,” said Stotts. “They’re capable of doing that… I liked the way we kept our composure and pulled out the win.”
Six Trail Blazers finished in double figures led by Damian Lillard, who went 7-of-20 from the field and 3-of-9 from three to finish with 21 points and 10 assists for yet another double-double in 36 minutes.
CJ McCollum went 6-of-13 from the field to finish with 16 points, while Gerald Henderson went 5-of-8 from the field to 16 points as well. Al-Farouq Aminu filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. Maurice Harkless, who started his second-straight game in place of Noah Vonleh (sprained left ankle) and saw extended minutes due to Allen Crabbe missing the game with gastritis, went 6-of-13 from the field for 14 points, six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.
Portland’s bench would outscore Houston’s 24-12 thanks in part to the Rockets not getting any points from a reserve until early in the fourth quarter. James Harden finished with a game-high 33 points with Dwight Howard adding 17, but no other Rocket scored more than eight points in the loss.
“James (Harden) is a good player,” said Henderson, who spent a good chunk of his minutes defending the hirsute shooting guard. “He knows how to score, he knows how to draw fouls so sometimes it’s very difficult to guard him. He got his 30 but we felt like we did a good job containing some of the other guys.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Memphis to finish a quick two-game trip versus the Grizzlies at FexEd Forum on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 pm.
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 consolation prize.