The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround this morning at the Pepsi Center in Denver in preparation for their game tonight against the Nuggets (tipoff at 6 PM on CSNNW and 620 AM). Some notes …
· Despite traveling with the team to Denver, Trail Blazers starting power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (left groin strain) will not play in Tuesday night’s game versus the Nuggets. It is not known if he underwent the evaluation he was scheduled to undergo after the team announced on Feb. 18 that he would sit out at least a week. Head coach Terry Stotts said only that there was “no update” on Aldridge’s status.
Aldridge was seen on court shooting jumpers after the team’s shootaround on Tuesday. Stotts said after the team’s practice on Monday that they would have to ease Aldridge back into the rotation since he hasn’t played a competitive game in roughly two weeks.
· Nicolas Batum is close to being able to take off the splint he’s been wearing on his left (non-shooting) middle finger since fracturing it in the fourth quarter of the Jan. 4 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at the Moda Center.
“I’m a week away from taking it off and not wearing it every day, just for games,” said Batum. “It should be six weeks, but we broke (the splint) so I have to wear it one or two more weeks.”
Batum suffered a minor setback when he aggravated the injury in Portland’s 126-113 loss to the Rockets in Houston on Jan. 20, but has had no issues with the finger since.
“I’m good now,” said Batum. “I’ve got no pain when I play. It gets hit, I got no pain. I haven’t bent my finger for weeks now, so that’s going to be the next part. After I take it off I have to do a little rehab and see how it feels. But I have to play with (the splint) for the next three weeks anyway. Off the court I can take it off, start to do normal life and stuff without it. ”
· While Meyers Leonard (sprained left ankle) didn’t travel with the team to Denver, fellow Trail Blazers big man Joel Freeland, who suffered a right MCL sprain in the Feb. 11 loss to the Thunder at the Moda Center did make the trip despite being out for at least the next three weeks.
“I feel okay, it’s just the knee is real unstable at the moment,” said Freeland. “Slight movements I’m doing I can feel it, like a slight clicking and an opening up of the knee. But other than that, there’s no pain. I’m working out, I’m doing a lot of bike work, just trying to stay in shape as much as I can. That’s pretty much it.”
While there might be instability in his knee (the MCL is one of the ligaments that helps stabilize the knee, particularly when moving laterally), Freeland said there isn’t much pain associated with the sprain, especially when wearing a brace, which, somewhat ironically, makes the injury more frustrating to deal with.
“If I’m injured, if it doesn’t hurt, I’m ready to go,” said Freeland. “Pain has always been my guide to if I’m ready or not. Now I don’t really have a guide. The only guide I have is the strange feeling I have in the knee where it kind of opens up. They said that’s really my pain, that’s what I have to go by.”
The initial prognosis that Freeland would miss four to eight weeks with the injury has not changed, though he did say he was told by doctors that he was healing faster than expected.
“I’m hoping I’m going to wake up one day and I’m going to feel a difference,” said Freeland, “like a difference in the structure and how it feels stability-wise and I’ll go from there.”
· Finally, Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com reported Tuesday morning that the league has had very loose, exploratory discussions of adding a four-point line, though the NBA has since put out a release stating that ESPN.com, “chose to make a story that doesn’t exist.”
Which is just fine by Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who was not enthused at the idea of adding another range beyond the three-point line.
“I’d be opposed,” said Stotts. “To give a halfcourt shot four points? You play good defense (for a possession) and a guy throws one in, I think it’s probably too much of a gimmick.”
One might assume that Stotts, whose offensive system heavily features three-point shots, would be supportive of an extra reward for long-range shots, especially considering, as Haberstroh points out, that Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is shooting 60 percent on shots between 28 and 32 feet this season. But Stotts says that, while it might work for his team, it wouldn’t necessarily be good for the game.
“There’s always been coaches that kind of lobby for rules changes that benefit their team,” said Stotts, “but I think you’ve got to do what’s in the best interest of the game.”
While he might not care of the idea of a four-point line, Stotts was adamant that it is vital for the NBA to continue to look at ways to improve the game, as the league did over a decade ago when rules regarding handchecking, backcourt violations and illegal defense were changed.
“I think you always have to look at different things that might improve the game,” said Stotts. “I think discussion is very important. I think the game is good but, we made radical changes to the game in 2001 and it was for the better and the game today, I think, is thriving because of the big time shift in the defensive rules. I think that was a watershed moment for the NBA. So you need to have those discussions in an effort to improve the game.”
Prior to Wednesday night’s game versus the Rockets at the Moda Center, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard discussed his decision to rejoin the pool of players eligible to be selected for the 2016 Men’s National Team, which will compete at the Olympic Games this summer in Rio De Janerio. Lillard had taken his named out of consideration for Team USA after participating in the run up to the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, but has since decided to continue his involvement.
Can you explain the process of reaching out to Jerry Colangelo? What made you do it?
Damian Lillard: “After one of our home games I saw Sean Ford, who is pretty heavily involved in USA Basketball and we spoke. He just said that they wanted me to be a part of it still. I expressed to them what my frustration was and why I chose to remove myself from it and they respected that. I knew that down the line I still wanted to be a part of it and I think it was just the fact that we got to speak about it face-to-face. I also had a chance to speak to Jerry Colangelo. I also told him how I felt about my last time with him and why I was frustrated. He said what he had to say and I think we just came to a point where we both felt like it would be good for me to be a part of it. It was something that I actually wanted to do but I had my reasons why I chose to not be a part of it this past summer and here we are.”
How does it feel to be back on the list?
Damian Lillard: “It feels good. Obviously that’s something that not a lot of people get the opportunity to be a part of. I’m thankful that I’ll have an opportunity to in the future.”
What was Jerry Colangelo’s message to you during your conversation?
Damian Lillard: “We basically just talked about how I’ve spent time with them. It’s not like it’s just out of the blue where I’m just all of the sudden back in the pool. I’ve been there for the past two years, I was with the team up until they left for the World Championships. That was pretty much it. He didn’t say I was wrong for feeling how I felt; he just said that he would like for me to be a part of it and I said I would like to be a part of it as well. He said what he had to say, I said what I had to say, we came to the conclusion it would be good for me to be back in the pool.”
Do you feel like, moving forward, you’re going to get a legitimate opportunity to make the team from here on out?
Damian Lillard: “Yeah, I mean, I believe so. For us to be able to have that conversation lets me know that I’ll probably get a better opportunity.”
Do you know what the next step in the process is? Tryouts?
Damian Lillard: “I’m not sure. At this point, it probably comes down to them just making the decision on who it’s going to be. I don’t know if that’s based on the type of season that people have, who’s healthy, I’m not sure. Just being a part of that pool gives me a chance, so we’ll see.”
Are you looking forward to being in that environment again?
Damian Lillard: “My past experience, like I said, the first two summers that I did it, it was fun to be begin with. But like I said, when it got to the point where I wasn’t getting the opportunity and I felt that way, I was a little bit down on it. But going into it I won’t have that on my mind and on my heart. I’ll go into it with good intentions and I’ll go into it with the right things on my mind. Like I said, I’m just happy that I have an opportunity going forward.”
Does it feel good to have a resolution with the process, with those bad feelings?
Damian Lillard: “It does feel good because I’m not a negative person. I’m not going to go out of my way to remove myself from something unless I feel really strongly about it. For me to be able to talk it out with him, for us to be able to get on the same page, it does feel good to get to that point.”
When USA Basketball announced the list a few weeks ago of 30 players who would be considered for the 12-man roster for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio De Janerio, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was not included. Though he had been in the USA Basketball pipeline for years and was one of the final cuts for the team that won gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, Lillard was not up for a chance to play for Team USA in Rio, and at the time of the announcement, it didn’t sound like he really minded the omission.
“There’s no hard feelings toward (USA Basketball), but any time I go into a situation, I want to have a real opportunity,” said Lillard on January 18. “If I’m going to invest myself in something I want to have a real opportunity at it and the last time that I did that I felt like the decision was already made before the decision was made. Whether I played good or bad I didn’t feel like it mattered.”
Since then, Lillard has evidently been convinced that he WOULD have a chance at the 12-man roster this time, as it was announced today by USA Basketball that Lillard would in fact be one of the players considered for the 2016 Olympic team, which already qualified for the 2016 Games due thanks to winning the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
“I recently received a call from Damian, and during our conversation he expressed his desire to be considered for the U.S. Olympic Team and to remain involved with the USA National Team in the future as well,” said Jerry Colangelo, managing director of the USA Men’s National Team, via press release. “Both Mike (Krzyzewski) and I feel like Damian is playing at a very high level and that he should be added to our list of Olympic finalists. Damian has been a member of the USA National Team since 2014, and he participated in National Team training camps in 2013 and 2014, so he does have equity in USA Basketball, which is always important to me.”
Now Lillard will have a chance to join his teammate Al-Farouq Aminu, who already punched his ticket to the 2016 Summer Olympics after helping Nigeria by winning AfroBasket 2015, in Rio. Lillard is still a long shot to make the team considering the fierce competition of whittling 30 All-Star caliber players down to just 12, but an outside chance is better than no chance at all.
The Trail Blazers host the Houston Rockets tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM) in their last game before the All-Star break. If the Trail Blazers manage to beat the Rockets for the second time in the last five days, they’ll enter the break with a 27-27 record and will be no worse than eighth in the Western Conference standings. It would also give the Trail Blazers more wins with 28 games to play than the bookmakers in Las Vegas pegged them to get all season. There’s still a long ways to go and the schedule in March gets much more difficult — their first game back from the break is against the Golden State Warriors — but it never hurts to go into the stretch run with a little momentum.
It also takes some of the sting out of Portland having only one player, starting shooting guard CJ McCollum, invited to participate in All-Star Weekend, and even his inclusion is limited to competing in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. But with 17 of their remaining 28 games coming against teams above .500, Portland will need their roster to be as rested as possible if they’re serious about making the 2016 postseason, and that especially goes for McCollum and Damian Lillard. As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out in the video above, Terry Stotts has had either Lillard, McCollum or both on the floor for almost the entirely of Portland’s 2015-16 season (not counting the games in which neither was unable to play due to injury). Stotts has been using this rotational tactic all season, and it’s one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers have outperformed expectations so far this season.