ATLANTA — The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround this morning at Phillips Arena in preparation for tonight’s game versus the Hawks in Atlanta (tipoff at 4:30 PM on CSNNW and 620 AM). Some notes …
— After missing the last seven games with a lower back contusion, Trail Blazers power forward will play and start in Thursday night’s game.
“It’s still not normal but hopefully by tonight I’ll be used to it,” said Aldridge. “I’ll be fine. We’ll see what happens tonight, how I run and how I look.”
Aldridge is not 100 percent (though few players are this time of year), but that he and the training staff have done everything thing they can do to get the injury right, so he feels the time is right to give it a go.
“I want to come back because I’ve been out for so long,” said Aldridge. “I didn’t think it was going to take this long but backs are a very sensitive area to injury. It’s taken longer, we’ve exhausted every treatment, every option to rehab it, so I’m just going to try it out.”
The specific issue is running, which Aldridge hasn’t done much of since taking a hard fall in a loss to the Spurs on March 12 in San Antonio. He played three-on-three yesterday for the first time since the injury and still experienced lingering pain when getting up and down, but he’s hopeful it will be manageable once he gets back in game situations.
“When you have discomfort you can’t really put a number on it,” said Aldridge when asked about how much he expects to play. “It’s about going out there and just seeing how it goes as it goes. Hopefully I feel great. Once I’m in the competitive atmosphere maybe I just forget about it.”
“I thought (Aldridge) looked good yesterday,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I think he got better as we played three-on-three and I thought, as the games went on, he looked more and more comfortable.”
While his main impetus for returning is feeling healthy enough to do so, Aldridge said that seeing the Trail Blazers struggle while teams behind them in the standings are surging did have an impact on his desire to play Thursday night.
“It’s just me wanted to play again,” said Aldridge. “We’ve got 10 games left and the way we are in the standings makes me want to come back faster, want to try to get things back on track. That has a part in it, but again, we’ve tried to treat my back every way possible, so it’s time to just see how it is.”
— Speaking of standings, despite having lost eight of their last 11 games, the Trail Blazers still remain in fifth place in the Western Conference, which has been mostly unchanged since the beginning of March. Their hold on the fifth seed is much more tenuous than it was a few weeks ago, so much so that they are now just two games from falling out of the playoffs completely, which has made scoreboard watching a more harrowing experience.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t (watching the standings),” said Aldridge. “I think everybody in here is watching the standings. Your moms is probably watching the standings and your grandma is probably watching the standings. I am … We’ve had some luck on our side and now it’s just time to get back on track.”
And while it’s certainly not a bad thing to pay attention to the standings, winning a significant number of their last 10 games would make the exercise much less nerve-wrecking.
“I watch,” said Lillard. “I watched the Memphis game last night. It’s not really about watching other people; I think we still control what we want to do. All we’ve got to do is handle our business and there’s not really anything anybody can do about that. Let’s win games. We focus on ourselves, we can make that happen.”
— The Trail Blazers are 3-4 since Aldridge has been injured, and while it’s not as if his return is going to solve all of the problems Portland has experienced recently, there’s no team in the NBA that wouldn’t play better without their best player on the court.
“I definitely had a chance to watch but it’s not the same if I’m not playing,” said Aldridge. “I’m not trying to be arrogant, but our offense just flows a little bit different when I’m out there. It’s hard to really assess it when I’m not playing. But I think everybody is definitely looking in the mirror right now, trying to figure out what they can do better.”
Aldridge’s ability to draw double teams and the calming effect he often times has on Portland’s offense will be welcomed from his teammates, but they also know that they need to change their mentality when it comes to playing all 48 minutes.
“Everything has been in spurts lately,” said Damian Lillard. “We have a good offensive stretch then a good defensive stretch with it and then we’ll get like a six or seven point lead. Then there will be a drop off and the other team will take a five point lead. Then we’ll cut it to two, then take a two-point lead instead of us just getting a team down by eight. They call that timeout and we don’t lock in and try to get the led to 15 and just hold them down. We’ve just been relaxing. Teams have been taking advantage of that.”
The Trail Blazers held shootaround Tuesday morning at the Olympic Club in downtown San Fransisco in preparation for tonight’s Game Two of the Western Conference semifinal matchup versus the Warriors at Oracle Arena (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM). Some notes from shootaround…
• The Trail Blazers, after losing badly in Game One of their first round series versus the Clippers, made a host of adjustments going into Game Two. Whether it was having Al-Farouq Aminu guard Chris Paul, using Mason Plumlee to initiate more of the offense or giving spot minutes to Chris Kaman, Terry Stotts and is staff came up with a number of ways to mitigate L.A.’s advantages, which ultimately helped the Trail Blazers go on to win the series in six games.
So after the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the the Warriors in Game One of their second round series on Sunday afternoon, one might have assumed that Portland would once again make wholesale changes in time for Game Two Tuesday night at Oracle Arena. Turns out, that isn’t necessarily the case. While the Trail Blazers are sure to try a few different things, their adjustments will likely be a change of approach rather than tactics.
“The short answer to that is a little bit less only because it’s such a different style,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of whether he’d be make more or less adjustments versus the Warriors. “So the adjustments that we’re making for this series is just trying to adjust from playing a team that’s so different than the team that we just played six games. Clippers play a different style of game, and that’s the adjustment we have to make.”
That difference in styles between the Clippers and Warriors makes Portland’s preparation for Game Two a bit more abstract than it was in the last series. The Warriors tend to play more of a freewheeling brand of basketball than the Clippers, which requires more nuanced adjustments on Portland’s end.
“I would say fewer adjustments for sure, because they play basketball,” said Mason Plumlee. “There aren’t a whole lot of plays, they exploit what they see as their playing the game. So it’s not a whole lot of scouting of plays, it’s more tendencies and personnel.”
The changes that worked versus the Clippers not necessarily working versus the Warriors is more proof of the individuality of every playoff series. The situations might be somewhat similar, but that doesn’t mean the solutions are the same.
“Everybody keeps drawing comparisons; you’ve got to let that last series go,” said Plumlee. “Every series is new, they’re a better team. This series is completely different so we have to make a point to come out and win this next game. I don’t think you can count on them getting up 2-0 and then giving you four-straight, so this next game is a big one.”
• When the Warriors went to their small lineups in Game One, the Trail Blazers countered by doing the same, with varying degrees of success. Portland played multiple lineups during the course of Sunday afternoon’s loss that have rarely been on the court together this season, if at all, including a five-man group that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” surrounded by four guards.
But Golden State has extensive experience utilizing small lineups, at least relative to Portland, and with the personnel on their roster reflecting that reality. So it’s debatable just how much the Trail Blazers should try to match those units rather than trying to take advantage of a size advantage.
“I’ll be dating myself, but when Seattle beat Golden State back in ’92, ’93, something like that, and (Don Nelson) was playing small ball and George (Karl) stayed big with Benoit Benjamin and Derrick McKey and Shawn Kemp. So (Seattle) beat (Golden State) playing to their strengths. I think the important thing is that you play to your strengths more than anything else.”
Stotts will likely continue to give some nontraditional lineups a try when the Warriors go small, but it’ll be just as important for their standard lineups to fare better than they did in Game One, particularly after giving up 16 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 second-chance points.
Said Mason Plumlee: “I think a way to punish them when they go small is to own the glass, get second-chance points and finish everything inside.”
• Though no one in the media knew about it until he answered questions in a decidedly raspy voice after Game One, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has been battling a significant chest cold for roughly the last week. While it stands to reason that an athlete, especially one playing at the highest level, would be affected negatively by such an illness, Lillard refused to blame the infirmaty for his less-than-stellar performance Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena.
“I actually felt pretty good,” said Lillard. “Obviously being clogged up inside, it has you a little bit more winded than usual. There’s no excuses. The bottom line is my team needs me to perform better than I did.”
And it sounds, literally, like Lillard’s lungs won’t be as much of an issue in Game Two. The 6-3 point guard in his fourth season out of Weber State didn’t exactly sound like his normal self prior to Tuesday morning’s shootaround, but he said he’s making progress toward feeling better and didn’t sound as though his chest was on fire when making said proclamation.
“I feel better,” said Lillard. “Obviously still trying to shake it. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing the last two days, just trying to do different stuff to make myself feel better for tonight.”
Greetings from San Fransisco. After the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the Warriors in Game One of their Western Conference semifinal series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, grabbed a couple mics to record the first second round edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which is now available for your afternoon listening…
On this edition, we discuss Sunday afternoon’s loss, Portland’s tough start and whether there’s anything positive to be taken from the last three quarters, dealing with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the eventual return of Stephen Curry and if there any similarities between Sunday’s game and Game One versus the Clippers. We also answer a host of questions about Allen Crabbe, the enthusiasm at Oracle Arena, the quick turnaround from Game Six to the second Game One and give some tips on packing for regular business travel. And we also start the show off with some bad Mike Meyers impersonations. Sorry about that.
Even at full strength, the Trail Blazers were having a hard time keeping up with the Golden State Warriors in the first game of their second round, best-of-seven playoff series. But that task got significantly harder after reserve guard Gerald Henderson, who is averaging 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the 2016 postseason, was ejected after a series of altercations with Warriors center Anderson Varejao that occurred late in the third quarter of Portland’s 118-106 loss Sunday night at Oracle Arena.
The first incident took place at the 3:29 mark of the third. Henderson and Varejao collided during the run of play, sending Varejao tumbling to the floor. As he was falling, he seemed to extend his leg out in an effort to trip Henderson, which ultimately proved successful. Henderson immediately got off the floor and into Varejao’s face, prompting the officials to call assess technicals to both players.
“I bumped him — not on purpose — he tripped me on purpose,” said Henderson. “I fell hard, I didn’t like it, so came together, that’s what happens.”
But that wouldn’t be the end of the tete-a-tete between Henderson and Varejao. Though Varejao was on the bench, that didn’t stop him and Henderson from continuing their less than cordial discussion, which the officials apparently noticed, as both players were once again awarded technicals, resulting in double ejections.
“The ref threw me out from across the way. I guess he could hear what I was saying from across the court,” said Henderson. “We were talking since the first technicals happened, but there’s a lot of talking going on out there. For both of us to get kicked out of the game, it was surprising.”
Despite the tense moments, Henderson said postgame that there was no lingering animosity while noting that he was more mad at himself than at Varejao.
“I been put it behind me,” said Henderson, who finished with five points and three assists in just under 17 minutes. “We lost the game, that’s the only thing that matters. I was pissed I got thrown out, we still had a chance to win the game. I got ejected, I’ve got to be smarter, regardless of if I thought I should have got kicked out or not.”