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.”
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”