The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround at the Staples Center this morning in preparation for tonight’s game against the Lakers in Los Angeles (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 PM on TNT and 620 AM). Some notes …
— Last year, the Trail Blazers and Lakers had an epic late-season battle at the Moda Center. The Lakers were fighting to get into the playoffs while the Trail Blazers had lost eight-straight and were long since eliminated from playoff contention. The game, which the Lakers won 113-106, was highlighted by Kobe Bryant, who scored 47 points while playing all 48 minutes, and Damian Lillard going blow for blow in what was one of Bryant’s last games before rupturing his Achilles tendon.
This year, the roles are reversed. The Lakers, usually stalwarts of the Western Conference playoff race, were one of the first teams mathematically eliminated from
postseason play while the Trail Blazers are holding out hope of passing the Rockets in the standings to secure home-court advantage in the first round.
“This is a big game for us,” said Nicolas Batum. “The way we play, at least the last three games, is pretty good. We’re ‘back on track’ almost since LA is back. We played great defense, played together so tonight’s game is big for
us because this team has no pressure. You can see the last couple of games they’re playing great basketball, blowout Phoenix, huge win against New York, a team battling for a playoff spot. You know it won’t be easy so we need a good game tonight.”
The Trail Blazers were also defeated 107-106 by the Lakers on March 3 at the Moda Center, which was arguably their worst loss of the season when taking into account what losing to the Lakers in Portland means to the fan base. So any concern that Portland would be playing the record rather than the opponent seems unwarranted.
“We might have underestimated a little bit last game,” said Batum. “We lost on a last play at them, so we owe them a little payback.”
And just in case playoffs and payback weren’t enough, the players are still hearing from fans that there’s nothing wrong with kicking the Lakers while they’re down.
“I like coming to L.A. and I tweeted ‘LA!’,” said Damian Lillard, “and a bunch of people quoted the tweet and said ‘You forgot BEAT.’ Like ‘Beat L.A.’ I got that a lot of times. I can definitely see that passion behind it.”
— Lillard is also well aware of the passion Lakers fans have for their team as well, as they’ve been prone to approach the second-year point guard about their desire that he one day play for in purple and gold.
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) May 17, 2013
“That’s what fans do,” said Lillard. “On the social networks they see something, they biting at any chance to get under your skin or say something that going to go completely against what you said. Like if I say ‘I love the Blazers’ or I say ‘I love L.A.’ then it’s ‘Come to the Lakers!’ Come play with Kobe.’ You’re going to get that from fans but I think it’s fun.”
Lillard admittedly enjoys visiting Los Angeles, but that’s where the interest ends. His affinity for staying in one place, along with his disdain for moving, has him thinking long-term with the Trail Blazers.
“I know where my heart is, I know that I really want to be with Portland,” said Lillard. “It’s just fun to me, honestly … I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me.”
— Finally, today is Robin Lopez’s 26th birthday. And as luck would have it, the California native was able to recreate a birthday celebration of his youth thanks to the Trail Blazers arriving in Los Angeles Monday afternoon for Tuesday night’s game.
“One of the traditions that I’ve had — and it actually worked out nice because the friend is in town — is there’s two sets of brothers that (identical twin brother) Brook and I are really close friends with and ever since seventh grade we’ve gone to Disneyland together. So I was able to go with one of those friends. We went out for dinner and went to Disneyland for a couple hours after that. It actually worked out perfectly being in L.A.”
One might think, at 7-feet tall and 255 pounds, that Lopez might not be too large to ride the rides. Not the case. While there are minimum height requirements, no such maximum restrictions must exists, as Lopez rode Big Thunder Mountain, the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, his personal favorite, on his birthday trip to the Happiest Place On Earth.
Lopez says he’s heard all the jokes about how it makes sense that he and his brother, considering their size and eccentric personalities, were born on April Fool’s Day, though his real complaint is the similarity between his and Brook’s origin story and that of another set of twins from a popular young adult novel series.
“J.K. Rowling stole it and gave that birthday to Fred and George Weasley from ‘Harry Potter’,” said Lopez. “They’re twins, too … I know the Weasley’s were always pretty tall, they usually have somewhat unruly hair. Fred and George both ended up running a joke shop. I should definitely look into suing. I know J.K. has a few galleons in her pocket.”
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.”