“Fifty wins is something to be proud of,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I told the team that 50 wins has always been a standard, it’s been a bar in this league. The Trail Blazers have been such a great franchise and this is only the 12th one, so we’re really proud of what we’ve done so far. It’s something no one can take away from us, but I don’t think anybody in the locker room is satisfied with where we are. It’s an accomplishment and we need to enjoy it and then get ready for Sac on Wednesday.”
The Trail Blazers, who currently sit fifth in the Western Conference standings, could finish anywhere between fourth and eighth with four games left to play, but what is certain is that they will break a three-year postseason drought.
“It’s a great feeling because when you watch the playoffs on TV for two years, you’re kind of mad,” said Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum of locking up a playoff spot. “Back in France too early, I didn’t really like it, so just get back into the playoffs, play against the best.”
After the Grizzlies lost to the Spurs earlier in the night, all Portland needed to do to punch their playoff ticket was defeat the Pelicans, a team already mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.
For the first two quarters it looked as though Portland might have to wait for another game to clinch, as the Pelicans led by as many as 10 in the second quarter and took a 55-48 lead into the halftime intermission. The Pelicans shot 49 percent while turning the ball over just three times in the first two quarters to put a scare into the Trail Blazers, a team coming off a loss Friday night to the Suns.
“We gave them a lot of easy looks in the first half,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “They got a lot of easy shots off pick and rolls. We talked about it at halftime and I thought the guards did better and the bigs did too.”
But the Trail Blazers would go on an 18-2 run starting midway through the third quarter to to take a 75-65 lead with 1:39 to play in the third.
“We were losing at halftime and we needed to tighten up,” said Damian Lillard, who finished with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists in 38 minutes. “I think in the third quarter our urgency just went up. We wanted to take control of the game in the third quarter instead of going into the fourth quarter down and trying to find our way back into the game.”
Portland would hold New Orleans to 14 points in the third quarter on 35 percent shooting while hitting 55 percent of their own shots to win the quarter by 15 points. Batum was particularly effective in the third, scoring nine of his 16 points in the quarter while also grabbing seven of his 12 rebounds.
The Pelicans would make one last push, going on a 9-3 run late in the fourth to cut Portland’s lead to 97-94 with 35 seconds to play. But a layup and a late foul shot by Lillard put Portland up by six, which would be the winning deficit.
“There’s no magic potion with us,” said Wesley Matthews. “I don’t think we shot the three ball very well. There’s no secret to what we have to do, what we can do. We know we can be an elite defensive team, we know we’re going to score points. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it, finishing possessions.”
Aldridge led all scorers with 25 points to go along with 18 rebounds, four assists and four blocks in 36 minutes.
“LA was great,” said Stotts. “He had some blocks, obviously his rebounding, he had good hands. He’s a really good communicator out on the court. In pick and rolls, he knows angles. I’ve said this a few times – I think his defense is underrated because he’s always locked into the game plan, he knows personnel, he can bother shots and he can rebound.”
Matthews went 3 of 7 from three on the way to 21 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes.
With a playoff berth locked up and four games to play, one might assume that the Trail Blazers would look to rest players for the postseason, even at the expense of seeding. But according to every player in Portland’s locker room, there’s still plenty of work to be done before the regular season comes to a close.
“I want to play,” said Matthews. “I see the logic in (resting players), I see the safeness in that, but we’re trying to lock up a spot. We’re trying to lock up that fifth spot, maybe, possibly, off chance sneak that fourth spot. I don’t know what’s really going on with that but I want to play and win. Win out.”
And while players were happy to put questions about the liklihood of making the postseason to bed, there was no overwhelming sense of relief in Portland’s locker room, as simply making the playoffs was just another step in a more audacious goal.
“We all said that we’re happy about it and we just moved on,” said Aldridge. “This wasn’t our ultimate goal. It was one of our goals but we’re not satisfied. We’re not going to over-celebrate about it.”
They can let their guard down just a bit with two days off before hosting the Sacramento Kings at the Moda Center.
“Right now I’m not worried about the playoffs; I’m concerned about Sacramento,” said Stotts. “They played Dallas tough tonight. I like accumulating wins, I like improving our playoff seed. It’s not necessarily looking at matchups or anything, but I think it builds confidence when you play well.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
Greetings fans of NBA offseason news. With the 2106 Draft now completed and the free agent moratorium less than 48 away, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
This week, Trail Blazers power forward Meyers Leonard joins the show to discuss his travels around Oregon this offseason, rehabbing from the shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2015-16 season, “sprint mechanics” and his upcoming restricted free agency. As for the rest of the show, we briefly recap Portland’s draft night, which netted the team Maryland forward Jake Layman, discuss what we know about the negotiations regarding the team’s television rights and discuss the unpredictability that is free agency.
The relationship between Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver predates both of their current occupations. When the two first sat down for a interview back in 2010, McCollum had not yet been drafted by the Trail Blazers with the 10th overall pick of the 2012 Draft (though that would happen later that night) and Silver, while already tabbed to take over for outgoing commissioner David Stern, was still pulling duty as deputy commissioner.
Every year since then, McCollum and Silver have met up in New York City after the end of the season to discuss topics pertaining to the NBA and society in general. In 2014, they discussed the situation with the previous Los Angeles Clippers ownership, the age limit, emerging technologies, Silver’s first year as the NBA’s head honcho and their favorite Jay-Z tracks. In 2015, McCollum, armed with a few seasons of experience and a new job at The Players’ Tribune, followed up on some of the questions from the year before regarding the age limit while also bringing up issues such as ads on jerseys, transparency in officiating and head injuries.
And in their fourth annual interview, released on The Players’ Tribune as a part of McCollum’s summer internship with the athlete-owned website, the two discuss how far they’ve come (or in CJ’s case, how much weight he’s lost) since their first meeting in 2012, Silver’s handshakes, whether the NBA would have their All-Star Weekend at “remote locations” like the NFL, whether the league is considering moving the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, the 2016 NBA Finals and the suspension of Draymond Green and recent efforts to increase diversity in NBA front offices. You can watch an excerpt of the interview in the above video, or read the entire Q&A over at The Players’ Tribune.
Maryland forward Jake Layman took questions from the Portland media via conference call for the first time Friday afternoon since being acquired by the Trail Blazers from the Orlando Magic after he was selected with the 47th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. The 6-9 wing, who averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in four seasons with the Terrapins, discussed being selected by the Trail Blazers, whether he knew the team was interested in him prior to the draft, what skills he has that are most applicable in the NBA, his defensively strengths and his plans to come to Portland in time for summer league workouts…
What was your initial reaction after being drafted by the Trail Blazers and your impressions of the franchise?
Jake Layman: First off, I’m very excited. It was such a stressful night. I was nervous all night, I didn’t really know what to expect with what was going to happen the way the draft was going last night. To finally hear my name called was just a big sign of relief, I was very excited, especially to be picked up by the Blazers because I’ve watched them play a lot. I think that their style of play fits me very well.
Why did you watch them a lot over the season?
Jake Layman: I think it was really more playoff time when I saw them play.
Where the Blazers on your radar? Did they interview you in Chicago at the combine, have any interaction with the team leading up to the draft?
Jake Layman: I did an interview with them at the combine but they were still in the playoffs, so they didn’t have really anybody there who could interview. That was really it. I didn’t work out for them. But I did know that they were very interested going into the draft, but they had no picks, so I really didn’t think much of it. So when my agent called me to tell me they traded in for the pick, I was excited.
What did you think about Portland’s recent playoff run?
Jake Layman: It was very exciting. Watching them with how young they are, how much talent they have, to be battling out there against some of the best teams in the NBA. I know how excited the fanbase was to see that happen.
What are your most applicable NBA skills right now and how do you see yourself projecting as an NBA player from a position or skill perspective?
Jake Layman: I think for me, my shooting ability, it’s gotten better each year that I was in college. So I think for me, just carrying that into the NBA is going to be huge. And also for me, I think being able to guard multiple spots on the floor is what teams are looking for now. I think that’s something I can do.
Do you know Pat Connaughton at all since you’re from the same area? Did you play against him at all?
Jake Layman: I know him pretty well. We never really played against each other in high school or anything, but just being from the same area. We were part of the Boston Globe all-star team one year, so yeah, we definitely know each other.
Do you know when you’re going to come to Portland, when you might sign and whether you’ll play for the team at summer league?
Jake Layman: Talking to the GM yesterday, I think I’m going to fly out to Portland either July 3rd or 4th and then I’ll be there for the practices leading up to summer league, which starts pretty soon after that. Then I’ll play in summer league. I’m not really sure about signing contracts or anything right now, but for summer league I’ll definitely be there.
What was your conversation like with Neil Olshey?
Jake Layman: He just asked me how I felt. All the emotion going through your head when you get drafted, it was definitely nice to talk to him. Asked me how I’m feeling and if I’m ready to get going. I was very excited to hear from him, I talked to Coach Stotts also.
How would you describe yourself off the court? What’s your personality like? How do you approach the game? Approach life or leadership or being in a locker room.
Jake Layman: I think for me, I’m a little different off the court than I am on the court. I think when it comes to being on the court, I’m definitely pretty intense. I’m always going hard, going crazy on the court. Then off the court, I’m a pretty quiet guy, very laid back, definitely a great locker room guy. I get along with everybody. That’s how I would describe myself.
You said you feel like your defensive versatility is an asset. Could you break down your strengths defensively?
Jake Layman: I think my on-ball defense has definitely gotten better over the years. But I think playing off the ball on defense, being able to come over and help and then block shots from the weakside, it is something that I’m definitely good at.
Do you feel like joining a young team, but one that has already had some success in the playoffs, give you an opportunity that other guys in the draft might not get?
Jake Layman: I think it’s a great chance to be able to come in this next year and help, make an impact on the team, just go in and help whatever way I can, whether it’s scoring, defending or all of those. I think the makeup of this team definitely gives me a chance to go in and make an impact right away.
What’s your hometown of Wrentham like? What was it like growing up there?
Jake Layman: Growing up in Wrentham, I’m one of five boys in my family, so there’s always something to do, always someone to play with. I was big into sports when I was little. My dad played baseball in college, my mom played basketball in college so I was always involved in the youth leagues, whether it was baseball, football or basketball. I think for me, my childhood was definitely run by sports when I was little growing up.
Can you see someone in the NBA who reminds you of yourself or someone who has the same skillset?
Jake Layman: Someone I’m trying to model my game after — I’m not saying I’m him right now, but it’s someone who I definitely think my game over time could be just like his — is Gordon Hayward, plays for the Utah Jazz.
Can you describe waiting to hear your name called last night?
Jake Layman: From the start of the night, you’re going in with the thought of what you’ve been hearing from teams and what your agent’s been telling you. Once the draft starts going, especially last night, it was definitely not what I expected. I was surrounded by a bunch of family and friends, so they were keeping me calm the whole time. I was just hanging in there, staying strong and to finally hear my name called, it was definitely a sigh of relief.