The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 41-18 on the season and 23-7 at home with a 102-96 victory versus the Denver Nuggets Saturday night at the Moda Center. The win was Portland’s fifth-straight and secured a season-series sweep versus Denver for the first time since the 1998-99 season.
“That was a solid win for us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things. I felt like we were in control of the game for the most part.”
The victory helped the Trail Blazers keep pace in the Western Conference standings where they currently sit third, three games back from Oklahoma City for the top spot and just a game and a half behind the Spurs for second.
The Trail Blazers were lead by Robin Lopez, who finished with a game-high 18 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes. It was the first time this season Lopez has led the Trail Blazers in scoring. Saturday night’s game was also the first time Trail Blazers game this season in which no player scored on either team scored as least 20 points.
Nicolas Batum flirted for much of the night with a triple-double before coming up short with nine points, six assists and a career-high 16 rebounds.
“Just tried to go get it,” said Batum of his performance on the boards. “Especially after what happened last game (versus the Nuggets) when they got 27 offensive rebounds. So I tried to, as a guard, play big inside.”
The entirety of Portland’s roster, which out-rebounded Denver 43-30 Saturday might, seemed to put an extra emphasis on rebounding after being beaten 64-41 on the boards in their 100-95 victory in Denver on Feb. 25.
“After the game in Denver, that got our attention,” said Stotts. “It was a focus. For us to get 43 defensive rebounds and for them to get 10 offensive, it was a pretty impressive rebounding night.”
The Trail Blazers got closer to once again having a completely healthy roster Saturday night, with both LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard returning to game action for the first time in over two weeks.
Aldridge played for the first time since the All-Star break after being sidelined with a left groin strain and resumed his role as Portland’s starting power forward. Playing for the first time since Portland’s 122-117 loss
to the Clippers in Los Angeles on Feb, 12, Aldridge turned in a 16-point, seven-rebound, three-assist performance in 30 minutes.
“My timing was a little off but it felt good to be back out there playing with the guys,” said Aldridge. “I felt good, a little tired, but for the most part my body felt good and my conditioning felt good.”
With the Trail Blazers riding a four-game winning streak without Aldridge, some wondered if it would take time for the team to re-acclimate to playing alongside their three-time All-Star. That turn out not be the case, with Aldridge finishing the game +13.
“It seemed pretty seamless,” said Stotts of Aldridge’s returning to the starting lineup. “I thought it looked good. We kept his minutes at 30 and I don’t know what, going forward, the plan is.”
And for his part, Aldridge looked pain-free and in shape despite not seeing game action in 16 days. Aldridge did play fewer minutes than usual as a precaution, which luckily wasn’t an issue with Portland leading the game for all but four minutes in the first quarter.
Saturday night’s game also saw the return of Meyers Leonard, who has been out the last five games after suffering a left ankle sprain in the team’s first practice after the All-Star break.
“I thought he played well,” said Stotts. “For the time that he’s missed, and he was not playing a lot at the time (he was injured) anyway. I thought he played a good game. He was physical inside. He got some fouls that kind of ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I thought, for his first game back he played well.”
Leonard, who had been showing incremental improvement before the injury, looked good in his return to the court. He finished numerous dunks in transition and rebounded well against an undersized Nuggets front court to finish with eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
“I felt pretty good out there,” said Leonard. “Went for a ball fake early on JJ (Hickson) then let him get a deep catch on me, but other than that, I felt pretty good. I had a couple defensive plays where I had the verticality, had a couple finishes in transition, missed a jumper I would have liked to make and then the reverse layup, I was not to happy with myself on missing. But it’s part of the game. I’m pretty rusty. As far as actual game play, I hadn’t played really much up until the Clipper game and then came back from All-Star break, got hurt. So it’s been a while, just have to take advantage of my minutes.”
it is unknown how long Thomas Robinson (sprained left patella tendon) will be out and Joel Freeland (right MCL sprain) isn’t expected to return for at least a month, so Leonard has a good shot at playing consistent, extended minutes as his fellow big men rehab.
“They just want me to play as hard as I can,” said Leonard of what he’s being told by his coaches. “That’s one thing I can always control. Everybody from the coaches through the players know that I can make jumpshots and finish around the rim and everything like that, but just have to continue to work on my defense as well. That’s a big part of what I want to become. It’s going to take time. It’s not easy. That’s my main focus is playing as hard as I can and continuing to try to be the best defender I can be.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the Lakers at the Moda Center on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
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.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the Trail Blazers have acquired the No. 47 pick of the 2016 Draft from the Orlando Magic, which they will use to select 6-9 forward Jake Layman out of Maryland…
Portland will select Maryland’s Jake Layman with No. 47, sources tell @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 24, 2016
Source: To get Maryland’s Jake Layman at No. 47, Portland will send Orlando $1.2M and a 2019 second-round pick.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 24, 2016
The Trail Blazers entered Thursday’s draft with no picks, though it always seemed likely they’d purchase a second round pick, as Paul Allen has shown throughout his tenure as owner that he’s willing to spend in order to bring in draft talent. The $1.2 million the Trail Blazers reportedly sent to Orlando, along with a future second round pick, for the 47th pick is significantly less than what some other teams reportedly spent to get picks later in the second round.
Assuming Layman and the Trail Blazers can come to contract terms — second round picks can negotiate their contracts, while salaries for first round picks are dictated by where they’re taken — it seems likely that he would play for the Trail Blazers at the Las Vegas Summer League, which starts in mid-July.
UPDATE: It’s official. From the team’s press release…
“Jake is a high character young man with a skill set we value on both ends of the floor,” said Olshey. “His ability to defend multiple positions and shoot the ball from range will be positive additions to our roster.”
Orlando selected Layman with the 47th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. A four-year player out of the University of Maryland, Layman (6-9, 220) posted career averages of 10.2 points (44.5% FG, 36.2% 3PT, 75.9% FT), 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists for the Terrapins.
An Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection his senior year, Layman led Maryland to 114 wins over his four seasons and is one of just 12 players in school history to record 1,400 points (1,436) and 600 rebounds (674). Layman, 22, guided Maryland to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2003 last season, and ranks 18th in school history in points (1,436) and 18th in rebounds (674).
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.