There are few things more difficult for an NBA team to accomplish than coming back from a double-digit deficient on the road in the second night of a back-to-back. But that’s exactly what the Portland Trail Blazers did Monday night in Brooklyn, coming back from 11-points down to beat the Nets 108-98 for their seventh-straight victory.
“The one thing we all knew is, it’s a long game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Percentages kind of even themselves out, we didn’t think they’d shoot that well the rest of the game. Actually we shot the ball really well in the first quarter, too. I thought it was a testament to our guys as far as how they competed. They never lost confidence, they kept competing and kept chipping away at it. When you have that belief that you can do something it makes it easier.”
Portland was led by Wesley Matthews, who finished with 24 points on nine of 13 shooting while going five of eight from the three-point line.
“I was just taking what they gave me,” said Matthews. “After the first (three-pointer) went in I started hunting it a little bit more. Second one went in then I was definitely hunting it.”
One might assume Matthews, a career 40 percent three-point shooter who is currently shooting better than 50 percent from the field and from three this season, might start missing eventually, but that would not be the case Monday night in Brooklyn.
“I don’t plan to slow up,” said Matthews. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t always fall for you but that’s not what defines me. What defines me is going out, playing every possession, playing for my team. If you can keep doing that and keep your mind in the right place, keep working, more often than not, the ball will go in the basket.”
“He’s mad about the ballot, so he’s playing angry right now,” said LaMarcus Aldridge well within earshot of his starting shooting guard. “I like that … He’s next-level angry right now, so that’s good for us.”
Aldridge played with a bit of an edge Monday night himself in a matchup against Kevin Garnett, who has served as Aldridge’s nemesis since his years playing with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I think he had one of those flashbacks of when he was in Minnesota and I was coming in as a rookie,” said Aldridge, “because he was on fire.”
Garnett came out with purpose, hitting his first six shots for 12 first-quarter points. But Aldridge would ultimately have the last laugh, finishing with 27 points, eight rebounds and two blocks while Garnett would go two for 13 after the first quarter to finish with 16 points.
“In the first half Wes was rolling so I was just trying to fit in out there,” said Aldridge. “In the third quarter I kind of turned it on a little bit. This team is good. Guys can get going. Nico makes big shots, I can make shots, Dame got it going in the second half. Guys can score.”
Damian Lillard turned in an impressive floor game with 19 points on six of 13 shooting to go along with nine assists and two rebounds. Mo Williams turned in his second impressive performance in a row with 12 points, six assists, three steals and two blocks. Williams also finished a game-high +18 coming off the bench.
“Mo’s been invaluable to us because he moves to the point and he knows how to get certain guys the ball, myself, Nico, Dame,” said Aldridge. “Mo’s been big to our success down the stretch and Wes has been going. Just having guys that can play has been big for us.”
The Nets got off to a ridiculously hot start on offense, scoring 40 points on 14 of 19 shooting in the first quarter, but the Trail Blazers were able to minimize the damage also shooting a blistering 13 of 18, which included going five of six from the three-point line. Both teams cooled in the second, though the Nets still took a 63-56 lead into the intermission.
“Honestly, it never felt like we were out of the game,” said Matthews. “They were on a roll and we weren’t getting any stops, we never felt out of the game, we never felt like we were going to panic, we never felt like we were going to crack. It was just, okay, we’re going to wait out body blow, body blow and then attack and that’s what we did”
But the Trail Blazers would come out in the third with a renewed purpose on defense, going on a 9-0 run midway through the quarter to take their first lead of the game at the 4:07 mark. Portland would continue to roll through the third, outscoring Brooklyn 27-15 to take command of the game.
“They’re a talented team,” said Matthews. “They’ve got Hall of Famers on that team. We had to throw our first punch because we felt like they did that to us in the first quarter. We came at them defensively and ramped it up. We got into the ball, we forced them to do a little bit more than they wanted to and eventually their shots stopped falling.”
The Trail Blazers would push the lead to as many as 14 before coming away with a 10-point victory.
The win moves the Trail Blazers to 9-2 on the season, their best start since the 1999-2000 season, and 3-0 on the current Eastern Conference road trip, which ends Wednesday against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
There’s a belief among some who cover the NBA that this team might not be as good as their record would indicate, and maybe they aren’t, but with every passing victory, the Trail Blazers do their part to prove to the league that they’re not to be underestimated.
“I’m sure there’s people waiting for us to go on a five, six game losing skid, go back to how we were,” said Matthews. “(They say) we start taking too many shots, (they) shoot too many threes, we’re not aggressive, all that other stuff, blah, blah, blah. That’s cool. At the same time we’re going to keep practicing, keep going at it, our locker room is still tight and keep playing every game to win.”
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.