A lot of you have been waiting, patiently or otherwise, for the release of the 2014-15 NBA schedule. Well, your wait is over. We now know the Trail Blazers will begin their 2014-15 season at home versus the Oklahoma City Thunder, with their first road game the two nights later in Sacramento versus the Kings on Halloween. The Trail Blazers have 16 nationally-televised games (10 on ESPN and six on TNT) with the rest airing on KGW Channel 8 and Comcast SportsNet Northwest.
The NBA was forced to push back this year’s schedule release in order to retool after it was (wisely) decided that it would be nice for players who participate in All-Star weekend to get an actual break from basketball by tacking a few extra days on to the All-Star break in February. And as you can see from the schedule, the Trail Blazers will have eight days off for the 2015 All-Star break, two days more than they got for the 2014 All-Star break. For a team that relies on their starters like the Trail Blazers do, that’s a great thing, and definitely worth waiting a few extra weeks for.
What’s more, the league was able to add those extra days to what I guess we can now call All-Star Week without starting the season much earlier or ending it much later than in 2013-14, at least for the Trail Blazers. Portland started last season on Oct. 30, just a day later than they’re starting the 2014-15 season versus the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Moda Center on Oct. 29. And the Trail Blazers end their 2014-15 regular season a day earlier than last season, all while playing the same number of back-to-backs. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is some kind of wizard.
Once again, the Trail Blazers will NOT be a part of the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule nor will they play on New Year’s Day (or Eve, for that matter), which is just fine by me, though I know many of you who don’t have to work holidays rather enjoy going to games on your off days. They will, however, play on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which has become somewhat of a tradition for the Trail Blazers, in a home game versus the Kings on January 19, 2015.
Let’s look at some of the important numbers from Portland’s 2014-15 schedule …
NUMBER OF GAMES BY MONTH
October: 2 (1 road, 1 home)
November: 15 (5 road, 10 home)
December: 16 (10 road, 6 home)
January: 16 (8 road, 8 home)
February: 9 (3 road, 6 home)
March: 16 (10 road, 6 home)
April: 8 (4 road, 4 home)
TOTAL NUMBER OF BACK-TO-BACKS: 19
BACK-TO-BACKS BY MONTH
BACK-TO-BACKS, BY TYPE
ROAD TRIPS BY NUMBER OF GAMES PER TRIP
5 games: 2
4 games: 2
3 games: 1
2 games: 5
1 game: 10
HOME STANDS BY NUMBER OF GAMES
7 games: 1 (December 24 to January 10)
3 games: 4
2 games: 7
1 game: 8
HOME GAMES BY DAY
GAMES VERSUS 2013-14 PLAYOFF TEAMS BY MONTH
A couple things …
— The first thing that strikes me about this schedule is how evenly weighted it is. December, January and March all having the same number of games, 16, and November featuring 15 games makes for a a schedule with few peaks and valleys. Even Portland’s 19 back-to-backs are spread out such a way that makes no month better or worse then the rest. And while the 2013-14 results aren’t exactly the best way to predict how good a team is going to be in 2014-15, the difficult games seem to be evenly weighted over the course of the season as well, with November, December, January and March featuring eight games against playoff teams.
— As previously mentioned, the Trail Blazers play 19 back-to-backs this season, with 10 of those taking place exclusively on the road, which means a quarter of Portland’s road games this season are on the second night of a back-to-back. That’s not fantastic, but the Blazers have been good to great in back-to-backs over the last few seasons and, in the long run, you’d probably trade more back-to-backs for shorter road trips.
— Starting the season with 11 home games, compared to just six on the road, presents the Trail Blazers with an opportunity to get off to a great start. Portland played just seven home games in November during the 2013-14 season and still managed to get off to one of their best starts in franchise history, so perhaps home games aren’t all that important to a hot start, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
And what a slate of great games in November at the Moda Center. Playing the Warriors, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Bulls, Hornets and Grizzlies should be an exciting way to start the season all while giving you a decent sense of what this Trail Blazers team is made of.
— On the flip side, December, with a five-game road trip, a four-game road trip, four road-road back-to-backs and 10 road games overall, is probably the Trail Blazers’ toughest month. March is no cakewalk either, but two games against the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs on top of at Chicago, at Oklahoma City and at Houston makes December the cruelest month, in my opinion.
— But having said that, look at that beautiful home stand spanning the end of December through the middle of January. The team will get in from Oklahoma City early on Christmas Eve morning and will not board a plane until they leave for the second night of a back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Lakers on January 11. That’s 18 straight nights of sleeping in your own bed during a time of year in which most want to spend as much time at home with their families as possible. And considering that the Atlanta Hawks are likely the best team Portland will play during that home stand, that 18-day stretch seems like a great opportunity to stack some wins before the second half of the season.
— While the new and improved All-Star break results in the Trail Blazers playing just eight games in February, four fewer than last season, it might be end up being the most important month of the season thanks to games against the Suns, Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Spurs and Thunder. All of those teams either made the 2014 Western Conference playoffs or came within a few games of doing so.
— The Trail Blazers will play the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings just three times this season, while playing the other eight Western Conference teams four times. And like every non-shortened season, the Trail Blazers will face every Eastern Conference opponent twice.
Now some games of note …
Wednesday, October 29 vs. Oklahoma City, 7:30 PM
Trail Blazers open the 2014-15 season at home versus the Thunder, a team that has won the Northwest Division the last four seasons, on ESPN. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two mainstays of USA Basketball, decided to forgo playing in the upcoming 2014 FIBA World Cup, so you can assume both will be plenty rested for the start of the NBA season.
The Thunder and Trail Blazers split the 2013-14 season series 2-2, with each team winning one home and one road game.
Tuesday, November 4 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 PM
A huge early-season game at the Moda Center. Between the return of LeBron James, who always gives the Trail Blazers fits in Portland, and the expected addition of Lake Oswego High School alumnus Kevin Love makes this game one of the highlights of Portland’s home schedule. And that’s to say nothing of the budding friendly rivalry between point guards Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving.
The Trail Blazers swept the 2013-14 season series versus the Cavaliers, though that doesn’t matter much now given the roster turnover in Cleveland.
Friday, November 21 vs. Chicago Bulls, 7:30 PM
The last time we saw Bulls point guard Derrick Rose in an NBA game, he was limping off the court at the Moda Center after suffering a season-ending knee injury, his second in as many seasons. He’ll return to Portland almost exactly a year later (anyone else think that’s a little macabre of the NBA schedule makers) and this time he’ll have former Laker Pau Gasol in tow along with rookie Doug McDermott and the only center in the NBA who can challenge Robin Lopez for hair supremacy, Joakim Noah. This one is being picked up by ESPN, as is the game versus the Bulls in Chicago on December 12.
The Trail Blazers swept the 2013-14 season series with the Bulls. In fact, the Blazers haven’t lost to the Bulls since 2010.
Friday, November 30 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 7 PM
Assuming the reports that the Timberwolves will send Kevin Love to Cleveland in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and some combination of draft picks is true, this will be our first chance to get an in-person look at No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, not to mention Zach LaVine, the ultra-athletic guard the Timberwolves selected with the 13th overall pick. Minnesota will once again be in full rebuild mode if the trade rumors are to be believed, but they’ll have enough talent to make games interesting, if not entirely competitive.
Portland went 3-1 versus Minnesota last season.
Monday, December 15 vs. San Antonio Spurs, 7 PM
This will be Portland’s first crack at the team that eliminated the Trail Blazers from the 2014 Playoffs before steamrolling their way to yet another championship. The Spurs treat the regular season with thinly-veiled contempt, so there’s no guarantee that the likes of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili won’t be resting even this early in the season, but they’ve shown throughout the years that they don’t need their best players to beat you.
The Trail Blazers and Spurs split the series 2-2 last season before San Antonio took the second-round 4-1.
Monday, December 22 @ Houston Rockets, 5 PM
If the gave versus the Spurs is the yin, this game versus the Rockets is the yang. This game will be Houston’s first chance to get some pent-up frustration out of their collective systems after the Rockets were eliminated from the 2014 Playoffs in Game 6 at the Moda Center. Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik are all gone, but James Harden and Dwight Howard still pose a formidable duo.
Portland lost the season series 3-1 to the Rockets, though as was the case with the Spurs, the playoff series record is what really mattered.
Monday, January 5 vs. L.A. Lakers, 7 PM
The Los Angeles Lakers just ain’t what they used to be, but Trail Blazers fans get pumped up for this one regardless. Kobe Bryant’s last great game, a 47-point, eight-rebound, five-assist, four-block, three-steal performance while playing all 48 minutes, took place at the Moda Center on April 12, 2013, so it will be interesting to see what the “Black Mamba” has left in the tank after sitting out all by six games of the 2013-14 season. It’ll also be a fun sociological experiment to see how many Lakers fans show up at the Moda Center now that they’ve fallen on some hard times.
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”
PORTLAND — What a nice way to go into the All-Star break.
For the second time in five days, the Trail Blazers built a large third-quarter lead against the Rockets, then allowed them to make a comeback, only to make a final push to come away with the double-digit victory, this time to the tune of a 116-103 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, we’ve been really good the last two or three weeks. Our aggressiveness has been good, our alertness has been very good and I thought we did that for most of the night tonight. It’s good to go into the break on a win streak and playing well.”
The Trail Blazers are now 27-27 overall and 16-11 at the Moda Center this season. With the win, Portland is .500 for the first time since the team was 4-4 on November 9, 2015, have won eight of their last 10 games at home and 12 of their last 15 games overall, regardless of venue. Thanks to that streak, the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings while the Rockets, a team that started the game in seventh place, drop to ninth.
“We dug ourselves a hole to start the season, giving up some games late, but we stuck with it, we kept going, we kept working,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t get too high or low. We were able to close in and get to .500 going into the break. Our team has done a great job of sticking to the grind, working every day in practice and staying together. That’s gotten us to where we are now.”
After ending the first quarter tied 29-29, the Trail Blazers used a 18-3 run in the second quarter to build a 12-point lead. Portland would expand their lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut the deficit to five with 9:31 to play in the fourth. But the Trail Blazers would close out the game by outscoring the Rockets 23-15 to come away with the 13-point victory.
Portland won Tuesday’s contest despite shooting worse percentage than the Rockets from the field and the three-point line, but making eight more free throws despite having the same number of attempts and turning 20 Rockets turnovers in to 31 points more than made up for their so-so field goal percentages.
“I like the fact that we’re doing it within the context of our defense rather than gambling and extending our defense,” said Stotts of forcing turnovers. “We’re being aggressive on the ball, we’re alert on the weak side, so I think those two things combined help create those turnovers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 9-of-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to go along with nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.
Maurice Harkless remained in the starting lineup, despite Noah Vonleh being on the active list for the first time in the last two games, and responded with his best game as a Trail Blazers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.
“I liked his defense on Harden, he finished around the basket, he got rebounds, he ran the floor well,” said Stotts of Harkless. “He did a little bit of everything in a kind of understated way.”
Meyers Leonard went 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu shot just under 50 percent to finish with 11 points and five rebounds and Ed Davis grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes. Gerald Henderson went just 3-of-10 from the field but made up for it by going 7-of-10 from the line to finish with 13 points.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 34 points, and Dwight Howard, who added 28 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers have more than a week off before hosting the Golden State Warriors on February 19.
“We’re playing well and hopefully when we get back we pick up where we left off,” said Stotts, “but everybody could use a break.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.