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.
With Portland’s playoff run now over, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard now has some free time on his hands to pursue his off-court interests. He’s already hit up Oak’s Park for some late-night rollerskating, attended a Portland Thorns game at Providence Park and welcomed his old buddy Tim Frazier back to town. And today, we know he’s back in the studio making music.
In a re-launch of the “Music Monday” feature that he started last offseason on his Soundcloud page, Lillard, or to be most specific, “Dame DOLLA,” has posted a new track entitled “Talk To Em” featuring V.I.P and Bozzle (who I think are Lillard’s cousins)…
One of Dame’s verses…
They glorifying goofballs, I’m salty as Utah
When you real they uncomfortable, plotting for you to fall
Man I’m changing up the game, forget about the politics
I stick my neck out for my loved ones, I’m like an ostrich
A lot of love around me you haters keep doing opposite
I’m really incompetent to taking many compliments
That sounds about right. Previous “Music Monday” releases from last year include “Soldier In The Game,” “Full Stomach,” “Why?” “Free Bands” and “The Villains.” Then there’s non-Music Monday releases such as “I Wish I Could Tell You,” “Heatwave,” and “They Sleep,” which, like “Talk To Em” was produced by Jahlil Beats, who also produced, among other things, the Rick Ross/Meek Mill hit “Ima Boss” and that Bobby Shmurda song whose name I can’t put on this blog. And of course, there’s “Bigger Than Us,” the video for which currently has roughly 750,000 views on YouTube.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.
Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.
Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…
On the 2015-16 season…
“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”
On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…
“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”
On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…
“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.
On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…
“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”
On free agency and having a say in the process…
“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”
On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…
“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”
On head coach Terry Stotts…
“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”
On spending time in Portland this offseason…
“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”
On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…
“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.
On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”
On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…
“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”
On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…
“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”
On his mindset going into the offseason…
“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”
On being a restricted free agent…
“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”
On his first season in Portland…
I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”
On his first season in Portland…
“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”
His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…
This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.
On his first season with the Trail Blazers…
“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”
How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…
The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.