Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bayless ready to come off the bench

First things first: Rudy Fernandez will replace Brandon Roy (hamstring) in the starting lineup tonight versus the Celtics. Shavlik Randolph will dress with Roy being placed inactive list for the first time this season. I didn't hear an official word on Greg Oden, but I believe he will play.

Expect to see Jerryd Bayless play extended minutes for the first time this season in the second unit. Nate McMillan said pregame that Bayless both guard positions depending on the lineup. So when Bayless is on the floor with Steve Blake, he'll probably play point guard, and he's out with Sergio Rodriguez, he'll hold down shooting guard.

"It’s going to be good," said Bayless, who was just a step below giddy pregame. "Hopefully everything works out. Should be a great opportunity. I’m looking forward to it."

Bayless usually practices as a member of the first unit, subbing in for Blake and Roy when needed, but he didn't seem particularly worried about stepping on the court with the second unit.

"I don’t think it will be different; I’ve just got to find a rhythm with them" said Bayless. "Basketball, to me, has always been a game about rhythm. Obviously it’s short notice, but I’ve played with Joel, I’ve played with all the guys on the team, so I think it will be an easy adjustment."

Bayless has been used sparsely so far this season, which has made the rookie out of Arizona a bit reluctant when it came to shooting, but with playing time all but guaranteed tonight, expect to see the aggressive player that lit up the Las Vegas summer league.

"The reason I’ve been tentative -- that’s a different situation when you don’t know if you’re going back in," explained Bayless. "So it’s like, should I shoot this or is this shot going to get me taken out? That’s a different situation. Now, it’s just basketball. I can go in there and play. Hopefully everything works out. I’ve worked hard for it."

Who starts in place of Roy?

Bad news out of shootaround today, as Brandon Roy, already listed as questionable for tonight's game against the Celtics, is now declaring himself doubtful. Getting a win against the World Champs is tough, but doing it without your best player? That's going to take something special.

So who picks up the slack if Roy doesn't play, and more specifically, who takes Roy's spot in the rotation? It basically comes down to Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless. The snap judgment would be to go with Rudy, as he has more general NBA and "big game" experience, but the decision might not be as cut and dry as it appears on the surface.

A few things to contemplate.

Having Roy out of the lineup already throws the rotation for a loop. If you give Rudy the start, that rotation goes even more catywampus, as both the first and second units change. If you simply go Bayless for Roy, you at least keep the second unit intact, though it can be assumed that Rudy plays more minutes regardless.

Then there are matchups to consider. Is Blake and Bayless vs. Rondo and Allen a better option than Blake and Rudy vs. Rondo and Allen?

And then there's past performance. Rudy has played much more than Bayless, but a lot of people thought Jerryd showed something during his garbage time minutes in the loss to the Celtics. Do you reward Bayless for that tenacity with the start, or defer to Rudy's experience and proclivity for scoring?

Also worth noting that Bayless often runs with the first team during practice when Roy sits. Does that give Bayless the leg up? Then again, Rudy often plays with the first unit late in games, so maybe he gets the edge.

I've got an opinion, but I'd like to hear your thoughts first. If it were your call, who would you give the start to? Let's hear it in the comments.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Video: McMillan, Roy from practice

Head coach Nate McMillan and guard Brandon Roy discuss the upcoming game on Tuesday versus the Boston Celtics.

Video: Oden, Aldridge Roy postgame

It's a but after the fact, but here's video of Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy discussing the victory against the Raptors. You'll notice that each player was asked about defense, which was Nate McMillan's emphasis during his pregame media availability.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Video: McMillan from practice

There's been a bit of discussion regarding Nate McMillan's consideration of making a change in the rotation, so I thought you might enjoy watching the video of that exchange. It's from a few days ago, but I think it'll give you some perspective as to where McMillan's mind is.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Vote Rudy for Slam Dunk Contest

I know you're all doing your best when it comes to All-Star voting, walking up bright and early every day to vote for Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden. Your efforts are appreciated. The most recent count has Brandon Roy at 174,244 votes (9th among Western Conference guards), LaMarcus Aldridge at 145,857 votes (11th among Western Conference forwards) and Greg Oden at 144,650 votes (5th among Western Conference centers). Keep fighting the good fight.

But now there's another All-Star vote on your plate, one we stand a great chance of winning. For the first time ever, the fans will get to vote for one of three rookies to join Dwight Howard, Nate Robinson and Rudy Gay in the Slam Dunk Competition. Rudy Fernandez is one of those rookies. He only needs to beat out Russell Westbrook and Joe Alexander to get a trip to the Phoenix for the contest, and with the way Rudy throws down and the entire country of Spain on his side, I like his chances.

Rudy wants your vote, and he was smart enough to make part of his plea in his native tongue. Portland fans have been clamoring for an entrant in the Slam Dunk Contest for some time now, so don't let this opportunity pass.

Vote for Rudy here. Vota para Rudy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Catching up with KP

We'll check in with general manager Kevin Pritchard periodically throughout the season to get his thoughts on the Trail Blazers and the NBA in general.

How satisfied are you with how the team has played so far this season?

KP: "Our whole thing is that we don’t want to get caught up in the day-to-day. We want to take a long-term approach to this, and for us, our goals are still the same: get to the playoffs. We want to see what this team can do in the playoffs. The Rose Garden is such a special place, so if we can get into the playoffs we can win some games, I think. Have some fun in the playoffs. This city is desperate to have that. They’re hungry for it, as we are.

"I feel very good being where we are after 26 games. We need to stay healthy, and we want to get better. Our whole thing is, how can we keep getting better? We’re a young team going through some bumps and bruises, going through some learning curves, that’s natural in this league. We’re so young that we’re going through so many new emotions for some of these guys. Rudy, Greg, Batum, Bayless, they’re all going through a bunch of new things. They bring some energy but everything is new to them. Once they get into 40, 50 games it’s like, now I’ve done it. You’re still a rookie but you sort of know what to expect. I’m excited for the next 15, 16 games so they can get more comfortable. Everybody talks about the ‘rookie wall’ and whether they’ll hit it, but we’re going to try and help them as much as we can."

Would you expect the improvement from increased playing time to exceed the declination that might occur due to fatigue?

KP: "The theory in this league is as the veterans get more comfortable, they start playing a lot better. That does happen, so there’s a catch-up from the veteran’s standpoint because they don’t work quite as hard in the offseason. They work, but they know it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Right now we’re sort of sprinting, so we need to make sure we can continually get better."

Do you feel like too much has been made of the early season schedule? It seems like every team seems to think they’ve got it tougher than someone else.

KP: "You’ve got to play 82 games. Playing 16 on the road in our first 24 games, that was tough. Not from the physical part. I think Nate did a great job of giving off-days and rest and really looked at recuperation time, but mentally I thought we were really drained a couple of games here at home, didn’t have that freshness."

I think you mentioned last year before the draft that the team needed to get more athletic at the guard positions. I’m wondering if you feel the say way 26 games into the season.

KP: "I think I said in the backcourt and that includes our small forward. I think Nicolas is as athletic as they get. He’s sort of sneaky smooth. He brings another dimension of shot blocking to that position with Travis. With Martell out, Nic has done an admirable job. We need him to grow. For us to grow, he has to grow.

"Sergio and Blake, their strengths aren’t their athletic ability. But Blake is as tough as they get. He’s a tough kid. As we get better, that position becomes more important because if you elevate your point guard play, the rest of the play improves. Blake has been terrific this year. Sergio has shown that he is that creative offensive weapon off the bench and he’s done a fantastic job as well."

Brandon Roy has really come into his own this season. Part of that he seems to be that he’s looking for his own shot more often. Can you speak to his evolution as a player this season?

KP: "He’s terrific. He’s a high level player in this league. What makes Brandon special for me is he understands that delicate balance of taking too many shots, taking the right amount of shots and not taking enough. He sort of finds that sweet spot. We want him taking a lot of shots. There have been times in games where I want him to get up five, six more shots. But it’s not in his persona. I wouldn’t say he’s a scorer; he’s a basketball player. That’s a special talent."

It seems like the team is doing a better job of closing out games this season. Is that an indication of this team’s growth?

KP: "I think Nate does a great job of managing that. I think that shows that he’s a very good coach in this league. And then our guys are comfortable with each other. It trickles down from LaMarcus and Brandon. They’ve been in a lot of close games, they know what they have to do. We’re going to win our fair share, but we’re going to have some tough losses, too."

How do you think the league has changed in the last year?

KP: "We’re a league of mimics. We see what’s working and we try to mimic it. You see Boston with their great defense and then everybody wants to be a great defensive team. I come from a background where defense is very important. Right now every team is trying to figure out how they can put the best defensive players out there. I think that’s important.

"It’s amazing because for us in the West, I don’t feel like it’s changed at all. You’re going to have to get in the high 40’s to get in the playoffs. You can’t just win fifty percent of your games and expect to make it to the playoffs. Now the East, maybe you can, but not in the West. There are too many good teams. So in that instance, I don’t think anything has changed. You’ve got to be an upper-echelon team to get into the playoffs. And again, that’s our goal, so we know we’re going to have to get up there. "

Has there been an increased emphasis for franchises to get set up for free-agency two and three years down the road? It seems like only recently you’ve started to hear about teams making moves to position themselves vis-a-vi free-agency years in advance.

KP: "It’s interesting. From a management perspective, we plan out three, four, five years. I think most teams do it. I just think that 2010 class is very special, so everybody is going to compete. But quite frankly, sometimes it’s important to zig when everybody else is zagging. "

Do you feel like you’re in a position where you don’t need to make any of those big moves?

KP: "What I don’t want to do is limit any of our thinking. Are we definite players in 2010? Who knows? A lot has to be done between now and then. What I do know is that I really like our team. I like our youth. You project out some of our guys like Nicolas, Bayless, Sergio, Rudy, Oden. What are they going to be in two or three years? They’re just cutting their teeth right now. I believe we have a chance to be pretty good for a long time. And that’s what we wanted. We want to have a chance to have a crack at the big games, the big playoff games down the line in two, three, four, five years. An elongated success. Hopefully we can do that."

Have you been surprised at the turnover regarding coaches this season?

KP: "It’s an interesting thing. I was thinking the other day: are there going to be interim coaches after the interim coaches? It’s been so early, so are they going to fire the interim and bring in another guy to were there are multiple coaching changes in one year for one team?

"I’ve said this and I’ve told this to Nate -- I didn’t come up with it, it’s from Coach Roy Williams -- coaches get too much blame and they get too much credit. And because of that it feels like everybody is pointing the finger. I believe truly in this -- Nate and I and Mr. Allen have talked about this -- it’s a collective responsibility. The players, the coaches, the general manager, the owner; it’s all of our responsibility. If we all shoulder that responsibility, it doesn’t fall on one person."

Post Notes: Nuggets 97, Trail Blazers 89

It should come as no surprise that most of the notes of interest from last night's game tend to be Denver-friendly. Hopefully we can change that tonight. That's right: We will play tonight.


• Nene recorded his second-straight double-double (seventh of the season, 46th of his career) with 19 points and 11 rebounds against the Blazers tonight. The Nuggets are now 5-2 on the year when Nene records a double-double.

• Chauncey Billups tallied his fifth double-double of the season (fifth with Denver, 81st of his career) with 19 points and 10 assists. The Nuggets improve to 6-1 when a player dishes out 10+ assists, while they are 6-0 when Billups does so.

• Linas Kleiza scored 17 points off the bench for Denver tonight, marking his fourth-straight game scoring 10 or more points.

• J.R. Smith started his first game of the season tonight, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds in tonight’s win. Tonight marked his first start since 1/31/07, while it was his 25th start in a Nuggets uniform.

• Chris Andersen blocked a season-high six shots vs. Portland tonight (previous five vs. Houston on 11/30/08). This is the fifth time this season that he has blocked four or more shots.

• LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 20 points during tonight’s loss. This is his seventh time so far this season leading his team in scoring, while it is his ninth time scoring 20 or more points.

• Brandon Roy managed only eight points for Portland tonight. Entering tonight’s game, Roy had scored 29 or more points in his previous five outings, while averaging 36.4 ppg in the process.


• With tonight’s win, the Nuggets improve to 18-10 on the season, including 10-4 at the Pepsi Center. Denver’s 18-10 record is tied for the second-best record thru 28 games in team history (also began at least 18-10 five other times, most recently in 1989-90).

• With tonight’s win, the Nuggets once again avoided losing consecutive home games. Denver has not lost consecutive games at the Pepsi Center since the 2006-07 season (2/5 and 2/7/07).

• The Nuggets scored 97 points in tonight’s win, which is their fifth win on the year when to scoring under 100 points (5-7). Denver was just 3-16 when scoring under 100 points last season and only 3-23 during the 2006-07 season.

• Portland scored 89 points in tonight’s loss and are now 6-8 this season when failing to score 100 points, not to mention just 1-5 when being held below 90 points. Denver, on the other hand, is now 11-1 when holding teams to less than 100 and a perfect 8-0 when holding the opposition to 90 or less.

• With tonight’s win, the Nuggets improved to 10-1 against the Blazers at the Pepsi Center since 2003-04, as well as 17-4 overall these last five-plus seasons.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fear not, the Trail Blazers will fly to Denver

Everyone talked about how big the matchup with Boston was, but in my opinion, Monday night's game against the Nuggets in Denver is the most important game of the season, so far, for the Trail Blazers. Both teams have 17-10 records and hence, they sit tied for the top spot in the Northwest Division. So the team that wins on Monday takes takes a lead in the division. That fact makes Monday's contest much more critical than an away game against an Eastern Conference opponent.

But that's not all. The team that wins on Monday almost certainly has the momentum going into Tuesdays rubber match at the Rose Garden. If the Red and Black can somehow get two wins against Denver in two days? You can't overstate how important that would be.

But how to get to Denver? The snow/ice storm has made getting out of Portland International Airport next to impossible. The Blazers get around in a private jet, so they're not subjected to all of the same difficulties that commercial air traveler have deal with, but private jet or not, ice on the runway is ice on the runway.

So how are they going to get to Denver? Well, the team has already boarded a bus to Eugene, where conditions are a much more manageable 42 degrees with regular ol' Oregon rain. The team will fly out of Eugene, getting into Denver sometime later tonight, Portland weather be damned.

I'm guessing something similar will be done for the trip back to Portland unless conditions change before Tuesday.

So even if you're stuck at home tomorrow, you'll still be able to see what I'm guessing is going to be a heck of a basketball game on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be televised locally on KGW Channel 8. Tune in.

PTI: Five Good Minutes With Brandon Roy

Mike Wilbon and Bob Ryan interview Brandon Roy during the December 19 edition of "Pardon the Interruption."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Video: Roy, Outlaw postgame

Check out what Brandon Roy and Travis Outlaw had to say after Thursday night's win versus the Suns. I don't know what Roy could possibly do for an encore, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

Photos: Trail Blazers 124, Suns 119

It's doubtful that you're going to forget this one, but here are some photos should you need to jog your memory for some reason.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Porter's No. 30 Rises To the Rafters

The inner bowl of the Rose Garden clears out pretty fast during a typical halftime intermission, but on Tuesday night, the Portland crowd remained in their seats to witness Terry Porter’s No. 30 raised to the rafters.

Porter, who thanked his parents, fellow players and fans during his acceptance speech, let loose with a “Rip City Baby!” as he took the mic to speak about the honor of having his number retired.

Many of the players who ran the floor with Porter at the old Memorial Coliseum, including Buck Williams, Jerome Kersey and Wayne Cooper, collected at midcourt to pay tribute to their friend and former teammate. Most of the memories reminisced upon focused on the Western Conference championship teams of 1990 and 1992, teams that are considered among the greatest in Trail Blazers history.

“If I had to pick one memory, it would be the year we made it to the Finals the first time,” said Porter. ”We had picked up Buck, we got Kevin and there were a lot of questions about the makeup of that team and how we were going to come together.

“As that year went on we got better and better and more and more comfortable with each other. Finishing out in Phoenix then going into the locker room and having the excitement of all of us going to our first NBA Finals, that was probable my best individual memory.”

Porter remains Portland’s all-time leader in assists and three-point field goals. Only Clyde Drexler, who took a couple playful shots at this old teammate in a video taped message, played more minutes, scored more points, had more steals and made more free throws than Porter.

Porter, a former non-scholarship athlete at University of Wisconsin Steven’s Point, made numerous references to the humbling experiences of having his number among other Trail Blazers great like Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and Drexler.

“I just think that whenever you’re blessed to play this sport, you always like to be recognized for your service,” said Porter. “Everybody wants to be recognized for their service, especially when they think they’ve done something well.

“When you think about me, coming from Stevens Point, I think the one thing that got me to this point was my ability to work hard, my work ethic. I always strived to be the best player I could be, always trying to do the best things for my team. So from that standpoint, I hope people remember me as someone who appreciated the game and put everything he could into the game and maximized his talents. Couldn’t jump, didn’t have quick speed, but was still able to achieve a lot with the talent I had.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Video: Nate McMillan postgame

Another tough loss to swallow. After one like this, I can't decide if it's better or worse to have three days off. You don't want to walk around with that taste in your mouth, but the rest sure would be nice.

I thought Coach McMillan said some good things after tonight's loss to the Clippers. Rather than dwelling on the negative, he chose to focus on the team fighting through adversity. No reason to pile on.

12.12.08 Nate McMillan pregame

Listen to head coach Nate McMillan address the media prior to tonight's game versus the Clippers. Amongst other things, McMillan notes that Outlaw will not play due to a bruised tail bone.

Download the podcast (7.3 MB).

Just Being Bayless

It is morning at the Trail Blazers practice facility and Jerryd Bayless is doing the things that most basketball players do; the same routine he’s done since junior high.

First there is stretching to be done before some light jogging up and down the court to get the blood pumping. After that, it’s time work on ball handling skills: dribbling two balls at the same time, crossovers, keeping the ball low the court. Throughout the drills, Bayless displays an assortment of prototypical point guard skills; skills that draft prognosticators questioned whether or not he had when he declared for the NBA draft after his freshman season at Arizona.

Next up, shooting drills. Bayless works his way around the court in a deliberate manner, taking set shots from the perimeter, driving to the hoop, jump stopping, fading away, cutting hard around imaginary screens before pulling up for a mid-range jumper. Every now and then Bayless will roll to the hoop and elevate, displaying his impressive vertical leap before throwing down a dunk or laying the ball softly off the glass.

Bayless finishes up the workout with weightlifting. Already an impressive physical specimen when he entered the league, Bayless has continued to sculpt and add muscle to his 6-3, 200 lbs. frame. His body-type, broad, compact and muscular, is reminiscent of guards like Chauncey Billups and Dwyane Wade; guards that can get be physically imposing on defense while remaining quick and explosive. It’s the kind of body that is equipped to handle the beating that an 82-game season can dole out.

Nothing that Jerryd Bayless does at the practice facility on this day is all that different from what others will do, but with one exception: It’s still two hours before the start of actual practice. By the time most of his teammates show up to get their ankles taped, Bayless will have already put in a full workout.

“His work ethic is off the charts,” said assistant coach Monty Williams, one of the earliest risers in the Trail Blazers organization. “He’s in the gym when I get there, which is sad, but that’s just the way he is. And before games he’ll work out two or three times. He’s one of those guys you almost have to tell them to chill out a little bit. But he’s got a healthy sense of paranoia and he’s trying to do anything he can to get on the court. And when he does, I think all of this hard work is going to pay off for him.”

Getting on the court has been difficult so far this season for Bayless, who, after being name the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League, has played in just six games through the first month of the season. Veterans Brandon Roy, Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez eat up most of the burn at the guard position in Nate McMillan’s rotation, leaving little opportunity for Bayless to get significant minutes. It’s the proverbial catch-22 of being a high draft pick on an already good team: plenty of opportunity to learn from some of the best in the NBA, but little time to utilize those lessons in game situations.

“All I know is that I’m putting in the work,” says Bayless. “That’s all I can do. Everything else is up to coach. I’m working out and doing everything that I can to get better, but when it comes to playing time, it’s all up to coach. But when my chance comes, I’ll be ready.”

It’s an adjustment for a player who, up until now, has always been the first option on any team he has ever been on. The competitive nature and self-assurance that drives the most successful athletes can’t simply be turned off and on, so Bayless has worked on refocusing that energy into improving his game while he waits for an opportunity to prove himself on the court.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that his time will come,” said general manager Kevin Pritchard, the man responsible for orchestrating the trade on draft night to acquire Bayless from the Indiana Pacers. “When it is? That I don’t know. But he is preparing himself, and I use that word very strongly. He is definitely preparing himself to be a good basketball player in this league. And that’s why we’re very encouraged because he’s competitive and he’s tough. He’s going to get his chance.”

Until that chance comes, Bayless will keep working earlier and more often than the next guy, preparing for that opportunity as he has always done.

“I try to improve on everything everyday. Right now I’m just trying to be Jerryd, and hopefully everything thing will work out.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

12.11.08 Edition of the Podcast

This week's episode is huge. Mammoth. Gargantuan even. Over an hour of Trail Blazers digital talk. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of is now available for your listening pleasure.

This week we talk about the heartbreaking loss to Orlando, Brandon Roy's awesomeness, the drastic improvement exhibited by Sergio Rodriguez, the reason for the team's improved shooting from outside, the difficulty of drawing All-Star votes and a whole lot more. Really, it's too much to list. I think you'll like it.

Download the podcast (60.3 MB!!!).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Video: McMillan, Roy postgame

Disappointing. An otherwise great effort marred by about two minutes of terrible, no good basketball. We haven't lost many games like this recently.

Here's video of Nate McMillan and Brandon Roy addressing the media postgame.

Postgame Notes: Magic 109, Blazers 108

This one stings. Losing for the first time at the Rose Garden this season on a last-second shot is a tough pill to swallow. But hey, we can still go 40-1 at home.

By the way, anyone else think there should have been a full second left on the clock after Turkoglu's make? It seemed like they let a lot of time elapse off the clock after the shot went down. Then again, we didn't have a timeout, so it probably wouldn't have made much of a difference.

Here are the postgame note from tonight's game. Mad ups to communications intern Aaron for these nuggets of truth.

Brandon Roy scored a Trail Blazers season-high 30 points, becoming the first Trail Blazer to reach the 30-point mark this season … Roy has scored 20-plus points in 15 games this season ... The third-year player has notched at least a share of the scoring lead for Portland in 15 contests and the assists high in 10 games.


Sergio Rodriguez netted a season-high 14 points, including nine in the third quarter (6-6 FT).

Portland had won all seven of its home contests before falling to the Magic ... The Trail Blazers were one of only two teams with a perfect home mark entering tonight ... Cleveland (12-0) is now the NBA’s lone undefeated team at home.

The Trail Blazers had won all four games decided by three or fewer points this season before dropping a one-point game to Orlando ... Portland had won eight such games in a row, dating back to last year, before tonight’s loss.


The Trail Blazers have played a league-high 15 road games this season (8-7) ... Portland’s eight home games are tied for the league low (7-1).


The Magic scored a Trail Blazers opponent season-high 32 third-quarter points … Orlando hit more three-pointers (14) than any other Trail Blazers opponent this season … The Magic made nine three-pointers in the second half alone.


After getting outrebounded, 44-34, on the glass in Orlando, Portland controlled the boards with a 44-29 advantage vs. the Magic in Portland.

LaMarcus Aldridge’s 25 points were just two off his season high of 27 ... The third-year forward has shot 67-for-118 from the field (56.8%) in the last eight games.

Portland held its opponent without a single block for the second time this season, while notching seven rejections of its own. The Trail Blazers now hold a 128-74 edge in blocked shots in 23 games on the year.

Six Trail Blazers scored in double figures for the fourth time in 2008-09.


The Trail Blazers trailed at halftime, 49-48, for only the second time at home all season … Minnesota led Portland, 49-43, at the break before Portland earned a 97-93 victory on Nov. 8.

Maurice Lucas: 'I'm still standing'

Assistant coach and Trail Blazers legend Maurice Lucas returned to practice today after battling bronchial pneumonia for the better part of the last two months. I got a chance to talk to Coach Luke today after his one-on-one workout with Greg Oden. Here's what he had to say.

How are you feeling on your first day back?

Maurice Lucas: I’m feeling OK. A little weak. I haven’t participated in much exercise in the last two weeks or so. It just takes time. I’m going to take my time getting back, make sure I’m right before I get fully committed. It’s just one of those things where you’ve just got to take your time. I’m not getting any younger, so I’ve got to make sure everything is just right before I come back. Pneumonia is something you just don’t play with.

What exactly was your diagnosis?

Maurice Lucas: They call it bronchial pneumonia, so it was down in my lungs. How you catch it? Who knows? I was doing a lot of traveling -- I went to a couple of different countries and around the states -- and I just got caught.

It takes you out. It totally takes you out. It takes away your muscle movement and your breathing ability. It’s one of those processes that you have to go through the meds and take your time and get a lot of rest and drink a lot of liquids. It’s just a matter of time now.

How does it feel to finally be back with the team?

Maurice Lucas: It was good. You can bore yourself to death too! There’s a couple way’s you can die: You can die physically or you can bore yourself to death and I was getting close to the bored side. But I’m smart enough and mature enough to know that I have to take my time.

Did being sick and away from the team give you a chance to view team differently?

Maurice Lucas: Actually it did. It game me an opportunity to watch all the games; not only our team but all different teams and get a better perspective as to who was playing what and how they were playing different guys. How they were playing us prior to us playing them. It gave me a different scouting capacity. As far as our team, it gave me an opportunity to really look at each individual as a player and how they play. That was good for me.

You were working with Greg a lot before you got sick. What have you thought about his performance so far this season?

Maurice Lucas: He’s coming. He’s just got to understand the fact that he’s a big man and he’s got to play like a big man. He’s got to increase his aggressiveness in a positive way. He’s got to get meaner and tougher around the basket. He’s a tough kid, don’t get me wrong, but he’s just got to get aggressive like (Dwight) Howard and (Chris) Bosh and guys of that size that are under there battling. Once he does that, whoo, Katy bar the door, because he’s got all the tools. It’s just a matter of him learning the game, learning different defenses that guys are throwing at him, technique on how to get himself wide open. He’s going to be OK. I’ve got big hopes for him.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Roy provides poor bulletin board material

Nothing seems to fire up professional athletes more than innocuous statements put into print. The chemical reaction that occurs when ink blends with low-grade newsprint must have some kind of cosmic effect on athletes, because the most benign, inoffensive comments somehow morph into "bulletin board material." I bring this up because the Toronto Sun had a short blurb regarding a supposed slight uttered by Brandon Roy, of all people, that got the Raptors wing defenders in a minor tizzy.
Portland Trail Blazers' Brandon Roy might not be so quick to insult the Raptors next time around.

Roy, who was held to just 3-for-13 shooting by the Celtics in a loss at Boston on Friday, let some of that frustration out as he looked ahead to yesterday's game.

"Half of those moves I did tonight,'' Roy said after the game in Boston. "They are going to work against Toronto.''

Granted the Toronto defence isn't in the same ball park as Boston's at this point, but the words struck a nerve with a few Raptors.

"It was brought to my attention before the game and it certainly served as some extra motivation," said Raptors shooting guard Anthony Parker, who drew the defensive assignment on Roy for most of the afternoon.

Parker, with an assist to Joey Graham, held Roy to 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting, well shy of his seasonal average of 20.7.

"A guy like that is going to get his points he has the ball so much, but we made it tough on him," Parker said.
Really? This comment reaches the level of insult that requires it being brought to Anthony Parker's attention? Things can't be that bad in Toronto, can they?

First off, what Roy said is not a diss; it's a fact. The Boston Celtics, by any measure, are a much, much better defensive (or "defencive" as they spell in Canada) team than the Raptors. Would anyone, even in the Toronto locker room, argue that point? If so, consider that the Celtics are No. 1 in defensive efficiency. The Raptors? No. 24. The Celtics are ranked second in opponent field goal percentage (42%), the Raptors are ranked 25th (47%). Boston is ranked second in opponents points per game (91.0 per), Toronto is ranked 23rd (102.1 per). Those are facts.

So is it that outlandish, let alone offensive, for Roy to think he'd have better luck against Toronto than he did against Boston (which, incidentally, he did)? That's not an affront to the Raptors. It's simply an observation of how impressive a defensive team the Celts really are. It's not always about you Toronto.

And really, it's not as if Roy called anyone a cockroach or anything.

Secondly, "holding" Brandon Roy to 15 points in the fifth game of a road trip, that you lost, is somehow a triumph? Roy "not be so quick to insult the Raptors next time around" just because he didn't make his average? If anything, taking into consideration the fact that Portland won, shouldn't the argument be that Roy should always "insult" the Raptors if the end result is a victory? After all, I'm fairly certain B.Roy would rather go scoreless and get the win than drop 80 and leave the Air Canada Centre with a loss. I've got that on good authority.

If, as a professional athlete, you've come to a point where you have to feign outrage to get up for a game, it might be time to hang 'em up.

Today In Links: Home Again Edition

Before yesterday, no current member of the Trail Blazers had ever returned to Portland from a five-game road trip 4-1. That might not sound like a big deal, but with as difficult as it is to win on the road, especially for young team, I think you have to consider this road trip one of the most important achievements of the last five years. Probably just below last year's 13-game winning streak. You want to argue with that assessment?

Jason Quick, The Oregonian: What McMillan had identified was that the Raptors' defense was more effective when it had time to recover or adjust from screens or passes. So even when Brandon Roy, the master of pacing, would hold the ball and survey the defense, McMillan would shriek for him to move the ball. When the Blazers did so, the Raptors were often scrambling, making them more susceptible.
Blake processed all of that in the course of about a second and a half, and with 17,671 in the Air Canada Centre screaming. Yeah, he heard McMillan with his ears, but he also heard him in his mind, from earlier timeouts and sideline shouts.
"I felt good with the ball, and I felt confident," Blake said of his split decision to go for the shot. "But at the same time, I thought of how when we allowed them to set up their defense, we weren't getting good looks."
A timeout, of course, would allow Toronto to set up its defense.
So Blake pressed on.
"When everybody is scrambling around you, you can get good shots," Blake said. "I attacked and got (Jose Calderon) on his heels."

• Quick also has two good posts about Rudy Fernandez's potential for fatigue and Shavlik Randolph's disdain for air travel. I've found that letting Shavlik borrow your laptop to watch movies helps ease his fear of flying.

Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don't Lie: Portland just continues to impress the taste out yo' mouth. They could have given up several times over the course of this comeback win, even after Toronto appeared to stave off comeback after comeback, but the Blazers wanted to make sure they ended a five-game Eastern swing the right way. And it ruined new Raptors coach Jay Triano's home debut.
You have to love the way Portland is playing. Have to. Sure, wins over Detroit (reeling), Washington(stinking), New York (Knicking) and Toronto (changing) may not seem like a whole lot, but a trip's a trip. It ain't easy, and Portland took four of five.Now go home, work on Greg Oden (10 and 10 on Sunday), and work on that defense. Have to.
Portland just took advantage of all those made three-pointers (12-24). They're not going to continue to score 36 points on 24 possessions like that, but at the end of a road trip you take what you can get move the hell on.
Also, 18 offensive rebounds in an 84-possession game, a contest where you missed only 49 shots/free throws? That's frightfully dominant for Portland, and a frightfully poor performance from Toronto.

Elias Sports Bureau (via Greg Oden narrowly posted his seventh double-double in 14 games, scoring 10 points with 10 rebounds in the Trail Blazers' 98-97 win at Toronto. Oden has posted twice as many double-doubles as any other NBA rookie this season except the runner-up, Brook Lopez of the Nets, who has four.

Michael Grange, Toronto Globe and Mail: Greg Oden looks old, walks old, runs old. He's not baby Shaq, because when Shaq was his age he was a once-a-century combination of mass and quickness. For all the hype about Oden, he's not going to be that kind of player. And there's something about the way he moves that makes me wonder if he's not going to be some version of hurt all the time, but as the late-great Sam Mitchell would say, "I ain't no doctor." But for this team? He's perfect. Giant. Doesn't need the ball. And yes, he can anchor a defence. One early possession was about as good an offensive possession as the Raptors could hope for: Bargnani in the post against Batum; he passes when the defence helps; ball keeps moving. Bosh gets it, pump-fakes Aldridge in the air, takes an eight foot pull-up J only to have Oden block it about 12 feet in the air. A few plays later Parker makes a steal and is alone on the break when Oden basically grabs it out of the air with two hands. Then he draws a charge on JO in transition. He definitely makes an impact and on a team with so much talent having a guy to do so much with so few touches goes miles.

Dave, BlazersEdge: Rudy Fernandez turned this game around when it threatened to spill over into Boston Redux territory. One of the problems with Toronto’s defense is that once you get past their initial defender they don’t have an effective second layer between you and the rim. Rudy did a great job of recognizing this and used his quick first step better than he has all season to create a couple opportunities deep. Not only did this break the defense, it freed up all kinds of shooting opportunities. Without Rudy breaking the ice we probably don’t win this game. If he can fill that igniter role consistently this will become an extremely dangerous team. 16 points, 5-8 shooting, 3-4 deep, 3-3 from the line, and 8 rebounds.

• A discussion regarding whether or not Steve Blake pushed off on Jose Calderon. The overwhelming consensus: Hell no.

Wendell Maxey, HoopsWorld: On Sunday against Toronto, Portland knocked it out of the park. After trailing by as much as 16 points in the second quarter, the Blazers fought back and endured a Raptors rally with Steve Blake hitting a go-ahead three-pointer with eight seconds left to win the game.
But Blake never would have gotten that chance if it hadn't been for Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez all keeping the previous rebound alive in the waning seconds.
That aggressive attitude helped Portland win the game as much as Blake's bucket. That's the aggressive attitude a defense-first head coach absolutely loves.
"It's just changing the mindset," McMillan said.
"It will come. It will come."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

That's how you finish a road trip

I hope you drug yourself out of bed this morning to watch the Trail Blazers take down the Raptors 98-97 at the Air Canada Centre. This one was truly a gutcheck for Portland. And they responded, big time.

Last contest of a long five-game road trip after getting embarrassed on national television by the Celtics, and they still manage to overcome a miserable, turnover-filled first quarter to get a huge win. Some teams would have folded up, but Nate McMillan got his players to fight through and now they finish the trip 4-1. The last time the Blazers went 4-1 on a road trip? The 2002-03 season, which also happened to be the last time Portland made the postseason.

You can point to the 48-31 rebounding advantage, including an 18-4 offensive rebounding disparity. Or the fact that the Blazers shot 50 percent from three. But for as much of a team effort as this one was, you have to give it up for Steve Blake. 19 points, seven rebounds (!), four assists and an enormous go-ahead, game-winning three with 8 seconds to play. That's crazy clutch.

Blazers get Orlando at home on Tuesday (which is going to be an incredibly difficult game) at Utah on Thursday, then back home for the Clippers on Friday. After that, Portland has but one road game (at Denver) for the rest of December. You're going to want to stay close to the Rose Garden for the next three weeks.

After the disappointment of of the Boston game, how are you feeling bow about today's win and the road trip overall? Me, I'm feeling damn good.

Friday, December 5, 2008

That was no fun

You know what happened. And if for some reason you don't, avoid finding out. Keep telling yourself the NBA switched on the fly to an 81-game season.

But it's just one game. Think about that as we wait for a chance to get back on the court Sunday against the Raptors. And hey, we're 3-1 on an East coast road swing, and at worst, we end 3-2. That's good news, regardless of what happened in Boston.

So if you've got something you want to get off your chest, let's hear it. But try to keep it somewhat constructive.

Today's Oden Wisdom: Gossip Girl? Really?

Folks seem a bit keyed up for tonight's game against the Celtics. Maybe a bit too keyed up. So to lighten the mood, here's today's bit of Oden Wisdom from the bigman's yardbarker blog:
The road trip has been good so far besides basketball they are some really good cities that we have been too. In Detroit i got to see my mom so that was good. Then in New York i just like it, me and Steve Blake went out to dinner and i got to see some of the places that were on this weeks episode of Gossip Girl.
I don't know about you, but this is what I learned from this little blurb:
• Greg Oden's mother lives relatively close to Detroit
• Greg Oden likes New York City
• Greg Oden watches Gossip Girl
• Gossip Girl takes place in New York City
• Steve Blake and Greg Oden eat dinner together sometimes

Today in links: Boston? Big deal!

It seems as though people are making a big deal about tonight's game against the Boston Celtics (on ESPN for all of you non-Comcasters!), but I'm not buying into the hype. Wins against Boston count the same as wins against Charlotte, or Oklahoma City, or Minnesota.

I'm made the mistake many times of asking Nate McMillan about the significance of specific games.

"How important is getting a win against the Lakers tonight?"

"Jazz up tonight, any added importance in beating a divisional foe?"

"You haven't beaten the Spurs as Trail Blazers head coach. Any extra motivation there?"

And invariably, McMillan always comes back with the same answer accompanied by the same annoyed look:

"Every game is important."

So I'm not going to make the same mistake again. Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Boston Celtics at the TD Banknorth Arena. The winner gets a win, the loser gets a loss. Every game is important.

Onto the links.

Jason Quick, The Oregonian
: Nothing outside of a victory over the Lakers would make the Blazers happier than to unseat these Celtics, for which they share equal parts respect and dislike.

"The Celtics, they irritate everybody," Blazers power forward Channing Frye said. "At the same time, they are the best. They won a championship last year. We want to be the best. And the way they beat us -- we took a lot of things from those games and put them into our own play. Their help-side defense, their intensity, their enthusiasm for each other, and their ability to have three superstars play together ... those are all things we are now trying to do."

Also be sure to check out yesterday's Quick Chat. Good stuff.

Mike Barrett, What are you realistically expecting against Boston? What will make you happy? Are you content with another 3-2 record on a five-game road trip, and are thinking that anything else you get is gravy? Is this team ready to be measured, once again, on a national stage? The first time (opening night) didn't go so well.

The players have certainly said the right things. They feel ready, and go into this game with a chip on their shoulders. They were pushed around, bullied, and ended up deaf in one year from Kevin Garnett's non-stop chatter in the two games last season. And, don't think Boston isn't going to be up for this one. They're tired of hearing how Portland is the darling of the NBA, a future championship team, full of rising stars, and great young men.

Marc Spears, Boston Globe: With a now healthy Oden playing his first pro game in Boston tonight for the Portland Trail Blazers, he and Celtics fans might wonder what could have been.

"There is always going to be that pressure," Oden said. "What if Greg went to Boston? There's going to be that controversy right there. You know it's going to happen. But I'm going to go out there and I'm going to play the game I've been playing. Play team ball and do what I'm supposed to do, and that's rebound and block shots.

"I didn't [go there], but a lot of people were always talking about me going to Boston. 'That could have been you.' If I would have gone there, that [Garnett] trade wouldn't have happened."

Dwight Jaynes, In the old days, Maurice Lucas is fond of saying, you could punch a guy in the face and get fined $50. Man, in the case of Garnett, who among us wouldn’t chip in?

And while Lucas continues to recover from a nasty illness that’s kept him off the Blazer bench this season, I’m fondly summoning up a picture of Luke, in his prime, on the floor giving the stink-eye to Garnett. Man, the first time Garnett got out of line, he’d see a beast coming at him. I’ve seen this thing, folks, and it was a frightening sight to behold.

Garnett, trust me, would want no part of Maurice Lucas. He would be a very quiet, well-behaved young man on the nights when he played against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Dave, Blazersedge: I know people are going to argue with me about this but trust me…we cannot become an elite team by winning this game. That only comes by winning 55+ and then performing really well in the playoffs. Those landmarks come in April and May, not December. Anyone who remembers the Drexler years can tell you that winning games against opponents in the regular season means bubkus when you get into the post-season. It’s a whole new world and as soon as Game 1 commences nobody remembers what happened before. The only thing that’s going to markedly change if the Blazers win is that the national pundits are going to ooh and aah and maybe some other fans will say, “Portland is for real.” Those last exactly until Sunday when we play Toronto, when we are once again capable of losing all of that with one bad performance. That’s about what it means…a temporary high. It would be nice, to be sure, but if you’re a Portland fan you’ll know already not to hang your hat or your pride on what other people say about your team because they’ll always say it louder and longer about somebody more famous.

Mark Murphy: Boston Herald: The “Who, me?” look on Kendrick Perkins [stats]’ face yesterday was instructive.

The Celtics [team stats] center was about to study film on the NBA’s most anticipated newcomer, Greg Oden, but judging from the sound of his voice and the innocent look on his face, Perkins could have been preparing to face Mikki Moore for the first time.

“I do want to see exactly how he plays,” Perkins said of tonight’s matchup against Oden, the Trail Blazers rookie. “It’s just going to be another night on the job, though.

“I mean, you have to be excited to get these opportunities. But to be honest, I’ve barely seen or watched him.”

Thursday, December 4, 2008

LaMarcus Aldridge: The Student Becomes The Teacher

It’s no secret that Brandon Roy is considered the unquestioned leader of the Trail Blazers locker room, but when you’re playing on a team as young as Portland’s, there are plenty of opportunities for mentorship. That’s where LaMarcus Aldridge comes in.

Despite being just a third-year player himself, Aldridge, along with Roy, has the credibility that comes along being one of the cornerstones of the franchise’s future. But aside from that, Aldridge has proven himself as a trusted source of basketball knowledge; a player who has the smarts and understanding of the system to guide teammates on the court when necessary. Rotations get missed and assignments confused, and when that happens, Aldridge is there to help out. It’s a role he’s more than comfortable in assuming.

“I have to try and direct guys to spots during the game sometimes,” Aldridge said. “Being one of the captains on the team, if a guy doesn’t know where to go they can always come to me, so I have to know where to send them.”

Starting alongside two rookies in Nicolas Batum and Greg Oden makes Aldridge’s understanding of the system that much more important. Having played significant minutes at center and a little at small forward has given Aldridge a working knowledge of both positions, which can come in handy when trying to direct traffic on both offense and defense.

“To be able to play multiple positions -- as I try to do -- I think I have to know more than one thing on the floor,” Aldridge said. “I try to know the rotations. I can’t tell the next guy what to do if I don’t know what to do, so I try to pay attention and try to be a student of the game.”

That student mentality is most evident on the practice court. When going through rotations and drills, Aldridge is usually one of the first players to speak up when a play breaks down. Often times the coaches will ask during walkthroughs who is in the wrong spot or where the next rotation should move to, and Aldridge seems to always have the answer immediately.

That court awareness is one of the reasons Kevin Pritchard took the necessary steps to acquire Aldridge from the Bulls during the 2006 Draft.

“One thing we’ve always known about LaMarcus is that he’s a student of the game,” Pritchard said. “For being in just his third year, he’s already picked up a lot of the nuances of the NBA and he continually will because he wants to be great. That’s what is so good about him: He wants to be great.

“We’re really happy with his willingness to be a student. We talk about that all the time: If you’re going to be great in this game, you have to be a student, because the game is always changing.”

But according to Pritchard, basketball IQ alone isn’t enough. Having the ability to be a coach on the floor takes accountability and self-assurance, two traits Pritchard has seen recently out of Aldridge.

“He’s becoming confident with who he is,” said Pritchard, “and the important part is that he’s willing to take responsibility for himself. If you’re willing to do that then you’re ready and willing to take a leadership role and coach and help guys out. And we need that, from Brandon and LaMarcus.”

Video: McMillan, Oden postgame

Both Nate McMillan and Greg Oden address the media after Portland's 98-92 win against the Wizards last night. You can also watch highlight's from last night's game and Brandon Roy's postgame interview.

Thanks to Bill Evans, Director of Corporate Communications and a perfect 3-0 on the road this season, for the video.

Today in links: Taking Down the Wiz Edition

Jason Quick, The Oregonian: "This is what we want," Roy said. "This is where we want to be. I want it not only for this team, but for me personally. To see where I'm at, you know? To see where this team is at, to see where I can get this team to."
What you are hearing, Portland, and what the rest of the NBA is seeing, is an All-Star morphing into a great player. Or at least a great leader.
It's not because Roy is welcoming the challenge of the Celtics, or that he wants to measure himself ... it's more of the way he goes about declaring it. He sets a tone for the Blazers, both in the methodical tempo of his play, and in his subtle and confident way of guiding the team in the locker room.

More Jason Quick: "I think we play together," Fernandez said. "On some nights it's Brandon. Sometimes it's LaMarcus. Sometimes it's Blake. Sometimes it's Travis. But we play together."
On Wednesday, the Blazers (14-6) trailed by five points at the start of the fourth quarter and were behind 81-77 with 8:32 remaining. But Roy scored nine of the team's next 11 points, carrying them back into the lead at 86-83 with 4:26 left.
From there, Fernandez and Blake took the Blazers home with some clutch plays, running the Blazers to 3-0 on this five-game trip.

Mike Barrett, It's way too early to start talking about stuff like this, but right now the Blazers are on pace to win 57 games. Who would have thought, when the schedule came out and we saw that 16 of the first 24 were road games, that the Blazers would be in this position? Even the most optimistic fans were more realistic in their thinking.
Portland was led again by Brandon Roy, who is so clutch in the fourth quarter it's really not even fair. He ended with 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. He scored 12 points in the final 8 minutes of the game, and keyed a 9-2 Portland run, scoring 7 of those points.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Roy's play as of late, is that everyone knows what's coming. Opposing defenses are ready for it- ready for his drives, ready for his outside shots, and ready for his left handed finishes at the rim. But, it hasn't mattered.

Ivan Carter, Washington Post: The Wizards (3-13) were seeking their first winning streak of the season and were in position to pull it out until Portland's guard duo of Brandon Roy and Steve Blake plus a few self-inflicted wounds turned the game.
Blake, the former University of Maryland star and Wizards guard, made 3 of 4 free throws in the final 13.2 seconds, Roy scored 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and the Wizards experienced a few breakdowns at both ends of the court as the Trail Blazers (15-6) won their sixth straight game.

Elias Sports Bureau (via
: Portland's Rudy Fernandez extended his streak of games with a 3-point field goal to 20 on Wednesday. He's the only player to make at least one 3-pointer in each of his first 20 career games; no other player has even started his career with a 10-game streak.

Dave, Blazersedge: Rudy Fernandez was the clear star off of the bench. He hit 5-6 including 2-3 from distance and a wicked, looping, over-the-shoulder lay-in. That was disgusting really. He had 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and a block too. Good night for him.

John Hollinger, With their wins Tuesday, Denver, Portland and Utah now have the second-, third- and fourth-best records in the West, and a combined nine-game win streak among them ... all of which means this could be one heck of a race in the Northwest Division.
In choosing a horse, each side has its merits. The Blazers are 13-6 even though they've played only seven home games and didn't have Oden for several games; the Nuggets are an identical 13-6 despite a 1-3 start before Chauncey Billups showed up; and Utah has managed to stay in the race at 12-7 -- including wins over the Nuggets and Blazers -- despite never having Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur active on the same night.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

One-On-One With Martell Webster

Here's the transcript of a sit down I had with Martell Webster before the team left for the current Eastern Conference roadie. I was going to hold off posting it until Webster's return to the court, but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense now that I think about it. So here it is. Win one for the Webster!

It looks like you are close to getting back on the court. How has your rehab progressed?

Martell Webster: It’s going good. I get to do a little more every day today. Today I ran up and down with the team. I did just about everything that the rest of the team did. That felt great. I’ve got to go meet with the doctor again and see what he says. Hopefully he’ll clear me to start practicing, but I don’t want to rush it. If he says I need another week or so, then I’ll do whatever it takes. I just want to make sure when I come back that I don’t have to worry about possible risks or chance of having to go back in the boot. That’s the most important thing.

Do you feel anything in your foot now that you’re getting back on the court?

Martell Webster A little bit. It doesn’t hurt; it just feels weird. I’m trying to get my muscle memory back where it was. Being in a boot for four weeks then stepping out, things are a little wobbly and a little sensitive. I’m just trying to train my mind to know that my foot is OK.

This is the first significant injury you’ve had in your NBA career. Are you worried at all about coming back?

Martell Webster: No. It is what it is. These things happen everyday. Sometimes one of the most minor injuries you can get can do career-altering things.

I feel blessed to come as far as I have. Basketball doesn’t last forever. The stress fracture in my foot is just one of those things. Freak things happen. Right now I’m just doing everything I can to get back 100 percent. If this is my last day playing basketball, then I don’t regret anything. I had a great time. I’m just going to keep basically doing whatever I have to do to make it better. If things are great and I’m cleared to play, that’s a plus. If not, I’ve got to keep working until I’m able to get back out there on the court.

How do you keep yourself busy when the team is practicing or out on the road?

Martell Webster: There’s not much you can do to equal what you do on the court. You can do the pool. You can do the pool all you want, treadmill, bike, but endurance on the court is totally different from any other type of endurance. Coming back out here, going up and down a couple of times, I really felt it. I felt winded. Basically it’s about getting repetition, getting up here and doing some conditioning on the court is going to help me get back into game shape.

Before the injury, you came into training camp in the best shape of your life. Do you feel like you’re starting to get back into that kind of condition?

Martell Webster: Oh yeah. I feel great; my body feels great. It’s just that my wind is down a little bit, but it takes me no time to get that back up. That’s one of the perks of being young.

How do you see yourself fitting back into the lineup?

Martell Webster: The best way that fits! It’s not about starting. I can come off the bench, it doesn’t matter. Even if I don’t play for the first five games, that’s fine. I know that I’m going to work myself back into the rotation. I don’t know where, but I don’t mind coming off the bench or starting. It makes no difference to me. I just want to go out there. I’m eager to get back so I can contribute to the team.

What have you seen from the team while you’ve been out?

Martell Webster: The bench support is phenomenal. People have just accepted roles, which is the most important thing if you’re building a franchise that’s capable of winning a championship.

For instance, Joel just went back to coming off the bench against Sacramento and he had a phenomenal game. If you can have the mindset to know that you are on this team for a reason and that you can contribute in one way or another, then that’s biggest thing, especially if you’re trying to build a championship team. It’s a great feeling. That’s where I feel my place is so I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win.

You seem convinced that this team has the potential to win a championship.

Martell Webster: Definitely we have that potential. We have the talent, not just in regards to the players, but also as a staff and an organization as a whole.

When some player get injured they withdrawal a bit from the team, but you’re on the bench for every home game and always at practice. Why?

Martell Webster: There’s no “I” in team. Just plain and simple. I know that’s just an old saying, but I always feel a part of this team. I love my teammates. The chemistry is incredible. We have a bond. Why would you want to be away from that? You want to be at ever game. Unfortunately I couldn’t go on the road trips because I was in the boot, but being here at home, sitting behind the bench at every game just makes me feel that much closer to getting back on the court. I love being there. It’s not a matter of needing to do it; I want to do it because I love being with this team.

Do you feel like you have a good balance right now between your personal and professional life?

Martell Webster: Yeah. When you think about it, kids commit more hours in school than we do to basketball all day. We come to practice for two hours and I get the rest of the day with my family. I feel blessed. We don’t deserve it, but I make sure that I play hard and I have no regrets. The most important thing is your family, but this is your job so you have to take care of this first. But two hours a day? Why would anyone complain about that?

A couple of weeks ago you were signed to contract extension. What does that say about the team’s commitment to you?

Martell Webster: It means that they want me here. They love what I’m doing here and I love what I’m doing here. I have a great time. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. I feel like this is the place for me. If I could retire here, that would be great. To know that they want me here for another four years is a blessing. I really appreciate Mr. Allen, Kevin Pritchard, the whole organization and this community for accepting me. I love every bit of it.

Video: Brandon Roy Postgame

Another stellar game last night for Brandon Roy. I can't think of another player who is as adept at recognizing when his team needs a lift or when he needs to let others carry the load. It's a sixth sense.

Below is some postgame video of Roy talking about the victory against the Knicks.

Thanks to Bill Evans, Director of Corporate Communications, for the video.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

They can't all be blowouts

Good teams find ways to win, but good-approaching-great teams finds ways to win on the road thousands of miles away from home. Then again, the Knicks gave the Trail Blazers a run for their money with just seven guys playing meaningful minutes, so that could be considered cause for concern. And it's not exactly like Mike D'Antoni's crew is being afforded the opportunity to focus solely on basketball right now, so there's that.

Brandon Roy kept the ship afloat during a miserable first half, scoring 15 of his 23 points in the initial stages of the game. It had the feel of one of those games in which Roy was going to have to do all of the heavy lifting for the full 48, but LaMarcus Aldridge, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and (especially) Rudy Fernandez found enough offense in the second half to help out the current Western Conference Player of the Week. And Joel Przybilla continues to show contempt for low field goal percentages.

A sequence in the fourth quarter turned this one around for Portland. Rudy hit a three-pointer to bring the Blazers to within one. Sergio steals a pass, which results in a Joel Przybilla hook shot. Blazers up 76-75. Knicks miss a long jumper, Batum grabs the board, Rudy drives and gets hacked by David Lee. Rudy, of course, makes both free throws. Then Al Harrington makes the mistake of trying to take the ball to the rack with Przybilla in the vicinity. Przy stuffs the attempt, get the board, outlets to Sergio, who passes the ball to Rudy on the perimeter while clearing out a defender. Rudy squares and cans the three-pointer. Blazers in control and up six. Thank you Portland bench.

It certainly wasn't the prettiest win, and the Blazers would have won by 20 if they had hit a few of their wide-open three-point attempts in the first half, but they all count the same. Trail Blazers 104, Knicks 97 and it's on to our nation's capital.

And that's five straight.

Joel Przybilla and Rudy Fernandez: High percentage, long range

Two items on note yesterday from that I neglected to get to before heading off for home last night. I found both to be rather intriguing, so I figure now is as good a time as any to get to those items before discussing tonight's game against the Knicks.

First up, John Hollinger's take on Joel Przybilla and his off-the-charts field goal percentage.
Portland's Joel Przybilla made his lone field goal attempt last night, and is now at 83.6 percent for the season. That's not a typo -- he's made 46 of his 55 shot attempts. And he's stepped it up of late -- in his past seven games he's 18-for-19.

Of course, nearly all his shots are dunks, and the ones that aren't are left-handed layups (interesting quirk -- the right-handed Przybilla almost always finishes with his left). His True Shooting Percentage is an other-worldly 81.4, which leads the league by a wide margin; second-place Walter Herrmann of Detroit is at 67.4.

Przybilla, of course, is highly unlikely to keep shooting quite so well all season. But he's been an underrated factor at both ends while Greg Oden gets his NBA sea legs, and is one big reason the Blazers are a surprising third in the Power Rankings today.
I truly appreciate Hollinger giving Joel Przybilla his due, but I think he might be off the mark when it comes to Przy's performance the remainder of the season.

One one hand, I can see where Hollinger is coming from. After all, Przybilla is a career 55 percent field goal shooter (and I use the term "shooter" loosely here) so it's understandable to assume his FG% is eventually going to come back down to earth.

But then again, why does it have to? It's not like Przybilla is nailing 18-foot jumpers, or even close-in hook shots. He's getting dunks and easy layups. In fact, aside from one desperation heave at the buzzer, Przybilla has only taken one shot from more than five feet away from the basket (by the way, he missed that shot). So is he going to start bricking dunks or muffing layups or jacking up threes? I highly doubt it.

So who knows, maybe Przybilla, with enough attempts to officially qualify, could shatter the FG% record.

Next up, an interesting Rudy Fernandez stat from Lisa Brooks at ESPN Research.
Rudy Fernandez has now made at least one 3-point field goal in all 18 games he has played this season. He becomes only the third rookie over the past 12 seasons to make a 3-pointer in 18 consecutive games. The other two rookies to do that since 1997-98 are Gordan Giricek in 2002-03 (24 straight games) and Kirk Hinrich in 2003-04 (29). Hinrich's streak is the NBA record for a rookie.
Fairly esoteric when it comes to statistical records, but I'll take it.

I've heard some grumbling from our Spanish brothers and sisters that Rudy is being used too much as a three-point specialist and not enough as an all-around player. I can understand the sentiment, but it overlooks the more important issue, which is wins and losses.

The Trail Blazers are winning right now in large part because every player on this team has accepted their role. Many of the players on the Trail Blazers probably put up better stats on other teams; it's just that Nate McMillan has convinced his players to put the what's best for the team in front of what's best for each individual player. Everyone is selling out for the sake of wins, and it's paying off.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Greg getting even with +/-

The only good thing to have come out of the Sonics move from Seattle to Oklahoma City is that Kevin Pelton, formerly a Sonics employee and currently a writer for Basketball Prospetus, now has time to devote to covering the Trail Blazers. Pelton is one of those new breed stat heads who actually strikes a great balance between the numbers and on-court observations.

He's got a piece over at Basketball Prospectus today about Greg Oden's +/- numbers which, as I mentioned after last night's game, have started to improve.
I went to Friday's Blazers game at the Rose Garden against New Orleans with the goal of seeing why even Oden's strong individual efforts had not translated into good plus-minus numbers. However, during the course of that game and beyond, the plus-minus has become less of an issue. Since last Monday's one-point win over Sacramento, when Oden was a -22 (meaning Portland was outscored by 22 points with him in the game) and backup center Joel Przybilla was a +23, Oden's numbers have been solid: a +15 in a blowout win over Miami, a +6 in a 15-point win against New Orleans and yesterday a sterling +26 in a win at Detroit.

Oden has probably benefited, to some extent, from moving into the starting lineup, especially at the same time as fellow rookie Rudy Fernandez has seen his shooting cool somewhat after an insanely hot start. The other effect we may be seeing in Oden's improved plus-minus is that Portland is learning to play with the big man in the middle. As he missed all of last season and the early portion of this campaign, the Blazers developed an identity all their own. Przybilla established himself as a key figure during that period, and part of the plus-minus issue was simply reinforcing Przybilla's value as a top-notch shot-blocker and rebounder who will take what the defense gives him at the other end and is shooting 83.3 percent (!) from the field this season.

Oden's skills and his immense potential demand that he become a big part of the team's system, but that's not easy to do on the fly, even with the benefit of Oden being on the floor throughout training camp and the preseason. Actually, the Blazers may have changed too much away from what had been successful for them. Notably, Nate McMillan instructed his charges last week not to "forcefeed" Oden in the post and to make sure they continue to run the pick-and-rolls and other plays that were dominant aspects in the offense pre-Oden.
I think Kevin is dead on when it comes to the reason for Oden's +/- improvement. As good as the Trail Blazers second unit is, Oden's numbers were sure to go up moving with the move to the starting lineup. But more than that, simply letting Oden play off his teammates rather than being a focal point of the offensive strategy is going wonders for his +/-. Playing with the bench unit, it's almost like you have to try and feature Oden in the post, but that expectation is much less pronounced with the starters.

Power Rankings recap: December 1

Four straight wins and a few statement games on the road (those being Orlando and Detroit) have our Trail Blazers rising up the Power Rankings. I'm fairly certain these are the highest rankings the Blazers have received since the early days of this relatively new millennium.'s Marc Stein has the Trail Blazers at No. 4 (up from No. 9):
When they lost Oden and looked so shaky on the opening-night stage against the Lakers, how many of you had these kids closing November with a road win in Detroit and one of the last two unbeaten home records?
(By the way, nice pic of Brandon Roy on ESPN's NBA page.)

John Hollinger's laptop ranks the Trail Blazers at No. 3. Hollinger's formula LOVES margin of victory, so the fact that we've beaten Detroit by 11, New Orleans by 16, Miami by 38, Sacramento by 21 and Chicago by 42 over the last two weeks goes a long ways in explaining why Portland is ahead of teams like the Celtics and Jazz.

Marty Burns of puts Portland at No. 4, up four spots from last week:
They just keep passing their exams with flying colors. They won at Detroit on Sunday to kick off a five-game Eastern trip and improve on the franchise's best start since 2000-01. Greg Oden, recently inserted into the starting lineup, recorded his second double-double in three games with 10 points and a career-high 13 boards.

John Shuhumann back at the headquarters in New Jersey has the Red and Black at No. 6:
The Blazers got two big wins this weekend, at home over the Hornets on Friday and in Detroit on Sunday. Their offense has been sharp all season, but the defense has improved dramatically (99.9 rating) as they've won six of their last seven.

Yahoo! Sports finishes off this week's rankings, placing Portland (again) at No. 4:
I don't quit. Greg Oden (8.1 points and 7.7 boards with two combined blocks/steals, just 1.8 turns in 21 minutes, and an assist?) is worth sticking around for. 18.4 PER, too, and Portland’s climbed to 18th defensively after starting the season in the low 20s.

Looking over these rankings, it's becoming apparent that the most have started considering the Trail Blazers a notch just below the championship contenders. That seems about right, for now.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

This is starting to get interesting

It's hard to overstate how important it is to get a good start on a long road trip. A few weeks ago, a win going away in Orlando set the Trail Blazers up for what Nate McMillan has described as one of the best road trips of his tenure as Portland head coach. And now today, the Blazers, lead by the no-longer-slumping LaMarcus Aldridge, go into the Palace at Auburn Hills and get a 96-85 win against the Pistons to start this five-game east coast swing off right. Talk about your huge wins.

Aldridge took it to Rasheed Wallace, consider by many to be Aldridge's elder doppelganger, early and often, scoring 13 of his 27 points in the first quarter (the Pistons as a team only score 13 in the first). It's the third-consecutive game that the Blazers have come out and built a double-digit lead in the first period, and you can see how loose they play when they have success early.

The Pistons first unit was as bad (a combined -83) as the second unit was good. Guys like Rodney Stuckey and Amir Johnson got Detroit back into the game, but the Blazers, despite their youth, never panicked. They kept grinding it out and eventually went on to win by 11.

Brandon Roy, who continues to prove himself as one of the up and coming superstars in the NBA, finished with 19 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds and described the effort better than I ever could.

Said Roy: “It was a good win for us. We’ve really struggled on the road against good teams this year but tonight we had a really good focus and we’re able to close the game. Even when they made a run to get the game close, we did a good job of staying together and getting what we wanted offensively. I think that is a sign of us maturing offensively, not a lot yet, but we are getting better."

And you can't talk about this game without mentioning Greg Oden. G.O. pulled down 8 rebounds in that all-important first quarter, eventually finishing with a career-high 13 boards and 11 points for another double-double. But more importantly, Oden finished the game +26, which was the second best +/- of all players behind Nic Batum. Batum also finished up a great effort with 7 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in over 30 minutes, which is double his minutes per game average.

I've talked a lot during the podcasts about the Blazers winning the games they should win, but not yet having won the games that they shouldn't. Despite the recent success we've had in Detroit (save the beating they put on us in their house last season) I would not have penciled this game in as a win. But they got it, and to me, that's tangible proof that this team is well on their way to becoming an elite NBA squad.

By the way, that's four in a row.