Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Call Of The Night: Webster With Authority

Updated, with the correct video this time. NOW tell me which call is your favorite.

Martell Webster does most of his damage from beyond the three-point line, but he's got more than enough athleticism to do work in the paint. His highlight reel dunk tonight over Jason Thompson is proof of that.

So here's your charge: Who's call of that dunk was better. First up, Mike Barrett and Mike Rice ...

They've got the benefit of the visual, that's for sure.

But Brian Wheeler and Antonio Harvey come strong on the radio side. Here's their call of Webster's dunk.

So who you got: The Mikes or Wheels and Tone?

McMillan Considers Sharing The Board

Most of the discussion around Monday night’s game against the Kings, at least among Trail Blazers fans, pertains to which players are playing when, and how much. Is Andre Miller going to start? Will Jerryd Bayless see more time? How about Dante Cunningham?

The answers to those questions will be reveled soon enough, but you might see a few things you weren’t expecting, at least if you peek at the coaches on the bench.

As you surely know, Nate McMillan sat out the last road trip as he underwent surgery and rehabilitation for a ruptured Achilles. Lead assistant coach Dean Demopoulos handled the head coaching duties in McMillan’s absence, with assistant coaches Monty Williams, Joe Prunty, Billy Bayno and Kaleb Canales taking on more responsibility as well.

“I thought they did a good job,” said McMillan of his assistants. “I don’t look at the record. The feedback I was getting from them and the mood of the team and them trying to read the team and motivate the team to be ready to play. We won one but we had a chance to win two more, but we didn’t get that. I thought they did some good things. I thought they did a good job of working together.”

The assistants were up to the challenge of guiding the team through a difficult road trip, especially when you consider they only nine players available, but all would rather have McMillan back in the driver’s seat.

And he will be tonight. Despite being in a cast and requiring the use of crutches, McMillan will return to his head coaching duties. But he saw something from his assistants in his absence, specifically from Williams, that is making him consider making some changes to the way he approaches coaching.

“At times Monty took the board and ran some offensive plays with some good calls,” said McMillan. “Liked that. I want to do more of that with him.”

We might see that tonight. Even though he’ll be back running the show, don’t be surprised to see McMillan continue to lean more heavily on his assistants as he works his way back from injury.

“I normally hear their voices,” said McMillan, “but even giving up the board some -- which I don’t do a lot of -- looking at doing that, especially in this situation now that I’m not able to get up and move around.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

There might not be anything more detrimental to a coach than being “tuned out” by his players. Once you lose the collective ear of your guys, that’s pretty much it. You can pack up and start talking about “spending more time with your family” or “taking on new challenges.” That’s just the way it is in pro sports, especially those with guaranteed contracts.

But for some reason, you don’t often hear about players “tuning in” a coach, but it does happen. It’s been happening the last three games for the Trail Blazers. With Nate McMillan back in Portland recovering from a ruptured Achilles, lead assistant Dean Demopoulos has been steering the ship through three Eastern Conference road games, with one more to go tonight in Milwaukee. Initially Demopoulos noted the players weren’t trained to hear his voice during games since most of the in-game instruction comes from McMillan.

“They’re trained a majority of the time through the repetition,” said Demopoulos. “They’re hearing Nate’s voice repetitively, many, many more times than they hear anybody else’s. That’s just natural.”

But as the road trip has gone on, the ears of the Portland bench have become more accustomed to hearing Demopoulos, though the repetition built up through hearing McMillan bark orders for the past five seasons can’t be duplicated in three games.

“I think they’re getting more used to it,” said Demopoulos, “but I don’t think they’ll ever be used to it entirely because it’s not going to be enough time.

“Life takes time. To get better at something takes time. That’s what experience is because of the repetition. Repetition is one of the major foundations of learning, maybe the most important. It’s not as unfamiliar as it was.”

Which is great, but it won’t go much farther than that. McMillan is expected to return to his head coaching duties when the team gets back to Portland early Sunday morning, with Demopoulos returning to his lead assistant duties, which is the way he’d prefer it.

Said Demopoulos: “That’s fine with me.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Monty Williams Calls In The Sleeper

We saw Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge return to their old ways Wednesday night. LA handled the work early, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the first half, and B.Roy closed the game, dropping in 10 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter. And both Andre Miller and Joel Przybilla deserve some kudos for scoring in double figures.

But one of the names singled out for praise by assistant coach Dean Demopoulos and the players was Monty Williams for a call he made late in the game.

The Pacers called a timeout down 89-85 with 5:30 to play, giving Williams a chance to dial up a “sleeper” play that would turn out to be the dagger.

Luther Head misses a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, with LaMarcus Aldridge grabbing the rebound. Aldridge passes to Blake (probably by force of habit since the upcoming play requires Blake to play off the ball) who then passes off to Miller. Blake jogs lackadaisically (by design) to the left corner and puts his hands on his knees, giving the impression that he’s taking this play off. The defender, AJ Price, either by design or instinct, opts to shade into the lane rather than sticking to Blake, presumably to help defend should Roy or Miller drive to the basket. He’s paying much more attention to the ball than his man.

Miller dribbles up to the top of the three-point line and passes off to Roy, just inside the three-point line, before cutting straight down the lane, taking his defender with him. Aldridge sets a pick for Roy, who had scored the last six points for the Blazers. Given the time and situation, it’s easy to understand why the Pacers would think the play would be for Roy, something assistant coach Williams realized during the timeout. Dante Jones is playing Roy tight, farther supporting the notion that the Pacers are expecting the play is designed for Roy. But they’re wrong.

Blake, who is still playing opossum with his hands on his knees, cuts to the top of the three-point line as Joel Przybilla sets a pick. The pick, along with the late jump Price gets because of his spying on Roy, gives Blake more than enough time to get open. Roy delivers the ball to Blake right as he’s squaring up to the rim unguarded. Blake takes and makes a three in rhythm, putting the Blazers up eight while basically crushing any chance of an Indiana comeback. The three also happens to be Blake’s 373rd as a Trail Blazer, tying him with Rasheed Wallace for fifth in franchise history in made three-pointers.

A great play call on many levels. It got Blake an open three, something he needed considering the mini-slump he had been in (Blake was 4-for-15 from three prior to Wednesday night’s game). It made the Pacers stay honest defense for the remainder of the game when they might have tried keying on Roy. And most importantly, it helped secure a key win on the road for a team that desperately needed something to feel good about.

Blake had to make the shot, Przybilla had to set the pick and Roy had to perform well enough throughout the entire game to draw the necessary attention which would allow the play to work, but it was Williams’ intelligence and intuition which gave him the foresight to make the call.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lineups May Change, But Goals Don't

The 2009-10 season started out with incredibly high expectations, and with good reason. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge signed contract extensions, assuring their place as pillars of the Portland roster for years to come. Greg Oden was healthy, in shape and prepared to take his place among the best centers in the league. Nicolas Batum had a great summer, making his bones on the international circuit with his fellow Frenchman at EuroBasket. Rudy Fernandez added another medal to his already impressive trophy case. Andre Miller was signed to shore up the backcourt and provide veteran experience. Same goes for Juwan Howard. Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph and Patty Mills were brought to as rookies to provide toughness and speed. And Steve Blake, Joel Przybilla and Travis Outlaw were all coming off their best seasons in the NBA. Things were looking solid.

And then, the injuries struck. There’s no point in recounting all of the bad luck that has beset the Trail Blazers this season when it comes to infirmities, but it suffices to say the worry that there wouldn’t be enough playing time to go around on a roster with so much talent was unwarranted. That’s a problem we’d be lucky to have.

Now those sky-high expectations, if public sentiment can be accurately gauged via blogs, message boards and talk radio, have come crashing down. But in the Trail Blazers locker room, there’s been no such reassessment. The objective, though now more difficult to achieve, is still the same.

“The one main goal is to win every game you play in,” said Steve Blake. “That’s all you really need to think about. You shouldn’t really look ahead; you should be thinking about the game in front of you. That’s all the goal there is.”

It’s all the Trail Blazers can concern themselves with. There is still plenty of work to be done, and that’s not going to change just because an unfortunate number of players are showing up to games in street clothes. All you can do is forge ahead. Take it, as the tired old saying goes, game by game.

“You’ve got to stay in the moment and look at what we have here,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “We have a bunch of guys that are good and we’ve just go to stay in the moment, stay hungry and work hard.”

“This group, the group we’re in charge of is staying in the moment right now,” said assistant coach Dean Demopoulos. “We’re going to try to squeeze every ounce of every second that we’re out on that floor. That’s our goal. That’s our goal … and that’s what we’re going to do and see what happens.”

Greg Oden Will Not Stop

It’s a shame that the Trail Blazers will have to continue the 2009-10 season without Greg Oden. GO’s injury falls pretty low on the list of injustices in the world, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. Hard work should always be rewarded and respected, but sometimes it doesn’t play out that way. Life is often unfair.

Now Oden has even more work ahead of him. He’ll have to wait for his kneecap to heal and then start the arduous process of working his body back into playing shape, but is there any doubt that he’s up to the task? He’s done it before, and he sure as heck can do it again. And maybe he can do it even better this time after going through a similar process two years ago.

“Last summer was a great summer for (Oden),” said General Manager Kevin Pritchard. “He worked his tail off. He’s going to have to have that same kind of summer. Coach Bayno and our coaching staff have done a tremendous job. Now it’s about getting out there and playing again. Take it day to day, get him healthy, focus on that and then we’ll take care of the rest.”

And then there’s motivation. Basketball is what Greg Oden does. It does not define him, but it is a part of who he is. So in some respects, Oden returning to the court from this injury is a way of reclaiming a part of himself. Basketball was taken away from him after microfracture surgery and it was taken away again on Saturday night, but he can take it back. He can.

The Portland Trail Blazers will not give up on Greg Oden, not as a human being or a basketball player. He’s got a lot left. He knows it and the team knows it. Some people were ready to write off his career before the sun rose Sunday morning, but those people don’t know who Greg Oden is. Those who do do know he won’t be defined by this injury, but by his desire to fulfill what he is capable of.

“The last thing I have is given up hope that he can be a better player than what we just saw,” said Pritchard. “I think he knows that. Probably more than anything what we like is that he knows he’s got even more left. That’s more exciting than anything.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Start Over, Again

That’s the question Joel Przybilla asked me as he sat down after practice last night in New Jersey. He’s got a point. I probably could dig back through my notes to retrieve Przybilla’s thoughts on once again being inserted into the starting lineup in place of Greg Oden, but I’d rather get an updated perspective.

But as it turns out, Przybilla doesn’t have much new to say, probably because this is his third go-round as the guy who was supposed to be an afterthought. When Oden was drafted in 2008, most assumed that was the end of Przybilla’s career in Portland. Didn’t happen. When Oden returned to the court in 2009, Przybilla was supposed to be permanently relegated to the bench. Didn’t happen, even when Oden was healthy, as Przybilla turned in his finest season as a pro in 42 starts. And now with Oden out for the season, “The Thrilla” once again finds himself in the starting five.

“That’s the NBA for you,” said Przybilla. “You always have to be ready. Not only myself, but there are a lot of guys on this team who are getting an opportunity now because unfortunately we’ve had a bunch of injuries. Everyone has to be ready, doesn’t matter if you’re starting or coming off the bench. We need everyone on this team to get a victory.”

There might not be anymore more ready to step in than Przybilla, in part because he’s had so much experience doing it. He’s started in 70 percent of the games he’s played throughout the course of his 10-year career, so all of this is old hat. Though Przybilla says he will have to modify the way he plays due to the rash of injuries the Trail Blazers have endured this season.

“I’ve got to pick and choose when I contest shots,” said Przybilla, “where in the past maybe if a guy was coming to the basket where you thought maybe you would foul him, give him a hard foul or something, now you’ve got to contest a little less. It depends on the team we’re playing. LaMarcus can play the five but if we’re playing a team that’s big, say Cleveland with Shaq and Ilgauskas, you know you’re going to play big minutes.”

While the defensive drop off between Przybilla and Oden is minor, the drop off on the offensive end unfortunately isn’t. Oden is a guy you call plays for, whereas Przybilla is a straight opportunist on offense. If there’s something easy, he’ll take it. If not, he’s kicking it back out. But even though he’s not going to put up big point numbers, his approach to offense could result in his teammates getting more and better looks than when Oden was in the starting role.

“I’ve always been a guy who doesn’t worry about my offense,” said Przybilla. “For me, whatever points I score are extra. Guys know what I do for this team. They know that I set a lot of screens for them to get shots and that’s a way for me to get involved in the offense.”
Taking what he can get, something Przybilla has been doing his entire career. It’s why staying prepared is so important. You never know when your number is going to be called. Or when you’re going to have to answer the same questions you answered the year before.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Remembering Fernando Martin

Today is December 3, and most people are probably thinking about the Civil War. Nothing wrong with that. But if you've got a second, take a minute to remember Fernando Martin, the first Spanish player in the NBA who died 20 years ago today. Martin, a 6-10 power forward, signed as a free agent with the Portland Trail Blazers on May 6, 1986, playing 24 games for Portland in 1986-87, recording 22 points, 28 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals in 146 minutes.

After one season with the Trail Blazers, he returned to Spain to play for Real Madrid, where he played from 1981-1986 and 1987-89. Martin made 86 appearances on the Spanish National Team, earning the silver medal in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Most contemporary Trail Blazers fans will probably remember Martin thanks to Rudy Fernandez, who wore a No. 10 jersey in honor of Martin at last year's dunk contest, the video of which is above. I would turn the volume off if you're going to watch that clip. It's a little disrespectful to Fernando and Rudy.

12.03.09 Trailblazers.com Podcast

The rest of the state is talking Ducks and Beavers, but Dave Deckard of Blazersedge.com and I, Casey Holdahl of Trailblazers.com, stick to the Trail Blazers in today's podcast.

In this edition we discuss the reasons for the three-game losing streak, what it might take to get back on track, the "aura" of the team over the last week, injuries and the importance of getting a few wins on the next road trip. We keep it civil.

Download Trailblazers.com Podcast (45.4 MB)

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nobody Knows You When You're Down

There’s been a fair amount of chatter about Brandon Roy being selfish. The guy has been a consummate team player, carrying the weight of this team the past three seasons as they’ve overachieved their way to respectability. He’s done everything that the organization has asked of him.

Along the way he’s earned awards, All-Star appearances and contract extensions because he’s done things the right way. And now to hear him labeled as some kind of me-first prima donna is simply mind-boggling. I can literally feel my brain trying to punish itself by colliding into the side of my skull repeatedly in retaliation for wasting brain cells on trying to fathom how people could come to such laughable conclusions.

But tonight, I think I figured out where people are coming from. Don’t get me wrong; the conclusion that Roy is anything but one of the best things to happen to this franchise is still preposterous, but I think I’m onto the reason why some so badly misconstrue his motives.

Brandon Roy talks too much about himself.

For example, take his comments after the Trail Blazers lost their third-straight game, this time to the Miami Heat. Portland once again allowed their opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, which is as sure-fire a way to lose as there is in the NBA. And that boils down to team defense. No one individual can be responsible for an opponents shooting percentage.

But Roy didn’t talk much about the team. He talked about himself.

“I think I’ve got to play better for 48 minutes,” said Roy. “We’ve got to start to establish some type of rhythm where we’re not playing well in spots and not scoring in stretches and then our defense gets pretty bad. But I’ve got to start playing much better, and hopefully I can do that Saturday.”

The nerve! Taking responsibility for your own play? How dare he.

But it didn’t stop there.

Said Roy: “I just feel like I didn’t make the plays tonight and I think I need to keep working at it and try to find my rhythm because I think it’s going to help this team.”

So many “I” statements. I didn’t make plays. I need to keep working. Focusing on what he needs to do? Is that selfish?

But wait, there’s more!

“I realized tonight that I’ve got to get better,” said Roy. “I’ve got to get into the gym and continue to work because I see some things that I could have done out there but I just wasn’t able to make some of the shots and make some of the reads. I think I’ve got to improve. Don’t get me wrong, the team has to get better but I still think there’s room for me to improve to help this team.”

He did talk about the team toward the end of that quote. Maybe that will earn him some slack. It doesn’t seem like being the go-to guy on and off the court for the past three years has earned him much leeway from some fans out there, but maybe mentioning team rather than taking complete and total responsibility for the loss will help.

But if you’re still feeling like Brandon could be doing more to earn your respect, keep reading.

“I think I got caught up in looking around too much instead of looking at myself and what I’ve got to do to help this team,” said Roy. “I’ve got to keep getting better … I just feel like I’ve been thinking too much or looking for a lot of different reasons instead of just looking at myself. I’ve got to get back to going out there and playing and not worrying about pointing fingers or this and that. I’ve just got to get back to being me and that’s how I’ve always been. I started to realize that over the last couple of days and especially tonight. I’ve got to get in the gym working and try to turn this around.”

A heartfelt admission that he “got caught up looking around.” Another declaration that he needs to improve. A mea culpa when it comes to “pointing fingers.” What brought on this moment of self-reflection?

“Just a lot of talking about this and offense and can you and Greg play and can you and Andre play,” said Roy. “I’ve got to play. I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to make the plays I’ve been able to make in the past. I’m capable of it, it’s just my mind has been in a lot of places and now I’ve got to just get focused on this team and just getting that hunger back. I hate to lose so I feel like I’ve got to get out there, be aggressive and confident. I haven’t been very confident lately and I think guys can tell that. I’ve got to get my confidence back and I think the rest of the team will see it.”

That last sentence is the reason why I find the Brandon-Roy-as-selfish-ogre narrative so perplexing. This team feeds off of Roy. They follow his lead. When he’s in a grove, the rest of the team has a much better chance of doing the same.

It’s not selfish to know your own importance. The real selfishness is in denying said importance, something Roy refuses to do. He could let himself off the hook by devaluing what he does for the Trail Blazers. He could step aside, contract in tow, and play out his days in Portland while ceding the responsibility of leadership to someone else. It’s been done before.

But not by Brandon. Not now. Now ever. He’ll suffer the criticism and he’ll take the heat, but he’s not going to take the easy way out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Smilin' Jeff Pendergraph

It’s not often that you see guys smiling ear to ear after an NBA practice, but when Jeff Pendergraph walked off the court after participating in drills for the first time since undergoing hip surgery three months ago, the toothy grin plastered across his face was impossible to miss.

“I’m so happy right now,” said Pendergraph. “I’m like a little kid.”

It’s not hard to understand why. After being picked 31st in the 2009 Draft, Pendergraph went on to average 10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in five games during the Las Vegas Summer League. After that it was on to Portland to start working out in hopes of being signed to his first NBA contract. But injury struck at the worst time. A congenital impingement was discovered on Pendergraph’s left hip, a condition that would require surgery. It was an inauspicious start to his NBA career.

But Pendergraph was still signed by the Trail Blazers even though they knew he wouldn’t be available for much of the season. That gesture by the team gave Pendergraph all the motivation he needed to push through hours of rehab while the rest of the team went about training camp. For a player who had experienced only one significant injury in his career, the process of getting back on the court was a long one.

“I think my freshman year was as long, about three months,” said Pendergraph. “This just feels a lot longer for some reason.”

But the wait has been worth it. Now back on the court, though in a non-contact capacity, Pendergraph is having the time of his life.

“It feels good, really good” said Pendergraph after his first on-court workout. “I might have done a little bit too much today but I couldn’t help it. My body wanted to go all crazy.”

And that’s Pendergraph’s new challenge: not going “all crazy” as he continues to work himself back into shape. The timetable for his return is still in flux, though Pendergraph has designs on being available by Christmas. Whether or not he reaches that goal depends on how his body takes to the work and how fast he can shake off three months worth of inactivity.

“I was feeling a little robotic,” said Pendergraph. “I might be thinking a little too much. I didn’t feel like my normal post moves, but I haven’t done those in a while either. I think once I get the rust off and everything I’ll be fine.”

He’ll have two of the better bigmen in the game to help him along. Listed at 6-9, 240 lbs, Pendergraph is a little undersized, at least as far as traditional centers go, but he doesn’t look out of place working on post moves alongside Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla.

“Those guys are fun. It was like I’m the rook with the older guys,” said Pendergraph. “It was kind of fun to be around. Big guys have a thing, they kind of stick together. It was cool. They were all joking and ‘rook this’, ‘rook that,’ messing with me. I had fun. I was smiling the whole time.”

Smiling is something Pendergraph has been doing a whole lot these days. After a rocky start, what lies ahead for him in the future is giving him a much to look forward to.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said Pendergraph. “Yesterday was tight as heck. Yesterday was a great day and I was all happy, and then today they’re like ‘get in the drills’ and I was like ‘What? Yes!’

“Everyday is a new surprise. It just makes it so cool and awesome. I’m looking forward to being in the game and everything, but really I’m looking forward to tomorrow, seeing what I can do tomorrow.”

So are a lot of people.


Two reasons why I like Jeff Pendergraph

1) After we got done with our interview, the first thing he did was call his mom to tell her he was finally back on the court.

2) When asked about how he would have responded to being dunked on by Derek Rose, Pendergraph didn’t say he’d tried to go down and dunk on the other end. Instead, he said the follow:

“I would have told Blake to come bring him off a screen. He would have gotten … just pow.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

11.24.09 Trail Blazers Courtside

The regular triumvirate of Mike Barrett, Mike Rice and Brian Wheeler returned to the set last night to resume Trail Blazers Courtside, your weekly radio/internet/cable television show devoted to all things Trail Blazers.

The November 24th edition was of the utmost quality. Nate McMillan and Travis Outlaw were both call-in guests and rookie Jeff Pendergraph spent the second hour in-studio talking snakes, why his car won't drift and evading jabs from Rice. It's worth a listen


Download Trail Blazers Courtside (Hour One) (38.7 MB)


Download Trail Blazers Courtside (Hour Two) (39 MB)

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maurice Lucas Continues To Battle

It’s easy to lose perspective during the course of an NBA season. Between practices, shoot arounds, film sessions, games, travel, appearances and the other ancillary responsibilities that overtake the lives of players and staff for the better part of seven months, it sometimes feels like basketball is the only thing that matters.

When the word gets out that Maurice Lucas, a man who personifies toughness, continues to battle bladder cancer, the game that seems so important seems a little less so.

Everyone in the Trail Blazers feels Luke’s absence, but for centers Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden, it is especially troubling, as Lucas works closely with both as the team’s designated “big man” coach.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Przybilla said. “He’s a crucial part of this team. All of our thoughts and prayers are with him. To me he’s not only been a coach and a mentor, but a great friend. It’s hard to hear he’s going through some tough times right now. He’s a great person all around and to have him not here, we’re definitely missing something. Every day you walk in the locker room or the practice court and you definitely feel his presence not being there.”

“He’s a rock here,” Oden added. “He’s the guy we all look up to because he’s the one guy on this team that has a ring in the locker room. He’s got a lot of love from everybody here in the city. We’re all praying for him, hoping he gets better.”

The news that Lucas has been re-hospitalized comes just days after the announcement that team owner Paul Allen is undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“Mr. Allen and Coach Luke are going through this,” McMillan said. “Those are close friends, but you still have basketball to play. It puts everything in perspective. There are sports and there is a game, but we have some close friends who are trying to fight some things. You have to handle it all. It’s life.”

(Click here for a recent interview with Coach Lucas)

Oden Answers The Challenge

Last season, everyone wanted to dunk on Greg Oden. Some were successful, some weren’t, but at least one guys from every team tried. Rumor was that a few teams had even put out bounties on Oden’s head, with cash money going to those who managed to score a highlight on the big fella’.

Opposing players are still going at and dunking on Oden. It’s what happens when you spend the majority of your defensive minutes in the paint. But now, with confidence that seems to grow by the day, Oden is able to come back just as strong on the offensive end.

Case in point: At the 7:39 mark in the second quarter, Chicago’s Joakim Noah was on the receiving end of a fastbreak assist from Jannero Pargo that resulted in a thunderous dunk over Oden’s outstretched arms. The Bulls’ bench goes nuts.

“That hurt,” said Oden. “It was a tough play. He got me. There's really nothing I can really say other than he got me.”

If that play had happened last season, maybe Oden doesn’t respond. Maybe he wouldn’t have been confidence enough in himself or his game to come down and take it to Noah just as hard as he took it to him. But this season, Oden has been more than up to the challenge. On the ensuing play, GO took Noah straight to the post and finished from 10 feet.

“I definitely wanted to come back at him,” said Oden. “I scored the basket, but it definitely wasn't as strong as his. I think I ended up getting a little dunk later on in the game. We won the game so that's really all that matters.”

And that wasn’t the only time Oden answered a Noah make. On the four possessions that Noah scored, Oden answered back with a bucket of his own on the next play three times.

We were doing pretty well inside tonight offensively, so I think I do have a little more confidence with going back at guys,” said Oden. “When they come at me I need to come back and answer the challenge.”

Finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds to Noah’s 7 and 8, it’s safe to say that on this night, Oden was more than up to the challenge.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Q&A With Joel Przybilla

Standing in at a shy 7-1, Joel “The Thrilla” Przybilla has emerged over the years as a grizzled veteran on a young team full of promise.

Always a hard worker but never a prolific scorer, Przybilla is known for his shot blocking and rebounding abilities – a combination that has allowed him to fill an important role with the Trail Blazers. This season, Przybilla has once again embraced his role, coming off the bench and contributing a consistent 20 minutes and 8 rebounds per game. Teamed with 21 year old Greg Oden, the two centers make for a fearsome duo in the Western Conference, standing tall among the best big-men in the game.

Casey Holdahl recently caught up with Joel to discuss his place on a team that has high hopes for the 2009-10 season.

You’ve one of the veterans on this team and have been around longer than just about anyone else on the roster. How have you seen this team come together?

JP: You can see it by our play on the floor. We’ve always had a close-knit team, everyone enjoys each other. This year, throughout the preseason and the first couple of games, we weren’t playing that well because we’re still trying to figure out our roles. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that know how to play and now we’re starting to realize this is what we have to do to win when coach calls upon me to get in the game. Everyone is starting to adjust real well.

You’ve transitioned from a starter to coming off the bench. How have you adjusted to that change?

JP: My role has always been to play defense, rebound, block shots. Any points from me are a bonus. My job is coming in and being a defensive prescience, and that never changes. Last year I was in and out of the starting lineup. Things can change. Right now I’m not starting but as the season goes on anything can happen. I’ve just got to be ready to play.

It’s a great luxury for Coach McMillan to have two starting-caliber centers.

JP: I think it’s big for us. Greg and myself, we’re more defensive centers. We protect and control the paint. We’re the anchors for the defense. Especially on this last road trip, the reason we won a lot of those games is because of our defense. The games weren’t shootouts. A lot of the games we held teams to under 90 points and in a lot of stretches the bigs on the defensive end set the tone. I think we’ve done a good job with that this year.

You’re tied for first in the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes and eighth in rebounds per 48 minutes. What makes a player a good rebounder or a good shot blocker?

JP: I’ve been in this league for 10 years and for me, rebounding is hard work and determination. I’ve realized that I want the ball more than the opposing opponent or team, then I go out and get it. It’s like playing defense, the will to defend. Not everyone in this league can score but everyone in this league, I guarantee you, can play defense. But it’s the guys who want to play defense, who want to rebound, who want to take that charge, because it takes determination and will. It’s hard work when it comes down to it.

Shot blocking is a little different. Not everyone can block shots. For me, shot blocking is something I’ve always had a knack for. It’s just timing and studying the opposing teams. Knowing things like a player’s tendencies or plays that are run so you’re in the right spot at the right time. I’m not the biggest guy out there and I’m definitely not the quickest or highest jumper but I know how to be in the right place at the right time, and that makes a difference.

A lot of it has nothing to do with athletic ability. Like I said, defense comes down to effort. You may attempt to block a shot ten to fifteen times a game and you may only block one shot. That’s a lot of jumping effort and work to do that.

You’re a guy who never seems to shy away from confrontation on the court. Where does that mentality come from?

JP: I think intensity is part of the game. I’m very bullheaded sometimes, very stubborn. Sometimes I go against an opposing player who is the same way and isn’t going to back down. It’s like two sticks of dynamite.

I’m not going to back down from anyone. I may back down from people off the court, but when I step on the court I’m a different person. That’s just the way I am. I’ve always been like that. I just don’t want to be known as a soft player. That’s just not me. I’m not getting into it to be on Sportscenter. Trust me, I’d rather save my money and be quite and walk off the court with a win but if somebody is going at me or a teammate, that’s what gets me going. I see myself as one of the elders on the team and I want to protect my players. When you have a close group of guys and you’ve been around them so much and you enjoy them you don’t like seeing guys get picked on. You’re going to step up for them and have their backs.

Finally, word is you and your wife are expecting a new addition to the Przybilla family.

JP: I’ve been wanting a second child for a long time now. We’re expecting the first couple weeks in May, so we’ll be having it here in Portland. Don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but as long as it’s healthy. I love my son Anthony so much that I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to have another one. It’s exciting. My wife will be laying or sitting down and Anthony will go up and start talking to her belly. ‘Hello in there, this is Anthony.’ That’s what he says. He wants a sister. Mike Barrett has a daughter, Gabby, that Anthony knows, so he says ‘I want a little sister like Gabby.’ He says he’s going to take care of her.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Don't Play With The Game

The current iteration of the Portland Trail Blazers have never won in ORACLE Arena. Nate McMillan, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge: none have won as Trail Blazers at Golden State. Only Joel Przybilla and Travis Outlaw were on Portland’s roster the last time the Blazers beat Golden State 78-75 at ORACLE on November 3, 2004, though neither played. That was the season opener, by the way.

Why so much trouble at ORACLE? Who knows? Could be that the home team gets the boost when teams that play wildly different styles, as the Warriors and Trail Blazers do.

Looking at their statistics this season, it’s hard to imagine two teams more dissimilar. Trail Blazers allow the fewest points per game in the NBA (87.5), Warriors allow the most (113.3). Trail Blazers opponents take the fewest number of shots per game (32.2), Warriors opponents take the most (42.6). Warriors tally more steals per game than anyone in the league (9.55), while the Trail Blazers rank 25th (6.23). Basically Portland and Golden State ends up on opposite ends of any pace-dependant statistic.

None of this should matter tonight. The Trail Blazers have more talent and better chemistry. The Warriors are playing their first home game after 1-4 Eastern Conference road swing, which should help tilt the scale in Portland’s direction. The Warriors don’t really have the size to make the Trail Blazers pay for playing a three-guard lineup, though someone else besides Brandon Roy is going to have to take a turn getting run into my Corey Maggette. Ronni Turiaf is day-to-day, CJ Watson has the swine flu, Raja Bell may or may not have season-ending wrist surgery, Kelenna Azubuike is out for the season after tearing his patella tendon and Andris Biendrins is battling some sort of back/groin injury that has kept him out of all but four games this season, so Don Nelson will likely have only eight players available. On paper, this should be a win. An easy win even.

But there seems to be no such thing as an easy win Trail Blazers win in Oakland, at least not recently. If the Blazers are to get their first win in the Bay since 2004, they’ll have to take to heart the directive Coach McMillan gave them after the near-loss to the Pistons on Wednesday: don’t play with the game.

Another win on the road is there for the taking, but not if the Trail Blazers play with the game. They have to approach the Warriors like they’re the best team in the league, the only team. If the Blazers jump out to a big lead, they need to keep the pressure on until the final whistle. Finish out quarters strong, especially the fourth. It’s not exactly calm waters in the Golden State locker room, so don’t give them anything to get excited about. Make it about business, get back to Portland and get ready for a homestand with four winnable games.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Outlaw Out But Not Down

It figures Travis Outlaw would break his foot trying to make a play on defense.

For a guy who is maligned by his detractors for playing less than average defense, it seems cruelly poetic that Outlaw would injure himself on a routine closeout. And I don’t know about you, but when I think about the irony of a high-flyer like Outlaw being struck down on a play where he didn’t even leave his feet, it reinforces my belief that the fates do in fact have a twisted sense of humor.

So it’s easy to see why Outlaw would curse his bad luck. Things were just starting to come together, for Travis and the team in general, and then a snap; there goes the fifth metatarsal. And in a contract year, that snap could end up being rather expensive.

But that’s not the way Outlaw is looking at it. Ever true to his happy-to-lucky attitude, Outlaw is dealing with the first major injury of his pro career with aplomb.

“It’s nothing, you know?” said Outlaw. “You always have little bumps in the road.”

Traversing that rocky road is something Outlaw has been remarkably adept at throughout his pro career. When he played a total of 67 games through his first two seasons in Portland, he kept his head down and his mouth shut. When his name was mentioned in seemingly every trade rumor, he went about his business like a pro. When fans questioned his motives two summers ago after he joked about wanting more shots, he responded by taking fewer. And after the initial disappointment of knowing he would miss at least the next six weeks as the fracture in his foot heals, Outlaw has accepted the misfortune and moved on.

“Things happen for a reason, that’s my thing,” said Outlaw. “That’s how I’m looking at it. I feel like I got a lot of things to be thankful for, you know?”

Outlaw will have a pin inserted into his left foot on Wednesday to help the stress fracture heal. After that, he plans on picking up a hobby (“Maybe working on my car”), trying to keep his dog from doing any more damage to his foot (“He’s running over it all the time right now”) and rehabbing with the intention of getting back onto the court as soon as possible.

“We’ve got a lot of players stepping up. When I get back there’s not going to be some big rush to get mine. I’m just going to try to make sure I fit in. Do what is needed for the team to win.”


Monday, November 16, 2009

Video: Oden Blocks, Rudy Steals, Outlaw Dunks

NBA.com pushed a redesign ... sometime since the last time I checked out the mothership's homepage. Looks nice. Congrats to the folks at Turner, who are running the show over there, on the hard work.

NBA.com also pushed a new video feature, weekly Top 10 lists, recently, which beats the pants off of weekly power rankings, especially this early in the season. It seems like the whole point of power rankings is to start arguments, and I hate arguments. I like discussion.

Trail Blazers show up in three of NBA.com's Top 10 plays lists this week, which seems about right. I think you could make a case for a few more, which I'll do in a moment.

First up, Top 10 Blocks of the Week, featuring one of Greg Oden's blocks against the Timberwolves at No. 7.

Missing: Oden's block on Chris Paul from the game on the 13th. And though one particular block isn't coming to mind, you have to think that Joel Przybilla, who has rejected nine shots in the last three games, would make the highlight reel.

Next up, Top 10 Steals of the Week. Rudy Fernandez's steal in the Nov. 8 game against the Timberwolves that lead to a Webster-to-Bayless alley-oop checks in at No. 2. Worth noting that while Rudy gets the steal, Marty and Bayless end up getting most the face time in the highlight.

Missing: I can't really think of a particular steal this week that should have made the list. This is where you come in. Put what steal you think should have made the Top 10 in the comments.

We end on a bittersweet note. Travis Outlaw's monstrous dunk over Rudy Gay in the Memphis game on the 10th clocks in at No. 7 in the Top Dunks reel (a bit low, if you ask me). The sweet is the obvious ferocity of the dunk, but the bitter is that it's the last throwdown we'll see out of Travis for at least the next six weeks. I hate the fifth metatarsal bone in the left foot.

Missing: Again, I'm drawing a blank on what Trail Blazers play should be included here. To be fair, there were some crazy dunks in the NBA this week, so one might be sufficient, though I'm sure you could convince me otherwise.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Outlaw Out Indefinitely

The injury bug has bitten for the first time this season, and he bit hard. Travis Outlaw, who is averaging 10.9 points and 3.8 rebounds in 23.1 minutes per game this season, sustained a fracture in of the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot during the first quarter of Saturday's game in Charlotte. It didn't look that bad when it happened, but the x-rays say otherwise. Outlaw is heading back to Portland after the game for further evaluation

Yet to be seen what Outlaw's injury will mean to Nate McMillan's rotation. The second half of the Charlotte game will probably be a good window into how playing time will shake out in Outlaw's absence.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

11.12.09 Trailblazers.com Podcast

There might be a different tone this week among the fanbase after winning four straight, but Dave Deckard of Blazersedge.com and I, Casey Holdahl of trailblazers.com, try to keep an even keel. Smooth.

This week Dave and I talk about the first two games of the current five-game road trip, Greg Oden's confidence, whether the three-guard lineup is here to stay, helping out Brandon Roy, LaMarcus moving forward and a Ducks/Blazers comparison. That's cross promotion holmes.

Download Trailblazers.com Podcast (42.2 MB)

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Video: Travis Outlaw Will Ruin Your Night

This is THE Trail Blazers highlight thus far. Travis Outlaw just obliterating the rim as Rudy Gay tries to keep his head from getting caved in. Here's a larger version.

Don't Feed The Jinx

I do a lot of standing around in the Trail Blazers locker room prior to games at the Rose Garden. Sometimes I’m waiting for a player to show up for an interview. Other times I’m just killing time before Nate McMillan’s pregame media availability.

Sunday night, I was killing time. All of the players were either out on the court, in the training room or at chapel and Nate’s pregame was still a ways off, so I stood in front of the white board reading the scouting reports of the opposing players. I do this before just about every game. Always interesting to read what people who really know the sport have to say.

So I’m reading the scouting report for each player on the Timberwolves, and after I’m about halfway through I start to realize something: these guys are going to have a heck of a time winning games this season. Al Jefferson isn’t 100 percent healthy. Kevin Love’s out, so his scouting report isn’t even on the board. Jonny Flynn is talented, but he’s a rookie who only played one year of college ball trying to learn the hardest position in basketball. Corey Brewer and Ryan Gomes are decent, but they’re complimentary players. The team as a whole is undersized and inexperienced.

While I’m reading through the reports, Joel Przybilla sits down at his locker, which is the closest to the white board where the reports are taped. I turn to Przybilla after finishing my overview and say something that, in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have.

“There’s no way we’re going to lose to these guys tonight.”

It’s not that I didn’t believe what I said. The Trail Blazer, at home, coming into the Sunday’s game having beaten the Timberwolves the last eight times they’ve played, should beat Minnesota easily. And they did, but it’s never wise to tempt the fates so brazenly.

Realizing the error of my ways, Przybilla did his best to negate the bad juju I created.

“Don’t jinx us man,” said Przybilla, knocking on the wood paneling that serves as trim around his locker. “Any team can get beat on any given night in this league.”

Very true, and very reassuring to hear from a player heading out on a five-game road trip. Three of those games (Memphis, Minnesota and Charlotte) should be wins, but you can’t take anything for granted in the NBA, especially on the road. Not to mention that the Trail Blazers haven’t won in Charlotte since the 2006-07 season, so that’s hardly a gimme either.

The Grizzlies might be 1-6, but they’ve got a whole lot of talent and have played five of their first seven games on the road, so they’re probably not as bad as their record would indicate. (By the way, Zach Randolph is tied for third on the Grizzlies in assists per game with 3.3. He’s tied for second if you don’t include Allen Iverson. Way to dime Z-Bo!)

The Timberwolves also have just one win, but they too have had a tough schedule and have played some good team pretty close, losing to the Clippers by three and Boston by two being the most notable examples.

As for the games against the Hornets and Hawks, those are going to be tough gets. Both NOLA and Atlanta are historically difficult places for the Trail Blazers to get wins. Luckily the Blazers will have a day of rest before each of those games, so hopefully they come out fresh and, especially against the Hawks, with something to prove.

So if you’re looking at the first extended road trip and have already penciled in a 3-2 record, consider knocking on some wood. Joel Przybilla thanks you in absentia.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

11.05.09 Trailblazers.com Podcast

After starting the season 2-3, everyone wants to know what's wrong with the Trail Blazers. Are there answers to that questions? Is the question itself even valid? Can you fit more than three rhetorical questions into one intro paragraph? No, maybe and heck yes.

Dave Deckard of Blazersedge.com and I, Casey Holdahl of trailblazers.com, delve into the first five games of the season to debate what's working and what isn't. I'll let you decide if the answers are sufficient.

Download Trailblazers.com Podcast (42.2 MB)

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Wait Needs To Be Over

Watching the Trail Blazers through the first five games of the season, one could get the sense that they’re waiting for something to happen, something that will get everybody moving in the same direction. If it is indeed the case that this team is holding out hope that a spark will ignite the season, that expectation would not necessarily be without merit. It has happened before.

There was Travis Outlaw’s game-winning shot against the Grizzlies in early-December of the 2007-08 season. The Trail Blazers were 5-12 at the time and winless on the road in their first nine tries. They had just been blown out by the Spurs in San Antonio the night before, but that bank shot by Outlaw as time expired started something legendary. The Blazers would go on to win the next 13 straight and 18 of their next 20. That shot might have very well saved the season.

And of course there was Brandon Roy’s 30-foot overtime game-winner against the Rockets in the fifth game of the 2008-09 season. On the verge of starting the year 1-4, Roy’s high-arching attempt gave a young team something to build on. Roy’s answered prayer also started a run that would see the Trail Blazers win 13 of the next 16 games, putting them on course for their first playoff appearance in five seasons.

It is probably unnecessary to recap these events. After all, those moments have taken on lives of their own. They’re seen in commercials and reenacted on playgrounds. They hold an important place in the collective memory of Trail Blazers fans and, more importantly, the players. And while it would be sacrilege (and patently false) to blame those memories for the Trail Blazers’ inability to burst out of the gate through the first five games of the 2009-10 season, one has to wonder if reaping the benefits of a singular transformative performance in two consecutive seasons has brought the team to where they are now: waiting for a similar event to occur once again.

“I don’t know if we’re waiting on something,” said Joel Przybilla, “but if we are we better hurry up and figure it out. We’ve just got to look in the mirror, quit pointing fingers at what we think we need to do and focus on ourselves.”

“I think this is our next step to becoming a good team,” said Brandon Roy. “We can’t wait for the big bang to happen to go on these great runs. I think we have to figure out a way to be consistent at a high level. In a way it’s like we are waiting for that emotional charge to get us excited about the year, but we have to just develop it.”

At least if they want to make the jump from promising young team potential to legitimate playoff contender. You can get by on enthusiasm when you’re young, on passion when you’re untested. But it has to be about more than that to join the ranks of the elite. It has to be about confidence and commitment and routine rather than coincidence.

“The Spurs don’t have to have something great happen to them every year,” said Roy. Boston, they come in ‘This is what it is. We’re not waiting for a lucky shot.’ If that happens, then great, we get the win that night. I think it’s a little bit of a process because it seems like guys are waiting around for something crazy to happen. That can’t be what gets this thing started.”

Not any more it can’t. It has to be real this time, which is why it’ll be worth waiting for if and when it happens. Someone could hit a buzzer-beating halfcourt shot on Friday, sending the Rose Garden into a frenzy and the Spurs home to San Antonio with a loss, and it would be great to get the win and maybe it would pave the way for a successful season, but would that really help this team in the long term? What is the cost of getting over like that? Because eventually that potential game-winner isn’t going to find the mark. That much is inevitable, and to Roy, apparent.

“Bill Walton came in and said the good teams don’t win on adrenaline or emotions. He said the championship teams play consistent every night. You have to beat teams consistently and you have to be better. I think that’s what we’re trying to get to as a team. We can’t wait for this big crazy shot by me or Travis or Blake to get us emotionally excited about the season. We have to come in ready.”

It is a fine line. It’s looking a gift horse in the mouth or disavowing the notion that being lucky is in fact preferential to being good. It goes against human nature to root against good fortune, but that’s not really the point. Every team that has ever accomplished anything substantive has caught their fair share of breaks, but at some juncture, you have to be better than luck allows. Great teams win in spite of their luck, rather than because of it.

Which is why Portland’s 2-3 start, as painful as it might be to watch, could very well do this team a service in the end. If the entire team can come to the realization Roy has, that they can’t rely on a moment to change the course of their season, maybe they can meet or exceed the expectations thrust upon them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Podcast: Trail Blazers Courtside And The Jim Rome Show

Lots of archived audio from the last few days to catch up on, so this will be quick...

Trail Blazers Courtside was on last night on just about every medium imaginable. If you missed it on Comcast, or on 95.5 The Game, or online at trailblazers.com you can now listen to it here. Jay Allen and Michael Holton hold down hosting duties, with Nate McMillan, Mike Barrett, Mike Rice and Wendell Maxey all making appearances.

Here's Hour One:

Download Trail Blazers Courtside (Hour One) (38.5 MB)

And Hour Two:

Download Trail Blazers Courtside (Hour Two) (38.7 MB)

But there's more! Jim Rome was in town yesterday recording the appropriately named "Jim Rome Show" at the 95.5 The Game studios. He seemed to enjoy his less than 24 hour stay a great deal. The show was heavy on Trail Blazers and Ducks, which is surely good for ratings in this and all other markets.

I'll leave the Duck interviews to our friends down in Eugene, but as for apperances by Nate McMillan and Brandon Roy, we've got you covered.

Here's the interview with McMillan:

Nate McMillan On The Jim Rome Show (3.8 MB)

And here's the segment with Roy:

Brandon Roy On The Jim Rome Show (3.6 MB)

Enjoy. Go Trail Blazers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

10.30.09 Trailblazers.com Podcast

It's risky drawing conclusions based two games into the season, so neither Dave Deckard of Blazersedge.com nor I, Casey Holdahl of trailblazers.com, go too far in declaring the 2009-10 Trail Blazers the best or worst team in the history of sports. But we do look at the performances Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Martell Webster and basically every other member of the team who has seen significant PT through the first 1/41sts of the season.

We also delve briefly into the streaming of KGW games and whether pursing a point-forward is worth the trouble. And I didn't even get a chance to touch on the candy preferences of each member of the team. It doesn't seem like an hour worth of material, but file size don't lie.

Download Trailblazers.com Podcast (54.6 MB)

Subscribe to Trail Blazers Podcasts on ITunes

Brush It Off Big Fella'

I knew exactly what the locker room would look like tonight before stepping through the heavy double doors that separate the team's sanctuary from the outside world. There would be a crowd of reporters in a semi-circle watching Greg Oden get dressed, recorders, cameras and microphones at the ready. Dante Cunningham, who inhabits the locker next to Oden, would be pushed aside while trying to get dressed by people half his size and infinitely less athletic. Sure enough, that's exactly what I saw.

I had no interest in joining the scrum. I was pretty sure I knew what he was going to say, and I'm positive he didn't need another camera shoved in his face, so I stood on the opposite side of the locker room waiting for it all to unfold.

And I wasn't alone. As the media horde stood quietly around Oden, head hung as he slipped a suit jacket over his shoulders, Brandon Roy, Jerryd Bayless, Juwan Howard, Rudy Fernandez and Joel Przybilla were all watching as well. I don't know if they were curious about how he would react to the moment, what he would say or what the media would ask, but they briefly stopped their own postgame rituals to take it in. All eyes were once again on Oden, just as they were when he missed two free throws that could have tied the game with 4.6 seconds to play.

He said the things you would expect him to say, though I doubt his teammates would agree with his conclusions. He put the loss on himself, talking about need to "step up" in pressure situations. While the later statement might be true, the former is not. Missing those free throws didn't loose that game. Shooting 34.6 percent from the field as a team took care of that.

The Blazers had 20 more attempts but the same number of makes as the Nuggets. Portland had more rebounds, more assists, fewer turnovers, more second chance points and only four fewer points in the paint while holding Denver to nine fastbreak points, but none of that mattered, just as missing two free throws didn't really matter. If the Blazers shoot even 40 percent from the field, which would still be a lackluster performance, they win going away. Instead, they head off to Houston 1-1.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No Looking Back

Last time this season the Trail Blazers were excited, full of youthful exuberance, ready to take on the L.A. Lakers at Staples Center on national television. Ready to turn promise into production. Plant a red and black flag in the backyard of a Western Conference powerhouse.

Then they played the game.

In case you've wiped it completely out of your memory banks, the Trail Blazers did not play well in last season's opener in L.A. No reason going into any more detail than that. But with just hours to go before the start of the 2009-10 season, thoughts might drift back to the unpleasantness that occurred 364 days ago.

But they shouldn't.

"We're a different team," said Nate McMillan," different year, different opponent. Last year we started out with the Lakers on the road. We're starting out with a different team this year. It's about now and not the past and what we want to do starting (Tuesday) on our court against Houston."

This Trail Blazers team is a year older and wiser. They've added veterans. They're in better shape. Contracts have been negotiated and signed. And maybe most importantly, Greg Oden is healthy, confident and playing his 62nd professional game, rather than his first.

"My body feels a lot better (than last year)," said Oden. "Not as much of a grind as it was on my knee with that extra weight . Body feels good, I feel in shape. Guys are playing real aggressive and with a lot of energy, a lot of talking out there. Just hoping we can bring that to (Tuesday's) game."

Friday, October 23, 2009

When Families Negotiate

There’s something that gets missed when discussing contract negotiations in the NBA. The focus is on the money, the respect. There’s talk of salary cap implications and “basketball-related income.” And people know things can get contentious, feeling can get hurt, pride can be wounded, but for Kevin Pritchard and LaMarcus Aldridge, those notions of negotiations don’t get to where the real difficulty resided during the process of locking LA up for the next five seasons in Portland.

The NBA is a business. Everyone knows that. But sport, especially basketball, is a business unlike most. There aren’t huge rosters like in football and baseball. You’re talking about 15 guys, guys you see every day during the season. And when you’re talking about the Trail Blazers, a team and an organization that is more tight-knit than most, you’re talking about relationships that are close and important. So when something changes those relationships, even temporarily, people feel it.

That was the case when it came to Aldridge’s contract negotiations. It wasn’t that the respect LA and KP had for each other changed, because it didn’t. Both have a sincere appreciation for the other, personally and professionally, but the fact is when it comes to hammering out a contract, each side has to approach each other differently. You have to give the other space so as to not give the impression that you’re trying to use that respect and those relationships you’ve cultivated to your own advantage. To do so would cheapen that bond. So you pull back, put your personal feelings aside as much as possible and conduct yourself in a professional manner befitting the importance of the moment.

“The hardest part for me is you grow close to these players and then you start the negotiations and all the sudden you have to step back and make it more professional, and I have a hard time with that,” said Pritchard. “I like talking to the players. I like helping them as much as I can in any way. But LaMarcus has been terrific in knowing we had good faith.”

It’s difficult, even when you know everyone is acting the way they should. There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in this team, in this goal of winning a championship. The hugs, the handshakes, the high-fives, these things are like breathing for the guys in the clubhouse that is the practice facility. And when you have to put those things aside, even for a short period of time, it adds a complexity to the negotiations that people who are never involved in the process can’t realize. Teams are supposed to bring people together, and they do, but when you have to keep your distance for the sake of the team, it breeds a sort of mock conflict.

“I would see (Pritchard) but I would kind of be distant too because you just want to keep it professional,” said Aldridge. “You don’t want to make it like you’re talking to him to try and get information or you’re trying to butter him up, so you try to keep it professional on both ends. We would speak but it wasn’t like it used to be because it was just professional and we didn’t want to give each other mixed signals.”

“It’s a little bit like a Chinese water torture for me cause I’m a basketball guy,” said Pritchard. “I love smelling the gym and being in here and when you’re doing a negotiation, both sides, there are struggles. You’ve got to get to a fair point. But … we always felt good about it.”

It helps that KP has been a player. He knows the mind of an athlete and he knows LaMarcus. And this isn’t his first rodeo when it comes to negotiating. But KP is as connected to his players as any GM in sports. He’s not locked up in an office making decisions from on high. Everyday he’s feeling the pulse of the team. Part of that is being a good executive, but that’s just an ancillary bonus. The reality is with the players is where he wants, almost needs, to be. And when you take that away, it’s challenging. Some could take that forced distance the wrong way.

“I think he understood and I understood that it’s a business,” said Aldridge “It was being professional. I never took it personal that he didn’t talk to me as much and I don’t think he took it personal because we know at the end of the day we get along pretty well. We know it was circumstances that put us in that position, but that’s over with now.”

Indeed it is. Now they can go back to where they were before, hopefully better for the experience.

Check The New Billboard

Trail Blazers get a win in Vancouver, BC. LaMarcus Aldridge gets five-years of stability. And we here at Trail Blazers HQ get a new billboard to look at everyday as we walk into the office. Everybody is happy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

10.22.09 Trailblazers.com Podcast

There's been a ton of reported news regarding the Trail Blazers over the last few days, though nothing has gone official. So while Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game and Dave Deckard of Blazersedge.com speak on LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills with an air of definitiveness, I, Casey Holdahl of Trailblazers.com, tread a bit more lightly. Dance blogger, dance!

Also in this podcast: chemistry issues, Gavin and I argue about whether a trade needs to be made, a brief conversation on live streaming, predictions on the first week of the season and whether I can watch college football and play poker at the same time. Count you're money while you listen.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From A Distance

Last season the Trail Blazers shot 38 percent from three for the season, good for fourth best in the NBA. The ability to stroke from three played a huge role on last season's successes. Aside from the obvious benefits of being worth more than a two-point shot, Portland's high-percentage from three forced opposing teams to pay close attention to the perimeter, helping free up the paint for Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. And this season, with Greg Oden looking much more polished and comfortable on the offensive end, outside shooting is going to be even more important. But through the first six games of the preseason, the Blazers have failed to consistently find the mark from long range.

The Trail Blazers shot well from three in the 2008-09 preseason, 40 percent (51 of 126) well to be exact. But through the first six games of the 2009-10 exhibition season the Trail Blazers are shooting just 31 percent (25 of 81) from long range. They're shooting fewer three's as well, 13.5 per game this preseason as opposed to 18 per this time last year. Hard to tell if they're taking fewer triples because they're not shooting as well or if other factors are in play.

Tuesday night's game was no better. Portland shot 2 for 15 from three, which pencils out to 13.3 percent. The absence of Aldridge and Oden from the lineup made it that much harder for shooters on the perimeter to get open, but you'd think at least they'd get luck more than twice in fifteen tries.

There's a number of things you can point to that explain the problem. The team has been without Rudy Fernandez, one of the best if not the best shooter on the team, for most of the preseason. Martell Webster, who challenges Rudy as the team's best three-point specialist, is still getting back into game shape, both from a fitness and tempo perspective. Those two can straight make it rain when healthy and in rhythm, but neither are there yet.

"You’ve got to get your rhythm," said Nate McMillan. "Normally you start out slow and that percentage goes up. A lot of that, I would say, probably are guys legs, they don’t have their legs right now. Rudy is not with us. Martell is a back shooting some three’s. A lot of guys are shooting some three’s. It’s early, but we want to take ‘em if we’re open and I think that percentage will go up."

Then there's Andre Miller. Dre brings a bevy of skills to the point guard position, but three-point shooting isn't one of them. The issue isn't so much that he's missing three's, because he's really not taking all that many, but he is taking away court time from Steve Blake, who was absolutely nails last year from deep. So when you've got one of your best perimeter shooters playing less, it's logical to see a drop off in both attempts and percentage. Also probably worth noting that Blake got a lot of open three's last season thanks to Roy's ability to penetrate then pass out to the perimeter. That SG-to-PG-for-three connection seems less likely with Roy working with Miller in the backcourt.

It's possible that there are some flow issues at play with Miller as well. He's still learning where his teammates like to receive the ball, where they like to spot up. When these kinds of things become second nature, there's a good chance the three-point percentages will improve. Miller's ability to penetrate and kick will eventually help those shooters as well.

But more than anything, guys just aren't making shots, and that's the way it goes sometimes. For every hot streak where the hoop looks like the size of a manhole cover there's a corresponding slump where nothing comes easy. Believe it or not, that's actually good news. Much better to get those cold spells out in preseason. So don't expect shooters to stop shooting any time soon.

"I think we have had some open three’s and we just missed ‘em," said McMillan. "We want to take those. We’ve got guys that can shoot the ball from three so we want to take those shots."

10.19.09 Trail Blazers Courtside

Kudos to the Trail Blazers Courtside crew for putting together a top-notch show just a week before the start of the regular season. Great guests, great hosts, great show. Next week's prediction show should be fun as well.

But back to this week. Mike Barrett, Mike Rice and Brian Wheeler take care of hosting duties for both hours. In Hour One, both Kevin Pritchard and Joel Przybilla call in.

Download Trail Blazers Courtside (Hour One) (38.6 MB)

In the second hour, shooting coach John Townsend calls in to talk shop and Merlin swoops in to do ... whatever it is that he does.

Download the Trail Blazers Courtside (Hour Two) (38.8 MB)

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Notes From A Shootaround: Taking It Easy

A sleepy shootaround out yonder in Tualatin today. Jason Quick, Brian T. Smith and I were the only media folks in attendance. Those who didn't show didn't miss much.

A few things ...

• As you've already heard if you subscribe to our Twitter feed, Greg Oden, coming off one of the best six minutes stretches that anyone has had so far this preseason, will not play due to a sore thigh adductor. For those of you not sure where the adductor is at, it's apparently in the upper thigh area where the leg connects to the torso. A sensitive area, to be sure. The injury, as Oden remembers, stems from being kicked by Arron Afflalo in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Nuggets.

"It's sore from the kick, still," said Oden. "But Jay (Jensen) really didn't want to chance it. I can tell you it's feeling a lot better than what it did yesterday. But it's still a little sore and I feel it a little bit, so Jay didn't want to chance it."

Joel Przybilla, who sat out yesterday's practice with a sore back, will play and start. LaMarcus Aldridge returns to the starting lineup after sitting out Sunday's game with a knee contusion. Jerryd Bayless, who also missed practice yesterday after spraining his ankle in the first quarter of the Nuggets game, is expect to play. Rudy Fernandez, still battling back spasms, is listed as out. Now you know.

• As for the starting lineup, Nate McMillan is going with Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Przybilla. McMillan has given the impression that he's fairly certain of who he's going to start on opening night, but he's keeping that news to himself at this point.

"The thing is I'm treating this like it were a regular season game in the sense that is these guys were out (in the regular season) we make our adjustments," said McMillan. "We approach it like that."

• Brandon Roy is looking forward to the start of the NBA regular season and Saturday's game between the Oregon Ducks and the Washington Huskies.

NBA.com Is Cuckoo For Preview

I've always been a little lukewarm when it comes to NBA team previews. Back before this whole internet thing took off (who would have figured that?) it made sense for newspapers and magazines to write lengthy season previews since there were few ways to follow the team throughout the offseason. But with the changes in the media landscape, previews just don't seem all necessary anymore. The Oregonian, OregonLive.com, Blazersedge.com (here's Ben's preview, btw), The Columbian and a host of others follow the Trail Blazers 365 days a year. If there's something you still don't know about this team and the upcoming season, then you're probably not paying very close attention.

That being said, if you're going to put out a Trail Blazers preview, I'm more than likely going to read/watch it. The folks over at the NBA.com mothership obviously put a lot of time end effort into their previews, so I'm more than happy to do my part to get the word out.

Here's Eric Snow, Brent Barry and Andre Aldridge's (no relation) video preview.

Here's the interesting-yet-creepy "secret scout" breakdown.

On the written side, Howard Scott-Cooper writes that the new svelte edition of Greg Oden is ready to turn the page on the last two seasons:
This is the perfect time and place for him, it turns out, not the center of his crumbling universe. Among the many things that went right for the resurgent Trail Blazers last season, tying for the second-best record in the Western Conference alleviated an incalculable amount of pressure on Oden to be great already. Being good enough to start and put a lid on the basket makes him a difference maker and a potential hero. Strange given the '07 perspective, but true.

Sean Powell, also writing for NBA.com, lists GO as one of the "make-or-break" players of the 2009-10 season:
Can you imagine that, two years removed from a no-brainer draft decision, there are rumblings the Trail Blazers should've taken Kevin Durant instead? That says plenty about Durant, but also something about Oden, raw and hardly the impact player many expected him to be. Big men develop slowly, and Oden did suffer leg injuries, so patience, please. Still, Oden can make everyone in Portland exhale if he learns a pet move, elevates himself to third option on offense and grabs more than seven rebounds a game. Is that asking too much too soon? No, it isn't.
I'm going to use "pet move" in place of "go-to" move from here on out. It sounds much friendlier.