Friday, February 27, 2009

Focusing On Needs, Not Knees

Brandon Roy didn’t call tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves a must win. He didn’t build it up to be something bigger than it is. But Roy knows that with just 25 games remaining, every contest is an important one.

So when Roy was asked about tonight’s game during his most recent appearance on KJR-AM in Seattle, he said but three words.

“We need it.”

Back-to-back road losses to the Rockets and Spurs are unfortunate but understandable. Both those teams, despite significant injuries, are playing like the veteran-laden squads they are. Road wins are hard to come by in the Western Conference, especially in Texas.

But tonight’s game against the Timberwolves is different. They too have had been hit hard by the injury curse of 2008-09, but unlike the Rockets and Spurs, they don’t have the requisite vets that make it possible to ride out the loss of their best player.

But the T-Wolves continue to play hard, as they will tonight. And all the pressure is on the Trail Blazers. A loss makes Sunday’s rematch against the Spurs a bigger game than it already is. And then there’s Wednesday’s game against the Pacers, a team the Trail Blazers haven’t beaten since Dec. 2, 2003 (Travis Outlaw is the only current Trail Blazer who was on the team at that time, and even he registered a DNP that night). And the night after that, a road game against Denver, which might be the most pivotal game of the season thus far.

Taking all of that into account, it’s no wonder Roy answered the way he did.

As Nate McMillan says almost daily, every game is important, but tonight in Minneapolis, there might be a little more on the line. With so little room for error, a loss puts even more pressure on a young team fighting for their playoff lives.

And that pressure is something no one needs.

Audio: Kevin Pritchard on the Jim Rome Show

If you're like me, you were too busy yesterday morning to catch Kevin Pritchard's appearance (is it still an "appearance" if it's on the radio?) on the Jim Rome Show. Luckily for all of us, I've obtained some of that interview, which is available below.

Download the podcast (4.4 MB)

I say "some" of the interview because the audio cuts off right in the middle of KP answering a question about why the Trail Blazers didn't trade Raef LaFrentz. The answer to that question is already readily available, but I'm sure you'd like to hear his reasons again, along with the rest of the interview, so I'll continue trying to track down the full clip. Check back later for an update.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Greg Oden Out For Friday's Game

A Greg Oden update from the Trail Blazers PR Department:
Greg Oden (knee) is listed as out for Friday game at Minnesota. Oden worked out with the team today and did some light running.
Oden had one of his better games of the season during the last trip to the Target Center, scoring 13 points to go along with eight rebounds, three blocks, two steals and an assists. What's more, Nate McMillan went to Oden in the post over and over again in crunch time during that game. GO was one of the main reason the Trail Blazers were able to come back from a 12-point deficit to win 88-83 back on Nov. 15.

02.26.09 Podcast

The best way to get over going 0-for-Texas? Going 3-for-podcasts. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of present the last February podcast of the year. Think of us fondly.

This week we discuss the problems in the Lonestar State, the must-win in Minnesota, Nate McMillan's preferences regarding regular rotation, the pressures associated with being Greg Oden, the return of Jarrett Jack and the upcoming Blazer's Edge night at the Agency on March 5th. Let it roll.

Download the podcast (40.8 MB)

(By the way, the CD we record to decided to take an early break with about 2 minutes left in the podcast, which is why the usual sendoff is absent.)

Guitar Hero Claims Another Victim

There are plenty of gamers in the Trail Blazers locker room, and it's possible that no game is enjoyed more frequently than Guitar Hero (or Rock Band, though I don't think there's much distinction between the two). Channing Frye plays it. I've overheard Joel Przybilla commanding Jerryd Bayless bring his copy, along with the requisite "instruments", over to Joel's house. There are probably others.

In fact, there's at least one more. Rudy Fernandez declared on his blog,, that he too is under the melodic spell of Guitar Hero.
In this trip I couldn’t bring my best friend in the last days… my Guitar Hero! I bought it a couple weeks ago and I can’t stop playing! My girlfriend was with me in Portland the first days I got it and she was complaining that I paid more attention to the game than to her! (just kidding, I would never do that…). So, I have been busy the days before the trip.
I've seen Rudy's girlfriend, and if he's ignoring her to play Guitar Hero, then he must really enjoy the game. A lot.

Rudy also has some great pictures of the shoes he wore in the dunk contest. I like the "the leap" graphic in the second picture. And I hear there may be some kind of contest to win those size 13's. Stay tuned.

On a more serious blog related Rudy note, Bust A Bucket has yet another excellent translation of Rudy's "Doubles Figures" blog hosted by In the latest installment, written early this morning in Minnesota, Fernandez laments on the difficulties of travel in the NBA.
I mean, think about this trip: Three cities in three days, with flights of at least two and a half hours. In Europe the trips aren't usually any longer than an hour, and there are less of them too. And in Europe they're normal flights, so after the game you can go to your hotel room, relax, talk to your teammates. Here you go straight from the game to the plane. And so here I am, just past three in the morning, having just arrived, and with practice in the morning.
Rudy also writes about the importance of disconnecting from basketball during road trips and notes his approval of Sergio Rodriguez not being traded.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Video: Channing Frye Interviews Devin

Prior to the All-Star Break, the entire Trail Blazers roster met up at Memorial Coliseum to host a carnival night for military families. Soldiers and their families mingled with members of the team, playing games, eating food, ice skating (not the players, of course) and so forth. Just a little way for the team to show they appreciate the sacrifice of those men and women in uniform.

While in the middle of an interview with Channing Frye at the event, a young man named Devin decided to interject his own thoughts, which turned into an exchange that was far more interesting than anything I could have come up with. Hope it makes you smile.

Duncan out for tonight's game

Just got confirmation that Tim Duncan has a case of right quad tendinitis and will not play tonight against the Trail Blazers. Duncan is currently listed as day-to-day. His absence didn't keep the Spurs from walloping the Mavericks last night, but maybe we'll have better luck.

Fabricio Oberto also sustained a non-displaced fracture in his left thumb against the Mavs, but he's being fitted with a splint and is expected to play. Maybe Oberto and Joel Przybilla, who's right wrist is still, for lack of a better term, messed up, can agree not to whack each other from the elbow down.

The Pro In Przybilla

Everyone in the NBA plays a role. Some guys are superstars capable of taking over a game via offense, defense or sheer will to win. Some are roles players; content in doing the little things that help good teams become great. Then there are specialists, capable of changing a franchise by way of mastering one specific skill. And of course, there are any number of players who fall somewhere in between.

But ask Nate McMillan how to best characterize the role that Joel Przybilla and he’ll give a much more simplistic explanation.

“Joel is a pro,” said McMillan. “He’s a guy that, regardless of the situation, he always comes ready to play. You always know what to expect out of him. When you’re coaching a team, the one thing you want out of your guys is to know what you’re going to get from them night in, night out. In Joel, you know what you’re going to get in practice. You know what you’re going to get in the game. He’s going to give it to you. That’s the best thing a coach can get from a player.

“He’s going to be in the right place. He’s going to work hard. He’s going to give you the effort every night. His strengths are defending the basket, rebounding the ball, setting screens. We get that every night from him.”

That’s high praise from McMillan, a man who values hard work as much as any coach in the league. And it speaks to the core of what makes Joel Przybilla a perfect mentor for a young Trail Blazers squad. Not a freakish athlete or son of basketball royalty, Przybilla has made his way in the league thanks to good old-fashioned grit and stick-to-itiveness, traits he picked up from those who came before him in the fraternity of the NBA.

“I’ve been around a lot of veterans that taught me the game; taught me to be professional on and off the court,” said Przybilla. “A lot of it is just my personality. I take my job very seriously. I don’t know how long this is going to last, so I want to enjoy it and be professional. “

That desire to stick around in a league that has chewed up and spit out so many would-be pros drives Przybilla to bring his best every day he steps foot on the court. It’s what pushes him to fight through an endless list of nagging injuries; injuries that other players would gladly accept a stint on the inactive list to heal.

But while Przybilla’s doggedness is partially fueled by his competitive nature, there’s something else that keeps him taking to the floor when others would take a seat: his three year-old son Anthony.

“Having Anthony has changed me a lot,” said Przybilla. “I think I can say it made me more of a pro. Before I had him I thought I was professional, but having a kid makes you realize that you have to take your job very seriously, because a lot of what I’m trying to do is for him, to make his life better.

“I can tell he looks up to me so much. I want to mold him into a great human being and if I’m not doing the right thing, why would he? I don’t want my son looking back saying ‘Why did you do this?’ or ‘Why didn’t you do that?’”

So Przybilla keeps doing everything in his power to make sure he never has to answer those questions. Whether it’s playing through injuries, standing up for his teammates or accepting a role as a backup, the man known to the Trail Blazers faithful as “The Thrilla” continues to, as Coach McMillan would say, “bring it” every day. It’s the only role a pro knows how to play.

Rudy's record streak is over

Last night's loss to the Houston Rockets ended the Trail Blazers' four-game winning streak and bounced the Red and Black into fifth place in the Western Conference with a difficult game against the Spurs still to come, but that wasn't the only run that was ended in the Lonestar State.

Rudy Fernandez's rookie record of consecutive games with a made three-pointer, previously held by Kirk Hinrich, came to an unceremonious end last night at 33. Fernandez had a clean look in the fourth quarter from three to keep the streak alive, but the shot rimmed out. Streak done.

The blowout loss in Boston back on Dec. 5 was the last time Rudy went 0-fer from beyond the arc. That, of course, doesn't include the Philadelphia game Rudy sat out on Jan. 14.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Audio: Kevin Pritchard on Courtside

Kevin Pritchard had some interesting remarks during his appearance on Trail Blazers Courtside Monday night, which you can listen to below. KP talks trades, or lack thereof, chemistry (natch), the "reevaluation of players salaries," contract exemptions and collective responsibility. Well worth a listen.

Download the podcast (10.6 MB)

I also transcribed few of his comments I found the most interesting.

On decisions made before the trade deadline:
"I think I have a good feel for this team. Being around all these guys for as long as I have, I think I know what they can handle in terms of another player. I like I've got a good grasp on that. Nate McMillan and I talk about that all the time; what kind of personality that is. And I don't want to get into all the details of that, but if we don't bring in the right guys then we could destroy what we have. Maybe destroy is too strong of a word because you feel like with this culture, maybe people will assimilated, sort of, to them. But I still worry that ... we're not grown enough and it still needs time to grow."

And on Greg Oden's status (since everybody keeps asking):
"He's day-to-day, but I think it's going to take a little bit of time. There's no change in his status. He's got a little piece of bone from a little fragment. It's feeling better. The swelling is way down and he's feeling a lot better. We're going to take our time and hopefully he gets on this road trip and has a chance, but no promises. But it would be good for him to get back to practicing maybe later this week or early next week."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Video: Blake, Aldridge, Roy Postgame

In this edition of postgame locker room video, Steve Blake talks about his record-setting game, LaMarcus Aldridge talks about Blake's milestone and Brandon Roy discusses the upcoming road trip (and Blake's assist record).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Video: Travis Outlaw Postgame

Trail Blazers sideline reporter Rebecca Haarlow interviews Travis Outlaw after Portland's 108-98 victory against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

Audio: Nate McMillan Pregame (Plus Welcome Ruffin)

First a bit of news. Newly-acquired forward Michael Ruffin has been activated in place of Greg Oden, so there's a chance he could see the floor tonight. Any minutes would be his first minutes of the 2008-09 season.

Onto the audio. In this edition of Nate McMillan's pregame presser, Coach addresses the mood in the locker room after the trade deadline, the recent string of down to the wire games against the Hawks, the way different teams get officiated and Greg Oden's status for the upcoming road trip. Give it a listen before tip.

Download the podcast (11.3 MB)

02.20.09 Post-Deadline Podcast

No new trades, but one new podcast to wrap up the week. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of offer up this week's installment of the podcast. It's a (no)trade show!

This week we recap the trades that weren't and look toward the remaining 29 games of the season. Dave breaks down the cap situation, I draw parallels between Gerald Wallace and Nic Batum, and Gavin discusses having the same birthday as Maurice Lucas. You don't talk for nearly an hour by staying on the same topic.

Download the podcast (52 MB)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Video: Pritchard, McMillan Talk Trade Deadline

Here's video of Kevin Pritchard's (which you can also read below) and Nate McMillan's comments on the trade deadline passing without any major moves.

Kevin Pritchard: 'No trades'

General manager Kevin Pritchard addressed the media right after the NBA trade deadline expired to announce that the Trail Blazers wouldn't be making a move.

According to Pritchard, teams were asking for young players that the Trail Blazers weren't willing to give up. Simple as that.

Here are Pritchard's comments. Scroll below for the audio.

Pritchard: No trades. We made one yesterday that got us a trade exception, something we thought was a good thing for us. Bottom line is we looked at everything. This was a busy trade deadline. Tom, Mike, Chad, Nate, myself, we looked at every scenario. I can’t tell you how many scenarios we went through. But at the end of the day it came down to this: We believe in this team, and I don’t want to give up or give away any of our young players.

That’s why we were the centerpiece of some of these trades, because we have young good players and we think we can get into the playoffs. We’re going to go to war with this team, and we feel good where we are. That was the biggest decision factor in not doing because if you look down at our team from top to bottom, we’ve worked so hard to get them and we feel good about them that we didn’t want to do anything. That doesn’t prevent us from doing stuff in the summer and gives us some flexibility going into summer. It just puts it off a bit.

Q: Are you disappointed that noting happened?

Pritchard: I consider us dealmakers. We like doing that. What’s different now is we’ve made so many deals that brought good players and good people that now you’re talking about giving up those guys. And I don’t want to give up anybody. I believe in these guys. When you look at our team with Rudy and Batum and Brandon -- as special as he is -- and LaMarcus and Greg and Joel; I don’t want to give up on those guys. I think we can go a long way with what we have. Maybe we get criticized because we didn’t pull the trigger on Raef’s deal but what Raef’s deal does is allow us to let it expire and make a deal this summer.

Q: Are you surprised that you didn’t make a deal? Did you go in thinking you would?

Pritchard: It goes through ups and downs. One minute you think there’s going to be a deal and you really like it, then next thing you know it’s not there. It was both. It’s both. Though there were some deals and then we walked away.

Q: Did you come close?

Pritchard: I don’t know what close means. Did it get to where there were 30 conversations about one deal? Absolutely. But we like our team. Paul Allen last night at dinner I think summed it up best and that is, lets go to war with this team and see what they’re about. We can make adjustments in the future. What we could do is make a huge mistake in giving up on somebody too early.

Q: You just came out and talked to Nate. Was this a last minute thing?

Last 30 seconds. It was down to that on a couple of things.

Q: There was something on the table and it was your decision to pull the trigger?

Pritchard: It takes two to tango on any trades so it was both of us. Some of them came down to us saying no.

Q: You’ve used the word flexibility a lot. How would you describe the position you’re in entering this summer?

Pritchard: It gives us another 30 games to see what we got, see if this team can make it into the playoffs, see if they can still overachieve as they’ve done. We’re effectively the youngest team in the league and we have 33 wins at this time. It’s hard for me to say it’s logical to make a big change. You guys know – we talk about this all the time – how important our chemistry and our culture is. We’ve got a good one; I wasn’t going to take a chance on losing that. There were a couple of deals that we really questioned if we would lose our culture; what our identity is all about.

Q: So much of the buzzword surrounding this trade deadline was economics and saving money and all that. Did that ever enter in for you guys keeping Raef’s contract?

I mean, it’s a big decision factor for the rest of the league. The lucky thing we have is Mr. Allen. He’s a ‘go for it’ guy; he is willing to go for it. Right now is not the time to go for it. If economics get worse, that might be better for us.

Q: Are you surprised at the general inactivity across the league with this so much talk before the deadline?

Pritchard: What’s interesting is – not a lot of deals that I can tell, now maybe more come out that I’m not aware of – but what I can tell you is there was a ton of talking. This yea, it was active as can be. It was active for guys to get off contracts. Everybody wanted off contracts, so. And other than that, I don’t want to get into any specific of the deals.

Are you surprised there wasn’t more demand for Raef’s contract? Or was there a lot of interest in it?

Pritchard: I think there was a fair amount of demand on Raef’s contract. Nothing that we didn’t have to give up on something we believe in. And again, I want to reiterate this. This is the biggest point: We have a great culture with great kids and why tinker with it right now? I believe the big moves should be made in the offseason. Because when you make moves in the season, you add an element of risk that you can’t quantify.

Q: You look exhausted. Did you leave it all on the court in the last couple of days?

Pritchard: We all go after it as hard as we possibly can. Tom Penn Chad Buchanan, Mike Born. Nate and I were on the phone constantly. I betcha I had a 1,000 emails back and forth with Paul Allen n the last week. I think that’s our strength: that we really communicate well. We don’t agree on everything. We disagree on some things, but in the end, we felt this was the best thing.

Q: Over the summer and leading up to this trade deadline Nate has, I don’t want to say demanded, but has talked about wanting experience on this roster. Is that a shortfall of not making a deal here?

Pritchard: Could be, and I’ll take that responsibility of not adding that, if you want to call it, that veteran. But we felt like the big thing for us was, we have this group of guys that are growing together, and if I thought it was absolutely necessary to have that pure vet, then we probably would have gone and tried to get it. I think this team can grow up without that. I’ll take that responsibility of not bringing on a vet.

Download the podcast (4.5 MB)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Video: Frye, Roy, Przybilla Postgame

In this edition of postgame video, Channing Frye talks about getting playing time, Brandon Roy discusses Steve Blake's return and Joel Przybilla waxes philosophical about the first game back from All-Star break.

Podcast: Nate McMillan from shootaround

Sparse group of media today at shootaround considering tonight's opponent and the impending trade deadline. Jason Quick, Laura Green and yours truly were the only attendees today in Tualatin, not that I'm complaining. Just not what I expected.

Anywho, there were a few bits of information to come out of shootaround. As expected Steve Blake will play tonight, and he will be the starter. Sergio Rodriguez will be the first point guard off the bench, with Bayless picking up spot minutes when those become available.

As also expected, Joel Przybilla will assume the starting center position in place of the injured Greg Oden. Channing Frye slides in as backup center and power forward.

Coach McMillan has nothing to say of any trade rumors, other than he hasn't been asked to sit anyone for tonight's game. "Not yet," McMillan said with a smile. Take that as you will.

After shootaround, McMillan talked privately with Travis Outlaw for a few minutes. McMillan wouldn't divulge the specifics of the conversation, but he did have this to say of Outlaw:

"We’re going to need him. He’s had a good first half. We’re going to need him even more in the second half to continue to score, but defend, rebound and block some shots. I expect him to, as he’s done throughout this season, most likely be in the game finishing the game. He can do it. It’s not anything he can’t do. He’s done it, but we’re going to need it even more so."

McMillan said he planed on sitting with all of his players before the end of the week to discuss what is expected of them over these final 30 games of the regular season.

That's the recap of most of what McMillan said, but if you'd like to hear it with your own ears, here it is.

Download the podcast (4.5 MB)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Brandon Roy: The Ever-Steady All-Star

There's usually not a whole lot you can take away from a players performance in an all-star game. You're playing with guys who you've "practiced" with only once or twice, so it's not as though you can run plays outside of the standard screen and roll variety. Most coaches want to make sure everybody gets minutes, so it can be tough to find a rhythm. Playing out of position is often required due to roster constraints, adding farther difficulty. And it's by and large a spectacle for the fans, so attempts at highlights supplant attempts at high-percentage shots. There's a reason why scouts don't show up to these games.

So while you usually can't judge a book by its All-Star performance, there is something you can glean from Brandon Roy's night in Phoenix: He plays the same way -- the right way -- all the time. He's simply not capable of anything less.

Check out his box score. A game-high 31 minutes (thanks a lot Phil! see you next Monday), 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, five rebounds, five assists. That line just screams Brandon Roy. Typically efficient and yeoman; the kind of performance we've come to expect night in, night out from Brandon.

(By the way, Roy logged a team-high 28 minutes last season, making this the second-consecutive year he's lead the West squad in minutes. Either coaches are really trying to soak up the wonder that is coaching Brandon Roy, or they're intent on tiring him out. Then again, maybe it's because ... he always plays the right way.)

And then there are the basketball instincts; the things he does that don't result in a tally on the official box score. Closing out on shooters, boxing out, the pass that sets up the assist, following through on the jumper, pulling back on the fastbreak when the defense has numbers. Some guys seem to turn these skills off during all-star games, maybe with the somewhat noble intention of making the run more enjoyable for those in attendance. But B.Roy just can't do it. It's antithetical to everything that he is as a man and a basketball player.

That's not to say that he can't preen to the crowd just a bit though. Roy said he promised his family he would try to get a few dunks this time around; a promise he kept to the tune of three four jams. But he didn't force anything. Rather, he simply completed three very high-percentage shots. After all, finishing strong at the rim is an instinct, too.

After the game, Roy said he's "not really an all-star type of guy." But in reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.

All-Star Is For Familes, Sort Of

Walking down the main strip outside the US Airways Arena, many of the conceptions the public may have regarding the All-Star Weekend atmosphere are unfortunately validated. Hordes of people push and shove their way through the sidewalks. Police, usually in groups of three, man nearly every street corner keeping a watchful eye. Scalpers are relentless. Evangelists go about trying to save souls with bullhorns. Street-level party promoters try to convince you to attend their functions with promises that all the biggest stars in the NBA will be there. And that's just during the day time.

At night it's worse. Music played at the level sufficient to wake the dead blares out of every club, which is probably the least objectionable facet of the scene. The scantily-clad and overly-cologned overflow into the streets doing all the foolish things you would expect of those who choose to frequent establishments with lines wrapping around the block. Cops on the street seemingly triple from their daytime numbers. And on it goes for four days.

But the ironic thing is that while many of the fans who come to All-Star Weekend do so to cut loose, many of the All-Stars themselves opt to spend the time with their families. Off time during the NBA season is scarce, so when guys like Brandon Roy get a few days away from the court, they fly in kin rather than groupies.

"I think most guys bring their families," said Roy. "My family is here this year. They were here with me last year. They’ll probably be here with me every year, if I make it."

This year, All-Star Saturday also happened to be Valentine's Day, and from what I saw out and about after the festivities, plenty of people took the opportunity to look for love in what most would consider to be all the wrong places.

But not B.Roy.

“I get to spend Valentine’s Day with my fiancĂ© and my mom," said Roy. "Both my special ladies."

And to hear Roy tell it, he's not alone when it comes to All-Stars who prefer to play it low key on the party scene. No one should be so naive to think that every player is spending the weekend catching up with family, but there's definitely a contingent that plays it cool.

"I talked to Kobe and he said him and his wife stayed up all night playing poker," said Roy. "Chris Paul and his fiancĂ© were just hanging out. She’s expecting a baby. All the guys I talked to, Chauncey (Billups), everybody is with their family. I don’t think people really know that. We get a break, and you want to spend it with your loved ones."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Give it up for Rudy

I have to admit that, after watching Rudy's demeanor during dunk practice today, I was nervous. Nervous that Rudy was nervous. Nervous that Rudy was going to get embarrassed by some of the most athletic guys in the NBA, and maybe even the world.

But as anyone who watched the dunk contest knows, that wasn't the case. Rudy threw down the most inventive and technically difficult dunks of the night.

Sporting a vintage Fernando Martin jersey, Rudy threw the ball behind his back off the backboard, finished with the slam while drifting away from the basket. You ever seen that before, because I haven't. I've seen guys dunk over tall guys. I've seen guys double-pump. I've even seen guys jump really high and from in front of the free throw line to dunk, but I've never seen someone go behind the back off the backboard for a dunk.

And it wasn't just the dunk; it was the effortless with which Rudy executed it. First try. Seemed like nothing. Does that take away from it for some people, specifically the judges? If anything, he should be rewarded for making it look so easy. And this is from a guy who has played in three games over the last four days.

The second dunk was equally ridiculous. Last year, Dwight Howard did a version of that dunk, but he threw the ball himself and with no angle. Much easier. I don't recall what score he got for that dunk, but I'm guessing it was higher than the 42 Rudy was given. He was probably penalized by the judges for the number of attempts it took to get it right, but it didn't take any more time than driving in a forklift or hanging out in a cardboard box.

If Pau puts that pass on the money the first time, does Rudy make the second round? I guess we'll never know.

The dunk contest is alive and well, which is the good thing, but it's only going to stay that way if guys keeping bringing it fresh every year. The same plays pulling the same props win every time, then we're going to the point where, once again, nobody cares about the event. That doesn't serve anybody.

Just about every member I talked to after the game thought Rudy should have made the second round, but what do we know? Heck, none of us even played for the Suns a decade ago.

As far as the TNT announcers go, I'm reminded of the famous Mark Twain quote: It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

To his credit, Rudy didn't complain a bit about the judging (at least in English; no promises about what he said in his native tongue.) More than anything, I think he was relieved he was done. And I think he probably surprised himself a bit too.

As for the dunks gone undunked, Rudy said afterward he was going to pull the much anticipated rainbow kick dunk if he made the second round, but unfortunately the world was robbed of that opportunity. Maybe Rudy will give it a go when we get back to Portland.

So lets here it Trail Blazers fans. What did you think of Rudy's performance? Surprised? Underwhelmed? Excited for a possible return next season? Speaking for myself, I couldn't be prouder of the guy. Way to go Rudy, you're a winner in my book.

EDIT: I've noticed that people have been asking about the rules regarding the time limit. Here is the official rules regarding time limits and final attempts.
TIME LIMIT - Upon receiving the ball from the referee, players will have 2:00 time limit to complete their dunk. Attempts resulting in missed dunks are unlimited during the 2:00 time period. However, once a made dunk is ruled by the referee, that dunk will be scored. There is no replacing a made dunk, even if time remains.

FINAL ATTEMPTS - If a player has not begun an attempt that results in a made dunk when the 2:00 clock expires, he will have two final attempts to do so. An attempt is defined as the ball leaving the player's (or his teammate's) hand in an effort to complete the dunk (in any motion other than dribbling). The referee is the final judge and will advise the dunker when they have used an attempt.
I think that vindicates Rudy's second dunk, as it came on the second attempt after time expired, but I could be wrong.

Rudy Honors Fellow Spaniard

You no doubt have noticed that Rudy is wearing something a little different tonight. I'm not talking about the all red shoes (though those are nice), but another piece of apparel. Rudy is wearing the No. 10 jersey of Fernando Martin, the first Spaniard to play in the NBA. 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.

Tragically, Martin died in a car crash on Dec. 3, 1989 at the age of 27.

Martin was enshrined in the FIBA Hall of Fame in the inaugural class on March 1, 2007

Enrique Garcia, a fan of Fernandez living in Spain, suggested the idea and Rudy thought it was a great way to honor Martin as the 20th anniversary of his death approaches.

Predunk: Practice and Shoes

A few updates from Slam Dunk Contest "Media Mix Zone" (read: the area where players are forced to suffer we question-askers).

• Dwight Howard succeeded in kicking all media out of the practice area for about 3 minutes before everyone figured out that he had no authority to do so. Members of the media are usually pretty surly when it comes to being told what to do, but everyone pretty much followed Howard's command until someone (cough, me, cough) complained to one of the PR folks.

• Rudy will be dunking second. Howard, Robinson and Smith initially decided that Rudy would have to go first, seeing as how it's his first dunk contest, but then one of the TV guys stepped in and said they didn't have a choice in the manner. Howard is supposed to dunk first, but he was complaining up a storm about being the the starter, so we'll see if he ends up going first.

• Howard and Nate Robinson were throwing down some ridiculous dunks that had Rudy (and yours truly) shaking his head. I think our man is a little intimidated.

• More arguing. Howard was trying to argue that throwing the ball through the hoop, regardless of whether or not your hand actually touches the rim, is a dunk (natch). Nate Rob and JR Smith were having none of it.

Taking a page out of Ben Golliver's playbook, I present to you the shoes of all four dunk participants.

First, our boy Rudy, wearing his standard Nike's in an all red version:

Dwight Howard. Photo is blurry, so you can't really make out the Superman logo on the back, but trust me, it's there:

Nate Robinson in orange Nike's:

JR Smith in gray Nike's:

The Dunk And The Rudy

The Slam Dunk Contest is still about four hours away, and after spending some time with Rudy Fernandez this afternoon, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that he's probably napping in anticipation of the tonight's main event.

The combination of playing Wednesday against the Thunder, Thursday against the Warriors and Friday against the Sophomores along with All-Star appearances, events, media availabilities and catching up with friends has taken a bit of a toll on the lankier half of the Spanish Armada. Hopefully he's able to get in some solid sack time before Dunk Contest, because the dude looked beat when we parted ways a few hours ago.

And he's going to need his strength if he's going to win this thing. Dwight Howard is a force of nature, Nate Robinson has maybe the highest vert-to-stature ratio in the world and JR Smith is a underrated athlete in his own right. And as far as fatigue goes, I don't think I'm going out on a limb in saying that none of the three have had to keep the schedule Rudy has over the past four days. Think they or the judges will be sympathetic? Me either.

I think the conventional wisdom is that Rudy is the longshot to come away with the title, but his opponents ain't buying that notion.

"I never really seen him dunk," said Smith, "but I talk to his teammates all the time and they tell me he’s a crazy athlete, so I can’t wait to see him."

Smith may not be familiar with Rudy's dunks, but Robinson has seen Rudy enough to know the Spaniard is no slouch when it comes to throwing down.

"I can’t wait to see what he got because he gets a lot of dunks and he’s a foreigner," said Robinson. "It’s going to be awesome to see what he brings to the table."

One of the skills that Rudy brings as a dunker is his ability to finish alley-oops, which, according to Robinson, gives Fernandez an edge in the contest.

"You jump higher without the ball, believe it or not," explains Nate Rob. "If somebody has to throw him a lob every time, he has an advantage because you can jump higher without the ball and do more things."

Robinson's plan to win? Copycat whatever his opponents do. The diminutive Knick claims he's not going to do any of his own dunks, opting instead to mimic whatever jams Howard, Smith and Fernandez bust out. Not a terrible plan, but I have my doubts that Nate can flip a ball over his head with his feet, something many think Rudy is going to attempt.

"I’ll try," said Robinson. "I’ll have him kick the ball for me, then I'll go dunk it."

Video: Fellow All-Stars Talk Roy

All of the videos from All-Star Weekend are over on our All-Star Central page, but I wanted to put this video of Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Phil Jackson and other 2009 All-Stars giving their opinions of Brandon Roy in the blog because ... well because I like it. Enjoy.

Rudy's main man Marc

Rudy Fernandez and Marc Gasol have been running with each other for a long time. Born just a little over three months apart, Fernandez and Gasol have been playing with or against each other for much of their lives. Safe to say, the "little" Gasol is more than familiar with Rudy's game.

So he might be one of the foremost authorities on the differences between Rudy the Trail Blazer and Rudy the Spanish National Team stalwart.

"Of course it’s different," says Gasol. "It’s not the same basketball; it’s not the same style. The national team we would probably go through more through him than they do now on the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s normal. He adjusted very good to that. He understood what he needs to do to be successful on that team. And he’s a great player."

As great of a player as Rudy is, Marc has a few bragging rights on his friend from Mallorca. Gasol has won an ACB MVP; Rudy hasn't. He's won an ACB championship; Rudy hasn't. So maybe Gasol has some sympathy for his friend when asked for embarrassing stories.

"I don't have any stories about Rudy," says Gasol with a sheepish grin. "And if I did, I couldn't tell you."

And as far as advice for the dunk contest, Marc is staying mum.

"I’m not a dunker," says Gasol, "so I’m not the best guy to ask"

And the rumor that his brother Pau is going to assist in Rudy's dunks?

"I don’t know. We’ll see. That’s a secret right?"

Not for long.

(Check out tons of video and podcasts from Phoenix on All-Star Central)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oden to miss Rookie/Sophomore game with sore knee

Doesn't sound like it's serious, but as a precaution, Greg Oden is not going to play in tonight's Rookie/Sophomore game due to a sore knee. From the press release
Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden (sore left knee) will miss the 2009 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam. Oden bumped knees with Golden State’s Corey Maggette during the fourth quarter of Portland’s 105-98 loss to the Warriors on Feb. 12. Oden is listed as day-to-day.
GO looked like he was feeling a bit of pain after the hit last night and he had the slight notice of a limp today at practice, so it's probably best that he sit this one out.

Bummer for the bigman though. I know he was looking forward to getting out there and putting on a show.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Greetings From All-Star Weekend

I know Coach McMillan is doing everything within his power to keep the Trail Blazers focused before the All-Star break, but I don't exactly fall under his purview, so I can go ahead and welcome you to Phoenix, electronically at least.

The Trail Blazers still have to deal with the Warriors tonight at Oracle Arena (7 p.m. tip on Comcast SportsNet Channel 37), but I, along with PR superstud Collin Romer, are already down in the desert preparing for the All-Star festivities to begin. So as far as coverage of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez in Phoenix goes, and this here Center Court Blog is going to be your destination for all the video, podcasts, live and not-so-live updates from US Airways Arena and beyond.

We'll also try to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the hype machine that is All-Star Weekend. Rookie/Sophomore, dunk contest, the big game on Sunday, community service projects, random interactions with the glitterati of the NBA, and so on and so forth. We'll be bringing it the best we can.

So after the throw down with the Warriors tonight, turn your full attention to All-Star for the rest of the weekend.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Video: Roy, Bayless, Outlaw Postgame

Nice to come back and get this one after the thumping the Thunder administered in Oklahoma City. Nate McMillan got great production from just about everyone who played significant minutes, which is a pleasant change from some of the recent goings ons. Now it's onto Oakland before All-Star break.

But before heading out to the Bay Area, check out what Brandon Roy, Jerryd Bayless and Travis Outlaw had to say after defeating the Thunder.

02.11.09 Edition of the Podcast

This week is all about the rumor mill. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of offer up this week's installment of the podcast. Holler!

In honor of the approaching trade deadline we run down most of the players the Trail Blazers have rumored (or just plain fabricated) interest in. Gavin, Dave and I give the thumbs up, thumbs down treatment to the likes of ... well, you'll just have to listen to find out. It's thoughtful.

Download the podcast (32 MB)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Video: McMillan, Aldridge Roy Postgame

I have to agree with Ben that the locker room last night was a bit subdued for a last-second victory, but a game like that tends to take it out of you. Not to mention that for as hard as the recent road trip was to watch, it's infinitely tougher to stomach when you're the guy out on the court. So no surprise that that everyone was a bit reticent.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Audio: Nate McMillan Pregame

We're only about 15 minutes from tipoff, but that's just enough time to listen to Nate McMillan's pregame comments to the media. Might be a good chance to brush up before today's matinee with the Knicks.

Download the podcast (13 MB)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

02.05.09 Edition of the Podcast

Another loss to the Mavericks in Dallas, but there's still a podcast in Portland that wins no matter how well Brandon Bass plays. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of provide for your listening pleasure this week's edition of the podcast. Drink it up!

This week we discuss the loss to the Mavericks, the importance of taking advantage of the upcoming schedule, whether the team is considering trades with the 2009 playoffs in mind, Travis Outlaw's stellar two weeks, Gavin's love for jersey's and my mentorship program. Learn you will.

Download the podcast (40 MB)

Questionable: Down In Big D

It would be nice to get a win in Dallas one of these days, but last night didn't seem like the ideal opportunity. And it wasn't. After stealing a win in New Orleans on Monday, pulling another heist in Dallas wouldn't really be fair. So we've got to wait until March 11 to get another crack at the Mavs, and with as well as Dallas seems to play the Blazers, I'd imagine no one is in a hurry for that date to come.

Onto the questions.

• Is there anything more annoying than winning three of four quarters and still coming away with a loss? If the Blazers make more than eight buckets in the second quarter, this game really goes down to the wire. Lay a 16-spot and go into the half down 12 and you put yourself in a very difficult position on the road.

By the way, it took Portland three minutes to get their first bucket in the second quarter. Brutal.

• Why is it that Brandon Bass plays like a Hall of Famer every time the Red and Black line up opposite? He scored 19 last night on 9-of-11 shooting, which is a very nice game from a backup power forward. And over the past two season, Bass has shot 27-of-45 against the Blazers, which comes to a blistering 60% field goal percentage. Maybe KP should consider signing Bass just to keep him from torching us four times a year.

• Did the NBA change the "clear path" foul rule without notifying me? Sergio Rodriguez's clear path foul on Jason Terry would lead me to believe that rule had in fact been tinkered with, because it looks like Serg was running nearly stride for stride with Terry before making a play for the ball.

• And can you make any contact with a player during inbounds plays in the fourth quarter? It didn't seem that way last night.

• Anyone else notice that Travis Outlaw tied for the team high in assists last night with four? That's a nice stat for Trav, but a terrible stat for the rest of the team.

• Finally, is there a hole in the ozone layer above Dallas? During last night's broadcast, Mike Barrett looked like he got about 6 months worth of sun in one day. Looking crazy bronzed for an Oregonian in mid-February.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Learn The Game: UCLA Cut

Trail Blazers fans are already some of the most knowledgeable in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. To that end, we will periodically submit what we hope will be informative post regarding some of the terminology used in the NBA. And to make sure the information we’re giving you is of expert quality, we’ve enlisted the assistance of Chad Buchanan, Trail Blazers Director of College Scouting, to help with the explanations.

First up: the UCLA cut

A basic screen and cut that just about every team in the NBA runs, the UCLA cut was popularized by legendary coach John Wooden as a part of his high post offense. It’s sometimes used as a verb by coaches, as in telling a player to “UCLA.”

“Every NBA team will have some kind of action where they involve a UCLA cut,” says Buchanan. “A lot of college teams will use it as well. International teams do it. A very simple cut that most teams will run.

“A lot of this will initiate some offense for teams,” says Buchanan. “Basically you’re going to put a post player at the elbow. You’ve got wing on the perimeter. Your point guard enters the ball above the key. Your other post can be in the block or wherever. With the UCLA cut, you’re going to enter the ball to the wing and the point guard is going to cut off an elbow screen right to the block (see above). It’s real simple.”

The perfectly run UCLA cut can result in an easy shot or layup for the guard who cut off the high post screen.

“The point cuts right off the postman’s screen, usually going right to the ball side block,” says Buchanan. “Sometimes the wing will throw it to the cutter. The Jazz did that with John Stockton all the time. He would cut off the screen and boom, they’d throw it to him and he’d get a quick little layup.”

But that’s not necessarily the only way teams use the UCLA cut. Since every coach in the NBA is familiar with the maneuver, the UCLA cut is often used to set up some other kind of offensive action not specific to the guard taking a shot near the rim.

“Lots of times teams UCLA to set up another screen,” explains Buchanan. “The wing has the ball, now they might throw a block to block screen if you’re the post man, which is hard to defend because you’ve got a little guy screening for a big guy, so you can’t switch it. So the defender guarding the cutter has to fight through the screen.

“There are lots of different things you can do off the UCLA cut, but it’s basically putting your point guard or wing on the ball side block and then you can make some different plays out of it from there.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Questionable: Lucky in NOLA

I've got questions, and I'm hoping you've got the answers. Last night's victory in New Orleans has to be one of the strangest Trail Blazers wins this season, making it a perfect game to go down the list questions I had postgame. Leave your answers in the comments section, and I'll send the best reply an new extra-large BlazersManiac t-shirt that has been sitting in my office for a few months. Here goes ...

• Have you ever seen a healthy Brandon Roy look so ... un-Roy like? Last night's game is much closer pre-Chris Paul's groin pull if Brandon turns in even an average Roy performance.

• And while on the subject of Chris Paul's groin, what percentage would you attribute his injury resulting in the Trail Blazers comeback? 90 percent injury, 10 percent Trail Blazers effort? 75/25? 50/50?

• One more Paul question. The Hornets had 22 made field goals in the first half of last night's game, with 12 of those makes resulting in a Chris Paul assist. He also had three makes in the first half, which means that Paul had 12 assists in the first half on 19 Hornets field goals (translation: Paul can't assist on his own makes). Impressive. But here's the question: What percentage of those are legitimate, by the rule book assists? Myself and Communications Intern Aaron looked at Paul's assists numbers at home, where he's got a friendly stat crew counting dimes, versus his assist numbers on the road. Observe:

Paul's assist average at home: 11.6 per game
Paul's assist average on the road: 10.2 per game
Hornets made field goals average at home: 34.7 per game
Hornets made field goals average on the road: 35.3 per game

So basically, Paul averages more assists at home despite his team making more field goals on the road. The numbers are hardly damning, but still a bit curious.

And by the way, let me state categorically that I believe Chris Paul to be the best point guard in the game, by a rather large margin. So hold off on the hatemail CP3 fan-clubbers.

• Can Jerryd Bayless really go back to playing sporadic minutes when Steve Blake returns from injury? The combination of his ability to get to the bucket and the way he seems to light a fire under the collective butts of the rest of the team could lead one to believe that Coach McMillan is going to have to find a way to get him consistent minutes, even when Blake comes back.

• And how many more "coming out parties" can Bayless have? My understanding of the phrase is that a coming out party, by definition, can only happen once. After that, you're already out. But by my count, I've heard either Mike Barrett, Mike Rice or Michael Holton make that proclamation on three separate occasions. They could be making that statement during home games as well, but I see all of those in person.

• Why doesn't Julian Wright play anymore? He started a few games while David West was out with a bad back, but he's also logged 21 DNP's already this season. I didn't think he was injured, and I could have swore the Hornets were high on him last season, so what's the deal? I mean, Sean Marks played 12 minutes last night, while Wright stayed firmly planted to the bench for all 48. Is he in the doghouse?

• Is Travis Outlaw getting to the point where you can't even consider trading him? With Martell Webster out until ... whenever and with Nic Batum still finding his offense in the NBA, is there any way the Trail Blazers get by without Trav's ability to make huge buckets late in games?

• The Hornets were -27 with Antonio Daniels on the floor last night. I can't really think up a question to go with that, but boy-howdy is that bad.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Trail Blazers 97, Hornets 89: A Lesson In Faith

Sometime around the middle of the third quarter, my girlfriend called to let me know she would be home a little later than expected. Toward the end of the conversation she asked me how the Trail Blazers were doing down in New Orleans.

My reply: "There's no way we're going to win this game."

Shows what I know.

When Chris Paul left the game with a strained groin, I thought we might be able to make the final score respectable. And when Jerryd Bayless scored 13 of his 19 points in a crucial seven minute stretch, I thought we might get find a way to have at least a chance at a W late in the game. But Bayless was called for a truly laughable offensive foul with the game tied at 81-81, and I figured that if that was the way it was going to be, a Trail Blazers victory was again out of the question.

Turns out my paranoia was unwarranted. Bayless and Travis Outlaw kept making timely buckets and Joel Przybilla played smothering defense on David West on the way to a 97-89 victory. Hello fourth-best record in the Western Conference.

People are going to point to Paul leaving with injury and say that's the reason why Portland escaped with a win. And those people aren't necessarily wrong, but the Blazers got next to nothing offensively from four fifths of the starting lineup (and even though LaMarcus Aldridge ended with 22 points, he did so on 9-of-21 shooting) and still managed to comes away with a win. A road win. Their first road win against the Hornets in the last seven attempts. Their first road win against a team Western Conference team with a winning record, in the fifth largest lead lost in Hornets franchise history. So enjoy. And keep believing.