Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stakes Are High, Anxiety Isn't

For the Trail Blazers, every game is the biggest game of their season here on out. That might be nerve-racking for some, but for Brandon Roy, it’s simply a chance to win a playoff road game.

“Just another opportunity to come in here and get a win,” said Roy. “We felt like we came really close the last two times we were in (the Toyota Center), so hopefully this time it is the one we need. Our backs are against the wall, but I think guys are loose and ready to go out there and play hard and hopefully win this game.”

They’ve been close before in Houston, losing the last two games by a combined four points, and you get the feeling from the Trail Blazers that they believe those near-misses have prepared them to finally get over the hump for that first playoff road win.

“We did a great job, I think, in Game 5 of going out and just playing and not thinking about it’s lose or go home,” said Roy. “We just went out there and played and were able to get a big win. Hopefully we can take that same approach into (Thursday) night’s game.”

That approach has been to play loose, stay close and give yourself a chance to win at the end of the game. It’s a plan that has almost worked in the last two games at the Toyota Center, but Portland will need a little something extra tonight to send the series back to Portland for a decisive Game 7.

One factor that might help the Trail Blazers as the series drags on is something most view as a detriment in the playoffs: youth.

“Guys just don’t really believe when we’re down that we’re really out,” said Roy. “So I think our youth helps. We have a lot of guys who are young and active. I think when other teams are maybe getting a little tired, we’ve got good legs.”

It’s yet to be seen whether Portland’s youth, Houston’s home court advantage or something else all together will win the day, but whatever it is, it won’t come as a surprise.

We know what to expect coming in here,” said Roy. “It’s going to be a lot of energy. They want to come out and play well. It’s a big opportunity for them. We know what to expect, we’re just ready to go out there and kind of get this game started and let’s see where the chips fall.”

McMillan Can Coach, Can't Read Minds

Nate McMillan has been asked by the media to play psychiatrist throughout Portland’s first round series. Time and time again, McMillan is asked to gauge the mental state of his team through queries like …

“What’s the team’s mood like today?”

“Is the team loose?”

“How is the team recovering mentally from last night’s loss?”

Understandable questions. People want to know the minds of players, and it’s up to the media to try and ascertain those answers. But McMillan said he has long since given up trying to read the look of his players. He says he used to try, but he eventually gave it up after numerous occasions where the team would get run off the court after he thought they looked “loose.”

Same goes for the opposite. At times, McMillan would think his players looked nervous, uptight. Then hours later, they’d come out and play a great game. So coach decided to give up trying to shrink heads.

But the questions still come, and McMillan gives the same answer.

“I don’t even get into what they look like tonight or tomorrow,” said McMillan. “It’s just preparation for the game. I thought we looked OK the other night before playing (Tuesday’s) game. So it’s not what they look like (Wednesday); it’s what they do (Thursday).”

Artest's Rankings Change Daily

Ron Artest made quite a stir yesterday when, during an interview with Craig Sager, he noted Brandon Roy was “probably the best player I’ve played against.” Sager, not surprisingly, followed up immediately asking if Artest did indeed think Roy was better than NBA golden boys LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, to which Artest restated that Roy was “the best player I’ve played against.”

But less than 24 hours later, Artest isn’t so sure. Confronted by the media today after Rockets shootaround, Artest declared another player the best in the NBA: himself.

“I don’t know,” said Artest of whether Roy is the best player in the game. “That was yesterday; this is a new day. And I feel I’m the best, so it’s a new day.”

Ron-Ron was having a little fun at this point, so it’s difficult to conclude whether he really believes he’s the best player in the NBA. In fact, it’s difficult to conclude what Artest was saying, period.

“(Roy) is a good player,” said Artest, “he might be better (than Bryant and James). I don’t know. I don’t know how to judge those things, you know? It’s not like everybody was taking off their teams for the year and all the role players had to play to show what they got so we don’t know who's as important to their team. But, you know, it’s no secret that he’s a good player.”

It’s probably not wise to attempt to deconstruct the mind of Ron Artest, but I think he’s saying that it’s hard to tell who the “best player” is due to each players supporting cast. So in Artest’s mind, maybe it’s Roy. Or maybe it’s Kobe or LeBron. Or it could be Artest. No one knows entirely what Artest thinks, including Artest himself.

Finally, when asked if he could envision how good Roy will be in the future, Artest again turned the conversation back to … himself.

“Not yet, not yet” answered Artest. “I’m trying to envision how good I can be.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thrilla Night

It seems almost rude to single out any one player for praise in a game featuring great all-around team play. There was LaMarcus Aldridge canning jumpers and improving his defense in the second half on Luis Scola. And Brandon Roy battling influenza-like symptoms to provide stability in the fourth quarter. And of course their was Rudy Fernandez, who, despite scoring just seven points, kept Shane Battier busy running all over the court.

All of those performances are worthy of kudos, but for me, this game was all about Joel Pzybilla. Przy's stat line in Game 5 isn't going to wow anyone, but he played an integral role in winning what will hopefully be the first of three elimination games.

Consider that Przybilla finished each of the previous games in the series with no fewer than four fouls. Tuesday night, just two, none of which came against Yao Ming. He had two steals, as many as he had in the first four games combined. But the big number was four, as in a career-high, not to mention team-high, four assists for Przybilla. That's the equivalant of Rudy getting 10 blocks in a game. And it's probably not worth noting considering the minuscule sample size, but while we're showing the big man some love, might as well note that the Blazers are 2-0 in the series with Przybilla gets more than one dime.

But maybe the most important number is 33, as in the number of minutes Joel was able to play tonight. He stayed out of foul trouble, held Yao in check (with a huge hand from Greg Oden), was a major factor in holding the Rockets to just three offensive rebounds, set solid screens that drove Battier to frustration and generally provided the rugged play that we've come to expect from the Thrilla'.

Przybilla has often looked tired postgame during this series. A night of throwing your body against Yao will do that, but after Game 5, Przybilla looked refreshed. He looked like a guy who was ready to go again. In fact, it was Przybilla's son Anthony who seemed ready to doze off in the locker room postgame, not that his dad would let him.

"You're not tired are you?" said Przybilla to his heavy-eyed offspring. "The fun is just starting."

You can say that again.

Outlaw And An Imperfect Game

If you’ve seen Travis Outlaw play over the course of the last two seasons, you know he’s never afraid to take the big shot, or any shot for that matter. And in his opinion, there are very few attempts that he would consider a “bad shot.”

“Not be bragging on myself,” says Outlaw in a slightly joking tone, “but I feel like a guy is with me until I jump. Don’t get me wrong, I done got my shot blocked a couple of times, but when I’m really going hard and I’m elevating, I don’t feel like I got a bad shot, you know what I’m saying? As long as I can see the rim.”

But it hasn’t always been that way for Outlaw. There was a time when he would shy away from taking the shot in pressure situations, but oddly enough, a miss in one of those situations would end up changing his approach to game-winners.

“That Phoenix game when I missed that layup, the game winning layup, it hurt me kind of bad,” said Outlaw of layin he missed back on Feb. 27, 2007. “It was kind of like, ‘Damn, you missed a layup?’ Ever since then, I ain’t never been afraid to take it because I always feel like I need to make up for that loss.”

That failure, which still motivates Outlaw to this day, is the reason why he was willing to take, and miss, the potential game-tying shot versus the Rockets in Game 4 when others might have passed to someone else. It might not have been the best shot and it certainly opened Outlaw up for a fair amount of criticism, but that’s a part of who he is as a player. As Brandon Roy says, that’s just Trav being Trav.

“I kind of learned that it’s hip-hip hooray when you hit a shot,” said Outlaw. “And then some shots people say we could have got something better. It’s never going to be perfect.”

“We play an imperfect game. If I would have hit the three it would have been the perfect shot, the perfect play. If went in, they don’t care how it looked. That’s kind of how I look at things.”

Outlaw’s willingness to take those shots is probably the reason he’s one of the most polarizing players on the team. Some fans love his fearlessness in big game situations, while others hate what they perceive as poor decision-making or low basketball IQ.

But Outlaw isn’t going to change. He’s going to keep taking big shots because he’s not afraid of putting his name out on the line for praise or scorn.

“If you’re going to do something, you’ve got to do it hard,” said Outlaw. “There’s no easy way out on it. You can’t shortcut nothing. You’ve just got to go out there, play hard, go hard, and if you mess up, mess up going hard.”

04.28.09 Podcast

Tonight's game against the Rockets at the Rose Garden is the biggest of the season. Maybe the biggest in the past five seasons. And this podcast is befitting that occasion. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of form meet up in person in the basement studios of the RG for what hopefully won't be the last game-related podcast of the season.

No reason to recap what we go over in this week's edition. It's all playoffs. Period. Listen for yourselves.

Download the podcast (48 MB)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Leadership Via Fist Bumps

Throughout the course of the season, Travis Outlaw and I have developed somewhat of a postgame routine. After I get done bouncing from locker to locker collecting video or audio from various players and coaches, I stand in front of Travis’ stall with a copy of the final box score as he asks me questions about his statistics or those of the player he spent the bulk of the night guarding.

“How many rebounds I get?”

“What percentage did I shoot from three?”

“They give that steal to me or LA?”

Usually I’ll make Travis guess first before telling him the answer. Then, depending on his satisfaction with the answer, he’ll explain why he had a hard go of it or boast a little about his accomplishment. I usually follow up with a question or two on how he felt about his performance, then I leave him alone so he can get dressed and be on his way and so I can go about completing my postgame responsibilities.

We started this little back and forth sporadically, but as the season went on, Travis made a habit of calling me over to his locker for our one-on-one recap of the night’s events. So now I make sure to carry around the final box until I have a chance to give sit with Trav and discuss the details. It’s become one of my favorite routines on game nights, right up there with my nightly cup of fresh fruit in the commissary.

These discussions usually take place after games at the Rose Garden due to the fact that I only travel with the team on occasion. Luckily for me, making the playoffs is one of those occasions.

So after last Friday night’s loss, I stood in front of Travis’ stall, sandwiched in the visiting locker room of the Toyota Center between various members of the media, waiting with box score in hand. And sure enough, Travis had a question.

“How many points did Artest score?” asked Outlaw.

I was pretty sure I knew what the answer was without looking at the box, but I decided to do a quick check anyway, just to be certain.

As I was scanning the sheet for the answer to Travis’ question, Brandon Roy, whose locker is next to Outlaw’s on the road, walked over to his stall fresh from the showers. Brandon had heard Travis’ question, and he already knew the answer.

“Nine,” said Roy. “Ron had nine.”

As Roy told Outlaw the news, he put out his hand for a fist bump. The Trail Blazers had lost and Outlaw hadn’t had a good night offensively, but Roy was there to offer his congratulations nonetheless.

I asked Brandon the next day who gave Travis that fist bump: Brandon Roy the friend or Brandon Roy the team leader?

“Both,” said Roy. “Travis, I felt, did a great job. Everybody is concerned with his scoring, but I was proud that he didn’t let that affect his defense. And I had to let him know that. Sometimes that stuff gets lost in what’s going on, but I thought Travis did a great job of stopping Ron Artest. Even though he wasn’t able to play all that well offensively, he did a great job defensively.”

It struck me that Roy could sense Outlaw needed some support. It’s been a hard series for Travis, something he readily admits, and Brandon is smart enough to know that and to know that the team needs Outlaw playing well to have a chance of winning the series. And what’s more, he’s intuitive enough to recognize when someone, be it a friend or a teammate or both, needs some words of encouragement.

Travis has been asking a lot more about his defensive lately. I give him my honest opinion, but sometimes I really don’t know, as I tend to look at the game as a whole rather than the sum of individual parts. But people smarter than I, guys like Roy, are better sources of that information anyway.

“I’m proud of him that he’s mature in understanding that just because Travis isn’t playing great offense doesn’t mean he can’t do anything for this team,” said Roy. “I think guarding Ron Artest the way he did helped us stay in the game. Ron wasn’t able to extend that lead like he normally would be able to. I was extremely proud of how he played defensively and I had to let him know. That’s part of being a friend and a teammate.”

It’s also part of being an emerging superstar.

Playoff Basketball: Fact Or Fiction?

It’s said that one of the biggest adjustments for young teams in the postseason has to do with the way the game is officiated. The argument goes that referees allow a more physical style of play once the playoffs start. Let the players decide the game. That's "playoff basketball."

Sounds plausible, but is it really the case?

The numbers are a mixed bag. During the regular season, Portland averaged 20.4 fouls per game as a team, while their opponents averaged 21.1 fouls. But in the first three games of the series, the Trail Blazers are averaging 24.7 fouls per game, a significant jump from the regular season.

And it cuts both ways. The Rockets averaged 18.9 fouls per game in the regular season, but are averaging 21.7 fouls per in the first round series.

But the averages tell a different story when looking at the regular season series between the Trail Blazers and Rockets. In their three previous meetings, the Trail Blazers averaged 24 fouls per game, right in line with their average in the playoffs. Same goes for the Rockets, who averaged 22 fouls a game in the regular season series. Those numbers don’t exactly bear out the notion that the refs let more slide in the playoffs, but at least it doesn’t show they’re blowing the whistle more often.

Numbers can only tell you so much, and in this case, it’s hard to know if the numbers say anything.

Joel Przybilla, however, does have an opinion on the subject, and an informed opinion at that.

“They’re letting some stuff go,” said Przybilla of the officiating in the first three games of the series. “It always seem like the teams that have won are the teams that get away with more stuff. You look at the tape, (from Game 3) and they were just beating us up.”

Not that he’s complaining. According to Przybilla, the officiating isn’t necessarily favoring Houston, just the more aggressive team.

“When we won Game 2 we were very physical with them,” said Przybilla. “They let a lot of stuff go. I’m telling you, it’s a lot more physical. They’re letting a lot more slide. Bigs have been in foul trouble because when we’re playing against Yao, you’re going to get in foul trouble.

“It’s a lot more physical. It could be the fact that they’re a physical team. But they’re letting us get away with a lot more stuff.”

Quick Q&A With KP

I had a chance to talk briefly with General Manager Kevin Pritchard yesterday about the teams performance in the playoffs thus far, what he's learned about the Trail Blazers and what it takes to become an elite player in the NBA.

How satisfied are you with the teams’ performance three games into this series? Is this about what you expected?

KP: One of the big things for us is we’ve got to learn the lesson. Especially early in your development, you’ve got to learn the lesson. What’s the competitive atmosphere? What’s it like playing on the road? How the game elevates, how the officials call the game. It changes. We’ve got to go through that learning process. I think it’s been very valuable so far.

You talked a lot about what the team needs to learn in their first playoff series. But what are you learning about this team?

KP: I think it’s a little too early to tell. I know this: any time this team has had a few games where they haven’t played as well, they always come back. This team has a lot of character. Brandon, LaMarcus, Travis, they’ve always bounced back. I really believe that will be the case for Game 4.

You’ve been around quite a few teams. How does this team compare in regards to their comfort level? They seem pretty loose for a bunch of young guys going through this experience for the first time.

KP: It’s a series. It’s not one game. There’s that delicate balance of heightening your game yet not heightening your anxiety. So it’s that balance that we’ve got to get really good at. I think they’re learning how to do that. That’s very valuable as we go forward. That’s so valuable.

There’s a notion that you can’t be considered a “superstar” in the NBA until you prove yourself in the postseason. Do you prescribe that notion, and if so, do you think Brandon Roy is reaching that status with his play so far?

KP: Yes, and it’s way too early to tell. We’ve played three games. Three games is such a small sample size that you can’t tell yet. Hopefully we’re in a lot more series in the next few years and Brandon and the other guys on the team will be able to step up and show they’re worthy of a new moniker.

What does this team need to do to win this series? What adjustments need to be made?

That’s up to the coaches. I feel like we’ve got the best coaches in the league. So we’ll make the right adjustments.

To hear more of Pritchard's thoughts on the series, listen to his most recent interview on the Jim Rome Show.

Audio From Shootaround

Plenty of focus at shootaround this morning. Players know what they have to do at this point, now it's a matter of making it happen. A win tonight puts the Trail Blazers in a great position going back to Portland.

Here's what Nate McMillan, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge had to say to the media today after shootaround at the Toyota Center.

Download (8.2 MB)

Three Wrongs Don't Make A Technical

I guess I owe Joel Przybilla an apology.

Yesterday after practice, Joel and I were discussing the notion that referees allow more physical play in the playoffs (more on that in a bit) when I mentioned the technical foul he picked up in the first quarter of Game 3. It seemed to me that Joel had been on somewhat of a streak when it comes to technicals.

“I didn’t get a technical in the first two games, did I?” questioned Przybilla.

I respond, “I think you did.”

At this time, Channing Frye takes a seat a few chairs over. Not fully trusting my memory, Przybilla decides to get a second opinion.

“Hey, did I get a technical in either of the first two games at home?” asks Przybilla of his teammate.

“You got a technical in the first game,” says Frye. “You and Artest.”

“Noooo,” says Przybilla, whose Midwest accent seems to become more pronounced as he gets closer in proximity to his home state of Minnesota.

“Yeah you did,” responds Frye.

Przybilla comes back with another “Nooooo.”

“Oh yeah you did,” says Frye more forcefully. “And in the second game you were real pissed. We’re like, ‘Here you go Joel! That’s the Joel I know.’ The second game it was Steve (who picked up a technical). Remember at the beginning?”

At this point, Joel begins questioning his own memory.

“When did I get one in the first game?” asks Przybilla.

“You got one,” says Frye, not really answering the question.


As Channing recalls, Joel picked up a technical after mixing it up with Artest early in the first game.

“I could have swore you got one,” says Frye.

Now PR flack Jim Taylor enters the conversation, with Joel promptly asking him if he remembers whether he picked up a technical in the first game.

“You got double techs, didn’t you?” replies Taylor.

“Thank you!” says Frye.

Joel then explains how that really doesn’t count because, as he puts it, “those cancel out.”

“Yeah,” says Frye, “but it’s still fifteen hundred dollars wasted,” referring to the fine that comes along with picking up a technical in the league.

“It’s a thousand bucks,” says Przybilla incredulously.

“I thought it was fifteen hundred?”

“That’s because you’ve never got a technical,” says Joel with a slight air of superiority.

“I DO get technicals,” jokes Frye. “I’m just not usually out there long enough to get one!”

Mystery solved, though Joel is still skeptical.

“Did I really get one in the first game?” asks Przybilla for a last time. “They all blend in after a while.”

Well as it turns out, Przybilla was right. Despite what Frye, Taylor or I remember, the official box scores for Game 1 and Game 2 show no technical fouls called on Przybilla. It’s hard to believe three people could remember something so vividly that didn’t actually happen, but that was indeed the case. It’s a shame too, because the last thing Przybilla needs is people adding more fouls to his series total. After all, he’s doing a fine job of picking up fouls in real life; he doesn’t need imaginary fouls too.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Trail Blazers Not Letting A Loss Linger

Game Three had all the looks of a blowout. All the signs were there, from the Trail Blazers' inability to score early to the crowd being fired up to the phantom technical on Joel Przybilla. Nothing went Portland's way. Nothing.

But unlike in Game One, the Blazers got their collective act together enough to make a ballgame out of Game Three. It wasn't flawless or pretty, but it worked, at least it almost did. And while there's no going back now, making a run late in the game gave the Blazers something to take moving forward.

"I think what you take from (Game One) is that we didn’t play well and we had a chance to win the game," said Nate McMillan. "What we showed on film today was the things that we didn’t do and things we did. We had some success against this team. So having a shot of winning that game and not feeling that you played well, yeah, you feel the next game you have a shot of winning it."

You could see what McMillan was talking about today on the faces of the players at today's practice. It was nothing like the day after Game One. Rather than being despondent over a missed opportunity, they were optimistic and in good spirits thanks to having made a run in the second half of Game Three.

"We’ve just got to play basketball," said McMillan. "All the things that I saw last night we didn’t do, we can do. If we can do them we’ll have a shot at winning the game. We didn’t play well as far as execution last night and had a chance to win that game."

Coaches often talk about not letting a loss beat you twice. If the way guys acted at practice today said anything it's that's they're not going to let that happen tomorrow in Game Four.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Audio/Video From Game Three

All things considered, I don't think the Trail Blazers can be too upset with the way Friday night's game turned out. Sure, they would have much preferred to get a win, but having a real chance of winning the game late after an unfortunately familiar first half is a huge positive going into Game Four. I really beleive that.

After Game One, Travis Outlaw noted how important it is, even in a blowout, to play hard all the way through the final buzzer. He talked about the benefits of carrying something positive over to the next game, even in a loss. Tonight, the Blazers did just that. And on Sunday, we'll find out if Outlaw's theory rings true.


Brandon Roy Postgame

Nate McMillan Postgame

Rick Adelman Postgame


Postgame Locker Room Interviews

Game Three Highlights

Changes To Come, Unless They Don't, But They Might

The Trail Blazers have played 84 games in the last six months, and despite that, they’re still making lineup changes. Rotations are tweaked and adjusted as the coaches find matchups they like and scenarios they think they can take advantage of, which explains why two relatively new pairings might take the floor tonight at the Toyota Center.

At the guard position, Nate McMillan is considering using Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez together in the backcourt with a bit more regularity. He’s used Roy and Fernandez together on occasion, but it sounds like that paring might see more time throughout the rest of the series.

“The combination of Brandon and Rudy, we’ve played that combination some,” said McMillan. “So those two guys being in there at the same time is the switch that we went to last game in the second half. We may look at that tonight.

“It just depends on how the game is going and the matchups. If we need some defense on their guards or I want to go with a matchup, try and get Rudy on Lowry or their point guards on our bigs. It just depends on the game.”

On the other end of the spectrum, expect to see Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden back on the court at the same time, maybe. On this topic, McMillan was a bit more secretive.

“We could,” said McMillan with a smile when asked if Przybilla and Oden would sahre the court in Game Three. “All 12 guys are available. To say that we’re going to just go with that matchup – yeah, we can look at that -- but during the course of the game, due to foul trouble or matchups, we can go to any of our guys. And all of our guys have to be ready.

“We can use (Przybilla and Oden together). It’s there. If I see an opportunity or we can use that to our advantage, we’ll go with it.”

The Road Not Yet Traveled

Winning Game Two did a lot to soothe the pain of getting blown out in Game One. Confidence was rebuilt and a sense of pride restored. While all of that is fine and good, it doesn’t change the fact that, by losing in Portland, the Trail Blazers will now have to win at least once in Houston to have a chance of advancing to the second round. Simple as that.

While the math is simple, not much else is when it comes to winning on the road in the playoffs. Everything is new for this Trail Blazers team when it comes to the postseason, and tonight they’ll get their first taste of what in means to play in front of a hostile crowd in the playoffs.

Nate McMillan has been here before, so he’s got a good idea of what his team needs to do to have even a chance of leaving the Lonestar State with a win.

“We’ve got to come out and scrap,” said McMillan, “do the things we did in our second game: be aggressive, be connected, be solid. Whether you’re at home or on the road, though you certainly need to do it on the road. The Rockets are going to make some runs and you’re going to have some adversity during the course of the game. You got to make sure that you stay connected through the good and the bad.”

Scrapping and playing together are things the Trail Blazers have excelled at this season, but they have at times been inconsistent when it comes to something else: getting off to a fast start. The Blazers look like world champs right from the gate at times, but there are other instances, such as in Game One, where they struggle to find any kind of flow in the first quarter. If that happens tonight in their first road playoff game, it’s going to be next to impossible for a young team to overcome.

“I think it’s important that you get off to a good start, that you’re not playing yourself out of a hole early,” said McMillan. “So being sharp from the start is important. Even if you’re not making shots you’ve got to establish that you can run an offense and you’re getting good looks.

“Defensively, you can’t give up anything easy. You have to be smart with your fouls. They got into the penalty early against us, so we can’t do that. But we’ve got to be able to remain aggressive without getting them into the penalty early. So officiating, looking at how those officials are calling the game and making your adjustments. Being smart.”

These are things you want to do every game, but in a playoff atmosphere, the stakes are higher and the crowd is much more of a factor

“The crowd is into it even before the tipoff,” said Steve Blake. “The intensity, the volume of the arena, everybody is intense right from the beginning, whereas lot of times some arenas don’t pick up until the fourth quarter when it really gets tight. But a playoff road game, it’s right from the tipoff. Even before the tipoff its’ up and it’s loud. Everyone is into it.”

“When you don’t have the crowd behind you, it’s kind of different,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I think tonight we’re going to be tight and close. When you come into a place like this, guys have to be real close and play hard together.”

Audio: Kevin Pritchard on the Jim Rome Show

Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard was a guest today on The Jim Rome Show, which I know because I saw him walk off the court this morning during shootaround to call into the show. You can stream or download the interview below.

Download (4.6 MB)

Learning To Live With Tough Shots

It was hard to know how to feel when Ron Artest started the first quarter of Game Two shooting 6-for-8 from the field, draining jumpers from any and everywhere on the court.

On one hand, you don’t want Houston’s emotional leader and second-best scorer (sorry Aaron Brooks) coming out white hot in a pivotal game, especially after the start the Rockets got off to in Game One. But on the other hand, every shot Artest is taking is a shot that Yao Ming isn’t, and even the most prolific of shooters have a hard time keeping up a 75 percent clip over the duration of a game. You have to figure he’s going to regress to the mean, which he did. Artest finished the final three quarters hitting just two of his last 12 shots and the Trail Blazers won 107-103.

So maybe the decision makers on the Portland bench where happy to see Artest dialed in during the first quarter? Not exactly. Nate McMillan took no pleasure in seeing the “Tru Warrior” canning perimeter jumpers, but he couldn’t get too upset about it either.

“They were tough, contested shots,” said McMillan. “He had a good rhythm. But in that situation, I didn’t think we could play any better defense than we were playing. We did tell out guys to try and get closer. He’s hot, he came down in transition and made three’s, so get a step closer.”

So McMillan was happy to give up those shots? No chance.

“You don’t live with it,” explained McMillan, “but you get closer. We’re not going to go crazy in situations like that because they were tough shots. You got a hand up, it was off the dribble, it’s over the defense, it’s over the top.”

You’ve got to pick your poison when playing playoff basketball against quality teams like the Rockets. But sometimes, the poison picks you, so you do your best as a team to take away everything else, something Portland did well Tuesday night.

“You adjust,” said McMillan. “We were dong a pretty good job in the post. (Artest) was hot from the perimeter. I think if a player is shooting the ball like that you feel that you have a better chance of defending that than something much closer to the basket. We felt like the defense was good. We were keeping them out of the paint. They weren’t getting clear looks at the basket, layups and free throws early. And they were jump shots that had a hand in their face. So you live with that.”

After the way Game Two played out, you might get to thinking the Trail Blazers would consider giving Artest a few open looks early just to see if he’ll have a repeat performance, but that’s not the way McMillan goes about his business.

Said McMillan: “We know (Artest) is capable of knocking those shots down, but as long as we were there in front of him with a hand, you have to live with it.”

If Game Three plays out the same way as Game Two, that might not be such a bad life to live.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

No More Doubt From Outlaw

With as long as he’s been in Portland, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Travis Outlaw is only 24 years old. In many ways, Outlaw is the last man standing from the years in which Blazermania took a hiatus, the only guy on the team who remembers what things were like before Rip City returned. Knowing what those days were like gives Outlaw a unique appreciation for where the Trail Blazers are at now, despite his relative youth.

“What I went through, I like to say that everything was worth it,” said Outlaw. “Everybody was like, ‘Maybe he should have went to college’ and all that. There’s no doubt in my mind that I should have come to the league first. I think me going through all that, it kind of made me the person who I am today.”

While most fans look back hardheartedly on the seasons that laid the groundwork of Outlaw’s career, he prefers, as is his nature, to reflect upon the positive.

“I remember watching Bonzi play, watching his footwork,” said Outlaw. “For him being that small, he could post up anyone. DA, his shots was always flowing. Damon with the pull up. Sheed with the fade to the base. I kind of liked watching them, seeing what they were doing, seeing how they was reading each situation. It kind of makes me who I am.”

There were bouts of self doubt and regression, especially when Nate McMillan took over in 2005. Outlaw didn’t know if he fit into the new coaches’ plans or how he would adjust to a new system as a player who was just starting to find some sense of stability in his third year.

“Nate came and at first it was kind of a step back for me,” said Outlaw. “Just a new system and everything. There’s a coach you’ve been knowing for a while, and now he’s gone. The guy who drafted me was gone. The coach who ended up working with me ended up leaving. So it was just a whole new process for me. Then you start hearing the media say, ‘Ah, he can’t get the plays.’ But that kind of built me up even more, made me want it even more.”

Outlaw also found motivation in Portland’s drafting of small forwards. It seemed like almost every season the Trail Blazers drafted a player to be Outlaw’s replacement, which he admits troubled him at times.

“It like, man, we’re always drafting 3’s,” said Outlaw. “I remember one time it was like, if they don’t like me here I wish they would just go on and trade me. But after a couple of talks with Nate, he was like, ‘I like your game, we just need to polish some areas.’ And I’m like, that’s understandable. And then Mont came into my life.”

“Mont” being assistant coach Monty Williams, whose tutelage both on and off the court has helped Outlaw transform from a shy, gangly project from Mississippi into established NBA player with a personality that seems to grow more gregarious by the day.

“He came in with The Word and it kind of made me realize that what you’re feeling is normal, but it ain’t the end of the world,” said Outlaw. “It gave me confidence. Him spending more time with me helped.”

Thanks to the help of Williams, Outlaw has elevated his game to a level many thought he would never reach coming straight from high school to the NBA. But now Outlaw has a new challenge: helping the Trail Blazers advance to the second round of the playoffs, and beyond.

“I feel like it’s a payoff to get to the playoffs,” said Outlaw, “but my goal ain’t just to get to the playoffs. If we can win it all this year, let’s go for it. That’s how I am. The playoffs are cool, but you’ve got to realize that a lot of teams go to the playoffs. I ain’t trying to go to the playoffs for an early exit. That’s how I look at it.”

Audio/Video From Game Two

Now we can all get at least one decent night's sleep.

It was tough to tell just what kind of team we were after Saturday's game. Was the regular season a farce? Is playoff basketball really that different than what we had become accustomed to from October to April? Who were we? Where were we going? Did we even belong in the postseason?

All those questions were answered Tuesday night during Portland's 107-103 victory against the Rockets in Game Two. Game One, while repeatable, was an anomaly. And the Portland Trail Blazers, though still young and learning on the fly, are capable of playing tough in pressure situations.

LaMarcus Aldridge returned to form. Brandon Roy elevated his game to an entirely different level. Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden played Yao beautifully while sharing the court for only the second time this season. Steve Blake got comfortable again. Thanks to those things and more, the Trail Blazers got their first playoff win in six years. They also found some much needed confidence in the process.

There will be much more to go over in the days before Game Three on Friday, but in the mean time, look and listen to the postgame audio and video.


Nate McMillan Postgame (3.7 MB)

Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge Postgame (4.7 MB)

Rick Adelman Postgame

Yao Ming Postgame (6.9 MB)


Media availability is a little different during the playoffs, making the usual locker room interviews a little tougher to capture. Luckily, Rebecca Haarlow was kind enough to stick around for a one-on-one interview with Travis Outlaw, which you can view here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Start It Up

Since we're a little more than two hours away from the start of Game 2, it's probably a good time to talk about starts and how important they are, especially in playoff games. After a demoralizing Game 1 in which the Trail Blazers were all but buried in the first quarter, getting off on the right foot in Game 2 is of the utmost importance.

"I think it's very important," said Nate McMillan of the Trail Blazers getting off to a better start in Game 2. "I think it's always important to get off to a good start and establish yourself, establish that you can run an offense, establish that you can get stops defensively, that you're not having breakdowns as a group. So it's very important every night to do that. And certainly tonight because we didn't do that last game."

Amen to that. By time the first quarter came to a merciful end in Game 1, the Rockets were shooting 75 percent from the field, Yao already had 16 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had missed all but one of his six shots and Brandon Roy had already taken over point guard duties. Not a recipe for success.

As important as a good start will be tonight, it's not going to be the end all, be all of the game either. The Rockets are a smart, veteran team capable of weathering a few bad breaks early.

"It's very important that we get off to a good start, but that's not going to be the whole game," said Brandon Roy. "Houston's not going to go away. It's important to get off to a good start and to play a complete basketball game. We can't think we're going to put this team away early. We can't think, like we can come out with a lot of energy and everything is going to be great. We've got to understand that we're in for a fight for 48 minutes. So it's important to start off well because I think that will set the tone for the rest of the game."

And that's really point. Getting off to a good start isn't so much about winning the first quarter as it's about the Trail Blazers feeling good about themselves for the first time in the last four quarters. If Portland can come out strong, get a little confidence and a sense that they can play with the Rockets in a big time game, then they can make this a series. If they suffer through a first quarter similar to what we saw on Saturday then ... I don't even want to think about what that means.

Scola On Aldridge: 'He's A Great Player'

One of the prevailing storylines from Game 1 was the relative ineffectiveness of LaMarcus Aldridge. The defense of Luis Scola, as the story goes, kept LA in check on Saturday, resulting in a seven point, three rebound night for our starting power forward. So all praise to the Argentenia, right?

Not so, according to Scola himself.

"He had a bad night and we had a good night," said Scola. "The whole team had a good night. It’s hard to judge individual performances."

True enough, but does Scola really think he had nothing to do with Aldridge's off night?

"I'd like to think we helped that he had a bad night," said Scola. "But on the other hand, he’s such a good player that he could very well make all of those shots that he missed and nobody would be surprised. He’s a great player.

"It’s really hard. When he gets going and he starts to make the shots he usually makes, we’re not talking about shots that he never takes, we’re talking about the shots that he always takes all season long and being consistently effective with those. He could very well make all those and finish with 25 points and nothing would change. The game would have changed, but the approach to him would have been the same and he’d have 25."

Even though Scola was reluctant to take much credit for Aldridge's lack of offensive production, he's still got a plan for how he's going to set out doing it again.

"I’m just trying to make him do what he doesn’t like to do," said Scola. "If he wants to go right, try to make him go left. If he wants to go left, I try to make him go right. Trying to make him take the shots that he’s not comfortable with. And hopefully he’s going to miss.

"He’s a great player and it’s really hard to approach a game to try and stop him. It’s pretty much an impossible job. If he’s going to have a night, there’s nothing you can do."

Let's hope that's the case in Game 2, for the sake of the Trail Blazers and all of their fans.

Don't Bring Those Weak Analogies Into Channing's House

It has been tough to get a read on the practice facility vibe post-Game 1. It hasn't been uptight, but probably not as loose as it was during the regular season.

Can't quite put my finger on it, but something is different. Maybe it's because more media are on hand. Maybe it's because everyone from the coaches to the players to the Portland media are used to being at home in mid-April. Maybe it's the being inside of a windowless gym when the weather outside is gorgeous. Whatever it is, it's a bit askew.

But today, Channing Frye lightened the mood up a bit, as he often does. While taking questions after shootaround, one reporter tried to draw a correlation between the way a child reacts after being spanked to the way the Trail Blazers are reacting after being figuratively spanked by the Rockets on Saturday. Not a bad analogy, I thought.

Channing, on the other hand, was having none of it.

"That’s probably a terrible analogy for what went on," said Frye lightheartedly. "I think they just came out here and executed. (Houston) knew what it took to come out here and win. And they did what they had to do, so basically they were just mentally tougher in that game. For us, we just didn’t play well. I think we just didn’t get in a groove early. And mentally we just didn’t get back into it. So we’re a lot more focused now."

Channing, maybe sensing the reporter was a bit stung by the critique, finished off his answer with a pat on the shoulder and some words of reassurance.

"That was a good try on your analogy," said Frye. "It was a good one. It was close."

It's A Team Thing

Plenty of talk since Saturday about who didn't do what they were supposed to in Game 1, as if NBA basketball was simply a game of individual matchups. Steve Blake didn't play tough enough defense on Aaron Brooks. LaMarcus Aldridge should have looked to score more against Luis Scola. Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden should have fronted Yao. There are probably more examples.

The dangerous thing about this type of thinking is that it tends to get into the minds of the players as well. Rather than playing what Nate McMillan calls "the rules," guys get caught up in individual assignments and mind games. So and so scored on me, so now I need to go score on him. It happened in Game 1, but unless the Trail Blazers want to head to Houston down 0-2, it can't happen tonight.

Coach McMillan has been in this situation before as a player and a coach, so he knows the importance of not getting caught up in the one-on-one.

"For our young guys -- and I would say young in a sense that they haven’t experienced this -- what we want them to understand is that it’s not you and Scola," said McMillan. "It’s not Joel and Yao. It’s not Blake and Brooks. It’s not a matchup of Artest and Brandon. It’s Houston against Portland.

"And when you get into those individual matchups and you think you have to outplay this guy as opposed to focusing on what the team needs to do, that’s when you get in trouble because you’re taking it personal. You’re going out and playing that guy as opposed to playing the Rockets."

You'd hope the players would be aware of when they're falling into that trap, but it's hard not to get caught up in individual matchups when that's all anyone is asking you about.

It's a pride thing, too. No one wants to be the guy who gets dunked on, or the guy who gives up the game-winner. But as the saying goes, pride comes before the fall.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rockets Not Banking On Another Blowout

You might think the Houston Rockets would write-off the Trail Blazers after the way they won Game One. Maybe they’d think they could cruise through the remainder of the series after blowing out the Blazers at home. Maybe they’d get complacent, overconfident.

But it doesn’t seem as though that’s going to be the case. Every member of the Rockets today at practice realized that this series isn’t anywhere close to being over. And what’s more, they’re not expecting Tuesday’s game to be nearly as easy.

“I think they’ll try to do some things differently,” said Rockets head coach Rick Adelman, “but I think the biggest thing is that they’re going to play better. They’re going to come at us.”

Those are the kind of things you expect to hear from a coach, especially a coach whose team has been thwarted so many times in the first round, but that message has filtered down to the players as well.

“I don’t think we made them uncomfortable,” said Ron Artest. “I think it was a shock to them. Like my first time in the playoffs, I didn’t play great at all. I was nervous… I didn’t know what I was doing. I was tired and gave into fatigue. For the most part it’s not easy to come up in your first playoff game.

“I just think it was the first game. At the end of the day, if you have a seven game series, don’t matter if it’s Game One or Game Three when you come up big. It’s like poker: as long as you got chips you’re still in it. It’s the same thing. There’s no difference.”

Artest, standing in front of a gaggle of reporters prior to Houston’s practice on Monday, didn’t prescribe to the notion that winning the first game in Portland necessarily means the Rockets now hold home court. And he certainly wasn’t talking like a guy who thought the series would be decided in the next three games.

Said Artest: “They still have home court advantage because it’s a seven game series and Game Seven is right in Portland. So they still have home court advantage. It’s not like we took it away; we just won the first game.”

Despite Portland’s inability to do much of anything to earn Houston’s respect in Game One, Artest seemed almost incapable of doing anything but complimenting the Trail Blazers when asked what he expected to see in Game Two.

“Nate’s a real good coach, so I know he’s got something up his sleeve,” said Artest. “What he did with that team is unbelievable and I know he’s going to be ready.

“They’ll play better. They’re a very well coached team and they’re a unique team being so young and making it this far, having home court advantage. That just don’t happen, not with a team that young… They’re a unique team, a special team.”

While everyone likes to be complimented, in this case, the Trail Blazers would probably prefer Artest coming into Tuesday’s game expecting another blowout. Instead, Adelman, Artest and all the other Rockets are expecting a battle. Hopefully the Trail Blazers can oblige.

Work Now, Watch Later

The Trail Blazers usually get together the day after a game at the practice facility to watch film. Players and coaches meet as a team and in groups separated out by position to go over what went well and what didn’t, and depending on the ratio of good to bad, it’s either an enjoyable overview of a well played game or a tortuous reminder of a subpar performance. Either way, it’s a good opportunity to learn from the game before and apply those lessons learned to the game ahead.

But after Saturday night’s 108-81 loss to Houston, coach Nate McMillan switched up the routine. Rather than going over every detail of a game most on the team described as their worst of the season, McMillan opted to run a regular practice, sans film session.

“We’ll watch film (Monday),” said McMillan. “I thought today we needed to get into the gym and get to work. It wasn’t about the film today as opposed to getting out and getting in a good hard practice.”

McMillan’s decision to hold off film for an extra day would seem to have a couple benefits. First, it allows the team an extra day to put Saturday night’s blowout behind them. While there’s undoubtedly much to be learned by watching Yao go 9 for 9 and Aaron Brooks carve up the Blazers defense, it’s probably more important at this point for the players to focus on themselves at this juncture. Figure out what they need to do as Trail Blazers before addressing what they need to do to stop the Rockets.

Putting off film for an extra day also keeps the loss fresh in their minds for Tuesday’s game. The word “embarrassing” was uttered in the locker room more than a few times after Saturday’s game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if McMillan wanted his team to remember what that embarrassment felt like before talking to the floor of the Rose Garden Tuesday night. Using that loss as motivation is one of the few ways to turn an otherwise negative game into a positive.

Finally, this team simply hasn’t had an opportunity to get in much time on the practice court over the last month. Prior to Saturday night’s game, the Blazers had played 13 games in 26 nights; a game every other day. Factor in travel, and that doesn’t leave much time for scrimmage.

“We haven’t practiced in the last few weeks because of the schedule and some injuries,” said McMillan. “I just felt that we needed to work today.”

After the way Saturday night went down, it’s probably safe to say putting in work was something the players could look forward to.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Audio: McMillan, Roy, Adelman, Yao Postgame

Well, there's no where to go but up from here. Portland's first foray into the playoffs since 2003 was an unpleasant one, but there's still plenty of basketball to be played in this series.

Chalk this one up to nerves and a whole lot of Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks, both of whom outscored the Trail Blazers starters combined, sans Brandon Roy's 21 points. I don't recall ever seeing Yao look more dominate (which is really going out on a limb considering he went 9-for-9) and Brooks proved why the Rockets were comfortable in trading away Rafer Alston. I still can't beleive some people doubted Brooks' ability to play in this league.

Game One in the books. Let's hope that the jitters will be gone in Game Two. It's just one game.

In the interim, enjoy (as if such a thing were possible) some postgame interview audio.

Nate McMillan Postgame (6.3 MB)

Brandon Roy Postgame (3.3 MB)

Yao Ming Postgame (5.4 MB)

Rick Adelman Postgame (4.0 MB)

You can also watch video of postgame locker room interviews here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Audio: Nate McMillan Pregame

Listen to Nate McMillan pregame comments to the media prior to Saturday night's first round matchup with the Houston Rockets.

Download (3 MB)

Rudy And The International Experience

Rudy Fernandez, despite his rookie status, has played in big games against grown men. Years playing in the ACB and Euroleague has given Rudy more than a taste of what it takes to get it done with big things on the line.

"I play in playoffs every year in ACB," said Fernandez. "In Spain, the first round is 1-1-1. The second round is best of five, 2-2-1. Finals are same as second round."

But he's not ready to say those postseasons in Spain have fully prepared him for what he's about to experience in the NBA playoffs.

"I don’t know, I think yes," replied Fernandez when asked if he can apply anything from the ACB playoffs to the NBA. "But this is the first time I play in the NBA and the first time I play in the playoffs in the NBA. Everything is new for me. But right now I’m focused on playing hard every game."

According to Fernandez, he thinks his years playing and winning with the Spanish National Team will serve as better preparation than the ACB postseason.

Said Rudy: "I have the experiences from the national team and I think that’s better experience. In Spain, (ACB) competition is good, it’s hard. But it’s not like the national team, playing world champions, second in the Olympics. I think this is the bigger experience for me."

Michael Ruffin On Playoffs: 'I Expect Big Things'


As the Trail Blazer faithful are well aware by this point, the team has clinched its first playoff birth since 2003. What the fan base may not be aware of is that the newest member of the team is also the one with the most playoff experience under his belt.

Michael Ruffin came to Portland by way of the Chicago Bulls in a mid-season three-team trade that sent reserve forward Ike Diogu to the Sacramento Kings, and brings 19 games of playoff experience to the Rose City. Ruffin made his first playoff appearance in the 2004-2005 season, helping the Washington Wizards reach the second round for the first time since the 1980’s.

Ruffin sees the Trail Blazers as geared up for what is coming once the postseason begins.

“It’s a whole other level of basketball,” Ruffin said. “Everyone out there is competing as hard as they can on every possession. You would think that it can’t get much louder here in Portland than it has been throughout the season, but when you get into the playoffs the energy in the building and in the games is taken to a whole new level.”

But as Ruffin knows, the first round is a long series, and regular season records don’t count for anything after April 18th.

“You have to beat a team four times, and there are little adjustments you have to make from game to game,” Ruffin said. “By the end of it you know what the other team’s running, everyone knows each other’s plays. It just comes down to slight adjustments, and your ability to go out there and execute.”

The Trail Blazers are ready, though, having had almost five seasons to prepare.

“This being the first time that a lot of players on this team have made it to the playoffs, everyone is extremely keyed in to what we need to do,” Ruffin said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and playing the game now, the focus is there.”

Ruffin, four seasons removed from his first playoff game, is excited for the young group of Trail Blazers making their postseason debuts. Nine Portland players will be getting their first post-season experience this season.

“With a young team like we have, it’s going to be an exciting experience, a growing experience,” Ruffin said. “Brandon, LaMarcus, those are two of the players that are going to be dominant in this league for years to come, and ultimately that’s a goal of theirs to be in the playoffs year in and year out.

“We’ve played well in all the big games against all the big teams. The coaches have done a great job all year, and we’ve been doing a great job preparing heading into the playoffs. I know a lot of teams really don’t want to play us right now.”

Ruffin isn’t shy about his expectations for the playoff bound Trail Blazers.

“I’m anxiously waiting to see our team get out there and compete,” he said. “I expect big things.”

Audio: McMillan, Roy, Aldridge From Shootaround

Not a whole lot to report from today's pre-playoff shootaround. Greg Oden was active and is expected to play after sitting out yesterday's practice with a sinus infection. It really just seemed like a regular 'ol shootaround, which is a good thing.

First up, Nate McMillan. Coach Mac took questions from what few media showed up today in Tualatin, with the gist being that he's ready to go. Enough talk, enough film, enough practice, settle it on the court.

Download (3 MB)

Brandon Roy echoed the sentiments of his coach. Guys are ready to go, but not really anxious. More talk about "playoff intensity," valuing each possession, and so forth. Roy cool as ice, as always

Download (4 MB)

Last out of the locker room was LaMarcus Aldridge. LA talks about what he's expecting from the Rockets, getting lots of sleep last night and why he's been acting so goofy.

Download (2.8 MB)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Houston Starters Scouting Reports

The Trail Blazers have already played the Rockets three times this season, so they've got a good idea of what their first round opponents bring to the court. Given that, I asked Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Przybilla to give the basic scouting reports on their positional counterparts.

Steve Blake on Aaron Brooks
There’s no secrets. He’s a solid, all-around point guard. He’s really quick, a good penetrator, can finish and distribute. He can shoot the three ball pretty well. Defensively he’s really active. So he’s really a good an all-around game.

"I have a lot of respect for him. He’s earned that spot. He’s a very good, talented point guard. So I’ve got to figure out ways to stay in front of him and take care of the things that I can do: run our team and play good defense."

Brandon Roy on Ron Artest
"We’ll try to keep him out of our paint. We’re going to try to guard him almost as if he’s kind of like Kobe and those guys. We’re going to try to make his looks tough because he’s their second leading scorer. We’re going to really focus on trying to wear him down. That’s kind of our thing now, body him. He’s a physical player but we don’t have many guys that are physical with him. So we’re going to try to apply those things."

Travis Outlaw on Shane Battier
"He’s a defensive-minded player. Active hands. When you’re shooting, he do a little trick with his hand to try and put it in your face to throw your shot off. Just follow through with it and everything should be all right. He’ll try to take my right hand away. So you go left. I think everybody knows me for my one dribble pull up, so I’ll add another dribble on to it, hesitation. Just everything. You got to feel the momentum of the game. That’s when you start feeling their moves.

"On offense, you just try to run him off the three-point line. I mean, if you’re going to try and limit his attempts from three, it can help a little bit."

LaMarcus Aldridge on Luis Scola
"Solid player. He can knock down the 18-footer. Pretty solid defensively. He’s just a solid player. You have to watch him.

"I always try to start out getting deep post position. My whole thing is doing it the whole game. I think as the game goes on and they send two or three guys at me, I tend to not fight as much. So I just have to keep trying to fight the whole game."

Joel Przybilla on Yao Ming
"He tries to catch the ball as low to the hoop as possible. You’ve got to limit his touches, really. He’s going to get his touches, to tell you the truth, but the thing that I try to do is push him out as far as possible. The extra foot or two may cause his percentage to drop. If he’s on the block he may be shooting 55 percent but if he’s two feet off the block he’s maybe shooting 40 percent. That 15 percent makes a big deal, especially in a playoff series.

"On defense he’s so big. With him, he’s always in the paint because he’s so big, he can always touch someone to keep from getting a defensive 3-seconds call. He’s always there. You try to take him out of the paint by doing a lot of screen and rolls, getting him moving, wear him down, things like that. Try and wear him down, run him up and down the court."

Video: Barrett, Haarlow From Trail Blazers Practice

Trail Blazers broadcasters Mike Barrett and Rebecca Haarlow recap the events from practice and preview Saturday night's game against the Houston Rockets.

Rip City Uprise Rally

Few things arouse the interests of Oregonians more than sun and the Portland Trail Blazers, so it’s no surprise that up to 15,000 fans crammed into Pioneer Courthouse Square to bask in the warmth of a beautiful day and the Trail Blazers’ first postseason appearance in six years at the Rip City Uprise Rally.

Those who couldn’t find an extra inch in Pioneer Courthouse Square lined up along the streets or hung out of windows of buildings adjacent waving red and black “Rip City Uprise” signs. While waiting for the team to arrive, the crowd was entertained by live music, dancing, prize giveaways and various Trail Blazers personalities, including a freshly faux-hawked Mike Rice.

The party was already in full swing by time members of the team and their families boarded buses bound for downtown. Joel Przybilla and Brandon Roy sat with their sons on their laps as the buses departed for Portland. The players know of the interest the public has when it comes to the team, but even they marveled at having police escorts and news helicopters following the buses north up I-5.

For as surprising as it was to see a helicopter following the bus, the players were more stunned to see fans congregating along the street blocks away from the rally. The team gazed in amazement as sparse crowds along the street turned into bigger crowds the closer they got to Pioneer Courthouse Square. All of the players were shocked to see a crowd of no fewer than 10,000 fans lined up to welcome the team by time the bus pulled up alongside the rally,

The rally had taken on a rock concert-like feel by time the players took the stage. The players looked at each other with disbelief as they were introduced one by one by Mike Barrett. Nate McMillan gave a stirring speech to the crowd about his vision for the franchise when he signed on as head coach and how the rally was proof that he had indeed made the right decision.

“The next time we’re here we’ll not be celebrating getting into the playoffs,” said McMillan. “The next time we’re here, we want a parade.”

After that, each player addressed the fans, thanking them for their continued support through the years, to wild ovations.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Brandon Roy. “It’s unbelievable. We all wanted to be a part of the turnaround, but we never imagined it would be something like this.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

04.16.09 Podcast

It's been a terribly exciting and tiring couple of days here at Trail Blazers HQ, and I'm not feeling nearly cleaver enough to come up with reasons why you should listen to this week's podcast with Dave Deckard of Blazer's and me, Casey Holdahl of I think it's good and if you're a Blazers fan I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Seems like reason enough to me.

Dave and I talk playoffs, the Houston Rockets, playoffs, matchups, playoffs, the Rose Garden crowd and playoffs. It's postseasonal.

Download the podcast (32 MB)

Video: Roy, Haarlow Postgame

Trail Blazers Broadcasting sideline reporter Rebecca Haarlow talks to Brandon Roy after Wednesday night's victory against the Denver Nuggets.

Video: Frye, Fernandez, Roy Postgame

In this final regular season edition of postgame video, Channing Frye talks about the return of the "Buffet of Goodness," Rudy Fernandez fields questions about being the three-point rookie record holder and Brandon Roy give a little preview of what he expects in the series against Houston.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Case: Nate McMillan For Coach Of The Year

There are very few mysteries in the NBA. It’s a league of scouts. Everything there is to know about a player or team is annotated, analyzed, reanalyzed and synthesized into a handy report, known in these parts as “a book”. Once you’ve put in that work and put together that book, you’ve got a solid idea of the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of an individual or team. The quantifiables are out there. They’re studied and research endlessly. The end result is that there are no secrets when it comes to personnel.

But some mysteries do exist, such as why Nate McMillan is seemingly persona non grata when it comes to Coach Of The Year discussions. You hear and read names like Mike Brown of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic and Rick Adelman of the Houston Rockets as the frontrunners for COY, but Nate McMillan? Nary a mention to be found outside of the Portland media.

It simply doesn’t make any sense.

One of the more common rationalizations when it comes to voting on COY seems to be the notion that if a team outperforms expectations, then it must be a case of good coaching. Team plays better than the pundits expected, pundits give the credit to the coach. Maybe a bit simplistic, but not necessarily invalid. And if you’re a voter and that’s one of your criteria Nate McMillan has to be at the top of your list.

People expected the Trail Blazers to be good, but this good? Most assumed they would have to fight tooth and nail to secure a playoff spot, which was a perfectly reasonable assumption to make. Young team, few veteran leaders, concerns about potential injuries, tough division, tougher conference. All true statements about the Blazers. But here we are on the last day of the season and Portland has a legitimate shot at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Western Conference playoffs. Anyone see that coming?

But you look around the Coach Of The Year discussion, and it doesn’t seem like Nate McMillan is getting his share of the credit for that improvement. If the Trail Blazers win tonight (knock on wood), they’ll have a regular season record of 54-28. That’s 13 more wins than last season. What’s more, that 54-28 record would be a 33 game improvement from McMillan’s first season as head coach. Where’s the love for that? He certainly hasn’t done it on his own, and who know how the season would have played out if guys like Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge hadn’t taken the next step in their progressions as stars in the NBA, but the coach, the man who sets the tone from the rest of the team, has to be a large part of the equation, right?

In looking at the other nominees for COY, it’s hard to argue that any of their teams have exceeded expectations like McMillan has with the Trail Blazers.

Mike Brown has probably comes the closest. People knew the Cavs were going to be good, but 67 wins, top of the Eastern Conference and only losing one game at home good? That’s exceeding expectations. Having the best player in the game doesn’t hurt, but they had the best player last season as well.

Has Stan Van Gundy exceeded expectations with the Magic? Doesn’t really seem like it. Assuming the Magic win tonight (which is a rather large assumption considering they’ve dropped four of their last five) they’ll finish with 59 victories, seven better than last season. That’s decent, but not exactly earth shattering. Did anyone think Orlando wouldn’t be at the top of the Southeast Division or that Dwight Howard wouldn’t be the best bigman in the game?

They’re a very good Eastern Conference team, but are they a threat to win the East? Doubt you’ll find many willing to make that argument. So for the most part the Magic, in the words of Dennis Green, are who we thought they were.

The same could be said for Rick Adelman and the Rockets. Assuming they win tonight in Dallas, the Rockets will end the season 54-28, which is actually one game worse than last season. They’ve got the inside track on winning the Southwest Division, which is admirable, but that might say more about the decline of the Spurs than the improvement of the Rockets. Give some credit to Adelman for keeping Ron Artest in check and getting by without the services of Tracy McGrady, but is that worth winning COY? Adelman is getting a lot out of that roster, but it’s a nice combination of veteran pieces to begin with.

Another thing Coach Of The Year voters seem to value is a coach overcoming the loss of a key player to injury. Must be a case of good coaching if a player goes down and the team continues to get wins, or so the logic seems to go. That seems to be one of the reasons why Adelman (loss of Tracy McGrady) and Van Gundy (loss of Jameer Nelson) top McMillan in COY talk, but it shouldn’t be. Anyone who follows the Trail Blazers knows that McMillan has been without the services of Martell Webster, who was all but penciled into the starting small forward spot, all season. Is losing Webster on par with losing McGrady or Nelson? Maybe not on the surface, but when you consider the replacements, the loss of Webster might be the most significant.

McGrady was replaced by Shane Battier, who is arguable better than McGrady at everything outside of volume scoring. Nelson was replaced by midseason acquisition Rafer Alston, who is a marginal downgrade from Nelson. Webster’s replacement? A 19-year old French rookie whom many assumed would spend the majority of the season pulling stints in the D-League. If that’s not an indication of superior coaching prowess, then what is?

And while on the topic of rookies, how about Coach McMillan integrating four first year players into the rotation, and ending up better for it? The Cavaliers and Rockets added veterans and the Magic basically stood pat, but the Trail Blazers added four fresh faces and still improved dramatically. What other coaches have been put in that kind of situation, let alone excelled when confronted with it? In fact, the Portland Trail Blazers are the first team in NBA history to win 50 games with four rookies appearing in 50-plus contests. Read that again and then try to make a case against McMillan for Coach Of The Year.

Of all the playoff bound teams, Portland has the least amount of NBA experience (that’s including the Raef LaFrentz’s 11 years in the league). When you add up the years of NBA experience on the Trail Blazers roster, you come up with 51 seasons, which is 16 seasons fewer than any other Western Conference playoff team. If Portland can manage to win tonight, they’ll have 1.06 wins for every year of NBA experience, making them the only playoff team to have more than one win per season of experience (the Lakers come in second among playoff teams with .956 wins per years of experience, after which there’s a rather precipitous drop off).

The reality is that there are a number of great coaches in the NBA, but Nate McMillan has the credentials this season to go toe-to-toe with any of them. Why he’s not given the same consideration for COY as Brown, Van Gundy and Adelman is tough to grasp, and even tougher to stomach.

Monday, April 13, 2009

With One Game To Go, Here's The Playoff Scenario

OK, we here at Portland Trail Blazers HQ know there has been some confusion as to the Western Conference playoff standings. It's difficult stuff. So in an attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions, our crack sports communications staff has put together a handy-dandy primer of all the possible playoff scenarios with one game left in the regular season. Here goes ...

Eight Possible Playoff Outcomes Involving 2-5 seeds

1) If Denver loses, Houston wins, Portland wins and San Antonio wins, then Houston finishes second, Denver finishes third, Portland finishes fourth and San Antonio finishes fifth. In this scenario, San Antonio (5) plays Portland (4). Portland gets home court advantage.

2) If Denver loses, Houston loses, Portland wins and San Antonio loses, then Denver finishes second, Portland finishes third, Houston finishes fourth, San Antonio finishes fifth and New Orleans finishes sixth. In this scenario, New Orleans (6) plays Portland (3). Portland gets home court advantage.

3) If Denver loses, Houston wins, Portland wins and San Antonio loses, then Houston finishes second, Denver finishes third, Portland finishes fourth and San Antonio finishes fifth. In this scenario, San Antonio (5) plays Portland (4). Portland gets home court advantage.

4) If Denver loses, Houston loses, Portland wins and San Antonio wins, then Denver finishes second, San Antonio finishes third, Portland finishes fourth and Houston finishes fifth. In this scenario, Houston (5) plays Portland (4). Portland gets home court advantage.

5) If Denver wins, Houston loses, Portland loses and San Antonio loses, then Denver finishes second, Houston finishes third, Portland finishes fourth and San Antonio finishes fifth. In this scenario, San Antonio (5) plays Portland (4). Portland gets home court advantage.

6) If Denver wins, Houston wins, Portland loses and San Antonio wins, then Denver finishes second, Houston finishes third, San Antonio finishes fourth and Portland finishes fifth. In this scenario, Portland (5) plays San Antonio (4). San Antonio gets home court advantage.

7) If Denver wins, Houston loses, Portland loses and San Antonio wins, then Denver finishes second, San Antonio finishes third, Houston finishes fourth and Portland finishes fifth. In this scenario, Portland (5) plays Houston (4). Houston gets home court advantage.

8) If Denver wins, Houston wins, Portland loses and San Antonio loses, then Denver finishes second, Houston finishes third, Portland finishes fourth and San Antonio finishes fifth. In this scenario, San Antonio (5) plays Portland (4). Portland gets home court advantage.

• Portland secures home court in first round with win vs. Denver (or a San Antonio loss).
• Portland would have home court in the first round in 6 of 8 possible scenarios.

Matchup, number of scenarios, percentage of possibilities

San Antonio (5) at Portland (4), 4, 50%
New Orleans (6) at Portland (3), 1, 12.50%
Houston (5) at Portland (4), 1, 12.50%
Portland (5) at San Antonio (4), 1, 12.50%
Portland (5) at Houston (4), 1, 12.50%

Portland opponent, number of scenarios, percentage of possibilities
San Antonio, 5, 62.50%
Houston, 2, 25.00%
New Orleans, 1, 12.50%

So there you go. Forsake all others before this list.

(By the way, what's your least favorite scenario? Me, got to be No. 7. Having to play Houston, at Houston? No thanks.)

Video: Roy, Outlaw Postgame

In this edition of postgame video, Brandon Roy plays it coy when discussing which team he'd like to play in the first round and Travis Outlaw discusses moving to the starting lineup and the corresponding end to his shooting slump.

McMillan On Playoff Matchups: 'Everybody Wants Us'

Head Coach Nate McMillan claims he doesn't have a preference as to which team the Trail Blazers draw in the playoffs. And maybe he doesn't. But he does have an idea of what teams the rest of the Western Conference is hoping for.

"I think everybody wants us," said McMillan prior to Monday's game against the Thunder. "I would think that all the teams in the playoffs would want the young team. I would want the young Blazers."

But the media on hand, including Yahoo Sports' Johnny Ludden and ESPN's John Hollinger, weren't buying it. The media in attendance seemed to be in of one mind that the Blazers are the team most other playoff teams would like to avoid, but McMillan stood firm in his declaration.

"I think they do (want to play Portland in the playoffs)," said McMillan. "Just think about it: Would you want Utah or would you want Dallas or would you want New Orleans?"

The answer from the media: a resounding "Yes."

McMillan, as always, remained steadfast.

Said McMillan: "If I’m looking at those teams, I would think that they would want a young team coming into the playoffs."

Portland certainly is young, but I don't know that there are a whole lot of teams outside of Houston and Dallas that would like to draw the Trail Blazers. And if the Blazers end up with home court? No team, and I mean NO team, wants to enter a series knowing they have to steal a game at the Rose Garden.

Just don't try convincing Coach McMillan of that.