Luke Babbitt: Passing the Torch

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Somewhere along the line, Felton got mixed up when Luke tried to hand him the Chalupa Torch. More of my art is here.

A Good Old Fashioned Tank Off

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Nothing like a visit from the lowly New Orleans Hornets on a rainy Thursday evening to really suck the fun out of basketball. With both the Hornets and the Portland Trail Blazers sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference, tonight was a good old fashioned tank off.

The crowd was dead, the teams were lethargic—the atmosphere felt more like pre-season than any sort of late season contest. Some of the largest cheers of the night came from a couple successive Luke Babbitt threes. Whether the cheering was facetious or real, I’m not sure. Babbitt did end the night with a career high, though, even though Nicolas Batum gave him grief after the game for only being able to go left off the dribble.

It’s no coincidence that now, when losing teams have little left to play for and would be better situated for future success by avoiding wins, is when Henry Abbott introduced his brave new tank-free world. Watching teams go through the motions with nothing at stake is downright brutal.

Credit to the Hornets, though. Former Blazer assistant Monty Williams has his team playing with all sorts of scrap and energy, even though they’re currently missing key pieces like Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Trevor Ariza, and Jarrett Jack. With short-handed wins against the Wolves and the Clippers, and a couple of close losses to the Spurs and Lakers, it’s like the Hornets don’t realize tanking is in their best interest.

Which is how it should be.

“Coach Monty and his staff, they do a tremendous job,” said Blazers coach Kaleb Canales. “Those guys are going to come out hard every single night, and they did.”

But for now, with their thirty-eighth loss, the Hornets technically got the best of tonight’s matchup. More losses, more ping pong balls, more chances to get a high draft pick. Portland earned the victory, but the win almost rings hollow in this tanking atmosphere.

Riding the starters at this point seems completely counterintuitive. LaMarcus Aldridge had to have an MRI on an aching hip recently—giving him a couple nights off to prevent further injury would be in the team’s best interest.

Jamal Crawford, mired in an unbelievably bad shooting slump, shouldn’t be getting twenty minutes a night. Air Bud deserves more minutes than Crawford at this point.

Raymond Felton? Ugh. His future is not in Portland, especially not after he choked away two chalupa-sealing free throws at the end of tonight’s game.

This season is lost—why not give Hasheem Thabeet some run to see if his career can be salvaged? Why not roll the dice with Jonny Flynn? What’s the worst that can happen? The team losing is technically the best case scenario, and there’s a chance that one of these guys proves to be a great fit for the team who will earn a spot in the rotation next year.

It’s working for J.J. Hickson. He’s played meaningful minutes, found himself on the court during the end of a tight game, and because of his solid play, Joel Przybilla only played sixteen minutes and Kurt Thomas earned a DNP-CD. He’s not an answer, but he’s proving he could be an important cog in the Blazer’s pinwheel going forward.

As long as teams are going to be rewarded for tanking through the lottery, wins are useless. Good on Portland for pulling out a tight victory—the guys seemed to be really enjoying themselves in the locker room after the game, something that hasn’t been seen much this season—but the unfortunate reality is the loss would have been so much more important.

Quick Pick and Scroll: Thursday, March 29, 2012.

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

Links:

  • Oregonian Sports previews tonight’s tilt between Portland and the New Orleans Hornets. 
  • Raymond Felton is still dealing with family issues, Nolan Smith’s defense is impressing, Jonny Flynn figures to see more minutes, and coach Canales pays tribute to his mentor in Mike Tokito’s practice report. 
  • Wesley Matthews has broken Blazers’ hearts with his off-putting offensive display, but Joe Freeman shows you can’t knock the man’s iron will
  • The “Nellie Ball” legacy is finally going to be cemented in NBA Hall-of-Fame lore. Don Nelson finally got the HOF call.  
  • By the way, if your scroll wheel is broken, Maddison Bond has been illuminating the site with his illustrations. Peep ‘em
  • Weekly OMGLOL Blake Griffin moment
  • Newish Denver Nugget Javale McGee reminds us that you can’t teach height, or irrational charge-taking confidence (vamos Jose!!).
  • Take it away YouTuber: “When the pregame clock goes under 4 minutes, Denver Nuggets equipment manager Sparky Gonzalez shouts “3:59, time to go to work!” and Iske follows with a guttural scream that typically lasts six to eight seconds.” Yes, apparently this is a thing. 

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section.

Blazers Tweet Beat: Hoods up Edition

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Posted immediately before OKC took the floor in Portland on Tuesday

The Blazers are becoming an increasingly Twitter friendly bunch. The Blazer Tweet Beat highlights the Blazer tweets you may have missed if you are too smart to waste all of your time on Twitter. Then, for no reason, a winner is chosen. Make sure to follow us @pdxroundball.

It’s been a while, and we know you’ve been feeling neglected. But rest assured: We’re back on the Tweet Beat.

Without Patty Mills to keep the players focused on Tweeting, the pickings are slim. Thankfully Blazers owner Paul Allen upped his Tweet game and kicked off the week, live Tweeting James Cameron’s solo submarine mission to the deepest point on earth. Seriously.

 @paulgallen: Arrived Guam. Hope to see James Cameron’s make 2nd dive ever to bottom of the Pacific’s Mariana Trench. Not done since ’60.

@paulgallen: sub in the water dive commencing in 10 minutes! Good luck to James Cameron!

@paulgallen: James Cameron now the deepest solo diver in history, 3rd deepest ocean diver ever…25550 ft.

Nolan Smith and I both enjoy hush puppies:

@ndotsmitty: What restaurant am I eating at in Portland. Good luck. Lol. Follow to win.

@ndotsmitty: Ding ding!!! Winner RT @crazietalker: @NdotSmitty screen door

Matthews and Aldridge posted the following photos:

Eliot Williams almost had the week locked up with this one:

@ewill901: I wonder of the girl from “Coming to America” is still barking on one leg

But Craig Smith came through with the Winner for the week:

@csmeezy1: Headed into the to catch up with a fello rhino.

 

You can, of course, follow the endlessly charming and witty PRS crew: Rob @futurehorse, Sean @shighkinNBA, Erik @ErikCAnderson, Maddison @maddisonbond, Scott @scottleedy, and myself @pdxlex. The venerable Andrew Tonry’s thoughts cannot be limited to a paltry 140 characters, so he abstains.

 

Meet: Jonny Flynn

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Our next player we’d like you to meet in our continuing series is Jonny Flynn. Again, thanks to the superb factoid makers over at Adult Highlights.

PICK AND SCROLL: THURSDAY FEB. 9, 2012. GM Quest Initiated

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

Hope.

It’s  the only consolation for an otherwise damning season for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Last night’s youthful point guard exhibition left fans feeling indifferent. Nolan Smith started his first game as a pro and finished looking like an amateur, shooting 1-9 for three points and recording three assists during a career-high 26 minutes. Fellow backcourt newcomer Jonny Flynn finished with 10 points and five assists. Throughout the game both were exposed on defense numerous times.

All-NBA guard Russell Westbrook, unsurprisingly, feasted on the young bucks on his way to 32 points and eight assists, while leading his Thunder to a 109-95 victory.

Although the victories aren’t coming easily during a slummy season for the Blazers, hope is being reinstated with news that the decrepit vacancy of general manager may be changing sooner than later. 

Team President Larry Miller announced the Blazers have reopened their quest to find the next Kevin Pritchard. Viable candidates include Steve Kerr, known most for making Steve Nash’s Suns relavant, and Danny Ainge, the craftsman that orchestrated moves to bring two Hall-of-Famers to Boston.  

Inspired yet?

Let’s hear your thoughts on the Blazers youngsters’ play and the GM search below in the comments section.

Links:

  • Jason Quick at the Oregonian has details on the GM search
  • Westbrook and Kevin Durant did their thing against the Blazers last night, but J.J. Hickson and Flynn had decent games. Joe Freeman at the O took a closer look at the newbies
  • Nolan Smith made his first career start last night. Even more peculiar, it came against the coach he’s had a personal tie to since infancy, according to Mike Tokito at the O. 

The association came through the relationship Brooks built with Smith’s late father, Derek Smith. When Brooks was an undrafted rookie with the 76ers in 1988, he joined a team that included Derek Smith, who was in his seventh NBA season and had a young son named Nolan. Derek Smith and Brooks became close friends.

The Thunder had 14 assists in the first half, but just two assists after intermission, yet still won handily thanks to driving the basketball and defense that frequently resulted in easy baskets.

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section.

Oklahoma City 109, Portland 95

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An impressive twenty-thousand fans gathered at the Rose Garden tonight to watch the tryouts for the Trail Blazers’ starting point guard position for the 2012-2013 season. The Portland crowd had the good fortune of the audition taking place against the best team in the West. Oklahoma City was kind enough to put on a great show for the horde, featuring completed fast breaks (14 pts.), blocked shots (eight), and 66% shooting in the first half.

Let’s back up.

With Raymond Felton away from the team (family reasons), Nolan Smith got his first career start, with newly acquired Jonny Flynn coming off the bench. Each competing for 25 minutes in what—save for the third quarter—might better qualify as a scrimmage, coaches and fans got their best look yet at the potential backcourt combination of Smith and Flynn.

It would be a relief to report that fans can rest assured knowing that the inevitable Felton replacement is already here in Portland, but that feels too optimistic. Even making allowances for the context of this game (the second best team in the league featuring an all-star point guard), it would be difficult to anoint either Smith or Flynn the heir-apparent just yet.

That’s not to say it would mean major problems if either one started at the point guard next season.

In fact Flynn’s second half was impressive: 10 points (three of four shooting), three assists (five on the night), and two trips to the free throw line wrapped up a solid 14 minutes of play; impressive on the offensive end at least. After being down by as many as 21, Portland cut the lead to five in the third quarter. Flynn found himself the casualty of a scoring fury by Russell Westbrook who would put up 10 in a quick three minutes, pushing the Thunder back up by 19 with 3:03 to play.

Flynn described his time on the court as “the first meaningful minutes that I got this whole season. On a personal standpoint just to be able to compete…it felt good.” Flynn added that he hadn’t played much this year and he still had to “shake a bit of the rust off and fine tune” his game. He offered some additional insight into his approach to the game in his locker room interview:

Despite “feeling relaxed as soon as the jump ball went up,” Smith’s game was noticeably tight compared to the ease Flynn displayed on the court. He shot just 1-9 from the floor, assisting on only two plays, and never looked comfortable. After the game Coach Canales explained that he spoke with both Smith and Flynn about “getting energy on the defensive end,” but Smith couldn’t seem to find energy on either end tonight.

More from Coach:

Not officially billed as part of the tonight’s tryout, JJ Hickson stood out as the most promising acquisition of the 2012 season. He’s not going to win style or grace points, but Hickson is a capable scorer in the post, besting LaMarcus Aldridge for a team-high 21 points in his 26 minutes. He hit his first eight attempts, finishing 9-of-10 for the night. Though disappointed with the loss, in the locker room Hickson reiterated the feeling that his coming to Portland has been a great opportunity, one he is thankful for. Asked about his long-term prospects as a Blazer he pointed out that whether he is in Portland next year is up to the organization, but added that he is “loving Portland, and I’m happy I’m here.” He of course quipped: “It rains too much.”

For the first time in nearly two weeks, the focus was not on Portland’s disappointing season or lottery picks, but on a future built with some of the pieces already here in Portland. The Rose Garden felt relieved. Portland outscored Oklahoma City 14-2 during a thrilling run featuring an aggressive Nicolas Batum who scored nine points in the stretch. Ultimately Oklahoma City made its own push, never allowing Portland to get closer than within five points. Regardless, the effort the Blazers displayed was enough to forget about pingpong balls for a night and enjoy this current roster, before it’s disassembled in a few months.

Final Notes:

  • Hickson’s team-high 21 points was also a season-high for JJ.
  • OKC out-rebonded Portland 43-30
  • Thabeet scored two points in three minutes of burn. For more on Thabeet watch the Hickson video above, where his outfit is a prominent feature.
  • The Thunder scored an incredible 50 points in the paint to the Blazers’ 36.
  • Raymond Felton flew to South Carolina to be with his mother while she had heart surgery. He is expected to return for the game against New Orleans Thursday. The PRS crew wishes his mother a quick recovery.
  • There were easily more Sonics than Thunder jerseys at the Rose Garden tonight. At least one in every ten jersey-wearing fans was supporting a team other than the Blazers. And that’s a conservative estimate.

PICK AND SCROLL: THURSDAY March 27, 2012. Thunder rolling in.

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

Still. Not. Goaltending. 

Portland (23-26) takes on the Oklahoma City Thunder (37-12) tonight in the Rose Garden. 

Links:

  • Oregonian sports preview for tonight’s contest between the Blazers and Thunder. 
  • Joe Freeman at the O knows there will be a new starting point guard tonight with Raymond Felton out, but who will it be
  • The Oregonian’s Mike Tokito reports about the “player-development guru” Tim Grgurich stopped by at a Blazer practice over the weekend. 
  • Nic Batum is still haunted by his late game blunder in the previous match up against the Thunder, according to The Columbian’s Matt Calkins. 
  • Ben Golliver over at BlazersEdge has his practice notes from Monday’s Blazer practice. Felton won’t be playing tonight due to family reasons. 
  • Are the Blazers tanking? Kevin Felton at basketballprospectus.com takes a closer look at the art of tanking.

As important to this definition is what it does not include. Trading away veteran players for young ones is not necessarily tanking. That accusation was lobbed in the direction of the Portland Trail Blazers after this year’s trade deadline, when the Blazers sent away starters Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace in exchange for draft picks, injured players and little-used former 2009 lottery picks.

Portland’s acting general manager, Chad Buchanan, made clear in his comments after the trades that the Blazers still hoped to make the playoffs. While that prospect may seem unlikely with this roster, keep in mind the previous group lost three of its last four games together by at least 17 points, which can hardly be described as a playoff push. Indeed, if Portland is tanking, somebody forgot to tell interim head coach Kaleb Canales and his players, who went on to defeat the Chicago Bulls in Canales’ debut on the sidelines and have gone 3-3 since the moves. 

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section. 

Meet: Hasheem Thabeet

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Portland has acquired some new players. And rather than debate their merits, I’ve decided to help you get to know them better. So cozy up and enjoy some exclusive factoids. Fun facts provided by a crack team of researchers from Factoids Etc.

Note: Please do not use any of these as actual facts. Please.

Pick and Scroll: Monday March 26, 2012. Does anyone love Raymond?

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

The Raymond Felton debate rages on.

During the past 6 games, the University of North Carolina point guard product has looked like the player Blazers fans imagined they’d be seeing all season when Denver shipped him over.

While this may have been encouraging several weeks ago, most fans want a glimpse Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith to determine what the future yields at the point guard position — especially during March Madness when youth and potential are trigger-words thrown around loosely.

Links:

Felton entered the game shooting 25.5 percent from three-point range and 38.8 percent overall, but even after a 2-for-11 effort against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, Felton said he considers himself a good shooter who plays on a team where he does not have to score as much as he can.


“I just continued to build confidence and I just continued to take them,” Felton said. “Guys were finding me and telling me to shoot it.”
 

  • But is a resurgent Felton what Portland needs moving forward? Jason Quick at the Oregonian doesn’t think so

That’s why every game Smith and Flynn sit, the more the Blazers are missing an opportunity to make an informed decision about their point guard future.

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section.