TRAIL BLAZERS 106, THUNDER 89: NEGATIVE LOVE

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Watch Westbrook get a fast break dunk to end the first half. Over and over. Rub your face in it. Let’s its horror fill your face, in your mouth and your nose and your pores. Every line of your face, caked with the Blazers ignoring Westbrook leaking out after a make and topping the giant, disgusting prune cake of a first half he had with a cherry, then spitting all over the cake and throwing it into the Blazers’ faces.

The widespread game plan for stopping Westbrook during this time when he is playing without Durant will be doubling down on packing the paint and making him take jump shots. The Blazers do this anyway: Lopez drops back to the rim on pick and rolls to protect the rim and get solid get contests, blah blah blah, you know already. The Thunder came into the game knowing this, and did something different. Instead of having him dribble penetrate into the broader defense, they set Westbrook right at Lillard, sticking him in the post and running him off baseline cuts for scores at the rim and foul shots (Westbrook took a lot of foul shots, and he earned most of them). And because he is bigger and faster than Lillard, it worked. He went on an insane rampage in the first half, setting a pace to break his own career high and fulfill the prophecy of every frustrated guy in a dress shirt standing around a water cooler and saying “With Durant out, Westbrook is gonna go wild, man.”

It didn’t help that the Blazers were not good in the first half. Lillard didn’t score, at all. Batum also didn’t score, but that was not as weird because it’s fairly characteristic. Aldridge and Matthews and Chris Kaman, in his first game in a Blazer smock, played pretty well, keeping Westbrook from personally running away with the game.

Thankfully, it was an unsustainable shittiness. Lillard and Batum shot better in the second half. Batum shifted onto Westbrook and cooled him enough that he didn’t manage his career high like everyone assumed he would after the first half. The Blazers evened the game up in the third, pulled away in the fourth and went on a run that induced garbage time minutes by the end of the game. A game that seemed like it was a clusterfuck in the beginning was actually 17 point win against a colossally understaffed opponent, it just didn’t really reveal itself until the end. Cleanse Westbrook’s shoddily defended fast break dunk from your mind. It’s over now, it never really existed. Batum serving up a tasty dish to LMA on the fast break was all that happened. The bad man is gone, he didn’t manage to personally tear the Blazers limb from limb as we feared.

 

RUNNING THOUGHTS:

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-This shot was a LaMarcus Aldridge three he made while trailing on the fast break, assisted by Wesley Matthews. It was the only three he took, but oh man, it was a hell of a three. I will believe that LaMarcus is shooting threes on the regular when I see LaMarcus shooting threes on the regular. But my lil’ heart had itself a little giggle when I saw him drill a trailer like it was the most normal thing in the world.

-Kaman looks pretty good. He made a sweet postuppy turnaround in the first, a slick move he learned while observing a fish, fighting for its life at the end of his line. Steve Blake was good tonight. He also had a really sweet encouraging shoulder grab after Lillard made a difficult three pointer to haul himself out of his first half shitdrums. They do studies on these things, physical contact among basketball players is a good sign. Blake played with Steve Nash, the king of physical contact, and he’s bringing that touchy-feeliness to the Blazers. By the time these guys are in the playoffs, there’s gonna be a nightly hug line. Physical manifestations of connectins that run deeper than the ocean.  I am sure Kaman And Blake will reveal themselves as irritating or somehow incomplete and frustrating as time marches on, but right now I am just happy they are competent bench players.

-Playing rotation minutes tonight: Starters, Blake, Kaman, McColloumn. Wright and Freeland both played before Garbage time, but only 3-4 minutes. Is Terry going to keep this short rotation thing going?

-The Thunder started Steven Adams. They are moving away from Perkins. A nation of people rooting against the Thunder weep for this new found common sense.

-I missed some of the beginning of the third quarter because I was watching the end of the World Series. If I missed something really important during that time, please leave a message before. I know you expect better from your bloggers, and I subcame to the fast living sexual lifestyle of baseball’s erotic touch.

BLAZERS PREVIEW PART FOUR: SCHRUNK THE SALMON’S SUMMERTIME ADVENTURE! (AS TOLD TO CORBIN SMITH)

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(Jason drew and colored this picture.)

BOYS, GIRLS, CHILDREN, ADULTS, IT’S TIME FOR PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS SEASON 2014-15!!

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Hello there, everyone! My name is Schrunk the Salmon! I am a Salmon who LOVES the Portland Trail Blazers! Every winter, I swim upstream, back from my summer home in the Pacific, so I can sit in the Willamette River, right underneath the MAX Bridge, and be close to the action! I watch every game on a TV I have underneath the water! That’s right, there’s a TV in the water! It has cable, too! As you can see, I am wearing a VERY Jaunty top hat, because I am CELEBRATING the beginning of another season of TRAIL BLAZER BASKETBALL! Normally I wear a cookskin cap, like this…

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…because I am a pioneering salmon who loves adventure! Here are some of the place I have been this summer, telling everyone about how much I LOVE the Portland Trail Blazers!

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First, I went to TOKYO, JAPAN! I even managed to take in a YOMIYURI GIANTS GAME!

I rooted for the GIANTS, because A. I ALWAYS root for the home team (Unless they’re playing THE BLAZERS! and B. They were playing the Hiroshima Carp, and lord knows a self respecting SALMON OF THE MIGHTY OCEAN isn’t going to cap up for an organization who aligns themselves with a crummy fish like THE CARP!

Everyone in Japan was talking about the Blazers. There is not larger nation of Blazermaniacs than the Land of 6,852 Islands. Banners in every storefront. The name “LaMarcus Aldridge” on every man, woman and child’s tongue. A cartoon rendering of Damian Lillard, dressed in a sharp black tuxedo hopped from video billboard to video billboard, selling a popular brand of luxury ramen. A series of popular skin cream commercials starring Meyers Leonard.

The Blazers are SO POPULAR in Japan that they were in the middle of a HOT POLITICAL TORRENTIAL STORM while I was there! Prime minister Shinzō Abe, in a press conference, said that he was going to “Dunk on economic stagnation, like Blake Griffin, the best power forward in the NBA!” Of course, a country full of Rip City loyal wasn’t going to take that sitting down! His office was flooded with calls, protesters lined the street, bomb threats were called in untll the Minister appeared to the media and apologized: “My deepest regrets regarding my comments on Wednesday. LMA is way better than Blake, obviously. Everyone knows it. It was a slip of my tongue.”

 

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Then I went to SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, the LAND OF MARSUPIAL GOLD!

The people there said things like “Blimey, I never seen such a sight like a talkin salmon? An what is a Portlan’ Tral Blazer, exactly?” I couldn’t understand a thing they were saying! Australian is such a funny language! I didn’t manage to see any boomerangs, unfortunately!

Here’s hoping the Blazer’s wings, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum, have BOOMERANG seasons, running back and forth on the court, knocking opposing kangaroos out of the game and bringing home the wallabee meat from the corners and the wings!

Will the Blazers go DOWN UNDER to LaMarcus this year? I submit: only if they want to win basketball games!

Will the Blazers leave the PRISON COLONY of the middle of the playoff pack and join the UNITED NATIONS of genuine championship contention? Only if some of their young bench players take a leap forward and provide enough depth to keep the starters rested and ready for a playoff run!

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Then off to Alaska, to visit my family! But on the way there, I ran into a SCARY ORCA!

I saw him before he saw me. I swam left! I swam right! I swam up and down! But right before he was about to devour my soft pink flesh, he stopped! “Hey,” he said, in the internspecies language of all sea creatures, “Aren’t you Schrunk the Salmon, the beloved and rightful mascot of the Portland Trail Blazers?”

“Why yes, I am!”

“Oh man,” said the Orca, “I LOVE THE BLAZERS. My favorite player is Damian Lillard. That guy has nerves of steel. Do you think he can go to the next level this year?”

“Well,” I said, relieved that my life had been saved by the Blazers once again, “He came into the league when he was a little older, so the idea that he is going to DRASTICALLY improve is balderdash! But if he can improve his defense, he might be on of the best point guards in the league this season!”

“Food for thought!” Said the Orca. “I’m not really a stats guy, I mostly just watch the games. But I respect where guys like you come from on that. Anyway, I better go! I need to kill and eat something today, or I’ll starve to death!

Then to the Alaskan Coast, to see my family!

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You know what it’s like, hanging out with your family after nine whole months away, they have so many questions and opinions and whatnot!

“Schrunk,” they say, “How are the Blazers going to do this year?”

“Hey Schrunk, you gotta do something about that Blazer defense! We’re never taking the chip without a top ten D!”

“Brother Schrunk, what is Lamarcus Aldridge REALLY like? Is he really as cool a customer as he seems when he is drilling those 15 foot jump shots?”

“Schrunk, Sweetie, when are you going to finally settle down and spawn?”

Geez mom, this is embarrassing! I haven’t encountered the right pile of eggs sitting in gravel yet! Besides, I ain’t spawning until the Blazer take home that ring. I am a FULL TIME FAN, can’t be wastin’ precious daylight trying to explain the glory and power of the trail blazers a bunch of fertilized eggs!

“Hey, Son, does Rasheed Wallace still play for the Blazers?” (No, dad, that was like, 15 years ago! Dad is more of a baseball fan)

“You know, Schrunk, I remember when Bill Walton was on the Blazers. He would throw an outlet pass that should strip your scales right off!”

It was great traveling around the world, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones, discovering new cultures and narrowly escaping escaping death because I am a minor celebrity. But, as Mark Twain once said: “Home is where the heart is, and my heart, Mark Twain’s heart, is sitting right in front of the ol’ television at seven o’clock on a Wednesday night, ready to watch my Portland Trail Blazers, once again, that’s me, Mark Twain, the Blazers are my team, either whoop on some sad ass opponent or get swindled out of a game by referees, who are the scum of the earth. If the Blazers don’t win the title this year, it had nothing to do with their ability or determination, it will be because of a conspiracy to keep the out of the finals, just because they are Mark Twain’s preferred team, once again, I am Mark Twain.”

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So I’m back, and ready to CHEER ON THE ONLY TEAM THAT MATTERS, from Toyko to Portland to all the oceans of the world: THE PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS! GO BLAZERS!

WESTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW: A PINK CRUSTACEAN TOUR

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A common thing you run into is haiku, a poetry style with a set number of syllables that’s stolen from another culture that speaks a different language and something we really shouldn’t be diminishing by assigning to small children in school who don’t speak that different language.
So I won’t use haiku. Instead, I will use the syllabic scheme of an American classic, Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville.” When I was younger and went for nights on the town with friends I always assumed that if a jukebox or radio played “Margaritaville” horrible things would happen, and once or twice they did, confirming my sloppy hypothesis.
Here’s your Western Conference Preview, “Margaritaville” version. (Be glad I didn’t go with “Hotel California.” I thought about that.)
Though they had Bosh but
That good plan went kaput
Now they’re still stuck with their Harden and Dwight
Each sure is a great star
But Houston won’t go far
Because their great stars just aren’t too darn bright
Wastin’ away in McHale Rocketville . . .
L.A.’s a shithole
For people with no soul
A chosen trade destination for Paul
Now he and his mate Blake
Are on the ad-campaign take
Since God is awful, they might win it all
Wastin’ away in no-more-Sterling-ville . . .
Then you’ve got Oakland
San Fran’s demeaned back end
Whose fans deserve so much more than they’ve got
Yet when all is spoken
Those fans will be broken
Easing the pain with medicinal RAW OPIUM SHOT INTO THE EYEBALLS
Wastin’ away in Golden State-‘o’-ville . . .
Alamo athletes
Are old and don’t do Tweets
For the NBA, the Spurs are dull shit
Which should put to all rest
Conspiracy theorists
Claim the league is rigged, you’re kind of a twit
Wastin’ away again in geezer win-a-ville . . .
Damian Lillard
Drained like he was L-Bird
A nifty basket that made us all scream
I wish this did portend
The Blazers will contend
But they’re not that good and so it’s a dream.
Wastin’ away again in Moda Centerville
Tryin’ to pick Portland but I can’t
These rhymes are lame, but I’m no writer of fame
So I think
I’ll go with Durant.
(doo-doo-do-doo-doo, doo-doo-do-doo-doo, doo-do-doo-do-doo-do.)

EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW: THE ERUPTION OF MOUNT OLYMPUS

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In the Eastern Conference of the National Basketball Association in the year 2014, which has a season that will extend into the year 2015, provided humanity doesn’t destroy itself before 2015, C.E., there is one basketball team competing to see if it can surpass the nonexistent other basketball teams in the conference to win the conference championship against itself. Let us pray:

LEBRON had becometh bored, and sought unto those whom were wise and many whom were skilledeth in the manner of rebranding oneselfeth, and they didst say Unto Him:
2 “Thou shalt should maybe possibly leave Miami. For much lauding and salutations cometh to He who is victorious and smotes his foes on a team of ringers; but woe be unto him whose team of ringers looks like they don’t care anymore.”
3  LEBRON didst consider these words, and didst not consider the fortunes of Wade or Bosh whom He had once pretended to lovest, and LEBRON asked those of knowledge and marketing, “what team shall I play for?”
4  The Wise Ones didst sayeth unto LEBRON, “Thou shalt play for Cleveland. For this shalth be seeneth as a Decision, like the other one you made, but with more heart, and while thy heart is absent from thy frame it is goodeth to sorta pretend you have one. It selleth more merch.”
5  And Lo, didst LEBRON proceed into the wilderness, and gaveth these matters of much ponder, and signed with Cleveland. For Cleveland hath younger ringers, and might obtain more, and whilst it is benamed “The Unholy Sin Uponst The Body Of Water” this is not exactly fair; Miami’s exactly as much of a dump.
2  LEBRON called Kevin Love who said “get me out of this roach-infested mess of a horrible organization, please.”
2  LEBRON didst save Kevin Love from the wailing and gnashing of teeth. In Ohio, there was much rejoicing.
3  And somehow this became Kevin Love’s ego trip in the popular eye. And the Wise Ones who rebranded LEBRON chortled while checking their new account balances; for theirs was a task lo, mighty and of great peril, yea they didst succeed in pleasing LEBRON.
Those of us who enjoy NBA basketball, for its fluidity and excitement and athletes who are rarely as awful as NFL players, have a little hurdle to overcome every season. That hurdle doesn’t really have a name, that I’m aware of, but you could call it “the inevitability factor.” Like prostate problems for aging male humans, the end result of any given NBA season is pretty much inevitable. In most team sports, the wizards (not the John Wall kind) and wise men make their preseason predictions and always seem to miss something. One sure-thing team struggles, one underdog arises from nowhere. Not so much in the NBA, unless one of the sure-thing teams is counting on the health of Derrick Rose.
Cleveland could lose any of their Big Three to injury for three months and still make the East playoffs. Once they get there, assuming everyone still has all of their limbs, they will win the East playoffs. That won’t be until late April, and ESPN has promises to keep and hours to fill before you sleep, so we will be subjected to all kinds of LEBRON Drama. Will He succeed in turning a new team of ringers into a Champion? When the Cavaliers (incidentally, this refers to “knights,” like medieval knights on horseback, and I have no conceivable idea why) go through a stretch of losing two straight games, will you tune into SportsCenter and pay attention to mellifluous windsor knots spewing nonsense about how the Cavs are at a “turning point” in their season? Are you fascinated by whether or not Kevin Love will be labeled a “winner” instead of a “stat hog?”
If this stuff does interest you, fear not; there’s probably nothing wrong with your brain. Human beings have been attributing stories and personalities to inevitable phenomena since human beings invented stories. We call upon gods to stop droughts, see patterns in the stars, and imagine that our pets actually care about our well-being. This is natural and nothing to worry about.
What’s odd about LEBRON isn’t the desire of basketball fans to give Him human feelings, as we do clouds and cute cat faces, or even how the NBA and its broadcasters want to pretend He is human, but how LEBRON Himself seems to absorb these anthropomorphized notions and run with them as though they, or He, were actual things. Like HAL getting uppity, or Terry Pratchett’s Death spending so much time among humans it begins to rub off a little, LEBRON appears to want to be a Real Boy.
My first instinct is to say that this sort of thing should not be encouraged. You start with letting LEBRON think of Himself as a person, next you know there are all kinds of minor deities incorporating themselves all over the place, mating with humans, selectively discarding their supernatural powers when it suits their humility whim while getting all magic when they want to do miracles and such. And there goes the neighborhood.
But, seeing as we are really the creators of these things, and not the other way around, we should probably regard their attempts to become human as a kind of adolescent phase, and respond appropriately. You don’t want to tell a God what they can’t do; it just makes Them rebellious, and possibly likely to hang out with the wrong crowd. Let Them work it out for Themselves.
If it goes badly, we can always point to the other deities who we nurtured into adulthood without too many crimes and misdemeanors on their record. SCIENCE turned out smart, if a bit Asperger’s-y, STARDOM gave us some charming stories to tell if we forgot its hideous behavior at family reunions, and PROGRESS . . . well, that was Mom’s fault.

BLAZERS PREVIEW PART 3: A TREMENDOUSLY EXCITING LIST OF PLAYERS

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This post is PERFECT if you don’t know what players are on the Blazers:

(Presented in alphabetical order)

LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE

WHO IS HE? The starting power forward on the Portland Trail Blazers. The team’s leader in points, rebounds, and usage rate. Good in the post and from midrange, which are regarded by a certain type of basketball analyst as “The Dinosaur Zones.” Calm and serene like an ocean.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

 

IDEAL CONDITIONS FOR EXPERIENCING HIS GAME: I once set up his PhantomCam highlights to “You Are Wherever Your Thoughts Are” by Steve Reich and it was a very moving moment.

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: He is as good as he was last year, but some of the long twos turn into threes and kick up his true shooting percentage. Also becomes magically comfortable with playing center and allows the Blazers to send out offensive lineups that turn opposing defenses into the final act of Days of Heaven.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON (Barring a catastrophic injury): Slightly worse than he was last year, in a “we are not in the slow decline phase,” sort of way. I have a hard time believing anything is going to change too dramatically this late in the game.

WILL BARTON

WHO IS HE: Helter skelter bench wing with some oddball ball handling skills. “Has a lot of potential.” An aesthetic joy.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

NICKNAMES: “Will the Thrill” “The People’s Champ” “The Memphis Strike Jet” “The Flying Headband” “Willions Barton”

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Becomes a consistent rotation player by:

OPTION ONE: Shooting threes at a 35ish percent clip and playing good defense.

AND/OR OPTION TWO: Working as a as a secondary ballhandling option in bench units.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Rides pine, taunting people with occasional displays of fist pump inspiring magic.

NICOLAS BATUM

WHO IS HE: A do-many-things-well small forward from France.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

 

IS HE WORLDLY?: This summer he went to: Brazil, China, Taiwan, Paris and the G-8 Summit, flew in a helicopter over some goddamn crater, AND was First-Team All-FIBA World Cup. Meanwhile, AT BEST, you went to Multnomah Falls.

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: God, what a loaded question. A certain type of person would say “Be more consistent,” but inconsistency is, as with his fellow countryman Boris Diaw, an essential part of Batum’s makeup. Not forcing things is at the core of what Batum does night to night. I would trend more towards “Becomes a more significant defensive presence in addition to all the other stuff he does.”

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Has an existential crisis and refuses to leave the bench. Starts writing very bad poetry about meaninglessness.

 

STEVE BLAKE

WHO IS HE: Your stepdad.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

 BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Relegated to respectable fourth guard when McCollum and Barton have breakout seasons.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Plays entirely too often with way too many responsibilities. Takes Lillard’s starting spot somehow.

VICTOR CLAVER

WHO IS HE: A European guy who played for the Blazers for three years and never got off the bench.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

NO, SERIOUSLY, WHO IS HE? I don’t know, for real. I think saw him hit threes once. He plays for the Spanish National Team, too, and I have watched a lot of their games and can’t think of anything he did.

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: He plays basketball for the Blazers in a NBA stadium during an NBA Game.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Gets waived and picked up by the Spurs, where he wins Finals MVP.

 

ALLEN CRABBE:

WHO IS HE? A guy who shoots threes, probably.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

HAHA CRABBE, LIKE THE SEAFOOD. DOES HE HAVE ANYTHING IN COMMON WITH CRABS? No. I guess his arms are long. Do crabs have long arms or is that lobsters?

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: He plays basketball for the Blazers in a NBA stadium during an NBA Game.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Gets waived and picked up by the Spurs, where he wins Finals MVP.

 

JOEL FREELAND:

WHO IS HE? British big man who was doing solid-defense-type-stuff before he went down with a knee injury last year. Has “I’m exhausted” facial hair. Is often called “Bulldog,” despite being very tall and fairly mild mannered.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Rediscovers his potent-in-Europe midrange jump shot and his stout, pro-basketball veteran-y defensive work from the beginning of last year and emerges as a fourth-big for the team.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Does none of these things, openly yearns for the warm embrace of mother Britannia.

 

CHRIS KAMAN:

WHO IS HE: Aging center with some offensive skills. Kills animals, which is impressive if you are into heteronormative stuff.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Good backup big man, which is actually kind of a high bar, because backup big men are, by definition, kind of awful.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Injury-ridden.

 

MEYERS LEONARD

WHO IS HE? A human being in the NBA.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Does… something to become an NBA player. Plays defense, shoots threes, rebounds, maybe just gets into rando fights midgame.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Sits on bench. Stares into distance, a storm in his sad eyes. Brings the storm on the court during blowouts, where he mishandles passes on offense and ambles about on defense.

 

DAMIAN LILLARD:

WHO IS HE? Dame. Point guard. Shoots threes, takes it to the rack. Gigantic steel testicles, forged in Oakland, California.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

NOTABLE PIECE OF INTERNET EPHEMERA:

(Parker Posey is 20 years older than Damian Lillard.)

PROBLEMATIC ASPECT: Runs into picks on defense. Just right smack into them. It’s not that he isn’t trying on defense, he just tries RIGHT into a pick. When the Blazers play the Warriors, for instance, Curry eats open looks until they switch Batum onto him. It is frustrating.

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: An incremental improvement on offense (Approaching 40% on threes would be neat) and a massive improvement on not running into picks make him an elite NBA Point Guard.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: The same one he had last year, signaling his NBA plateau.

ROBIN LOPEZ:

WHO IS HE? Center and box-out artist. Is into every conceivable nerd culture thing. He enjoys baseball and he once complained about Lola Bunny on Twitter. Warner Brothers cartoon snobbery is rarified nerd air, only breathed by the truest of nerds. He is in DEEP.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

IS HE GOOD AT SOMETHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO MENTION?

Yes. Protecting the rim.

Lopez is not a mega-super elite defensive center like Dwight or Chandler or Noah or Marc Gasol, because he is not quite fleet of foot enough to blow up pick and rolls or execute ICEs or any crap like that. But the Blazers just had him drop back and protect the rim on pick and rolls and he was very good at this.

He is also tremendous at boxing out, and his rebounding usefulness is not always apparent in his own stats. His skill for clearing out dudes underneath the rim made space for Aldridge to snag more than 11 rebounds a game last year; nearly three higher than his career average.

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Continues being good at all that “Little things” garbage. Gets better at… uh… an offense thing, I guess. Takes threes?

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Regresses to Phoenix Robin. Seems pretty unlikely, though.

WESLEY MATTHEWS:

WHO IS HE: A three point shooter with other weird offensive wrinkles who seems like a very, very intense person. Might be good at defense, but eyes and numbers disagree.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Sort of like last season, but his shooting is better. Maybe adds something with dribbling.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: The only shots he takes are backdoor lob finish attempts, doesn’t make a single field goal all season.

 

CJ MCCOLLUM

WHO IS HE: Combo guard! Old for a 2nd year player. Was injured and either never got his footing and a chance to prove how good he really is, or got injured and hid how terrible he really is from the world. Obviously you hope it’s the former, but rational people have to consider the latter.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Is good, becomes first guard off the bench,

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Is bad, becomes first guard OF the bench,

 

THOMAS ROBINSON

WHO IS HE? A power forward who hustles rebounds. Doesn’t shoot threes or protect the rim or do Boris Diaw/Josh McRoberts high post motion stuff, which might make even an ideal version of his game an anachronism in the modern NBA

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Becomes an “Off the bench energy guy.”

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Sits on the bench, energy dies.

 

DORELL WRIGHT

WHO IS HE? A veteran combo forward who was signed to come off the bench, but got in a shooting slump and stopped coming off the bench.

A PASTEL RENDERING OF HIS SOUL:

HEY CAN WE SEE HIS WEDDING PICTURE AGAIN? Oh, absolutely:

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: 20 minutes a game of competent wing and floor stretching power forward play shores up the shallow rotation.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: He gets traded for second round picks and looks awesome in his next destination, leading to an existential crisis for Terry Stotts.

 

TERRY STOTTS

WHO IS HE: The coach, for the third year in a row. Signed an extension last year. He was the coach of the Hawks and the Bucks once, then a Rick Carlisle Disciple, then the Coach of the Blazers. Installed the Blazers’ super effective motion style offense and got everyone to buy into it, which was pretty impressive. Runs a kind of bastardized Indiana defense where the team concedes long twos and and the center drops back to protect the rim on pick and rolls. The team was mediocre defensively, but that had at least as much to do with personnel as system. Likes to lean on the starters, all five of them averaged more than 30 minutes. Overuses vets, like every coach.

NOTABLE TRIVIA: Tall. Played college ball at Oklahoma. Was drafted by the Rockets, but only played in Europe. Once we got a PR email that had several weird amateur-flash-lit pictures of him looking at suit stuff.

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: You can’t really separate coach success from team success so… the team is good?

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: The team is bad AND everyone plays entirely too many minutes, sort of like two years ago.

 

SCHRUNK THE SALMON

WHO IS HE: The once and forever true mascot of the Blazers, currently underground. A Pioneering Salmon who loves adventure and the Blazers.

BEST POSSIBLE SEASON: Destroys the usurper and takes his rightful place in the Rose Garden, entertaining children and uniting the fanbase, weary of cats.

WORST POSSIBLE SEASON: Kidnapped by the agents of Big Cat Mascot, must find his way back to Oregon after being dumped in the ocean. (Thankfully, as a salmon, he is equipped for this task.)

TRAIL BLAZERS PREVIEW PART TWO: OPTIMISM!

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Damn who let the BUMS MCKENZIE onto the site yesterday?! The Blazer are going to be FINE! GREAT, EVEN! BETTER THAN EVER BEFORE! New heights will be reached, new friendships formed. Sleater-Kinney got back together and the Blazers are going to ride this new wave of optimism into a glorious future!

Lemme tell you, right now, your Portland Trail Blazers are going to be AS GOOD OR BETTER than they were last year! Read these compelling reasons!

ONE: THEY WERE ACTUALLY THAT GOOD LAST YEAR! There was some scuttlebut, in the beginning of the year, about the Blazer’s excellent record being inflated by extraordinary performances in close games. And that scuttlebutt was right! The Blazers were not as good a their record indicated when they were hovering around the top seeds in the West. But at the end of the year, the Blazers got hit with the regression bat and lost a handful of close games. Basketball Reference, faithful and true, set their expected record by point differential at 52-30, when they actually went 54-28! Only two games better! If they were EXACTLY AS GOOD as they were last year, they would still be really good!

TWO: THEIR ROSTER IS BETTER, AT LEAST FROM A TALENT BASIS! Mo Williams and his obscene defense are gone, replaced with Steve “Steven” Blake and his comparable offensive production and superior (But not Earth shattering) defense! The Blazers’ pile of not terribly useful, potential-laden backup big men has been shored up by CHRIS KAMAN, who is probably still a good NBA player. Dorell Wright is probably better than he showed last year. He can get the train back on track and provide some depth!  None of the big minutes players are at an aggressive decline age. Hell, Damian still has a year or two of incline left! And…

THREE: I MEAN, SOMEONE HAS TO BREAK OUT, RIGHT!? The Blazers’ bench has three lottery picks and WIll Barton, who has a litany of physical and basketball skill gifts. The law of coin flips dictates that SOMEONE is going to take a step forward and be a consistent contributor this year! Look at CJ, coming off that ol bench and getting buckets! Joel Freeland, solid as a rock! Thomas Robinson, BIG ENERGY! Meyers Leonard flushed YES ANOTHER transition dunk! Will Barton is out there LOCKING KEVIN MARTIN DOWN! Whichever of these sentences feels most right to most people, that is the player who has the best chance of a breakout season!

FOUR: THEY KNOW HOW TO WIN NOW, INTANGIBLE THINGS, EXPECTATIONS ARE GOING TO BE MOTIVATING! EXCELLENCE BREEDS EXCELLENCE! Just kidding, I don’t believe that. Sports are poetry, not fiction.

 

TRAIL BLAZERS SEASON PREVIEW PART ONE: PESSIMISM

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In George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy novel cycle, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” magic is a real and active presence in the world. But it doesn’t happen without balance. Call on the R’hllor to kill false kings, absolutely, but you will need to sacrifice the blood of a king to make it happen. Raise someone from the dead, even multiple times, but they’re never the same; disassociated from themselves, memories lost, personality faded or outright perverted. Take on any face you want so you can hide in plain sight? Go right on ahead, but you’ll have to sublimate your own identity in the process. Magic requires balance.

The Portland Trail Blazers had an awesome season last year. Magical. But there were plenty on indicators in their performance that suggest that they won’t be able to do it again this year. A price must be paid!

ONE: TREMENDOUS INJURY LUCK. Portland was due for a season where there was a freakish lack of injuries, and they got it. Lillard, Matthews, Batum and Lopez all played more than 82 games. Lillard has already missed more games due to injury this preseason than he did all of last year. I’m not saying, “Oh man, someone’s ACL is mos def going out this year.” But 82 games from four starters who all played more than thirty minutes a game and had crummy backups is your-cliff-face-falls-out-and-you-fall-into-a-truckbed-full-of-foam-pillows lucky. The dropoff between the Blazers starters and bench players is wide and mighty, and even a (likely) routine injury could be intensely problematic.

TWO: EVERYONE WAS AWESOME. Lillard, Batum, Matthews, and Lopez all registered career highs in win shares. Lillard was VASTLY improved. Aldridge netted nearly three more rebounds a game than his career average*. Lopez played 500 more minutes than he ever had before. Our minds prefer to think of literally everything as progressive. Here is a chart that illustrates this self-lie:

 

In reality, players and events fluctuate based on their circumstances and the whims of luck. Remember when Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton were very, very bad on the Blazers? The next year, they were pretty good on their new teams! (Felton got bad again, don’t worry.)

The thinking around Lillard in particular is prone to hysteria. Lillard has been very good, very fast, and that is awesome. But it is also a product of his entering the NBA when he was 22 years old. Older players have lower ceilings. Age curves are dictated more by the realities of the human body’s relationship with time, not “NBA Experience” and all that crap. I don’t mean to say that Dame has peaked, but he will peak and it will come sooner rather than later.

THREE: CAN WE BE REAL ABOUT THAT SERIES? It was great. The best! But oh man it was lucky. TWO career best performances from Aldridge. Two overtime wins, and one that might as well have been stolen out of the back of a truck at a construction site. Destiny? Okay, sure, lucky destiny, maybe. Who knows? Our only true destiny is death.

This gets back to our tendency to think of everything as progressive. The Blazers were bad two years ago, but then they won a playoff series last year, so that’s like a progression of two, which mean they’ll progress two more levels this year, which means, BINGO, Finals! Oh happy day! Then again, you could just stall out like last year’s Warriors, or fall out of the playoffs like the “We Believe!” Warriors, or stall out, THEN fall out like the Run TMC Warriors. Or, hey, closer to home, you could go to the Western Conference Finals, get beat in seven behind some bullshit, then spend the next three years getting beat in the first round. Nothing is guaranteed!

FOUR: THEY HAVEN’T GOTTEN DEMONSTRABLY BETTER. Blake for Mo is probably a marginal improvement and Kaman is better than any of the 2013-14 Blazers backup bigs, but they’re both older and older players get worse and/or injured. Everyone else is a little pile of potential that could EXPLODE INTO USEFULNESS but they could also fizzle out and leave the starters spending the whole season trying to push one-ton hams into trucks on their own. There’s potential for roster improvement, but there are no sure things.

So, the Blazers are going to be very bad this year, and you should tune out now before you get your heart broken. Look at it this way: at least tickets won’t be obscenely expensive again.

*This was a function, in part, of playing with Robin “The Box” Lopez. Still, three more rebounds! That is an irrational number or rebounds to improve by!

 

TRAIL BLAZERS 119 – CLIPPERS 114: CHILLS

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The leaves are changing, the unclaimed bounty of the fields begins to rot. You and your family, as Pacific Northwest families have since the days of an Operational Fort Vancouver, drag your bodies inside and sit in front of the television. A new year begins in our hearts and minds. The Portland Trail Blazers, a basketball team that nestles in special nooks and crannies of the hearts of people across Oregon, are back, playing in approximately in the same place they’ve played since 1970.

Is it too early to be watching basketball? Absolutely. Would I have rather lounged in the sun and watched baseball then sat on the ground and tried to divine things to say about this preseason game? I can’t even begin to tell you how much this was the case. But we do not choose when summer dies, or when we die, or when anything dies. The NBA season starts, the Earth evaporates in the heat of the Sun’s Red Giant phase, time marches on, there’s nothing we can do.

The Blazers won this game, 119-114. Steve Ballmer, the franchisee of the opposing Los Angeles Clippers, was in attendance. At one point in the telecast, there was an extended shot of his getting up, sidling down two or three seats, and sitting down again. Even the rich and powerful have to awkwardly shuffle around in public event seating.

The three point shooting in this game was obscene, “Maybe Bob Ryan’s crusade against three point shooting makes sense,” insane. The Blazers went 17-25, Clippers 13-39. Matthews went 6-7, McCollum 5-8, Alan Crabbe 3-4. A group of concerned parents, afraid their children will emulate the three point gunning of the Blazers, posted up outside the Rose Garden after the game and handed out pamphlets:

It contained more than a few copy editing errors.

Wes Matthews was feeling himself a little tonight, 22 Points on 13 shots. I already mentioned his 6-7 shooting from three, but he also did some odd early work on isolations and even ran a semi-successful pick and roll in there somewhere. Christian James “Ceeje” McCollum got the start over an injured Damian Lillard tonight, and was very good; 19 on 12 shots, Six assists, an air of competence that doesn’t exactly prove that his shitty rookie year was an injury aberration, but was at least “encouraging.” Kaman and Blake were +17 and +16 in 20 and 22 minutes, which means the team didn’t fall into the sea when there were bench players in, which could be a good sign. Citing raw plus/minus in a one game sample is probably a drift into intellectual dishonesty.

Blake Griffin’s jumper didn’t look particularly improved, which was the word out of training camp. You don’t care, this isn’t a Clippers blog. Lamarcus took a single corner three, which he missed. I promise to be on “LaThreecus Shotrdige” patrol all year, looking for evidence that Aldridge can or cannot shoot threes. LMA shot HotGarbage% from the field, 4-13, but he also got Blake and Deandre in foul trouble and shot 8-8 from the line.

At one point, during the 2nd quarter, non-Blazer Spencer Hawes drove the lane and went to dunk on Freeland, but when he remember that he was Spencer Hawes and they just kind of mooshed together mid-air. Freeland made two long jumpers in the third (And banked one, earlier in the game) and when they went in it was like “Why don’t they always go in? They looked so perfect.’ But that might have more to do with the contours of the human mind and confirmation bias than Joel Freeland’s long two point shot being a viable basketball play.

Jamal Crawford was dancing around and skating all over the Blazers’ faces in the fourth, racking up threes and four point plays and making the Blazers’ third unit look silly. When he was doing this, Rice said something to the degree that, you know, “When he was on the Blazers, they tried to turn him into a starting point guard,” but he didn’t mention that they only did that because Felton was steering the ship into an iceberg. Darius Morris didn’t play, which feels a little unfair to Darius Morris. Let Darius Morris show off the goods, Terry! He’s just trying to make a team like everyone else! Barton and Batum were the designated ball handlers at the beginning of the third quarter, an experiment in finally killing off the point guard, who has become obsolete and must be ended as a going concern. There were also nearly 10 straight post up plays in a row in the third quarter, because it’s 1995 again.

They did run the play where Wes cuts backdoor to receive an alley-oop pass and the defense doesn’t follow him because he’s not GREAT at finishing on it. Steven Blake threw the pass this time. Wes didn’t connect. Robinson had a REALLY bad closeout on Hawes in the fourth quarter, which was probably the headiest viewing thing I noticed. I am not used to watching basketball academically yet.

MEDIA DAY WRAP-UP

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An index of quotes from today’s deeply troubling Media Day:

LILLARD

“When I didn’t make Team USA this summer, I was crushed. Did a lot of soul searching. Am I supposed to play basketball? What if someone had put a tennis racket in my hand? I would get in the gym, ready to get better… then after an hour I would be out at the tennis court, trying to get my forehand together. I’m having a lot of trouble deciding if I should play opening night or the second round game of the AAU Tennis tournament I signed up for. I shouldn’t worry, I probably won’t even make the second round. I just can’t see the angles. Am I really an elite athlete?”

LAMARCUS:

(VIA)

“I crunched some numbers in the off season. We’re absolutely going to regress. Someone’s going to get injured and we don’t have the depth to handle it. I am thinking about asking for severe reduction in minutes to make sure it isn’t me. It’s a contract year, gotta stay healthy.”

SOTTS 

“Everyone is going to have us figured out right out the gate. I would be shocked if we scored 90 points in a game. I don’t have any solutions. I should be fired. Please fire me, I want to see my family again, they don’t judge me when I cry.”

KAMAN AND BLAKE:

(VIA)

“The upcoming basketball season is a lot like signing these balls, here: an interminable task that feels like it never ends and is vaguely pointless.” “I would rather kill a bear with arrows than play basketball in this city for another year, and I’m Steve Blake, a guy who doesn’t care for hunting.”

BLAZE:

(VIA)

“Did you read that article that said the mascot should be a salmon? It made so much sense. I don’t think I can get the fans hyped this year, the tumultuous absurdity of my own existence is entirely too troubling to me.”

MEYERS:

“This was a yell of despair. I am going to curl up under a blanket in my completely empty mansion, located deep in the Camas hills, until the police show up because my parents have become concerned.”

WES MATTHEWS:

“Can I be honest? I am going to play this year, because it’s a contract year and that’s the only way I can make money. But what would be better for me, AS A BASKETBALL PLAYER? The misery and failure of a 40-42 season, or taking a backpack full of rice and a single, sharp knife into the woods, gaining strength from hunting wolves and living exclusively off their bodies and souls? The latter, in case the form of the question itself didn’t give away the answer.”

BATUM:

Batum just threw copies of “Being and Nothingness” at reporters.

PRS RADIO – THE RIP CITIZENS: OFFSEASON, FIBA, AND THE SUMMER OF DAME

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After months in the NBA doldrums, the Rip Citizens are back in training camp (although Edwin’s pun game is in mid-season form already). We cover all the summer & offseason happenings, including Damian’s rise to stardom, the Draft, Summer League, new additions Chris Kaman & Steve “Bad Penny” Blake, and the highly, HIGHLY anticipated FIBA World Cup.

All that, plus Edwin attends a Spanish League game, Alex’s video game habits, international goal-tending rules,  and whether or not Nic Batum is a mercenary.

If you don’t want to bother with this SoundCloud gadget, you may find the iTunes subscription option a helpful one.