TRAIL BLAZERS VS ROCKETS – SERIES PREVIEW

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Ed.’s Note: In lieu of a traditional preview, Corbin and I discussed our thoughts on the series as well as our hopes, fears, dreams, aspirations, dreams, hopes, and fears. Also, we are well aware that we did not use the proper spelling of the opponent team’s name or the names of its players, but this is the playoffs and disrespecting opponents’ humanity begins now.

CORBIN: Joe, I gotta say, I am FEELING very good about this series for our trusty Portland Trail Blazers.

 

JOE: Really? I feel good about this series but my feelings should not be trusted. I once believed that Meyers Leonard and J. J. Hickson were a match made in frontcourt heaven (think of the high-lows!). I need you to tell me how crazy I am. I need you to squash my hopes.

 

CORBIN: Well, Joe, normally I would do that. I am a bitter and sad man whose only joys come in the form of old Baseball Prospectuses and seeing the things I love crushed. For instance, I might normally say something like, “The Blazers have a terrible defense, and an especially bad pick and roll defense, one that has been lit up by teams like the Losetown Sock-its, and in fact, the Socks themselves, all year.” But, I dunno, I just have a good FEELING about this one!

 

JOE: I expected you to appease my swirling thoughts with math and reason, but you’re saying that feelings are all you have? Feelings are all I have, Corbin, but I had hopes for you. I thought you were an analyst.

 

CORBIN: I was, until I learned about girls, yessireebob! The old me would have looked at these teams’ regular season matchups: a 116-101 Smocks victory in November, a 111-104 Blazers victory in December, a 126-113 Pet Rocks victory in January, and a “pretty devastating” 118-113 Blazer overtime loss in March, and determined that the Blazers’ crummy defense (107.4 points surrendered per hundred possessions, 22nd in the league) is going to have trouble keeping up with the Lockets’ atomic powered spread screen and roll attack (111 points per hundred possessions, 4th in the NBA.). BUT THE NEW ME is looking at that Damian Lillard guy and saying “Hey, who can guard that dude!?” Now that point guard P-Lick Blurry has been arrested by the NSA!

 

JOE: *imagining P-Lick Blurry being waterboarded in a secret prison until he admits that Damian Lillard didn’t actually touch his face that one time* *also grinning*

 

CORBIN: And hey, the old me might point out that Sugar Land stars Fright High-Fjord and Japes Hard-Ones averaged FIFTY FIVE AND A HALF POINTS against the Blazers this year and that Robin Lopez doesn’t have the horizontal foot speed to guard them on screen and rolls or the strength to cover Delight in post-ups. But the new me, the me that is a hit with the ladies and a friend to all my brosephs, thinks, “Hey that Lames Larden with his, frankly, girly flopping and his ‘shooting into contact’ and ‘gunning for high value shots, like threes and foul shots’ might seem useful to eggheads, but is it really honest? And do people really win sports championships when they’re dishonest? Not to mention that D’Wait How-Weird character–so what if he looked terrific this year after his mishaps in LA? Give me a tough dude who scowls all the time, like that Kendrick Perkins, WHO HAS A RING over some JOKER who “gets an insane number of rebounds” or “blows up pick and rolls” or “blocks shots at the rim.” If he had a winner’s attitude, would he want Kobe to yell at him? Isn’t that how JOBS work? Isn’t Chamber Parsnips a little PRETTY to go all the way?

 

JOE: Sorry I got kinda lost there in the dream of P’Tricky Boo Fairly getting tortured until he admits that he’s evil. In my dream, the prison was in Illinois and Meyers Leonard was there. He was wearing a mask. He was eating an ice cream cone. But anyways, yeah, so the Blazers are gonna win because they represent a more traditional stereotype of masculinity?

 

CORBIN: Absolutely.  Joe, lemme tell you about men. Men win basketball games, and other games. LaMarcus Aldridge is a man. Damian Lillard: Man. Robin Lopez: a longhair, for certain, but still a man. I crunched some numbers, and the Blazers are worth exactly 5 MUPs more than the Grouseton Flock of Kids; that’s Men Ubove Replacement, Joseph.

 

JOE: I think I might be the baseline for a replacement-level man. Last night I got a little choked up at the end of Friday Night Lights and then again during Jurassic Park when the one Velociraptor watched the T-Rex kill the other Velociraptor because Velociraptors just seem to value relationships so much and seeing one left to survive alone just tugs at the heartstrings and–HEY! HOW ABOUT THOSE MATCHUPS HUH? YOU THINK LILLARD HANDLES POLICE BEVERAGE’S PRESSURE? WILL LAMARCUS STRUGGLE AGAINST THOSE STRETCHED FOURS OF HOUSTON?

 

CORBIN: If they can keep from being ground into pesto by the giant spikes on his ass!

 

JOE: Whose ass are we talking about? And are you sure that’s how you make pesto?

 

CORBIN: Yes. That Tear-quince Moans character will get starts when he’s not harassing the local homeless, and he’s been like a -200 against the Blazers because LaMarcus dominates Moans’ small and weak body. Home-Free Castle-Pee also has a small and weak body, but he can shoot threes so he’s more useful than Moans. Cranberry Spittoons, a very handsome young man who starts at their other wing is a dilettante power forward who will get minutes against Aldridge. He would probably be able to get LMA out of his comfort zone by shooting all those threes if threes ever went in, in the playoffs. The Blazers could try to matchup and go small with Dorell Wright, if they decide to adopt the coward lifestyle.

 

JOE: Is there any possibility that the Blazers could convince LaMarcus to play center, thus matching the Rockets small lineups while pulling Howard away from the basket too?

 

CORBIN: No. If LaMarcus plays center even once, I will regard the series as won.

 

JOE: If only the Blazers had another 7-foot athlete with a big body and a pretty jump shot who could bang with D’Right Showered on one end and drag him outside on the other end…

 

CORBIN: Yeah, if only. …wait, what about…

 

CORBIN AND JOE: MEYERS LEONARD!!!!!

 

JOE: WHAT IF HIS WHOLE SEASON HAS BEEN A WAY TO HIDE HIS TRUE PURPOSE AS PLAYOFF SECRET WEAPON AND NOW WE WILL SEE HIM UNVEILED IN ALL OF HIS GLORY?

 

CORBIN: Joe, it’s not a what if, obviously. It’s an “It was.” I mean, Rasheed Wallace would purposely avoid using his post game so that it wouldn’t show up on post-season scouting reports, or that’s what he told people! I can’t believe Meyers sacrificed his regular season stats for the team like this. So brave.

 

JOE: I hope he gets his own flavor of ice cream at Salt and Straw for such courage and I hope it tastes like the sacrificial blood of a virgin.

 

CORBIN: Joe, is it possible that you just want Virgin Blood flavored ice cream?

 

JOE: Enough about me, what role do you see Will Barton playing in this series?

 

CORBIN: Frankly, I think he will shoot lightning bolts of of his fingers and guide the ball into the basket.

 

JOE: Ooooh, I read about that in his Draft Express profile.

 

CORBIN: I am a little worried about Nico Batum assassinating the mayor of Boosieton in the name of French independence from British rule. The Mayor of Boosieton is a member of the Royal Family.

 

JOE: Sorry I don’t see how that’s a concern. What I’m seeing is a girly basketball team inhabited by under-replacement level men in a soon-to-be leaderless dystopia, while the Blazers will have Meyers Leonard shedding his Clark Kent act and Will Barton shooting laser beams from his fingers and LaMarcus making pesto with his ass spikes. I mean, how could the Blazers even lose this series with all of that? My only remaining concern is Mo Williams. This might all hinge on the play of Mo, right?


CORBIN: …you know, I am afraid I don’t know who that is, and I need to get to a Bar Mitzvah and I forgot how to use Basketball Reference altogether. Hella gone! *Jumps out of window*

WEEKLY ROUNDUP: WHAT CINNAMON WOULD DO

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HOORAY SCORING, HOORAY HISTORY

Corbin Smith: Blazers point guard Damian Lillard had a career-high 41 Points in a loss to the Kings on Tuesday. Let’s take a look at some other career-high scoring nights in Blazers history:

JANUARY 4TH, 1997: TRAIL BLAZERS 110 – MAVERICKS 104

Future Basketball Hall-of-famer Arvydas Sabonis scored an NBA career-high 33 points as the Blazers took down the Mavs at the Reunion Arena. “Good game, I had a good game, but more importantly, we got the win.” Said Sabas to assembled reporters after the game. “I gotta be honest, I am BUSHED. I can’t wait to go back to the forest, set down my roots, and spend the night in some nice warm soil. Wait. I mean, a bed, and getting sleep and eating human food. I am 100% a human being, not a tree/person hybrid designed by Soviet scientists to be the ultimate energy-sensitive basketball big man. Get out of here! I don’t even speak English! I mean, Aš nekalbu angliškai, gauti šias kameras iš čia!”

MARCH 6TH, 1985: TRAIL BLAZERS 121 – BULLETS 127

New Mexico State product and Trail Blazers rookie point guard Steve Colter went 14 for 20 with 3 three-point shots for a career-high and team-high 35 points in a loss to the Washington Bullets. “Look, I’m just out there trying to do what I need to do to get a win for the team and the fans,” said Colter after the game, “It’s good to have a good game, but when you’re competitive like I am you would rather get the win, for sure. I would also like get a band together, something hardcore punkish, but shorter and a more aggressive, like thrash-y type aggression. Work in some experimental music type stuff. Definitely really political.” In 1990, Colter would meet Claremont, California-based guitarist and tape artist Henry Barnes. Together they formed the legendary powerviolence unit, Man is the Bastard.

Even if the Blazers lost that game, Steve Colter’s dreams on that night came true.

APRIL 9TH, 1982: CLIPPERS 104 – TRAIL BLAZERS 124

Carl Bailey notched his career-high in a blowout win over the San Diego Clippers. After the game he grabbed several reporters. “ALRIGHT EVERYBODY, LISTEN UP” bellowed the big man, “IT’S THE BEGINNING OF THE CARL BAILEY ERA IN PORTLAND. SEE THIS GUY?” He pointed at his seven foot frame, “HE’S THE FRANCHISE NOW, AND HE WILL BE PAID, FED, CAR’D, WOMAN’D AND LOVED LIKE IT.” Carl pumped his fists in the sky. “CARL BAILEY IS A FORCE OF NATURE, A DAMNED HURRICANE, YOU GUYS CAN PRINT ‘DAMN’ IN THE PAPER, RIGHT, A 7 FOOT MONSTER WHO WAS BUILD BY JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF TO DOMINATE ON THE COURT AND IN THE BEDROOM. CARL BAILEY IS BIGGER THAN NAPOLEON AND THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD AND ANDY WARHOL AND HE WILL BE RECKONED WITH.”

Those career high points were, unfortunately, the only two points Carl’s career. He would be waived by the Blazers on June 23rd and not receive another opportunity in the NBA.

INSTAGRAM IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS: MO GOTTI EDITION

Game 36 by @hideokibespoke #freeboosie #s/o2trobforthesocks #dresseddownitsraining #stillgotswag #stayfreshbestdressteam #toomanyhashtags Gotti out

Let our Boosie go.

Behind the scenes of the commercial today. #ripcity

Art is sacrifice.

Get on this now people

Hersey Hawkins sounds the alarm but are you listening?

Me and @damianlillard #gametime #weherenah #thatboygrowingup #hecleantoo

It’s a walk-off.

#49ersnation

#VeinyMuscles&GoldFootballs

SLANTED AND ENCHANTED

Grady O’Brien: In case you don’t know who Stephen Malkmus is–wait, this is a Portland blog, you know who Stephen Malkmus is. Anyway, Malkmus, who has a new album out with his band The Jicks, went on a Grantland podcast not too long ago and used most of the time to talk about the NBA (and his Blazers’ fandom). If you’re a fan of Malkmus and the NBA, this podcast is a dream come true.

Then, Malkmus followed it up by going on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon on Monday and playing a couple songs from the new album. During the second performance (a web exclusive), his guitar player is wearing a Blazers hat!

 

THOMAS ROBINSON LAYS WASTE TO ORLANDO

 

reign-of-fire-original

 

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF PAUL ALLEN: JANUARY 11TH, 2014

Joe Swide:

6 AM: alarm.

6:01 AM: snooze (it’s Saturday).

7:13 AM: arise.

7:49 AM: eat breakfast prepared via elaborate Flubber setup (note: it’s the actual setup from Flubber – money is no object).

8:50 AM: select velvet jacket.

11:47 AM: so much velvet.

12:03 PM: arrive at Century Link Field to walk around during warmups before NFC Divisional Playoff.

12:04 PM: take off velvet jacket because rain and velvet are not friends.

12:05 PM: put on funny hat.

1:40PM-4:00 PM: watch Seahawks defeat New Orleans Saints to advance to NFC Championship.

4:01 PM: take off funny hat and replace with new, Trail Blazer logo’d, funny hat.

4:02 PM: put back on velvet jacket.

4:03 PM: mmm…velvet.

4:11 PM: travel to Portland via underground submarine tunnel.

5:11 PM: send submarine selfie to Patty Mills, “hey Patty! miss u!”

5:12 PM: oh, that Patty Mills, he’s adorable.

6:30 PM: arrive at Moda Center.

6:51 PM: meet date for first time.

6:52 PM: yeah, she’ll do.

7:05 PM-9:45 PM: watch Trail Blazers defeat Celtics.

10:00 PM: write in diary, “Hi haters…” (addressing haters in a personal diary is rather unconventional, to say the least, but who am I to question?)

10:01 PM: “…today I am an emperor…”

10:02 PM: “…Bill Gates can’t even solve global health but I built simultaneous contenders in two major sports with nothing but fists of cash and funny hats. Me, Paul Allen.”

10:03 PM-11:59 PM: dreams of velvet.

LOOK BACK UPON THE ASHES: WE’RE NOT FOR REAL EITHER

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THIS WEEK IN COLD WEATHER

Corbin Smith: It was very cold in the PDX metro area this week. So, here is a look back at Blazers cold weather games of the past:

 

JANUARY 6, 1976: KNICKS 112 – BLAZERS 97

Spencer Haywood scored 26 to lead the Knicks in a winning effort against the hometown Blazers. “We have to credit Red (Holzman) with this victory” said Bill Bradley, who notched 18, in his postgame interview, “When he saw that we would be playing in snow, he went to the tire store and bought studs for our sneakers. The extra traction was definitely the advantage tonight.” Bill Walton, who led the Blazers in scoring with 18, told reporters after the game that he wasn’t used to playing in weather like this. “It’s so sunny in California, I’ve never had to play a game in the snow.”

(http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/197601060POR.html)

 

FEBRUARY 3, 1984: BUCKS 110 – BLAZERS 116

Calvin Natt notched 32 Points as the Blazers edged out the Bucks at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. Natt credited his performance with his Alaskan upbringing: “Playing in the snow, it ain’t no thing,” said Natt to gathered reporters after the game, “Back home in Anchorage, we all love basketball so much, you see it’s snowing, you get your friends together, you set up the 9 foot hoop at the frozen pond, and you just play for love of the game.”

(http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/198402030POR.html)

 

DECEMBER 29, 1991: HEAT 96 – BLAZERS 129

Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, scored 22 points to lead the Blazers in a blowout victory against the visiting Miami Heat, but credit for the win goes to backcourt partner Terry Porter, who spent the night building and rebuilding snowmen to act as screeners against the Miami defenders. “I’m just trying to take any advantage the game will give us” said Porter in his postgame comments “Back at Wisconsin-Stevens, coach would start every practice by having us build 20 snowmen. You don’t think a little fundamental thing like that is going to help, until you see your defender fall over one on the snow and roll.”

(http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/199112290POR.html)

 

SADNESS ON THE LARGEST SCALE

 

YES THAT IS WHAT TOM COVERDALE LOOKS LIKE NOW

Jack Ward: Top 5 headlines I would have believed more had I read them instead of “Blazers’ Joel Freeland, Luke Babbitt “Exchanged Blows” During March Practice” last year.

 

1. “Nolan Smith Wows Coaches With First Triple Double”

2. “Jared Jeffries Begs Coaches To Let Tom Coverdale Join Blazers: ‘He’s In Best Shape Of His Career‘ Jeffries Pleads”

3. “Reigning Western Conference Player Of The Month Will Barton Vows: ‘Keep Grinding’”

4. :”The Price Is Right For Ronnie, Hitting Career-High 8 3-Pointers In Win Vs. Spurs”

5. Sasha Pavlovic Wins 2013 People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Of The Year”

(Ed.’s note: as far as I know, the voting for that award is not yet closed.)

 

BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT

Joe Swide: Some lovely quotes from Chris Haynes’s piece about the Freeland-Babbitt fight, with annotations in italics.

LaMarcus Aldridge: “Joel is probably the toughest European player that I’ve played against.”

LaMarcus uses the most worldly definition “European” here, encompassing the British Isles and not simply defining Europe as the people of the continent, and the western half of the continent at that. Either that or he’s from Texas and thinks that anyone who can’t recite the menu of Pappadeaux must be one of them “Eur-o-PEE-ans.”

 

Aldridge: “I never questioned his toughness at all. He’s just getting a chance to show it now.”

When Joel first arrived in Portland, he went straight to Aldridge and Freeland produced a homemade knife and silently, without a flinch, carved the Blazers’ pinwheel logo into his arm.

 

Aldridge: “Yeah, you don’t want to mess with Joel.”

Just don’t.

 

Joel Freeland: “You can’t back down to anyone in this league.”

It’s like prison. Kill the biggest guy. Make someone your bitch.

 

Freeland: “That’s the way I’ve been always brought up and that’s the way I’ve always lived.”

Joel treats everything in his life like prison. Even when he was a kid. Even pre-school. Kill the biggest guy. Make someone your bitch.

 

Freeland: “I’ve always played the same way but maybe I wasn’t being as a aggressive as I should have. I’ve always played tough. I’ve never shied away from contact. I wouldn’t put it down to that one incident but I’m just getting comfortable in my place.”

I would question the “always played the same way” remark but like LaMarcus, I know not to mess with Joel Freeland. He showed me the necklace that he made out of Luke Babbitt’s teeth. I need my teeth.

 

Freeland: “I’m not trying to come into the league and suddenly think I’m a tough.”

It’s how Joel lives your life. Kill the biggest guy. Make someone your bitch. So we’ve heard.

 

Freeland: “I’m just getting back to playing how I like to play.”

He’s talking about growing his reign by violence.

 

Freeland: “I know how to stay under control when I need to.”

There’s a time to kill.

 

Freeland: “A game is one thing but if something like that happened somewhere else, it’s another situation.”

He’s saying that he’ll kill you.

 

A TESTAMENT OF YOUTH

Grady O’Brien: We’re suckers for lists, aren’t we? That’s why ESPN frequently rolls these things out. Power Rankings, Future Power Rankings, Bill Cowher Rankings (ok, I’m just riffing at this point). But we’re inundated.

ESPN’s latest is the NBA 25 under 25, which details the best 25 players under 25 years of age. See what they did there?

On this list, Nic Batum ranks 16th. And when I saw this I was astonished! But not for the his rank, necessarily–I’m not going to trifle with the rating system, I’m a human with a few better things to do. No, I was more surprised by another number.

24.

Nic Batum is as old as I am.

This opened up a flood of questions. How is this guy who is in his 6th NBA season and has played 350 games only 24? Doesn’t it seem like he should be much older? Does Nic like the same things I do as a 24 year-old, namely chocolate and watching himself play basketball? Would Nic hang out with me? Would he be mean to me? Is he thinking about me right now? Probably not, right? Maybe?

Anyway, we spend so much time dissecting every action, every stat, every quote from these NBA guys, but often forget that they’re just young people, like we are (or once were). And in Nic’s case, there are plenty of people I’ve wanted to nut-check on live TV, Spanish or otherwise.

I guess what I’m ultimately saying is I wish Nic Batum would hang out with me. Holla at me, dawg.

 

DEMOCRACY REQUIRES AN EDUCATED CITIZENRY

The early returns on Western Conference All-Star voting:

FRONTCOURT:

1. Kevin Durant (OKC) 607,407
2. Dwight Howard (Hou) 295,120
3. Blake Griffin (LAC) 292,925
4. Kevin Love (Min) 275,506
5. Tim Duncan (SA) 217,271
6. Anthony Davis (NO) 149,579
7. Pau Gasol (LAL) 133,199
8. LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 132,818 
9. Andre Iguodala (GS) 109,745
10. Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 89,093
11. Chandler Parsons (Hou) 77,179
12. DeMarcus Cousins (Sac) 60,923
13. David Lee (GS) 60,015
14. Kawhi Leonard (SA) 55,023
15. Omer Asik (Hou) 53,827

 

Backcourt:

1. Kobe Bryant (LAL) 501,215
2. Chris Paul (LAC) 393,313
3. Stephen Curry (GS) 327,449
4. Jeremy Lin (Hou) 240,404
5. James Harden (Hou) 198,667
6. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 149,065
7. Tony Parker (SA) 112,423
8. Ricky Rubio (Min) 63,096
9. Steve Nash (LAL) 60,782
10. Damian Lillard (Por) 55,847

 

FOR REAL

 

#4BARFRIDAY

Smith:

Ungh, the Deamon Lillard bloods and guts of Angels spillard

The devil is calling “Dame burn these fake killers”

Then Dame turns around, says “Fuck you clown”

And stabs Satan then buries him underground

 

Bill Walton kicks back in a beach cabana

says “Honey do we have any bananas?”

Lori says no, better go to the store

Bill rides his bike there, to get car-di-o

 

Wesley Matthews, tending to his garden

Pulling a weed “Damn, this is a hard one”

Gets out his spade, “It’s time for pain”

Throws it in the compost, he’s got a hot one.

(“Hot composting” is a method of composting that kills weed seeds. It involves frequently turning your compost and specialized heat producing enzymes. It’s a pretty expensive setup, but Wes is a rich man and a lover of gardening. He could afford the equipment.)

 

Nicholas Batum, Sitting in a room,

Drinkin’ brews, watching cartoons

“Shit! John Carter of Mars is on”

“Time to join my friends in Barsoom”

LOOK BACK UPON THE ASHES: WE’RE USED TO VIOLENCE

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This is the first post in what will be a recurring weekly wrap-up series titled Look Back Upon The Ashes because a trail has been “blazed” and the Blazers’ offense is like a dragon scorching everything in its path and whatever, you get the idea.

MIKE RICE FAN FICTION

Lance Stephenson walks towards the sideline and slams his fists in frustration on the table in front of Mike Rice and Mike Barrett, causing Rice to say, “I’m used to violence. I’m from Detroit.”

That actually happened, but Rice continued:

“I can remember a cold day in 1949, when my neighbor Tommy O’Malley and I were playing knucklebones — what you call ‘jacks’ nowadays — in the living room of my family’s house. Tommy accused me of cheating, saying that I was picking up the knucklebones after the ball had already bounced a second time. So I did what any true competitor would do. I smashed my bottle of Faygo root beer against the wall and swung the jagged, broken end at Tommy’s neck. Tommy dodged my lunge and sprinted out of the house, but I chased after him until he slipped on the icy steps of our front porch and fell onto the snow-covered grass. Like a lion with Przyzbillian focus, I leapt on top of him and thrust the shards of glass — still glistening with droplets of root beer — repeatedly into his soft flesh until he finally lay still, bloodied and unconscious. I’ll never forget the sight of his warm blood dripping from his abdomen onto the fresh white snow. I left him there — this was Detroit, after all — and went back inside the house to finish the game. Tommy was right. I had been cheating. But I still won. It’s one of my fondest childhood memories of Christmas.”

Careful where you slam your fists, Lance Stephenson. You may not get them back.

 

WE’RE JUST HAPPY TO KNOW THAT YOU HAVE FRIENDS

 

A LETTER FROM A FARAWAY LAND THAT ISN’T THE EASTERN CONFERENCE

Grady O’Brien: I just moved to a very small town in North Carolina. I mean a very small town. Like, the population density of this place is greater than the actual population (do the math). I think I could pay my rent in Confederate money and not turn any heads.

Now, with this small town living comes advantages (low rent, peaceful neighborhood), but also setbacks. I lived my first four days there without internet before the Time Warner people were able to arrange a visit. I know, I know, four days of unglamorous, off-the-grid, roughing it. It was excruciating.

It was made all the more difficult on Monday when I had to follow the Pacers/Blazers thriller through only tweets and the NBA Game Time app (I still had my smartphone, I’m not a heathen). Based on the razor-thin sliver of the NBA internet I was able to follow on Monday (the majority of which was our editor’s twitter feed), I assume this was the single greatest sporting event to have ever taken place. Basically it was every March Madness buzzer beater crossed with that one old football game with Kathy Lee Gifford’s husband. I assume that when the game was over, all the players agreed to give up any further playing of basketball because they had reached true enlightenment and the pinnacle of human fulfillment.

Meanwhile, I watched “Ocean’s Twelve” for like the ninth time.

I have internet again and therefore LeaguePass. But I’m wondering whether it’s even worth it to continue following basketball this season, now that I missed the NBA game equivalent of the Taj Mahal and the Hagia Sophia and KFC/Taco Bell all fused into one. We’ll see.

[Ed.'s note: special thanks to Confederate stamps for making Grady's letter possible.]

 

WE READ THE DICTIONARY BECAUSE WE VALUE ITS OPINION

soft / sôft / adj.

1. a noted aversion to touching other human beings in an aggressive manner, resulting in subpar defense, low rebounding relative to positional expectation, and a lack of shots around the basket.

2. perceived by fans to be ill-equipped for long-term survival in hypothetical league-wide bare-knuckle boxing tournament.

3. if locked in prison, would presumably steal spoons from cafeteria to make into lovely commemorative silverware with ornate detailing on handle to send as gifts to relatives, instead of whittling into shanks.

4. can recite names of all Santa’s reindeer.

5. regularly strolls through local pet store to look upon cute animals and imagines potential life together (even with the fish [especially with the fish]).

6. is not LaMarcus Aldridge.

 

BATUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM

 

SAID DAMIAN TO THE WESTBROOK

Keep talking though, Russell.

 

WILL BARTON’S FIRST CONCERT, AN INSTAGRAMANOVELA

Drake #pdx
A star descends into the Theater of the Clouds with blinding glory and irresistible seduction.
Me and the homie @dwrightway
Melange abounds when a bench flexes.
Joel and I posted at the Drake concert. #Worsttt
A window into a Briton’s interior reveals an alien skeleton.
#Drizzy
Ego feels smaller than expectation, but an empty cup feels smaller than everything.
Me & drizzy after the show. Cool dude talked to him & his dad they say they remember me from my days getting buckets at the University of Memphis. #poweron
An empty cup learns the meaning of “Turnt.”

Former Lives: The Once-Blazer Playoff Rankings

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The conference finals are three-quarters set and there will no doubt be more compelling basketball to come. While the 15 players on the Blazers’ roster this season weren’t able to make the playoffs, 19 former Blazers were part of teams that did participate. Here are the rankings of how these Blazers of yore have fared in the postseason.

The Old, Washed-Up Big Man Category

Juwan Howard, PF, Miami Heat

Yeah, he’s still in the league. I’m as surprised as you are.

Joel Przybilla, C, Milwaukee Bucks

Didn’t play much during the year and logged 0 minutes in the Bucks’ short-lived playoff venture.

Kurt Thomas, PF, New York Knicks

Rasheed Wallace, C, New York Knicks

Earl Barron, C, New York Knicks

Wow, the Knicks are putting together an awesome 2002 big man rotation. These guys have been solely working on their suit game this postseason.

The Slightly Less Old, Washed-Up Big Man Category

Marcus Camby, C, New York Knicks

Shavlik Randolph, PF, Boston Celtics

These guys have both played exactly 3 minutes in the playoffs. Again, is there an early 2000s quality big man the Knicks don’t have? What’s Elden Campbell up to? Is there still time to sign Scott Pollard?

Actual Guys

12. Hasheem Thabeet, C, Oklahoma City Thunder

Thabeet was basically the most unplayable Thunder big not named Perkins. Final tally: 26 minutes, -0.8 PER.

11. Jeff Pendergraph, PF, Indiana Pacers

Pendergraph graces the worst bench currently in the playoffs. He’s played 66 minutes, shot 7 for 22, and has as many fouls as rebounds. Take a seat, Jeff.

10. Patty Mills, PG, San Antonio Spurs

Mills plays exclusively in garbage time, but isn’t terrible when he does. Still, to be any higher you’d have to be able to beat out Cory Joseph for rotation minutes. 

9. Steve Blake, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

He got hurt. But, man, if he hadn’t, the Lakers still would have gotten swept. 

8. Anthony Tolliver, SF, Atlanta Hawks

Played 11.3 minutes per game and appeared in all 6 games for the Hawks. Shot 63.6 percent from 3, which is kind of crazy.

7. Jerryd Bayless, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

Bayless is supposed to be the Jarrett Jack of the Grizzlies, except he isn’t as good as Jack. He’s shooting 36.3 percent overall and 32.6 percent from 3. He’s also not a strong defender unlike most of the Grizzlies. Still, he’s an important rotation piece for a Western Conference finalist. 

6. Jamal Crawford, SG, Los Angeles Clippers

He was unconscious (in the good way) in game 2 against the Grizzlies. He was unconscious (in the bad way) for the rest of that series.

5. Gerald Wallace, SF, Brooklyn Nets

Wallace played so well that he completely justified the trade that ultimately led to Portland drafting Damian Lillard! Ok, not actually, but he rebounded decently and finally made some shots.

4. Andre Miller, PG, Denver Nuggets

Miller had the game-winning layup in game 1 and continued to be a go-to source of offensive creation for the Nuggets. Unfortunately, his defense on Steph Curry was woeful and thus the Nuggets were ousted in the first round.

3. Raymond Felton, PG, New York Knicks

Felton may be keeping it 100 in life, but he’s keeping it 3rd in these rankings. He’s not shooting all that well, but has barely been turning it over. Plus, he’s been an important part of the Knicks’ high-powered, 3-point happy offense all season, running pick-and-rolls and attacking the basket. 

2. Jarrett Jack, SG, Golden State Warriors

Jack can be frustrating due to limited court vision, which often leads to him missing Steph Curry or Klay Thompson open on the wings. He was also atrocious on defense at times. However, Jack is a great mid-range shooter and a guy who created offense when the effects of Steph Curry’s ankle injury started to show. 

1. Zach Randolph, PF, Memphis Grizzlies

Randolph has been doing his thing, creating space under the basket and rebounding very well. He was able to beat up most of the defenders the Thunder put on him. It will be incredibly fun to watch Randolph and Marc Gasol battle against Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter in the next round. 

The Offseason

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I do think the Blazers should acquire Blake Griffin. Great idea, Neil!

The NBA playoffs are raging on, creating nightly excitement for fans across the country. For 22 teams, however, the offseason has begun. This means that personnel decisions are right around the corner and scrutiny over every contract and cap move will be cast.

It’s hard to imagine anybody being busier during this period than my good friend Neil Olshey. Portland has 8 players that are going to be free agents or subject to team options. I’ve decided to give Neil a little help by offering my takes on how to handle some of these moves. Of course tons of information and details go into these choices that are beyond my particular pay grade (available trades and players, the handling of the draft, long-term plans, rumors, etc.), but that doesn’t mean I can’t offer the most humble of opinions.

Note: For salary comparisons and value measures, I relied heavily on basketball-reference’s win shares. 

J.J. Hickson

Hickson is an unrestricted free agent and the centerpiece of the Blazers’ offseason. We know what he does well. Hickson is a beast of a rebounder and has developed an effective offensive game with a true shooting percentage of 59.1 and a better mid-range game. However, he is bad defensively and probably playing out of position in Portland. 

Hickson’s per game numbers were impressive with 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds, something other GMs are bound to notice. Basketball-reference credited him with 6.9 win shares, though the 2.3 of those that came from defense are probably overstating his impact. However, it seems like he could be in the same boat as Nikola Pekovic this offseason and could draw somewhere between 8 and 10 million dollars per year. 

Verdict: Hickson just doesn’t fit in any long-term plan for the Blazers. They need a center that can make a defensive impact. You can read here for some thoughts on who could potentially fill that role. It’s nice that Hickson might get paid in the offseason, but I just don’t think it should be by Portland. 

Eric Maynor

Maynor is a restricted free agent whose qualifying offer stands at $3.4 million. Maynor was a nice mid-season addition, taking some of the playmaking responsibility off of Damian Lillard while also being able to play along side him. He shot 38 percent from 3 in Portland, which bodes well for the 2 point guard lineups.

Maynor was good for 0.2 win shares and while that isn’t great, I think he’ll look better with more time in Portland. Plus, at 25 years old he already constitutes a solid backup and a noticeable upgrade over Nolan Smith and Ronnie Price.

Verdict: It’s hard to say whether someone will try to sign him to an offer sheet, but the qualifying offer seems fair to me. 

Luke Babbitt

How could you not bring back a guy who tied for 14th in 6th Man of the Year voting? In all seriousness, Babbitt is only 23 and is a career 36.7 percent shooter on 3-pointers. That’s only a little above average, but perhaps with a more consistent role he’ll be able to bring that percentage up. Additionally, Babbitt won’t really turn the ball over and could potentially be at least an average defensive rebounder. 

Verdict: At 0.7 win shares, Babbitt was one of the few bench players who was actually in the black. The $1.8 million he’s getting now might be a bit much, but hopefully there’s room for improvement. I would suggest bringing him back on a short, low-figure deal.

Jared Jeffries

Jeffries had no offensive value this season and was an average rebounder. He’s 31 years old and created 0.1 defensive win shares (-0.3 overall) last year while costing $1.4 million. This seems bad until you realize that Tyrus Thomas did the same thing for $8 million in Charlotte.

Verdict: The Blazers can find 0.1 defensive win shares for less than $1 million dollars, so I’d let Jeffries go and find somebody else to be the fifth big man.

Sasha Pavlovic 

Pavlovic was somewhat of a human white flag last season. He only appeared in 39 games and averaged around 13 minutes per game. He shot badly, but didn’t use very many possessions. 

Verdict: The team option on Pavlovic is for $1.4 million and considering he created as much value as guys like Kent Bazemore and E’Twaun Moore, I don’t think the Blazers should exercise that option.

Elliot Williams

Williams is a tough call due to the injuries. However, he is only 23 and a great athlete. In his one season of action he showed that, while he might not have much range, he can shoot well inside the arc and not cough up the ball. Plus, his athleticism means he has some defensive potential.

Verdict: It’s too early for me to rule him out. If Portland can bring him back at around or below the $1.4 million they paid him this past season, I would do it. 

Nolan Smith

I’m afraid he’s destined for the D-league. He hasn’t shot well (43.5 true shooting percentage) or shown an ability to create offense and played his way out of the Blazers’ bench rotation, which is saying something. Overall he was worth -0.5 win shares last season. Yes, negative.

Verdict: Hate to say it, but they probably should let him go.

Ronnie Price

Price was only slightly better than Smith (-0.2 win shares) and is five years older.

Verdict: Sorry, Ronnie.

Shawne Williams

Who?

Verdict: What are we going to do with all this extra cash?

Salary information courtesy hoopshype.com

The Good, The Bad, and The What?

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There will be plenty of places for Blazers’ fans to turn for season retrospectives. They will no doubt be well thought out and written. In order not to pile on, I’ve decided to take a different approach to looking back at the 2012-2013 year. I compiled a few quick hits about things that were good this season, things that were bad, and things that just made me turn my head.

The Good: J.J. Hickson’s Mid-Range Game

This was a very pleasant development for the Blazers. Normally a guy who did most of his damage on put-backs or feeds close to the rim, Hickson showed he was able to step away and make a defense remain honest. Hickson hit 47.3 percent of his shots from outside of the paint while launching 146 attempts. Often Stotts would call a down screen for J.J. as an opening game play. Again, this is a radical improvement after Hickson shot no better than 30.5 percent from this range in the previous 3 years. In fact, he shot an abysmal 30 percent on 305 outside-the-paint shots in the 2010-2011 season with Cleveland. 

Going forward this might not mean much if the Blazers don’t bring Hickson back, but it was nice to see during the season.

The Bad: Jared Jeffries, Net Rating King

Who had the best net rating of all Blazers’ players? None other than Jared Jeffries.

Unfortunately, this warns us of the perils of this stat in individual funky samples because Jeffries was not actually good. He shot 29.6 percent from the floor and only converted 3 shots outside of the paint. He averaged 5 points per 40 minutes and was not very good on defense, getting torched by opposing bigs. Despite this he somehow was plus-2.8 in net rating. 

The What?: Luke Babbitt’s 6th Man Vote

I know that all the possible jokes have been made about this, but it still is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. A team that had one of the worst benches in recent memory somehow garnered a 6th Man vote. And it wasn’t even one of the arguably decent players.

Babbitt is a specialist to end all specialists. He shot 76 percent of his attempts from 3-point land and only converted at a 34.8 percent clip. This is below the league average (36 percent). Per 40 minutes he jacked 9.8 three pointers, second only to Carlos Delfino of players that played 60 games. 

Even if he had played well, he saw under 12 minutes of action per game and missed 20 games due to Coach’s Decision. I mean, Babbitt took 13 free throws for the entire year! Go home, 6th Man voter, you’re drunk.

The Good: The Playmakers

Going forward it’s good to know that Portland has 3 legitimate sources of offense. LaMarcus Aldridge is a rock and will always be able to loft jumpers over even the lankiest of opponents. Damian Lillard has shown incredible poise and scoring ability for a rookie. 

The encouraging development is Nic Batum, who has set himself apart as a great shooter and shot creator for others. His assist rate was 24.1 this year, almost double the average for forwards in the league and a huge improvement from previous seasons. Combine this ability with his 37.2 percent mark from 3 where he is good off the catch and in handoff situations and he has made himself into a dangerous wing option. For a guy who gets heralded for defensive potential, he will have a prominent role in the creation of offense for the Blazers in the future

The Bad: April Sours

It was a bad last month for the Blazers. They dropped their final 13 games and often didn’t look competitive. On the bright side, there was plenty of time for the young guys to get minutes, which is important on a team that is begging for depth. However, the defense gave up 113.3 points per 100 possessions, which is disastrous. 

The What?: On the Shoulders’ of Starters

Three teams had a lineup that played over 1,000 minutes this year. It comes as o surprise that the Blazers were one of them.

The question I have is whether this is a good thing or not. Lillard led the league in minutes and, along with Aldridge and Batum, was in the top 10 in minutes per game. These guys will have some rest over the summer, but I wonder if the heavy use will have any effects on this group next season, especially the rookie Lillard. 

The other concern is that, while relative to the other Portland lineups this group looked good, it didn’t perform well overall. The other 1,000 minute lineups (the starters for the Thunder and Pacers) were standout groups and warranted such heavy playing time. The Blazers’ starters, in contrast, had a minus-2.0 net rating and had particular trouble rebounding. 

The good news is that it was a pretty decent offensive group and the extended minutes together might mean better chemistry next season when most of these guys return.

 

Thoughts On Stotts

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This year’s Coach of the Year award voting will be crowded with deserving candidates. Time tested veterans like Gregg Popovich and George Karl will be joined by the up-and-coming likes of Mark Jackson and Frank Vogel on a ballot that has already generated lots of discussion.

This award, in my opinion, is the hardest to parse. For player awards, there are plenty of statistics to help voters and other opinion-havers bolster their arguments. For coaches, we don’t have as much concrete evidence. Even with measures such as win-loss record it is hard to determine just how much this is affected by the coach. With this in mind, I decided to try to look at how Terry Stotts has done in his first year with Portland.

Record

As I mentioned before, it is quite the travail to assess what part of a team’s record falls on the coach, but this is the down and dirty measure for coaches. The Blazers finished 33-49 and lost their last 13 games. Obviously that record isn’t good and it’s discouraging that Portland wasn’t able to win for almost an entire month. But we have to temper our expectations for a first year coach who had five rookies, one of which was his starting point guard, and a bench that didn’t appear NBA-worthy. Also, the Blazers dealt with injury trouble down the stretch, which hasn’t helped in terms of the losing streak.

Offense and Defense

Stotts came up under offensively talented coaches such as George Karl and Rick Carlisle. It’s no surprise then that the Blazers offense performed pretty well this year. In overall efficiency they were ranked 12th and the starting line-up, which played 1,104 minutes, was even a little bit better. Stotts put in place the “flow” offense that had worked so well with Dirk Nowitzki and allowed his new sweet shooting big man LaMarcus Aldridge to have yet another good year.

Defensively, it was brutal. Portland ended the season 24th in defensive efficiency and did not seem to improve. They struggled with pick-and-rolls and didn’t offer much protection at the rim. Again, Stotts was working with an undersized center who doesn’t have great defensive instincts in J.J. Hickson, but some improvement over the course of the year would have been nice. I see this as the most important area for improvement for coach Stotts.

In-Game Coaching

I generally liked the way Stotts called plays during games. Check out our own Sunny Ahluwalia’s “Plays of the Week” segments if you’d like to see some specific examples. He certainly seems prepared as far as X’s and O’s go. There were times he seemed a little trigger happy with timeouts, but with a young team that is perhaps necessary.

Player Development

That Lillard pick helps. Obviously Lillard came into the league pretty ready to take over, but Stotts has to be given some credit for handing over a large portion of the offense to a rookie and having it pan out. He played Lillard a lot of minutes, but when Ronnie Price is your backup for most of the year that becomes understandable.

I’m encouraged by some of the other young guys’ development, too. Meyers Leonard played pretty productive minutes in the absences of J.J. Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge. Specifically, he seemed confident in shooting some mid-range jumpers towards the end of the season, perhaps because of good coaching. Will Barton flashed impressive athleticism with his dunk show against the Thunder recently. He’s raw, but even over the course of this year has matured. This category is largely unresolved, but with another summer and training camp, Stotts may be able to start to get even more productive minutes out of some of these guys and it would certainly be a testament to his ability.

For the season I liked how Stotts performed and I think he has a chance to stick in Portland. He’s a talented offensive tactician and if he can find a way to cobble together a coherent defense, the Blazers can move back towards competing for the playoffs. Plus, the biggest weakness this year doesn’t fall squarely on him. He can only cook the meal with the ingredients he’s given and it will be more elucidating as to his true quality when he has a better overall roster. 

Let’s Argue

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This is what we do, right? The Worldwide Leader puts out a list, however arbitrary, and us members of the basketball internet debate its results. We grimace and guffaw and condescend and clamor, in the end generating plenty of sound (and surely some fury) that ultimately signifies nothing.

I’m not implying that this is necessarily a total waste of time or an ultimately pointless exercise. Discourse is good, especially if it can lead to a more thorough and refined understanding of the subject. But sometimes a list is just a list and we shouldn’t get overly sentimental with the results.

That being said, I was curious how these 111 contributors would treat the Trail Blazers. It can be argued that Portland lacks a true “star” in the sense that nobody on the team carries the national marketing weight of a LeBron or Durant. However, it does have an anchor in two-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, a player whose on-court production cannot be trifled with, even if his methods almost always will be.

Aldridge is currently the only Portland player ranked in this top 30 (he’s 25th) and barring a sudden and overwhelming outpouring of love for Wes Matthews, he will remain Portland’s sole representative. This seems fair. While Nic Batum and the aforementioned Matthews are solid contributors, they are still young and any argument saying they are top-30 players would be a hard one to make. 

Perhaps the only arguments one could make are: 1. Aldridge is too low and therefore underrated and 2. He should not have dropped 5 spots since the last iteration of the list. Without going into an in-depth comparison with every player on the list, let’s look at the players who immediately bookend Aldridge. One spot lower is Brook Lopez, an offense first (and maybe only) center who has become a focal point for a slow, but albeit effective offense. One spot higher is Tyson Chandler, reigning Defensive Player of the Year who basically only shoots when immediately next to the basket. 

Aldridge in a way is a medium between these two poles. He is able to create shots and score in more ways than just receiving lobs, while also being a pretty good defender who is mobile and can challenge shots with excellent length. Aldridge has been less efficient than Lopez on offense and isn’t a Chandler-like game-changer defensively. But there is merit to moderation and LaMarcus provides that. Unfortunately, being stuck in the middle isn’t an enviable position and thus is the nature of how Aldridge goes along underrated. 

Arguing that LaMarcus should not have slid in rank at all since last season is perhaps a little more tenuous. Some of Aldridge’s numbers are down this year, most notably true shooting percentage, which is set to be his lowest in 5 years. This is an important stat for a player who does create a lot of his offense from jump shooting. It also does not help that he isn’t getting to the line as much. However, he has become a better defensive rebounder, is assisting at a career high rate, and still doesn’t turn the ball over very much for a high-usage player. Overall, his PER has dropped more than 2 full points from last year, but remains at an impressive 20.3. 

So it seems the fall of LaMarcus, while not precipitous, might be somewhat deserved. However, his overall rating does not appear to do him justice, as the perception of his style continues to outweigh his actual production. It appears Aldridge will remain Portland’s semaphore, tall and distinct, projecting a message that many find too distant to truly understand. 

 

Missing LaMarcus

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LaMarcus Aldridge is the Trail Blazers’ best player.

I know I’m going out on a limb here with my analysis, tagging the two-time All-Star big man as the Blazers’ centerpiece. But it’s true, and for the last 3 games, the Blazers have been without Aldridge, who suffered an ankle injury against the Brooklyn Nets. However, in the waning days of the NBA regular season where teams often hold out key players for the slightest of flesh wounds in order to open up minutes for more inexperienced players, perhaps there is a silver lining. 

Let’s start with the bad news: Portland has lost all 3 games without Aldridge. Stats like this can be dubious though, as there are many factors to a basketball game besides one player. In the Blazers’ case, they were in the midst of dropping 4 out of 6 games despite having Aldridge. Clearly the Blazers had enough problems at full strength and losing LaMarcus only added to the pain.

It comes as no surprise that the Blazers would play worse without Aldridge. Portland, according to 82games.com, is 9.4 points better with Aldridge on the court as opposed to off it. The Aldridge-less suffering isn’t one-dimensional, as both the offense and defense get worse without him. In fact, the Blazers’ offensive rating drops from 105 to 99.7 without LaMarcus and the defense gives up 109.1 points per 100 possessions when he’s out as opposed to 105.4 when he’s playing. 

This trend has proven mostly true over the last 3 games, even if it may be exaggerated by small samples. Since Aldridge has gone out with the injury, the offense actually has held up with an offensive efficiency of 106.4. Unfortunately, the defense has been disastrous, giving up 124 points per 100 possessions. Again, the small sample of 3 games makes this ugly, but the absence is felt. 

Specifically, the lack of LaMarcus affects two areas: rebounding and shot selection. The Blazers rebounding rates are down on both sides of the floor without Aldridge. J.J. Hickson has had to pick up a lot of slack at the defensive end, where his rebounding rate has skyrocketed to 38.8 from a normal figure of 28.5. He’s getting far fewer offensive boards, though, which might be a facet of not being able to clean up Aldridge’s misses that he has become accustom to grabbing. 

The shots the Blazers are getting have changed as well. Without Aldridge, there are less shots happening in the restricted area, which are normally very high-value propositions. These shots are instead moving toward the non-restricted area paint, where the Blazers shoot far worse without LaMarcus. Here is a chart showing the percentage of shot types taken and how the Blazers shoot from these areas:

Shot Type

% of Total Shots (FG%)

With Aldridge

% of Total Shots (FG%)

Last 3 Games

Restricted Area

31.2 (60.8)

27.7 (63.9)

In The Paint

10.5 (40.7)

15.5 (35.3)

Mid-Range

31.4 (40.5)

30 (40.9)

Left Corner 3

3.5 (45.5)

3.2 (57.1)

Right Corner 3

3.1 (35)

1.3 (0)

Above the Break 3

20.3 (35.2)

22.7 (46.9)

Luckily over these past 3 games, the 3-point shooting has been very good (despite the 0-for from the right corner). 

That’s enough of the doom-and-gloom because there might just be a silver lining to the Aldridge injury. In his place, Meyers Leonard has played some very productive and encouraging minutes. Leonard’s usage rate has jumped from 14 to 21 in the past 3 games he has averaged 15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds on 53 percent shooting, including a 22 and 10 performance against the Warriors. He’s flashed the early makings of a pick-and-pop game with some jumpers and has played with a lot of energy. Leonard still isn’t great defensively and turns the ball over more than Aldridge (he needs to watch the 3-second calls), but is rounding out his rookie year on a positive note.

Aldridge is expected to return at some point this season, which is obviously a very good thing for the Blazers. After watching Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap rack up 87 points on 40-67 shooting over two games that bookended a Carl Landry 25-point performance off the bench, Portland can’t wait to have their anchor back. Also, anything that can keep Joel Freeland on the bench has to be seen as constructive. The only question is whether Aldridge’s return is enough for the Blazers to pick up a few wins before the curtains close on this season.