Hornets Trail Blazers Basketball

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The Portland Trail Blazers

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Last Season: The Blazers spent the first half of the season threatening for a playoff spot, but one of the worst benches in NBA history ultimately sunk the team’s chances. Damian Lillard’s scoring prowess made him the fourth unanimous Rookie of the Year winner in NBA history, and it simulatenously provided hope that Portland’s current core can contend in the near future.

Signature Highlight: It feels dirty not to have a Lillard or LaMarcus Aldridge highlight here, but by golly gee, this dunk from J.J. Hickson was one of the best of the year.

Key Player Changes:

IN: Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Mo Williams, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Earl Watson

OUT: J.J. Hickson (Denver), Eric Maynor (Washington), Luke Babbitt, Jared Jeffries, Sasha Pavolvic, Ronnie Price

General manager Neil Olshey pulled off some sneaky tanking last year by cobbling together an awful bench with multiple players who won’t even play in the league this season. After hitting on Lillard in the draft, it looked like the Trail Blazers might have stolen another underrated small school grad to slot in as a scoring sixth man. Unfortunately, though, C.J. McCollum’s foot injury will keep him out of action indefinitely.

Adding Thomas Robinson was an incredibly low-risk, high-reward move, as his energy and rebounding should be a welcome sight coming off the bench. Robinson will likely never be a star, but he could carve out a solid role.

If Dorell Wright’s outside shooting returns to form, he could be a steal as a versatile 3 and D guy. Mo Williams is an extremely good shooter and a decent point guard to boot, but he needs to be hidden defensively at all times.

Robin Lopez might be the addition with the biggest impact, as his pure size should help the Blazers control the paint defensively much better than last season.

Losing J.J. Hickson doesn’t hurt nearly as much as his overall numbers would indicate. Hickson was defensive poison as a center last season, and it’s telling that the Blazers were unable to flip him for any asset while he was putting up grossly inflated stats.

Keys to Portland’s Season:

1) Can an improved bench make that much of a difference?

After running his starters into the ground by necessity last season, Terry Stotts can ease off the reins a bit and trust what should be a very capable bench. The on/off ratings for Aldridge (+9.4 points per 100 possessions) and Lillard (+9.1 points per 100 possessions) illustrate just how bad Portland’s reserve unit was last year, and the heavy minutes took a toll late in the season when the defense completely collapsed.

2) Will the defense improve?

Although he’s a plodder, Robin Lopez should plug a few more gaps in this leaky defense. Matthews is still the team’s best defender despite Batum’s reputation, but a lot of the responsibility boils down to Lillard and Aldridge, who need to stop reserving so much energy for offense and start defending pick-and-roll action better.

The Blazers finished 26th in defensive efficiency last season, so there’s certainly plenty of room for improvement here. The starting unit should be explosive, but below-average defensive teams traditionally have a much harder time making the playoffs than below-average offensive teams. The Blazers have to get better here in order to fight for the 8-seed.

3) Which unexpected source can provide the lift?

It’s time for Nic Batum to live up to his potential, as he’s the player who needs to make the biggest leap on both ends for the Blazers to truly be competitive. We know what we’re getting from LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews at this point, and it’s hard to imagine Lillard being significantly better (at least offensively) in his second year.

Perhaps Lopez or Robinson can surprise and add big contributions as well, but Batum is paid too much money to simply be a very good complementary player. The additions of an improved bench and a defensive-minded center can put the Blazers in the playoff conversation alone, but Batum’s continued development as a secondary creator (his assists shot up to 4.9 a game last year) and locked-in defender has to be there.

Why You Should Watch: Damian Lillard is the definition of smooth. Robin Lopez’s hair is the best in the business. LaMarcus Aldridge has three moves he just pairs over and over again, and no one can stop it.  Nic Batum in transition is an adventure. J.J. Hickson and his defense won’t make your eyes bleed anymore.

Prediction: 41-41 and the 9th seed. The Blazers should be able to beat out the other hapless defensive teams vying for the final playoff spot (Mavericks, Lakers), and the talent meshes better in Portland than it likely will in New Orleans. A healthy Minnesota team (oxy-moron?) is my choice for the 8th spot however, as they were much better defensively last year despite massive injuries. I need to see Portland’s defense improve drastically before I can fully believe they are a playoff team.

Report: Lamar Odom found unconscious, taken to Las Vegas hospital

Lamar Odom

Let’s hope that this is not as bad as it sounds.

Lamar Odom, whose NBA career was cut short due to his challenges with drug use, has been taken to a Las Vegas-area hospital after being found unconscious at a brothel in a city not far outside the city, according to the report from TMZ.

Lamar Odom is fighting for his life after falling into unconsciousness at Dennis Hof’s Love Ranch South in Pahrump, Nevada … TMZ Sports has learned.

Sources at the Love Ranch tell us … 35-year-old Odom arrived at the Ranch Saturday and was partying with the girls for days. A source at the Ranch said Lamar was taking an herbal substitute for Viagra. We spoke with Hof … who tells us Tuesday afternoon, a woman went into Odom’s room in the VIP suites and found him unconscious.

Odom spent 14 seasons in the NBA, starting his career with the Clippers and going on to be a key figure in the 2009 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers title teams. He won Sixth Man of the Year in 2011.

While famous in basketball circles — and incredibly well liked by players and media, he was one of the funniest guys in the league — he became a pop culture sensation when he married Khloe Kardashian. However, it was about that time that his drug use started to take a toll on everything in his life. It was not long before he was traded to Dallas, and things started to truly spiral out of control for him. He went for treatment after that, but never returned to the NBA.

We will have more as the story develops. Our thoughts are with Odom, and we hope he pulls out of this.

Jazz waive Jack Cooley and J.J. O’Brien

Jack Cooley, Jordan Mickey
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz said Tuesday that they have waived forwards Jack Cooley and J.J. O'Brien.

Cooley played in 16 games with the Jazz last season after being called up from the NBA Developmental League. He averaged 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds. Cooley’s fate with the team seemed to be decided when 7-foot center Jeff Withey signed a multi-year free agent deal in August. The 6-9, 260-pounder was in his second NBA season.

O’Brien was signed as an undrafted rookie Aug. 28 and played in one preseason game with the Jazz.

The Jazz roster now stands at 18.