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Five questions the Portland Trail Blazers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
41-41, lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.

I know what you did last summer: Not a whole lot. They had to unload Allen Crabbe for what amounted to a trade exception — albeit a large one — after signing him to a restricted free agent deal last season and failing to find a trade partner for him last year. The Blazers did draft Caleb Swanigan and Zack Collins. They also signed Archie Goodwin and Anthony Morrow. Portland failed to find a way to entice Carmelo Anthony to Rip City via a trade.

FIVE QUESTIONS THE BLAZERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Can the offense take some of the load off of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum? Lillard struggled with a nagging foot injury last year and indeed it was McCollum that ended up being the more important Blazer to Portland’s success. However, before Nurkic arrived in Oregon the Blazers were an easy team to scout on film.

Gone from this roster are two of last season’s biggest minutes guys — Mason Plumlee and Allen Crabbe. It’s possible that the Blazers have gotten rid of some of the duplication in both services and experience level, which could benefit their younger players with some structure. They have decided to commit to both Evan Turner and Moe Harkless, and having their roles defined could be easier for this team. With room to grow into their respective positions, several Blazers will be looked upon to provide more and take the load off of Lillard and McCollum.

2) Can Jusuf Nurkic play the entire season? This seems like an issue that folks in Portland are just too scared to broach, whether it be because of the team history or just the fact that they enjoy Nurkic so much.

The big man came over in a trade from the Denver Nuggets last year and played in just 20 games for the Blazers before bowing out due to an injury. Nurkic played most of the season approaching 300 lbs, and running in the Trail Blazers offense perhaps took its toll.

Much of media day in Portland was about the weight and eating habits of the players, Nurkic included. He has slimmed down some and that should help him come through the season with a bit more durability. However, the dark cloud hanging over Portland is not just one that’s filled with rain. I think Nurkic has to be able to play in 65 or more games this season for the Trail Blazers to have a chance in a Western Conference that is even tougher than it was last year.

3) Will the Blazers be any good on defense? This has been the question that has plagued the Blazers basically every season in Terry Stotts’ coaching tenure with the team, save for 2014-15. Portland was an abysmal squad on defense of last season, ranking just 24th the defensive efficiency.

Nurkic should help them a little bit and so too should a fully healthy an of Al-Farouq Aminu. Lillard and McCollum appear to have fully developed as much as they reasonably can on that side of the ball (and considering their expenditures on offense). It will be the rest of the team and the bench that will need to rotate in to make up for their deficiencies.

Terry Stotts said during media day that there are not any big shifts planned on defense for the upcoming season. Instead, we are looking for some defined roles to come out of Portland along with a fully healthy squad that has had more time playing together. Getting Ed Davis back into the big man rotation won’t hurt either.

Much like the title hopes of the Houston Rockets, the Trail Blazers’ playoff hopes will remain dependent on whether or not they can perform on the defensive side of the ball.

4) Will this be the last season of the Dame/CJ pairing? Uppity Blazers fans have been losing their mind asking this question for going on three years now. In fact, before Nurkic was traded to Portland, much of the discussion in Portland was around which of these two players they should swap. Indeed, most fans believed that McCollum was the player to trade, often being floated in the fan theories for then-Sacramento Kings big man at DeMarcus Ccousins.

But Portland GM Neil Olshey has a soft spot for McCollum, and he needed to give him and Lillard a full two seasons to play together as legitimate, dual superstars after McCollum won MIP in 2016. This season will give us the answer once and for all whether this tandem can be relied upon to lead this team. Again, it could come down to whether this team is fully healthy, but I don’t believe the Blazers would move McCollum until next summer. If management gets full season of healthy play out of this roster and they still are not great on defense, McCollum could be a move that happens.

Oh, and get it out of your head that Olshey is ever going to trade Lillard, Blazers fans. You remember how long you yearned for a star player at the point guard spot? Now you have a franchise one, you’re not going to swap him out and downgrade.

5) What is Evan Turner’s role on this team? Turner was abysmal for Portland during 2016, and he had only really started to figure it out after the turn of the new year before he was injured. After Portland lost out on Chandler Parsons and a few other free agents that summer, Turner was the panic move. He is certainly overpaid, but the whole idea of having him on the roster is to take away the ability of an opposing defense to trap Lillard and McCollum off the pick-and-roll.

Granted, Turner does do that somewhat and he now has more time dealing within this offense. No, Stotts’ offense is not tailored to Turner’s strong suits, but then again I’m not sure which kind of modern NBA offense is. Turner works best when he works his way to a specific spot on the elbow and not much else.

That can be a real weapon, and using him more in the pick-and-roll is a good idea. He will be more comfortable with his teammates this season even if he’s not a threat to shoot himself.

All that being said, it remains to be seen whether or not Turner can simply take some of the pressure off of Lillard and McCollum or elevate his game to another level within the confines of this offense. Like it or not, Portland’s success this season will rely on Turner as perhaps the fourth or fifth most important player on the roster.

The Warriors’ championship rings have 31 diamonds in them (VIDEO)

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Tuesday night meant the return of NBA basketball, and of course what we all wanted to see: the Golden State Warriors.

In the second game of the evening, the Warriors squared off against the Houston Rockets. Before the teams tipped, the Warriors received their championship rings in front of their hometown crowd at Oracle Arena.

Wearing special Nike hoodies with the phrase “The Champions” on the back, the Warriors received their rings to a standing ovation.

Perhaps the best part of the ceremony was finding out the official gemstone count in the rings. According to Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver, the rings have 31 diamonds in them.

Via Twitter:

Hmm. 31.

3-1.

3-1 lead.

Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.

Report: Cavaliers ditched Kyrie Irving tribute video idea vs. Celtics

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It was the first game for Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving back in Cleveland against the Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Irving spent the first six years of his career in Cleveland before being traded to the Celtics over the summer.

Of course, there was no love lost between the two teams nor between Cavaliers fans and Irving. Boston won the opening tip which Irving gathered, prompting a round of boos from the audience at The Q.

Perhaps more interesting was that the Cavaliers had a tribute video lined up for Irving but decided not to run it.

According to multiple reports, the video was set to run during a floating point in the game, but the operations folks in Cleveland never found the right time.

Another report from Cleveland.com has said that the aforementioned video had set off a few Cavaliers players.

Via Cleveland.com:

According to team spokesman Tad Carper, multiple Cavs officials, including majority owner Dan Gilbert, chose not to show the video because “we were expecting to run it at a floating opportunity based on the right moment, and we felt that moment never presented itself.”

Carper said the decision to cancel the video was not “directly” tied to the gruesome ankle injury to Celtics guard Gordon Hayward with 6:50 left in the first quarter, either.

A source with direct knowledge of Cavs’ players thinking told cleveland.com that several inside the Cleveland locker room were upset Monday upon hearing that a video was planned.

The video would have upset some inside the Cleveland locker room? I wonder which ones.

Already a question, Celtics’ depth issues tested by Hayward injury

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Tonight’s game story was probably always going to be about the Boston Celtics’ wing depth. It still is, I guess, but it reads a lot different now that Gordon Hayward is likely out for the season with a fractured tibia and dislocated left ankle.

Hayward, the biggest free agent prize this offseason, signed with the Celtics over the summer as the team moved in a new direction with Kylie Irving. In doing so, the Celtics leveraged a bit of their wing depth by sending Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons.

Tuesday’s opening ceremony was supposed to give us a better idea of how the Celtics depth would fare against the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart are slated to be a big part of the Boston playoff hopes this year. So too is Marcus Morris once he returns from a knee injury. Of course, that was when we were sure that Hayward would be anchoring the small forward position.

Now, Hayward is out for an undetermined period of time after suffering a catastrophic injury on that fateful alley-oop attempt against LeBron James. With Hayward went Boston’s hopes of a win as the opening matchup of the series went to the Cavaliers, 102–90, albeit with a bit of late excitement as a Irving took the potential game-tying shot as time expired with James guarding him.

Via Twitter:

So here we are, where we originally anticipated to start but with one less star player accounted for. While the Celtics mounted an impressive third quarter comeback, we still don’t have answers to our questions on the Boston depth chart.

It’s true that we saw some impressive play on Tuesday from the guys that were expected to complement Hayward on the way. Brown led the team with 25 points on 11-of-23 shooting in 40 minutes. Likewise, Smart showed some flashes of defensive brilliance even as he went 0-of-4 from 3-point range. Tatum, always expected to contribute the least in his first season, scored 14 points while grabbing 10 rebounds, an impressive double-double in his opening NBA game.

But this still doesn’t account for the fact that the Celtics were outplayed on the wing. The combination of Crowder and JR Smith for Cleveland proved to be too much for Boston to handle when put on the same floor with James. That is to say nothing of Kevin Love‘s performance, which undoubtedly benefited from the defensive rotational differences for the Celtics with Hayward out.

The Cavaliers outflanked Boston on Tuesday despite starting guards Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade combining for 22 points on 24 shots. Crowder himself shot just 3-of-10 from the field, although his contributions elsewhere were obvious. The Cavaliers were able to punch out Boston even as they suffered from subpar performances from major players. No doubt with more time together both sides will solidify, but now without Hayward the young players on the Celtics will have to do much more.

It will be easier for the likes of Crowder, Wade, and Rose to mold around the best player in the NBA than it is for Boston to find a rotation that gets them into the playoffs. And while one game in October won’t tell the story of the season, we had to get a hint of what the Celtics’ young players would look like against top competition. We still got that, and if there is an upside here for Celtics fans it’s that the development of those young players appears to have sparked a flame that should grow all season.

Make no bones about it, the Celtics still have some good players that should be able to shield the younger ones — especially Tatum — from having to shoulder too much of the load. That’s the kind of thing that can stunt the growth of a player. But that doesn’t mean that Celtics fans can’t be disappointed. It was always going to be a stretch to topple the Cavaliers and LeBron in the East, and without Hayward it will be impossible.

From Kyrie Irving to Jae Crowder, no love lost between Celtics and Cavs

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The first night of the NBA is here. Now you can stop pretending that you are going to win your NFL fantasy league and pay attention to something important.

Tuesday night’s opening matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics was of course one of intrigue for many reasons. The teams have new rosters after a trade involving Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder, just to name a few.

The NBA likes to open its seasons with matchups like this, and the crowd at The Q in Cleveland did not disappoint when they saw Irving once more.

There did not appear to be bad blood on the court between LeBron James and Irving, and the two exchanged a friendly fist bump as is customary before the tip.

Via Instagram:

Of course, Cavaliers fans did not hold back once the Celtics won the tip off and Kyrie handled the ball for the first time.

There was also myriad technical fouls, including one on Irving after a timeout and one on Al Horford for clapping at Crowder. The latter gave us this gem:

Is an absolute bummer that the Celtics will be without Gordon Hayward as he recovers from a broken left ankle. But, at least there will be some bad blood remaining between these teams to entertain us over the course of the regular season.