The Trail Blazers have plans to start over

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It was inevitable, really. The promise held in the 2008 and 2009 seasons for the Portland Trail Blazers have vanished in a blur of surgical knives, press releases featuring the words “out for the season” and a crowd of players in tailored suits on the bench.  Joel Przybilla was the lucky one. He only hurt his knee twice.  Brandon Roy. Greg Oden. Greg Oden. Greg Oden. The fact is that the team assembled to challenge the West has become mortal. They’re still fighting, and Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge are great players. Andre Miller’s a good player, Nicolas Batum is a very good player, and the youngsters have some potential. But the building blocks aren’t there. And Portland’s GM, Rich Cho, is being honest about it.

From The Oregonian:

The days of proclaiming this franchise “one or two pieces away” have faded.  In its place is this matter-of-fact assessment from Cho:

“This team is an average to a little-above average team, and our record reflects that,” Cho said. “And theres not going to be any quick fix to make it into a championship team. This is going to be a process.”

Cho waited until the Blazers had played about half of their games before deciding what his long term plan is for the franchise. He said that plan may become clear to fans after the trade deadline, but added that “winning is still important.”

“But I think you have to think short term and long term,” Cho said. “We are not going to sacrifice a long-term goal for a short-term benefit.”

via Trail Blazers: Big changes on the way, GM Rich Cho says | OregonLive.com.

The Oregonian goes on to report that Cho plans on pursuing drat picks, seeking to replicate the Thunder formula. Ironic, as it was the Blazers’ passing of Kevin Durant that… you know what? I’m going to leave that one alone.  Following the Thunder is a good path, at least it seems so at this point, and probably the best pursuit for the Blazers.

But if the Blazers are really going to look at following the Thunder, they should also pay attention to what GM Sam Presti didn’t do. He didn’t start adding veterans. The Blazers, thinking they were set, started plugging in veterans like Marcus Camby and Andre Miller. Veterans are great additions to teams ready to contend for a title. They are anchors around teams trying to find a path towards a successful future, even as their play are some of the bright spots. You simply can’t build around them.

Cho expects to start making moves as the trade deadline nears, and he’s going to have assets capable of moving. He says that Nicolas Batum is part of the future in Portland, but don’t be surprised if instead he uses Batum’s overall value to try and snag something significant. After all, you have to give up valuable assets if you want to get them.

Until then, we’ll watch the Blazers, defiantly plugging in more wins than losses, struggling through injury after injury, and think of what could have been. The fall from grace in the NBA comes just that quickly.

 

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.