Posts Tagged ‘Terry Stotts’

Blazers’ would-be depth all in Vegas


VIDEO: The Trail Blazers’ young guns rout the Hawks in Las Vegas Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Two seasons ago the Portland Trail Blazers’ bench was remarkably young and perilously inadequate. Last season, the addition of veteran Mo Williams plus incredibly good health among the starting five limited opportunity for the Blazers’ babies.

As Summer League heats up, that banging sound you hear is opportunity knocking. Which young Blazers finally walk through that door will be an intriguing story line to monitor. The choices are all right here in Vegas. In fact, if the Blazers don’t boast the most players from their big-league team on their Summer League squad then they’re right there near the top.

Six of Portland’s 15 roster players are on its Summer League squad: Guards Will Barton, Allen Crabbe and C.J. McCollum, as well as frontline teammates Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson. All six players have either one or two years of league service, and all six are seeking to make a first-time impact in the Blazers’ rotation.

McCollum, Robinson and Leonard are all top 11 draft picks.

“It’s an important summer for our young bigs and and our young perimeter guys,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said as he watched Portland’s summer team beat down Atlanta, 91-76. “CJ, Will and Allen, there’s an opportunity. I can’t say how many minutes, but there’s an opportunity. Joel, Meyers and T-rob, after signing Chris [Kaman], there’s some competition.”

Kaman was granted a two-year, $9.8 million contract coming off two subpar seasons with Dallas and then the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet Portland felt compelled to sign him up as backup to starter Robin Lopez because they’ve haven’t been able to count on Leonard or Freeland.

The young guards won’t have to contend with Williams, who remains on the market as an unrestricted free agent, however the Blazers signed steady veteran in Steve Blake.

“In my rookie year everyone talked about the bench,” said Leonard, who took a step back last season, partly due to injury. “Last year was a much better year for us, young guys stepped up. Now we need to have even more of a deep bench, confidence from coach to put us in there and know the score isn’t  going to down, we’re going to keep it there or we’re going to increase the lead. It’s confidence in the starters and coaches that when we come in we’re going to do a good job and they can know we’re going to be all right.”

Self-confidence is a big pat of it, too. The leader in that category could be Thomas Robinson, the fifth overall pick two years ago by Sacramento, who was traded by the Kings and then the Rockets. He played in 70 games for Portland last season, averaging 4.8 ppg and 4.4 rpg in 12.5 mpg. He provided some high energy moments off the bench during the playoffs and now the 23-year-old says he’s discovered what it takes to be a productive NBA player.

“I am where I was supposed to be after my rookie year, making that leap to knowing what type of player you are in this league and knowing what you’re going to do for your team,” Robinson said. “That’s where I am now, where I should have been last year.”

Few expected the Blazers to end up where they did last season, winning 54 games and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the last 14 years. They have a dynamic starting five with All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, streak-shooter Wes Matthews, stat-stuffer small forward Nicolas Batum and Lopez, their lunchpail center.

Bench parts at every position are on the roster. Now, with another year under the belts, the question is which ones walk through that door.

Aldridge: ‘I want to be best Blazer ever’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers to their first playoff series win in 14 years.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – LaMarcus Aldridge has put his name on it. In a year we’ll see if he owns it.

The Portland Trail Blazers’ All-Star power forward, seemingly so close to forcing his way out only to be coaxed back in, primarily by the drafting of young All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and a roster re-tool over the last couple years that led to the Blazers’ first playoff series win in 14 years, is now not only talking about re-upping with Portland for the maximum five years, but playing out his career in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Here’s why:

“I want to be the best Blazer — ever,” Aldridge told Oregonian beat writer Joe Freeman on Tuesday. “I should be able to leave a mark on a big-time franchise that is going to be seen forever. And I will be able to say I played here my whole career. This city has embraced me and grown with me. I have so much history, it just makes sense to stay.”

And here’s how close he already is to so many franchise marks. From Freeman:

Aldridge’s name is dotted up and down the Blazers’ record books, listed among the leaders in a host of statistical categories. Next season, he conceivably could move into the top five in blocks, free throws, minutes and games played, while also moving past Clyde Drexler to become the Blazers’ all-time leading rebounder and moving ahead of Terry Porter into second place in scoring. If Aldridge signs that long-term extension next season, he will set himself up to finish his career as the leader in every major category in Blazers history.

With Free Agency 2014 still in a holding pattern, Aldridge, one of several Big Fish who can become a free agent in the summer of 2015, certainly sounds as though his situation will be less LeBron James and more Dirk Nowitzki.

He told the Oregonian that he will not sign a contract extension this summer, but only because he plans to sign a new contract next summer. One of the odd quirks of the collective bargaining agreement is that it allows players to fulfill their current contracts, enter free agency and then re-sign with their teams for more years and more money than they could by signing an extension.

If Aldridge were to sign an extension this summer, he would play out the final year of his contract at $16 million, then begin a three-year extension for $55.5 million. However, if he becomes a free agent, he can re-sign next summer for five years and $108 million.

My theory on this is the NBA craves the offseason buzz created by free agency. Just look at what’s gone on since July 1. Extensions are boring. Free agency is suspenseful with a limitless rumor mill and headline potential. So even with a player who says he wants to stay with his team, the media can, and will create “what if” story lines throughout the final year of the player’s contract and into free agency.

LaMarcus Aldridge says he wants to re-sign, but will he really? Wouldn’t he rather play in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago … or his hometown Dallas ? 

Last month, Portland owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey put a three-year, $55.5 million extension on the table, but knew Aldridge would not sign it. It was a formality, a good-faith move. The billionaire Allen will be happy to pay the $108 million tab next summer.

And it’s great news for the Portland fan base, one of the most devout in the league. In an age where the grass always seems greener elsewhere — and we might be seeing it again with James and Carmelo Anthony – Aldridge a Dallas-area native, seems to be viewing the full arc of his career that has now spanned eight seasons all in Portland.

Last season marked his third consecutive All-Star appearance, and it probably should have been his fourth. Aldridge had the best year of his career under coach Terry Stotts, who completed his second season. Aldridge averaged a double-double for the first time in his career, 23.2 ppg and 11.1 rpg. He thrived with the addition of blue-collar center Robin Lopez to handle more inside dirty work and lessen Aldridge’s defensive responsibilities.

Aldridge turns 29 on July 19, and assuming he signs the five-year pact next summer, he will be playing his remaining prime years in Portland. He’ll turn 35 when that deal expires. Nowitzki, who stuck with the Mavericks through thick and thin, just completed a four-year deal at age 36 and has agreed to three more years for $30 million.

The Blazers were one of the great success stories of last season. How the next season unfolds could either reaffirm Aldridge’s stance or, if the team takes a step back, make him think twice.

For now, he has stated his intentions. We’ll see if they remain the same one year from now.

Are Blazers too stubborn to survive?

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: Spurs-Blazers: Game 4 Preview

PORTLAND, Ore. — By now, everyone knows the definition of insanity.

So the question becomes: Are the Blazers are crazy enough to think they can stop the Spurs without changing the way they defend Tony Parker?

“I think our pick-and-roll [defense] is we like to keep guys on one side and when we keep it on the side our bigs play best,” said guard Damian Lillard. “We have been living all season on guys taking mid-range jump shots and that’s what [Parker] likes, so it’s been working against us.”

Yes, it has.

Parker probably couldn’t do more damage to the Blazers if he took the court swinging a sledgehammer. He comes off screens, gets into the paint and simply breaks them down. If Parker is not pulling up and sticking 16- to 18-foot jumpers right in the faces of the Blazers, then he’s dishing to teammates for easy buckets.

Through the first three games of a shockingly devastating 3-0 blowout, Parker is averaging 29.3 points and 8.5 assists per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field.

Yet the Blazers keep insisting that the solution is just to play harder, not different. It is as if they view change as conceding a weakness.

“It’s not just the pick-and-roll,” said guard Wes Matthews. “It’s everything. It’s us forcing an air ball down 11 in third quarter after being down 20 and Boris Diaw grabs the rebound and makes a layup. It’s those plays. Those are the deflating ones, not so much an All-Star and Finals MVP with pick-and-rolls.”

But it is the pick-and-roll that gets everything started for San Antonio and gives a potent Spurs offense too many easy openings.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts continues to point out that his team has done a much better job of containing the Spurs in the second half of each game. But that’s after the Blazers have fallen behind by 19, 26 and 20 by halftime.

“You can change a little,” Stotts said. “You’re not gonna make drastic changes. You have to do things that fit your personnel, do things that you’ve worked on all year. But we can play zone a little bit, do more switching. There are things that you can tweak here and there, but I think it’s more sustaining what we’re doing.

“Nic [Batum] did a good job on Parker in the second half. We’re not built to be a trapping aggressive, double-teaming team. We haven’t done that all year and you’re not going to do that against the best passing team in the league.”

While it is admirable to have a consistent philosophy, firm beliefs and a resolute will, that can also be mere stubbornness.

“I don’t know if there’s any words for it,” Matthews said with an admiring shake of his head. “They’re playing extremely well. Everybody’s playing at a high level. Everybody on their team is looking like a first option on any other team. They’re playing well together. They’re shooting the ball well. Their conversion rate on our turnovers and our mistakes is off the charts. But they’re beatable. They are beatable.”

Not if they don’t stop Parker from beating them.

Parker makes it a moveable feast

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Parker, Duncan lead Spurs to 3-0 lead over Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Presumably when it’s over, Tony Parker will have the Trail Blazers over for dinner. With fava beans and a nice Chianti.

This is no longer Parker simply moving all of the Xs and Os around the blackboard as if he’s giving a lecture at a coaching clinic. It’s his own canvas where the imagination and ideas fill up the blank spaces like oils.

We have certainly seen him play at a high level before. He’s won three championships, become a perennial All-Star and was the MVP of the 2007 Finals.

Now, at 31, there is something else.

Command.

It’s knowing when to pour like water through a crack in concrete and get all the way to the basket. When to pull up and take that mid-range jumper that the Portland defense continues to give him. When it’s a bounce pass that will find a cutting Tim Duncan in stride. When what looks like an over-the-shoulder prayer will find a wide-open Kawhi Leonard or Manu Ginobili at the 3-point line.

“Tony has been the engine for us,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after another throttling of the Blazers, this time 118-103 on Saturday night in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinals series.

The kind that takes the checkered flag at Daytona or Indy or LeMans.

The Spurs are a completely different kind of team running a completely different kind of offense from the days when the 19-year-old from France came into the league and was supposed to not screw things up for Duncan and David Robinson.

Now San Antonio has more ball movement than a pool table in an ocean storm and that means more responsibility for the point guard who gets to make it all run.

Before the Blazers knew what hit them in Game 3, Parker had run off four straight jumpers and virtually everyone sitting inside the Moda Center could tell that their team was going to get run off the court again.

“He got us out of the gates,” Duncan said. “He continues to shoot the ball really well. He’s getting to his spots. He’s making great decisions for our offense of our team. When his shot is there, he’s knocking it out.

“He’s doing a great job of coming off the screens and getting to his spot and knocking them out. He’s reading the defense real well. They start closing up on him and he’s doing a great job of getting to the basket as well. He’s matured and doing a much better job of doing exactly what the defense wants to give him.”

Everybody gets older, the Spurs quite evidently with a 38-year-old Duncan and 36-year-old Ginobili having their movements and usage handled as carefully as antique crystal.

Parker, of course, is older, too. But even after 13 years in the league, he’s the one with the twinkle in his eye and the spark that lights the fire in the Spurs’ entire offensive game.

“It’s what he does,” said shooting guard Danny Green. “He reads the situations. He makes the right decisions and he gets us all playing the way we want to play.”

When it comes to reining in Parker, Blazers coach Terry Stotts couldn’t grasp at more straws if he were dropped in a hayloft. Should he switch defenders? Does it matter?

What figured to be a competitive series lasted that way only until the opening tip of Game 1. With Parker lighting the match, the Spurs have had halftime leads of 19, 26 and 20.

Stotts keeps talking about how evenly the Blazers are playing the Spurs in the second half of games, which is like the guy whose parachute didn’t open saying at least he stuck the landing.

The fact is Parker has played this way now for the past two or three seasons, yet rarely gets mentioned in the MVP race, left in the exhaust fumes of Kevin Durant and LeBron James. This year he finished tied for 12th in the voting. He never seems to be the hot new name, the slick new model and yet he’s that engine still running strong and late into June.

“He’s just been unbelievable for us and obviously been the driving force of this entire series,” Duncan said. “So we’ll continue to ride him and hopefully he can close this thing out.”

Then pick out the Chianti to wash down the Blazers.

24-Second thoughts — May 10

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: First and foremost, Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s all about you, tonight, Deron Williams.

Someone has to be in the eye of the 2014 playoffs storm every night and since Roy Hibbert is off, it’s most definitely your turn.

World’s watching.

Brooklyn is definitely watching!

What’s it gonna be?

Heat @ Nets … #nosleeptilbrooklyn

24 – A quick Schuhbie Stat you can dip in ranch or blue cheese to get us ready …

And a little mood setter, too …

This is even better …

23 – I wonder if it bothers opponents to see LeBron James run through them in the lane like Godzilla through the middle of the city? #freighttrainjames

And he does it on both ends …

22 – The #NBAStyle Police have an APB out for Dwyane Wade

21 – Shaun Livingston from deep to end the first …(#freighttrainjames with 16 points in 12 minutes for the Heat)

20 – It should be bonkers at the Moda Center in Portland tonight for Game 3 of this playoff double-header (#RipCity) …

– #RedOut

19 – The D. Will-Hibbert connection strikes again …

18 – “Hey, I’m trying to watch the game people!”

17 – Another coaching vacancy coming?


VIDEO: Joe Johnson was hotter than fish grease in the first half

16 – The Barclays Bounce has the Nets playing with a wicked flow tonight. They’ve got it rocking. Ball is rotating like crazy on offense. The energy on both ends is high. They’ve got their largest lead of the series, 68-56 inside of five minutes to play in the third quarter.

It also helps when the elders move like they did years ago …

15 – There’s a Teletovic Outbreak in Brooklyn right now!

“Brooklyn” chants cranking up with the Nets blowing the game open in the third quarter. D. Will even hit a 3!

14 – Dust up time. Ray Allen vs Alan Anderson (I’m predicting double techs, nothing more … this game is over, btw! Nets raining 3s all night. It’s a wrap.)

13 – From the “What in the name of Naismith?” files …


VIDEO: Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts checks in before tip-off

12 – We get Jay, Bey and Jake in Brooklyn. But they’ve got stars in Portland, too!

Jimmy Goldstein, too!

11 – A staggering 15-for-25 from deep for the Nets in a 14-point win to make things interesting …

But …

10 – Hey Underdog, “put that on a T-shirt!”

9 – Portland, we have a problem!

https://twitter.com/ChrisBHaynes/status/465333661265457153

8 – This look sums it all up for the home crowd in Portland …

7 – Bow down to Timmy, passing Karl Malone for 5th place on the career playoff scoring list …

6 – You don’t need advanced stats, analytics or any other tools when you have just plain math …

5 – I’ve been in the Moda Center (it was the Rose Garden then) when the home made runs like these. It can go from  zero to nuclear in a matter of seconds …

4 – That’s the idea #edgeofyourseat …

3 – Gregg Popovich spares no one!

And the results can be, in a word, breathtaking …

They’ve got this basketball thing down, too!

2 – Hard to argue with this at the moment, but we know where to find you when the season is done if your crystal ball has a crack in it  …

1 – Spurs fans don’t need to hang their heads. Your team just ran into a machine. Spurs have been at this, at this level, for nearly tw decades. #SpursWayDon’tPlay

#thenightdalightswentoutinripcity


VIDEO: Tim Duncan joins the playoff Fab Five!

Blazers in hole, need to dig deeper

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: The GameTime guys preview Game 3 between the Spurs and Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Dig deeper.

That’s the answer for the Trail Blazers, even though they’re already standing in an 2-0 hole.

LaMarcus Aldridge says they’ve got to play better. Damian Lillard says they have to play harder.

“Everybody has to play better, starting with me,” Aldridge said.

“It’s going to be tough, but we have confidence in what we can do on our home floor,” said Lillard.

But as the Western Conference semifinal series resumes tonight with Game 3, the Blazers will have to go deeper into their suspect bench with reserve guard Mo Williams sidelined by a groin injury.

“We anticipate that he will not play,” said coach Terry Stotts.

Portland is a young team, with no starter older than 28, but even young teams can get worn down. The Blazers compensate for a water-thin collection of reserves by playing their starters more, with three of them averaging at least 41 minutes in the playoffs and another logging 39 per night.

Williams suffered the injury in the Game 6 close-out win over Houston in the first round and labored to shoot just 3-for-11 with four turnovers in Game 1 against the Spurs. In Game 2, Williams played just under nine minutes before the injury flared up again and he was forced to the bench.

For a team that is being overwhelmed by San Antonio’s depth — the Spurs regularly use 10 players — and with Lillard already up to 43.3 minutes per game in the playoffs, the loss of Williams is significant.

“I would assume that Earl [Watson] will get some minutes and Will Barton will get some playing time,” Stotts said. “With Mo averaging his 24 minutes, some of them are at point guard and some of them are alongside Damian. His 24 minutes will kind of be spread out among at least two or three other players.

Barton was on the court for less than 90 seconds total in the entire first-round series win over the Rockets, but has played 20 minutes in two games against the Spurs. In Game 2 on Thursday night, he shot 5-for-5 for 13 points in 12 minutes and during the second quarter was the often the only Blazer who was on the attack offensively.

“Will comes in ready,” Stotts said. “He loves to be on the court and I think that showed when he made his first two shots in maybe a minute of being on the court.”

Snakes alive! Spurs squeeze Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: Spurs stifle Blazers in Game 2

SAN ANTONIO – It was the middle of the second quarter and the Blazers’ biggest offensive weapon had finally found a clear path to the basket.

LaMarcus Aldridge slammed his dunk attempt off the back iron.

On the next trip down the floor, Aldridge took another feed, had another open path to the hoop.

And clanked another dunk.

Snakes in the Portland locker room. Snakes on the rim.

When the Blazers eventually slithered out of the AT&T Center on the wrong end of another clubbing, they probably didn’t feel bitten by a viper as much as squeezed breathless by a powerful boa constrictor.

Aldridge can’t find room to move in the low post. Damian Lillard can’t find enough opportunities to work his shimmy-shake magic. Wes Matthews can’t find anything to do except toss up his arms in frustration and plead his case to referees. The numbers on a map say it’s just 200 miles between Houston and San Antonio, but the Blazers have discovered the brand of basketball might as well come from opposite sides of the planet.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Rockets’ played one-on-one. Now the Spurs play all-as-one.

In the first round, the Rockets played with frantic, nervous energy. Now the Spurs play with the quiet, deadly hum of high voltage power lines.

In the first round, the Rockets often treated the fourth quarters and the final minutes of games as something to give away. “Here, take this.” Now the Spurs treat the opening quarters of games as time to simply smack the Blazers and bloody their noses. “Here, take that.”

At this rate their stock is dropping faster than Johnny Football’s. Maybe even the Cleveland Browns wouldn’t take a gamble on the Blazers.

For a Portland team that just four days ago was still celebrating the first playoff series win for the franchise in 14 years, this has been a step up in class like going from kindergarten to quantum mechanics. While Houston poked and prodded and tweaked and adjusted a defensive plan to try to turn down the heat from the boiling concoction that was Aldridge, the Spurs have turned to Tiago Splitter and told him to be the lid on the pot. He bumps Aldridge. He grinds Aldridge. He bangs Aldridge. He flusters Aldridge. And then Splitter gets help in close to the basket from Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard and anybody else who just feels like taking a swipe or throwing shoulder.

“I missed two dunks and four or five layups,” Aldridge said after a 6-for-23 shooting night and just 16 points. “If those shots go in, then the whole game is different.”

And if pigs had wings, it would be tougher for us to catch that bacon.

It’s never a good thing when coach Terry Stotts is pointing out the highlights of not giving up any fast break points and holding the other guys to just 44 points in the second half. Not when his team gave up 70 points and trailed by 19 at halftime.

On one hand, all the Spurs have done is held the home-court advantage as they now head out to Portland. On the other hand, the Blazers have held the lead for a grand total of 16 seconds in two entire games of playoff basketball.

These are not the Spurs who looked disinterested and disjointed through the first six games against Dallas in the previous round. Now they are back to rolling up and down the court like a road grader, flattening anything in their path. Their deepest-in-the-NBA bench is back. So is their swagger. Manu Ginobili throwing football-style touchdown passes to Leonard on the break. Boris Diaw doing the Jell-O roll through the paint to drop in the kind of shot that was so tasty it made you want to lick the spoon.

These are not the Blazers who looked like the poised ones down the stretch against the discombobulated Rockets.

“No panic,” said the Blazers’ Nicolas Batum. “We know we’ve done bad the last two games.”

On the bright side, nobody was bitten.

Slowing Parker is job one for Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Can the Blazers bounce back in Game 2 vs. the Spurs?

SAN ANTONIO — Gregg Popovich knows a way to slow Tony Parker down. He sat him down for 19 days smack in the middle of the season.

It’s not quite that easy for the Trail Blazers, who have to figure job one in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals is to stop the Spurs’ All-Star point guard from running amok as he did in the series opener.

While all of the very deep San Antonio lineup washed over them like a sandcastle at the beach, it was Parker’s 33 points on 13-for-24 shooting that set the pace and kept the Blazers on their heels all night long.

Parker attacked Portland running the fast break and repeatedly pulled up to knock in mid-range jumpers as the Blazers’ defense concentrated on not letting him get to the rim.

According to the Blazers’ statistics, Parker shot 5-for-5 in the transition game and 8-for-12 when he was able to get into the paint.

“He’s going to get there sometimes,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “That’s what he does. We had him 5-for-12 on midrange shots. That’s a number we can live with. But 5-for-5 in transition, that’s a number we have to be better with.

“We have to keep the ball out of the middle as much as we can. The more we can keep him out of the paint, that takes away opportunities for him and his teammates.”

Those were opportunities that might have have come for the Spurs once more this springtime if Popovich hadn’t made the bold decision back on Feb. 10, following a loss at Detroit, to simply shut down his trigger man and leading scorer for nearly three weeks.

“I thought he was more mentally tired than physically tired,” Popovich explained. “He needed time away. No more shootarounds, no more game plans, the whole ball of wax. He just needed to shut down from it all.”

What looks like a perfectly logical move with a 31-year-old who is expected to carry so much of the offensive burden, was not exactly one that Parker swallowed easily. After all, Popovich did not take the same tack with 38-year-old Tim Duncan or 36-year-old Manu Ginobili.

“I [thought] it was too long,” Parker said. “At the same time, I trust Pop. He did a great job with me, Timmy, with Manu, managing us during the year to make sure we stay fresh for the playoffs. You can see the results.”

Including his Game 7 close-out performance in the first round over Dallas, Parker has rung up back-to-back 30-point games after hitting that level just three times during the entire regular season and appears energized.

The Spurs frequently ran Parker off picks against the Blazers and got him the open looks at the basket.

“I’m supposed to provide support,” said Portland center Robin Lopez, who stayed at home to guard the paint. “We’re encouraging him to take mid-range shots. Tony hit a few. In the best of all worlds, we’d be forcing everybody baseline.”

Parker was guarded during the game by Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews. While the preference for Stotts may be to use the length of the 6-foot-9 Batum on Parker, making that shift would force the Blazers to be undersized in their other matchups against Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

“If you take Nic off Leonard, it opens things up for Kawhi and shifts everything down,” Stotts said. “But we’ve done things like that in the past. We have to be able to make those changes and subsequent adjustments.”

Which leaves the dilemma of how to slow Parker?

“You have to be physical with him, like Wes did at the end of the game,” Batum said. “Wes pushed him fullcourt. That’s what you have to do.”

Spurs’ MVP beauty more than skin deep

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Parker leads Spurs to Game 1 rout of Trail Blazers

SAN ANTONIO – They gave out the Kia MVP award earlier in the day.

Kevin Durant over LeBron James in the ultimate 1-on-1 beauty contest.

But the Spurs have never been ones for strutting their stuff down the runway.

Tim Duncan and Tony Parker finished in a tie for 12th place.

“I can’t wait to tell them,” said their coach Gregg Popovich.

There was no need for him to tell the Trail Blazers, who were on the wrong end of a 116-92 clubbing in the opener of the Western Conference semifinal series on Tuesday night.

The Spurs, of course, have been running an entirely different kind of race for years, one that never quite looks right in a bikini.

This is not the way championship teams are supposed to be constructed in the NBA, a league that has always been built on individual stars who are able to hoist entire teams up on their backs.

Mikan. Russell. Kareem. Bird. Magic. Isiah. Michael. Shaq. Kobe. Wade. Dirk. LeBron.

But here are the Spurs winning a league-best 62 in the regular season while trying their damnedest to look a basketball version of the Rockettes, one huge chorus line where it’s the high kick of the collective that most impresses.

“That’s a championship team,” said Blazers guard Damian Lillard, the star of a team celebrated for getting out of the first round for the first time in 14 years. “They came out with more energy than we did. They threw the first punch on both ends of the floor.”

That’s because the Spurs have been throwing punches in these postseason situations since only what seems like the dawn of time. Duncan alone has played more playoff games (219) than the entire Portland franchise.

“They did what championship teams do,” said Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. “Most of the guys on (our) team haven’t even been in the second round and they’ve won championships. They’ve been here. I think they definitely came out and let us know how it’s going to be.”

That is, like playing an octopus armed with a set of butcher knives.

While Parker grabbed the spotlight in Game 1 with 33 points and nine assists, this is not his wagon to pull. Not alone. Not all by himself through the long playoff grind.

Parker is the match, but the fire comes from a Spurs lineup that burns deeper than any other in the league.

Perhaps the only team in NBA history to win a championship without a truly singular star was the 2004 Pistons. Ben Wallace was their highest finisher in MVP voting that year. Wallace was 10th. Yet he, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace took down the mighty Lakers.

The Spurs have taken that approach one step further, spreading the wealth and conserving their energy all season long in order to be fit and ready for this charge.

Not a single player on the Spurs roster averaged 30 minutes this season. Parker was tops at 29.4.

The Spurs had nine different players who averaged at least 8.2 points and nobody higher than 16.7.

No stars? Tell that to the Blazers, who were seeing them before the end of the first quarter.

This was a Portland team that went into Houston to open the first round of the playoffs and arrogantly rearranged the furniture in winning the first two games on the road. On this night, they were lost, befuddled, hopelessly overmatched.

“They play your plays,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “They knew where and what we were going to do. They did what all teams do in the playoffs.”

The Spurs just do it better.

All that angst and worry when they were pushed to seven games in the first round by the No. 8 Mavericks.

Too slow, too old, too tired?

So in the past two games, San Antonio has averaged 117.5 points, won by an average of 23.5, shot 54 percent from the field and 42.5 percent on 3-pointers.

The Spurs’ defense bodied up Lillard and kept him from doing damage in the paint, kept a lid on Aldridge early and never let the Blazers grow an ounce of confidence.

By the second quarter, the little-used Kiwi-by-birth, Australian-by-passport Aron Baynes was tossing around Portland like throw pillows and the Spurs never let the Blazers get closer than 20 at any time in the last 28 minutes of the game.

When Parker capped off his night with one especially dazzling spin drive, drew a foul and stood at the free throw line late in the third quarter, the home crowd rose with the obligatory chant: “MVP! MVP!”

By that time, it had already been given to someone else who doesn’t play for the Spurs.

Don’t bother to tell them.

Underdog role suits Trail Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


Video: Spurs-Blazers series preview

PORTLAND, Ore. — So far.

That’s what Damian Lillard said when somebody asked him if that 25-foot, just-before-closing-time, crackling bolt of lightning on Friday was the biggest shot he’d ever made in his life.

It tells you all you need to know about the 23-year-old with the killer grin and assassin’s calm.

It also tells you all you need to know about the Trail Blazers, most of whom have come so far individually to become this team.

“It’s just kinda who were are. I know Damian has talked about being underdogs — Wes (Matthews) being undrafted,” said coach Terry Stotts. “Damian coming from a small school. Some guys feeling like they’ve been a little roughed up in their careers. I don’t think it’s really anything that we foster. I think it’s just grown organically.”

Grown from a chip that they all carry around on their shoulders into a big stick of righteous indignation that the Blazers have used to prod themselves to a different place.

The second round of the playoffs.

“You ask me if I’m counted out?” Matthews said. “Of course. I’m always fueled by being counted out and we’re gonna be counted out of this next series.”

The Spurs have won three of their four franchise championships, been to the The Finals four times and played in the Western Conference finals three on other occasions in the 14 years since Portland last won a playoff series.

Yet the Blazers can hardly wait to take their “nobody-loves-us” burden into San Antonio for Game 1 on Tuesday night.

It is a well-polished routine and they know it by heart:

  • Lillard was under-appreciated and under-recruited coming out of high school and had to play his college ball at Weber State.
  • Matthews was undrafted by the NBA out of Marquette in 2009.
  • Veteran star LaMarcus Aldridge had to fight for respect through five NBA seasons before he was finally selected for an All-Star Game and is still routinely overlooked in the All-NBA voting.
  • Nicolas Batum was just a 19-year-old Frenchman with no more than hope and a light resume when he arrived in Portland in 2008.

When it was mentioned that Robin Lopez isn’t even regarded as the best player in his own family, Batum doubled over laughing.

“Yes, it’s funny,” he said. “Good, not great. It’s who we all are. We all have been through a lot. We have all had our ups and downs to get here. Even L.A. was snubbed for all those All-Star Games. Nobody expects anything from us. Except for the ones in here.”

The Blazers were back on the court at their practice facility after a day to soak in the city’s joy over their accomplishment. Not that many took the plunge.

“I did pretty much the same things I always do,” said a beaming Lillard.

He went home. He relaxed. He watched replays of his shot “maybe 5 or 10 times” and he listened to an almost non-stop string of text messages buzz in on his cell phone.

“I’ve gotten so many videos of it sent to my phone,” Lillard said. “I watch it because every version is different. The thing I enjoyed the most about it was just seeing everybody’s reaction. You got to see how bad our team wanted to win that game.

“It wasn’t about me. You saw the coaches excited that we’re going to be moving on. My teammates running all over the floor. The crowd. I think a couple fans almost ran on the floor. I’m just happy we were able to get that series done. Because the last thing we wanted to do was go back to Houston.”

It was all glorious fun while it lasted. But now there is more serious work ahead against the defending Western Conference champions and the No. 1 seed.

“It’s over with now,” said Lillard. “It’s not like the moment is going to go away. We haven’t gone past the first round in 14 years, so people won’t forget it. But our team, we’ve got to move on from it, and we’ve still got games to play. Our goal wasn’t to make a big shot and be happy with that. I think, if anything, that made us want to get more done.”

The Blazers will continue to wear the underdog role as if it were an expensive fur coat, wrapping themselves up it and preaching that it’s still a cold, disrespecting world out there.

Yet beneath there is a silk lining of self-reliance and growing fearlessness.

“Anytime you win, you’re going to get confidence,” Matthews said. “To win in the fashion that we did, where the games were always tight and nothing was safe, we learned a lot. I think that was a learning process for everybody about how valuable all these possessions were and how fragile it could be and a wrong bounce could send you to a Game 7 that you don’t want to be in. Now, I don’t think there’s a limit.”

Maybe there never has been, at least in their own minds.

“We were up 3-1 on Houston,” Lillard said. “To be honest, after the first game, we felt like we were going to win the series. I think getting it done, we proved more to other people than we proved to ourselves. There’s no reason now to think it can’t go on.”