Posts Tagged ‘Wes Matthews’

Blazers needing a big boost from Aldridge’s return to lineup

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: This all-access look inside the Portland Trail Blazers sheds some light on their season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Stare at it long enough and you’ll get dizzy.

Those Western Conference standings that saw the Portland Trail Blazers among the best of the best for the better part of this season have suddenly flipped. Instead of tapering their way into the playoffs, the Blazers in the same boat as the Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks — sweating out their playoff prospects each night.

Not long ago, the reverse was true. LaMarcus Aldridge was playing at an MVP level. Damian Lillard was dazzling as he avoided the dreaded sophomore slump. Swingmen Wes Matthews and Nic Batum were shooting the lights out as underrated starters. Center Robin Lopez was the surprise pickup of the offseason.

Now, the Blazers are in a pressure-packed race to the finish.

And they know it. The sense of urgency surrounding this team is palpable with just 10 games left. The Blazers are the only team in the Western Conference playoff mix playing sub-.500 basketball (3-7) over their last 10 games. My colleague, Fran Blinebury, was spot on when he insisted that the Blazers are letting their season slip away during this post-All-Star swoon.

They need a lift in the worst way heading into tonight’s game against Atlanta at Philips Arena (7:30 ET, League Pass), losers of three straight games and nine of their last 13. Portland hopes to get a big lift in the form of Aldridge, who missed the past seven games with a lower back injury. The chances of him returning to his MVP form from earlier this season are slim. But at least they’ll have him back as the conduit to an offense that has been among the league’s best all season.

Even that doesn’t guarantee the Blazers will survive a wicked and rugged Western Conference playoff chase that is as good as it’s been in years. There’s no sense in examining the good or bad times now. There’s only these final 10 games and the need to get back into a playoff gear.

“You have to understand it for what it is,” Lillard said. “When you’re hot, you know you’re playing well but you have to stay focused. And when you hit that bump in the road and you lose some games, and we’re struggling right now, you have to stick with it. We have to keep grinding and keep playing. And that’s where we’re at right now. We had that high moment. We knew some adversity was going to come. And it’s come. We just have to keep playing and stick together.”

Aldridge, one of the veteran leaders on this team, was adamant about the tough times coming at some point. He didn’t know that they’d come at his expense, with the injuries. He knew they would be a part of the Blazers’ season, though. They always do.

“I’ve seen it before, we had one of those good teams back in the day and injuries hit,” he said. “You have one guy go down and you have a good team, and one injury to the wrong guy or somebody not being right can definitely change your season. That’s why earlier in the season I was stressing taking care of our business while we were hot and winning as many games as we could so we’d have that cushion when we needed it later in the season and guys were beat up. We’re not a lock for the playoffs now, but if we take care of our business, we should make it.”


VIDEO: Things looked good for the Blazers before the All-Star break

They certainly aren’t acting panicked. Thursday morning’s shootaround concluded with the requisite long-distance shooting contest (which was won by Thomas Robinson), an event you’d expect to see from a team confident it can hold onto the West’s No. 5 spot it occupies.

Looks, however, can sometimes be deceiving. Aldridge and Lillard know exactly what’s at stake as the leaders of this team. Portland coach Terry Stotts does, too. Adding extra pressure, though, makes no sense.

While Aldridge prides himself on analyzing every detail, Stotts has kept an even keel all season, digesting the highs and lows the same way.

But even he recognized there would be some upheaval at the All-Star break, when injuries set in and the rotation had to be tweaked accordingly.

“We’ve had to change how we’ve been playing,” he said. “LaMarcus has been in and out of the lineup. Joel Freeland, who was a big part of the rotation, got hurt right before the All-Star game. That was part of it. Integrating some other guys, C.J. McCollum got healthy right around then, so we had to integrate him. A big part of our success was how well we’d been playing offensively. We’ve improved defensively the last 25 games. Our defensive numbers have improved but offensively, for whatever reason … players are so good in this league that offensively, you have to trust that will work out for you. But right now, getting LA back, there was a little bit of a transition period getting back and we have to go through that. Time’s getting short, everybody knows that we have 10 games left, and we have to take care of business.”

No one knows that better than Aldridge, who has watched the Blazers bog down in his absence from the rotation.

“I definitely had a chance to watch,” he said. “But it’s not the same when you’re not out there. I’m not trying to be arrogant, but our offense just doesn’t flow the same when I’m not out there. It flows a little bit different when I’m out there. It’s hard to assess it when I’m not out there. I think everybody is looking in the mirror right now trying to figure out what the can do better.”

Lillard, who has endured an education on being opponents’ No. 1 defensive target in Aldridge’s absence, is convinced that the Blazers aren’t rattled.

“The confidence definitely is not shattered,” he said. “There’s just a different pressure in the West. You can’t just be good, you have to be outstanding. We’ve got 45 wins and the Clippers have 50 wins and the Thunder 52 and they’re top three in the West. They have five more wins, seven more wins than we do and we could drop out of the playoffs mix if we don’t handle our business. I think that speaks for itself. Six through nine in the West would all be third in the East. That says it all. We just can’t get caught up in what everybody else is saying about us. What matters is if we’re going to stay locked in and take care of our business until the very end.”

At this rate, it could take until the very end for the Blazers to lock down the playoff spot that looked like a sure thing just months ago.


VIDEO: Terry Stotts talks about his team’s struggles after a loss to Orlando

Reports: Blazers Pick Up Guard Williams

From NBA.com staff reports

One of the last remaining marquee names on the free-agent market, ex-Jazz guard Mo Williams, has found a new home in the same division.

As first reported by CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, Williams will sign a two-year, $5.6 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. The move keeps the versatile combo guard in the Northwest Division and adds another guard to a Portland roster that also features reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, rookie C.J. McCollum and veterans Earl Watson, Wes Matthews and Dorell Wright.

Portland had its fair share of trouble scoring off the bench last season and has attempted to address that issue by bolstering its bench with more guards and by adding big men Thomas Robinson and Robin Lopez in offseason trades as well.

Report: Rubio’s Return Is Near

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman has much to be thankful for during this holiday season. By almost every measure, his team overachieved throughout the first three weeks of the season, before slip-sliding through their current five-game losing streak.

In addition, he recently got All-Star power forward Kevin Love back in the lineup from injury.

And there could be more good fortune for the Adelman and the Timberwolves in the form of a healthy and fully recovered (from ACL surgery) Ricky Rubio. Originally believed to be on his way back sometime in the middle to end of December, there are signs that he could return sooner than expected.

Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune has the details, or better yet the lack of concrete details, coming from the Timberwolves regarding Rubio:

David Kahn said he still isn’t putting a timetable on Rubio’s return, as he hasn’t done all along.

But there’s no question Rubio’s return is getting closer, maybe closer than expected, particularly if you weren’t expecting him back until Christmas or later.

He’s been working out quite vigorously on his own before games — just saw him working up a sweat shooting and doing other drills — and it’s certainly possible he could be back in a game perhaps even sometime that first week of December, or shortly thereafter.

After watching Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews torch the Wolves Friday night in Portland, they could certainly use his defense.

“When he was healthy last year, he was very good keeping the people in front of him,” Rick Adelman said. “He was able to control the guard he was guarding and not let him get around him. He was in the Top 5 in steals. He was always in the right spot defensively as a team defender, too. He’ll help us. He’s give us a little more size there. His instincts will help us a lot.”

If the Timberwolves have any chance of saving themselves from their current dip on the dark side of the standings, they’ll need to do it now.

The sooner Rubio gets back into the flow — along with Love — the better chance they’ll have to do exactly that.

Trail Blazers Are What They Are!

– Check out the Hang Time Podcast –

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The days of the Portland Trail wading two and three months into the NBA season before knowing who and what they are over.

They don’t have to wait until (insert whatever injured player’s name you want here) gets healthy to find out exactly what they might be capable of.  Brandon Roy‘s knees finally got the best of him. Greg Oden‘s knees have worked him over to the point that it’s clear now that he will never be what he might have been with two sound and healthy knees.

In short, the Trail Blazers are what they are. And if you look closely, you might actually like what you see. They are a solid bunch from top to bottom, even without two of the franchise’s biggest draft picks of the past 20 years.

Sure, they might not be the up and coming Western Conference contender they appeared to be on paper a few years ago.

But they remain a formidable crew with one of the league’s best coaches in Nate McMillan, an All-Star caliber anchor in LaMarcus Aldridge and a rugged supporting cast of talented and accomplished veterans (Gerald Wallace, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Raymond Felton, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas among others) that are better today because of all the adversity this group has had to deal with over the years.

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Felton For Miller: An Even Swap?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Veteran point guard for a little bit older veteran point guard.

It sounds like a reasonable take away for the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets in their draft night dealings that saw Raymond Felton go from the Nuggets to Trail Blazers and Andre Miller from the Trail Blazers back to the Nuggets, where he played earlier in his career and resides in the offseason. While it wasn’t actually a straight up swap — it was a three-team deal that included the Blazers also trading swingman Rudy Fernandez to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for the draft rights to Jordan Hamilton, the 26th overall pick who was in turn included in the deal with Denver — for the Nuggets and Blazers it comes down to a swap of these veteran point guards.

A NBA scouting friend suggested to me earlier today that it was basically an even swap.

“Miller is older at 35 but these guys do pretty much the same things,” he said. “They know how to run teams, are effective on both ends and they both have plenty of playoff experience, so you know they understand the dynamics of the job they have to do in a winning situation.”

But I’m not so sure.

Miller is a seemingly ageless wonder, much like his point guard elder statesmen brethren Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. But Felton is just 27. And he has always struck me as guy capable of so much more than he’s shown. He was on the road to showing off exactly what I’m talking about in New York last season, when he played All-Star caliber basketball, only to be traded to the Nuggets.

You put him at the controls of a Blazers team that boasts LaMarcus Aldridge down low and Brandon Roy and Wes Matthews on the wing with his old buddy Gerald Wallace (they played together in Charlotte) tossed in for good measure, and I’m seeing big things for Felton in his new role.

Rather than arguing back and forth with my scout friend I thought we’d let you help end this debate: