Could that be the low point for the Trail Blazers this season?

Could that be the low point for the Trail Blazers this season?

I can't remember a more disappointing and, at the same time, surprising performance by the Trail Blazers this season. That 88-86 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies was grizzly, all right. Grim.

Let's start with the fact that Memphis was without Mike Conley, Vince Carter, James Ennis, Chandler Parsons and Brandan Wright. The Grizzlies were basically Marc Gasol and Tony Allen against the world. The Trail Blazers dominated the Grizzlies nearly the whole game but could never put them away.

The Portland lead was 77-64 with 7:13 to play in this very slow-paced game and 79-68 wth 5:11 left. But Gasol got wide open for a three-point field goal and Troy Daniels drilled one that was officially called a 30-footer with 1:35 to play that gave Memphis a one-point lead. Then Toney Douglas, signed off his couch at home Dec. 5, hammered home a jumper and two free throws for another one-point lead. After Mason Plumlee tied the game for the final time with a free-throw, Douglas hit two more foul shots to win it for the Grizzlies.

You can talk about the foul call on Damian Lillard that sent Douglas to the line, but in a game like this it's absurd to bring the officiating into the conversation. Officials had nothing to do with the outcome of this contest. With the game on the line, Portland made just four of 19 shots in the fourth quarter, 21.1 percent. For the game, the Trail Blazers shot just 30.5 percent from the field -- their worst in a decade! -- and only 25 percent from three-point range.

This game was a total mess, as ugly as you'll ever see the NBA get. If you want to look at individual Portland shooting totals you can find the official league box score here -- but be ready to cover your eyes. Yes, Memphis shot poorly, too. But mostly that was players who normally wouldn't be on the floor at key times of an NBA game. Gasol was the one player Portland needed to defend and that never got done.

The Trail Blazers missed plenty of shots in the paint and too many from three-point range. I had a thought at one point about the team's three-point shooting that I should pass along, too.

Perhaps the reason that players shoot better from three in Portland than in other places is that they get open ones with the Trail Blazers that they didn't get elsewhere. The system is tried and true for three-point shooters. And, too, players are encouraged to shoot them here like they were nowhere else. Over and over, we've heard about Coach Terry Stotts chastising his players for passing up open shots -- not for gunning them up. Certainly, showing confidence in players is a key part of getting them to play their best.

But. BUT. When a player is going through a tough time making threes -- and isn't really a great three-point shooter in the first place -- I think it's important to have that shooter be a little more judicious with his shots. And I'm talking about Al-Farouq Aminu.

He's shooting 20.5 percent from three-point range and most of the time, he's not even close. Sure,  I know all about shooters shooting their way out of slumps. I'm just not sure he's much of a shooter in the first place, in spite of his relative success last season. And at least for now, in the midst of tight games, I think he should be restrained a bit.

But that's just a nitpick right now. While the defense seems to be better, the offense now has gotten inconsistent.

There's a positive sign after that game at Memphis, though: There is nowhere to go but up.

 

"Everything you see in the Jim Harbaugh way of doing things is echoed in Willie Taggart"

"Everything you see in the Jim Harbaugh way of doing things is echoed in Willie Taggart"

Rick Neuheisel was a guest Wednesday morning on the Dan Patrick Show and the host wasted no time asking the former head coach at Washington, Colorado and UCLA about new Oregon football coach Willie Taggart.

"He's a Harbaugh guy," Taggart said.  "He was the running-back coach at Stanford for Jim and he played for Jim's dad, Jack Harbaugh, at Western Kentucky. So he believes in the power, he's going to run downhill. Everything you see in the Jim Harbaugh way of doing things is echoed in Willie Taggart."

Actually, Taggart has shown himself to be very flexible with his offense. He has relied on the Harbaugh power game when he can, but at South Florida he opened his offense up and used west-coast offense principles and some spread offense.

Neuheisel had some opinions on where the Ducks have gone wrong in recruiting.

"I was surprised that they made the move on Mark Helfrich," Neuheisel said. "Now certainly the performance this year probably merited a change, but the problem was 'Who are you going to get?'

"As I looked around the landscape, what Willie Taggart will have to do and do quickly is: Stanford is a completely different recruiting animal, which is his experience on the west coast. He is going to have to get a staff that understands California.

"What Oregon did wrong in my estimation is -- and if you watched them play and saw some of the matchups athletically with their guys, when Ronald Jones came through the line of scrimmage as the running back for USC and all of a sudden a safety couldn't even lay a hand on him. It's an evaluation problem. They missed on a lot of recruits.

"If you look at their roster, they're from all over the country -- Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia -- Oregon was in the air too far and should have been down in California like my old buddy Nick Aliotti was down there scouring the northern California area and getting guys like Patrick Chung and T.J. Ward, those guys who are still playing on Sundays. Those guys are missing right now for Oregon so Willie has got to just get back in the film room and make sure they are doing great evaluations because they've got a lot to recruit to there in Eugene."

 

Have Ducks overestimated their appeal with coaching search?

Have Ducks overestimated their appeal with coaching search?

You are probably familiar with the word that pops into my mind when I take another tired look at the football situation at Oregon:

Hubris.

The definition is usually "excessive pride or self-confidence."

This is an athletic department that looks for all the world as if it dismissed a football coach without really understanding how difficult it was going to be to find a suitable replacement. That, I think, came from an overall arrogance in Eugene that believes the football program is one of the nation's elite and would be able to open the job and sit back and have its choice of dozens of quaified, big-name, experienced candidates.

While tossing all sorts of names out there for the local media to feast on, the Ducks' search group, led by AD Rob Mullens, was apparently working behind the scenes to bring in former Temple Coach Matt Rhule as the replacement for Mark Helfrich. CBS Sports reported today that not only was Oregon working hard to get Rhule, who today took the open job at troubled Baylor, but that he'd already had a key interview that most people believe would be the final one:

Before taking the Baylor job, Rhule had met personally with Nike CEO Phil Knight, the source said.

Why would anyone pass up a job at Oregon to take the same one at scandal-heavy Baylor? The CBS Sports piece has its own explanation:

Why would he turn down the riches of Oregon? Baylor may actually be an easier rebuild. Oregon suddenly finds itself in a loaded Pac-12 North with playoff participant Washington Huskies , Stanford Cardinal and a Washington State Cougars that has a chance to win nine two years in a row.

"It doesn't seem right but Oregon's not the job it used to be," said a person intimately involved with the Oregon program. "They have the greatest facilities in the world, but you still have issues there with recruiting and weather that you don't in the state of Texas."

It appears the Ducks let Helfrich go without having any real plan for his replacement -- which is a dangerous thing to do. Unless you're one of those elite schools such as Ohio State, Alabama, Texas, USC, etc., that is many coaches' dream job. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Oregon still does not have a coach and if there was a big-name, blue-chip candidate waiting in the wings to take it, that would have happened by now.

So now you run the risk of having to hire someone you've already dismissed as a candidate. A second choice. There is no way of knowing just how many people have been offered the job but Rhule is the only one who has been reported -- and he turned it down for a trainwreck of a program. I do not think the decision-makers at Oregon expected that to happen.

Hubris.

Video: Klay Thompson's 60-point game a tribute to unselfish Warriors

Video: Klay Thompson's 60-point game a tribute to unselfish Warriors

If you haven't seen a highlight reel from Klay Thompson's incredible offensive performance Monday night, I invite you to take a quick click over to this one.

I watched those highlights and am still amazed at someone being able to score 60 points in 29 minutes of action. Nobody has scored that many in fewer than 30 minutes during the shot-clock era. And remember, Thompson is the Warriors' third option on offense and in this game, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant still ended up with more touches than Thompson.

But there are several things worth watching in the highlights:

  • The Warriors used a whole lot of different offense to get Thompson shots, including their weave, their triangle, their motion and the same "horns" offense that many other teams run. Golden State is unselfish and as soon as it was obvious Thompson was having a special night, he got the ball plenty, quite obviously.
  • The Pacers did an almost historically bad job of defending Thompson. He got way too many wide-open jumpers and dead-cold layups for a man on his way to 60 points. In fact, in the third quarter Indiana seemed to just give up on him. You could see Coach Nate McMillan squirming on the sidelines. I'm guessing some Pacers got a full blast from him after the game.
  • Steve Kerr does a terrific job of creating an unselfish, winning culture at Golden State. Every guy on the floor feeding Thompson knew that if THEY were the hot one, they'd be getting the ball in much the same manner.
  • I've said this before but the anti-Durant people just don't want to listen: Don't you understand why Durant wanted to go to this team? Forget about rings, NBA players have to muddle through 82 games during the regular season. For months, their lifestyle is a game just about every other night. And wouldn't you want to play with a team that's unselfish? A team that wins just about every game it plays? Seriously, did you watch the Warrior bench while Thompson was going off? Those guys were going crazy. There cannot be a more fun place to play anywhere in sports.

It turns out that College Football Playoff just as messed up as BCS or polls

It turns out that College Football Playoff just as messed up as BCS or polls

It's fixed. It's all a setup.

College football set up a playoff system, ostensibly to fairly determine a national championship on the field, rather than by simply holding a beauty contest masking as a poll. But what we ended up with this weekend is another example of the sport being more concerned with TV ratings and ultimately cranking the money machine up even higher.

Ohio State meets Clemson in the first round. Alabama plays Washington. It's really all about trying to set up an Urban Meyer-Nick Saban matchup for the championship -- two superpowers and two supercoaches meeting in a ratings bonanza.

In a four-team playoff, Ohio State shouldn't even be in the mix. At least by the listed criteria of the College Football Playoff on its website. That website says:

The selection committee ranks the teams based on conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents and other factors.

Conference championships won? What conference did the Buckeyes win? Penn State won the Big 10 in the conference's title game while Ohio State sat home watching. I'm actually shocked Washington got in because you know the committee was dying to put Michigan in, for the TV ratings a rematch with Ohio State would draw. But apparently winning the Pac-12 matters more than winning the Big 10, even though most people believed the latter was a more powerful conference this season.

Of course, the playoff should include at least eight teams with automatic berths for the Big Five conference title winners and then three wild-card teams. That would cover all the teams that belong in the playoff -- including, this season, the Buckeyes and red-hot USC. And not Michigan, which lost two of its last three games.

And it's silly when people make the argument that the controversy of having just four teams and the fuss over who gets chosen is good for the sport. No it isn't. It never has been. A whole lot of people complaining about what you're doing is never a good way to market your product. We heard the same excuse for the BCS system for years and that whole thing stunk.

For me, it's just one more example of why I've lost a degree of interest in college sports over the years. It's a bunch of kids working hard at their sport to enable a bunch of wealthy athletic departments and their administrators to generate as much money as possible off the sweat of those kids. Exploitation rules. This isn't about finding the best team, it's about making the most money.

That's fine if this is strictly business, but it isn't. This is supposed to be "student-athletes" competing on a level playing field. You know, the purity of sport. I can't even write that without smirking.

It's a mess.

 

Worried Ducks can't find a football coach better than the one they fired?

Worried Ducks can't find a football coach better than the one they fired?

You hear it all the time: Oregon has fired head football coach Mark Helfrich... OK, that's fine -- but who is out there for you to hire that's a better coach than he was?

I may have even said that myself. Certainly Rob Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon, has a tough job on his hands. A lot of people will tell you there's no one out there who would take the job who is as qualified as Helfrich was.

But you know, I had the same feeling when Mike Riley left Oregon State. I had no confidence the Beavers could land anybody of the same caliber as Riley. At the time, I read lists people were compiling that included young, untried assistant coaches and head coaches from the lower divisions who may or may not have been able to handle the rigors and responsibilities of coaching at the Pac-12 level.

But, of course, Gary Andersen showed up from Wisconsin and the Beavers have one of the best coaches in the conference and somebody who has embraced the university and the community. He seems the perfect fit.

So it seems a natural conclusion for me to say this: if the Beavers could do it, why can't the Ducks?

The big question now: Is Rob Mullens up to the task of finding a new football coach?

The big question now: Is Rob Mullens up to the task of finding a new football coach?

Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens obviously has some courage. Some guts, you'd say on the football field.

He put himself in what I believe is a very difficult position Tuesday night -- as the person at least publicly responsible for finding a replacement for the man he just fired -- football coach Mark Helfrich.

[WATCH: Facebook Live Stream from Rob Mullens' Press Conference]

I have always believed in sports that when you fire your manager, your coach, your general manager, you better have somebody either lined up and ready to take the job or a real good line on who you want to hire. You want to make dead sure you can hire somebody better than the person you just booted out the door. But that, at least according to Mullens, is not the case this time.

To hear him tell it, the whole thing is wide open. Maybe it is.

[PODCAST: UO Athletic Director Rob Mullens addresses the firing]

"I think the University of Oregon is a great football program," Mullens said. "It's going to be an attractive job to a lot of candidates. We're going to look far and wide... Our pool will be broad and diverse... We're going to be extremely thorough and we're going to find the right person."

Mullens said that Parker Executive Search, which specializes in corporate and higher education hiring as well as sports, will assist him with the search. But if I had a guess -- and I will stress I have no inside information -- it would be that he'll also rely on a couple of trusted boosters, too. Former athletic director and big donor Pat Kilkenny made the last two major hires in the athletic department -- basketball coach Dana Altman and baseball coach George Horton. He is well-connected and savvy and I assume Mullens will rely on Kilkenny's smarts and private plane in this search. And I believe Phil Knight's contacts and circle of football friends should be a big asset, too.

But, and it's a big BUT -- I'm not so sure this is the kind of coaching job that's going to have experienced, winning head coaches from all over the country lined up at Mullens' door waiting for an interview. It's a tough part of the country for recruiting, many miles away from the talent loads in southern California and in the deep South. And everybody has all the fancy facilities and uniforms that used to make the Ducks special. And of course there is the evidence of impatience in the athletic department, with Helfrich being let go just two years after an appearance in the national championship game.

But Mullens did this to himself. He cited a "shift in culture" as a reason for Helfrich's departure "It's been a winning edge," he said "And we have to get that edge back."

And Tuesday he pulled the plug on his head coach, putting all the pressure of rebuilding a winning program on his own shoulders.

And now we wait to see if he can handle it.

PODCAST

Can the Blazers play a "mean" game as Lillard suggests?

Can the Blazers play a "mean" game as Lillard suggests?

Trail Blazer guard Damian Lillard told our Jason Quick yesterday that he'd like to see his team get a little nastier on the court:

“As a group, we have to be mean,’’ Lillard said. “We can’t play the game how we are off the court. We have to make people play an ugly game. I don’t want to say rough people up, but we have to make it an uncomfortable game.’’

He says he has seen every teammate exhibit a mean streak in practice or in a game, and suggested perhaps it’s time that becomes their game-time personality.

“Just, not being a nice team … everybody likes each other, that’s a great story … but maybe we need to play a mean game,’’ Lillard said.

Maybe so. That might work. But I must say, it's very difficult for players to do that. Mean players are usually born that way. Manufacturing them is a difficult task. And I really don't think the Trail Blazers have anyone on their roster who is naturally mean. This is not a mean team.

I think it's possible, though, to be tough without being mean and perhaps this is more what Portland's captain meant. I never thought Buck Williams or Brian Grant were inherently "mean." But they were dirt tough -- and actually, they still are after all these years.

Tough means holding your ground. Tough means not looking for trouble but being able to handle it when and if it comes. Tough means executing your defensive system even if it means personal sacrifice. It means putting your body on the line to stop a drive to the basket or trying to block a dunk even if it means you might be embarrassed on a poster. It means setting a strong pick to get a teammate a good shot. It means standing up for a teammate who is being bullied. It means not blaming anyone else for your own mistakes.

It means, overall, standing strong in the face of adversity.

They always used to say, "Tough times don't last but tough people do." And that's a pretty good way to look at the current Trail Blazer situation. This team is going through some tough times. It can't seem to solve its defensive problems and isn't beating the NBA's good teams. And that's not a good look for a team shooting for the upper half of the Western Conference's playoff bracket.

Let's see who lasts.

Some thoughts about Day One of the Mark Helfrich hostage crisis

Some thoughts about Day One of the Mark Helfrich hostage crisis

Some random thoughts on the first day of the Mark Helfrich hostage crisis:

  • I swear, it's still difficult for me to get past the fact that to let their football coach go, the Ducks must pay him $11 million to leave. For a man who has won a total of 37 games as head coach in his career? This is college football today, folks: Out. Of. Control.
  • Whatever UO Athletic Director Rob Mullens is doing right now in regard to Coach Mark Helfrich, he probably should have done weeks ago. Trying to gauge interest some other coach might have in choosing Oregon? Negotiating a contract with another coach? Doing a background check on a coach? ALL of that could have been done earlier. Coaches have agents and agents are middlemen. You can connect with them on background and still have the ability to deny talking to the actual coaches. Don't you think Texas had a lot of work done in advance when it hired Tom Herman the day after the season ended?
  • Is Mullens still trying to make up his mind about this? I would find that impossible, either way. A man in his position has to be more decisive than that.
  • Speaking of hiring a new coach, I'm not a fan of search firms. A good athletic director at that level should know full well who he wants to hire. That's part of the job. Search firms tend to be riddled with conflicts of interest that don't necessarily serve the client well.
  • It's hard to believe that Mullens holds Helfrich in high regard if he's OK with allowing him (and his staff) to twist in the wind like this in front of fans, boosters and media. And it's hard to believe he'd have a very good working relationship with him if he brings him back next season.
  • Hiring a new football coach is likely to be the biggest move Mullens will ever make at Oregon and he'll be staking his own job on his selection. So that might be bringing a little stage fright.
  • The state of Oregon has a Rooney Rule, you know. At least one minority must be interviewed before the job is filled. Theoretically, at least.
  • I'm not one to believe the entire pack of Oregon assistant coaches has to be let go if Helfrich is fired. If they're so good, a new coach would certainly want to keep some of them. Usually there are coaches retained on both sides of the ball as a bridge to a new coach and his system.
  • If the head coach and all his assistants are suddenly gone, I hope our state doesn't go bankrupt -- at some point it's going to be a pretty big hit on PERS.

 

Beavers go old school in Civil War to beat the Ducks

Beavers go old school in Civil War to beat the Ducks

There were glory days in Corvallis so long ago, when the "Great Pumpkin," Dee Andros, was coaching Oregon State's football "Giant Killers."

Andros ran what they called a "full-house backfield" -- a throwback to the old basic T-formation, and he handed the ball to his fullback, time after time. Legends like Bill Enyart, Pete Pifer and Dave Schilling carried the ball as often as 50 times in a game as the physical Beavers pounded teams into submission.

But those hard-nosed fullbacks need to move over and make room for one more -- current Beaver Ryan Nall.

Nall, the sophomore out of Central Catholic, battered the Ducks for 155 yards and four touchdowns as the Beavers rushed for 310 yards.

Oregon State Coach Gary Andersen has made toughness a cornerstone of his program and in just his second season at OSU he saw evidence that it's paying off. The Beavers dominated the fourth quarter, outscoring the Ducks 13-0 to overcome a 10-point deficit.

And on the other side of the field, Oregon, a three-point favorite, saw its eight-game Civil War win streak come to an end on a day when it appeared it had the edge. When the Ducks jumped to a 24-14 lead in the third quarter it seemed they were on the way to a big win.

But they couldn't put the determined Beavers away.

Will that be it for Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich? I wouldn't be surprised, either way. This game exposed Oregon's soft defense and inconsistent offense, problems that have plagued the Ducks all season. With the game on the line, the underdog Beavers manhandled Oregon.

There will be plenty of time to talk about that. Right now, it's only fair to salute the Beavers for claiming a milestone win for Andersen in his effort to turn the program around.

Andros would be so proud.