Blazer opener: What did we see that is sustainable? And what isn't?

Blazer opener: What did we see that is sustainable? And what isn't?

Yes, it was just one game. The first of 81 to come. And you certainly don't want to overreact to just one game. But did we see anything Tuesday night in Moda Center that we can expect to continue? Maybe. Let's take stock:

  • Damian Lillard came to the rescue of the Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter. Is he going to have to do that often? Better hope not. Not that he isn't capable of it but it's a lot to ask. And if he needs to score 39 for Portland to win, it's going to be a difficult year. But he's primed for a monster season and I don't think there's any doubt about that. His ability to finish at the basket has taken a leap forward. If you can get to the basket, get to the foul line frequently and make threes, you're going to be a big-time scorer at any level. Lillard has arrived at that level.
  • The Trail Blazers had trouble with their defense through much of this game. Utah put Portland's guards in a blender in the first quarter, bouncing them off rapid-fire screens and it was effective. And the Jazz hit those mid-range jump shots Portland encourages. Early in the game, too many of those jumpers were uncontested. There is a sincere effort to improve the defense but it will take time. More shots must be contested.
  • When Portland went to small lineups, the Jazz -- to their credit, I believe -- stayed big. Center Rudy Gobert played more than 40 minutes, in fact. And more than most teams do, Utah made a real effort to post up smaller players. It will be interesting to see if other teams attempt to do that because the size did give the Trail Blazers' small lineup trouble on the boards and on defense.
  • Don't forget, by the way, that Utah played without Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, two critical starters, and acquitted itself very well considering those absences. Make no mistake, Utah is good.
  • The Portland bench is going to be a very big regular-season factor. That unit is going to be more potent than nearly every team Portland will play and have a big impact on results. As you know, that advantage isn't nearly as impactful in the playoffs, where starters often play much longer minutes and rotations are shortened.
  • Noah Vonleh? Still not sure. There's always been talent there but I want to see if he can sustain the confidence he seems to suddenly possess. Where did this come from? How did it happen? He's gone from a nonentity to being a force. And it happened suddenly. Can he sustain it? I'll need to see more of it to promise it's for real.

Moda Center electric in home opener, Blazers up 8 at the break

Moda Center electric in home opener, Blazers up 8 at the break

The Portland Trail Blazers tipped off the regular season with a home game against the Utah Jazz.  With Blazer fans receiving light up wristbands before the game, the energy and choreographed lighting filled the Moda Center with electricity.   

To end the first quarter, the Blazers and Jazz were all tied at 26 apiece.  Portland shot 52.6% as a team in the first quarter, while Utah shot 60%.

At the break, the Blazers are up 54-46.  Portland went 7-for-8 from three-point range to end the first half.  The Blazers ended up shooting 52.6% as a team.  As for the Jazz, Utah finished the half shooting 40%.


Top performers of the first half:

Trail Blazers

Points: Damian Lillard, 16

Rebounds: Damian Lillard, 4

Assist: Evan Turner, 5


Points: Rodney Hood, 15

Rebounds: Rudy Gobert, 6

Assist:  Shelvin Mack, 3

Following tonight’s game, you can check out Talkin’ Ball live on CSN.  Or if you can’t get to a TV, catch The Scoop Postgame show streaming live at on your phone, tablet, or computer.

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard starts his MVP campaign in style

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard starts his MVP campaign in style

Damian Lillard started his Most Valuable Player campaign in convincing fashion on Tuesday.

The Trail Blazers guard, who has said his goal this season is to win the MVP award, scored 39 points to lead the Blazers to a come-from-behind 113-104 victory over the Utah Jazz in the season opener for both teams. 

Lillard hit 13-of-20 shots and added nine rebounds and six assists and recorded the second most points by a Blazers player in a season opener.  Kiki Vandeweghe holds the franchise mark for an opener with 47 set in 1984.

The Blazers trailed 83-77 entering the fourth quarter after a disastrous third quarter when Utah scored 37 points behind the inspired play of 35-year-old veteran Joe Johnson. In his 16th NBA season, and first with the Jazz, Johnson scored 27 of his 29 points in the second half, including 15 in the third quarter.

But behind a closing unit that mostly featured Lillard, McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis, the Blazers over the final 6:29 turned a 94-91 deficit into a win that was iced when Lillard hit a three-pointer with 1:02 left that gave Portland a 109-102 lead. 

McCollum added 25 points, Crabbe 18 and Noah Vonleh 11. 

The Blazers extended their NBA record to 16 consecutive home opening victories, which dates back to 2001. 

Utah surged in the third quarter to take an 83-77 lead heading into the fourth quarter after outscoring Portland 37-23 in the third.

The Blazers made their first seven three-pointers and led by as many as 13 in the first half before settling for a 54-46 halftime lead. The final seconds of the half put a damper on the Blazers' performance as Lillard picked up his third foul in the open court with 0.7 seconds left, then Trey Lyles took an inbound and made a three-pointer at the buzzer.

Crabbe was a spark in the first half, scoring 10 points in his first 14 minutes, which included 2-of-2 from three-point range. He entered with Evan Turner, who was effective, but in a different way. Turner missed all four of his shots, but had five assists, three rebounds, a steal and a block as the duo helped turn a 17-15 deficit into a 43-37 lead by the time they left. 

The big surprise in the first half was Noah Vonleh, who not only entered in the first quarter, but was instrumental in keeping the Blazers close. The youngest player on the Blazers hit all three of his shots -- two 18-footers and a three-pointer -- and was a plus-10 in his eight minute shift. He helped offset a torrid start by Utah, which scored on eight of its first nine possessions while hitting its first five shots. 

Notes: With his first assist on the night, Lillard passed Jim Paxson for sixth on the franchise list. Lillard has 2,013 assists and needs 44 to tie Geoff Petrie for fifth. Terry Porter is the franchise leader with 5,319.  

Next up: Los Angeles Clippers at Portland, 7:30 p.m. Thursday (TNT)

Blazers Behind The Locker Room Door, Part Two: Scenes of a team

Blazers Behind The Locker Room Door, Part Two: Scenes of a team

In Part One of the Blazers' Behind The Locker Room Door, some of the characters that make up the Trail Blazers were introduced. In Part Two, scenes and stories are revealed to show how the team dynamic is at work.


A Sunday laugh

One aspect of this Blazers team that sets it apart from other Blazers teams is how often, and how hard, and how as a group, they laugh.

The latest example came on Sunday, during the team’s penultimate practice before Tuesday’s season opener against Utah.

Coach Terry Stotts was adding a wrinkle to the team’s “Fist” defense, by implementing a “Black” element, the color indicating all five players would switch on pick-and-roll plays.

“So we are in practice, and coach says ‘Black Fist’,’’ Vonleh says.

Vonleh registered the call and realized it was what they worked on earlier. But as he prepares to pick up his assignments he hears laughter.

He looks to see Stotts, head bowed, with a fist raised in the air covered with a black glove, the same Black Power stance displayed by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics.

“We all lost it,’’ Vonleh said. “We were just dying.’’

It was Evan Turner’s first real exposure to Stotts’ humor and cleverness.

“Funny as hell,’’ Turner said. “He grabbed the little black glove … that was fun, cool. Coach is a good dude. I mean that right there, that’s a good dude. As I get older, what makes you a great coach is how you relate to people. Coach does a great job of letting us be who we are, but also holding us accountable. If he raises his voice, or calls BS on something, you know he’s not just talking.’’

Allen Crabbe says Sunday’s practice was not unusual when it comes to the group being lost in laughter. There have been film sessions and other practices where mishaps stop the action so everybody can laugh.

“Man, I laugh every day with this team,’’ Ed Davis said. “Every day. Over something … something in practice, something on the plane, it doesn’t matter. There’s always something.’’

The great thing about it, players say, is the coaches are often a part of it.

“Our coaches feel like they are part of the team,’’ Plumlee said. “Laughing is good for the soul.’’

A team that shares is a team that cares

Before the Trail Blazers opened training camp, Mason Plumlee knew he would like newcomer Evan Turner.

During the summer, he had played some pickup basketball with Turner in Portland, but the week before training camp started, the new teammates discovered they were both vacationing in Miami.

Both were scheduled to return to Portland the same day but each had a decidedly different route: Plumlee was being routed through Atlanta on a commercial flight; Turner was going direct on a private jet.

Turner found out about Plumlee’s flight and offered a seat on the private jet.

“There are only so many seats on those, and a little thing like that … man, that goes a long way,’’ Plumlee said. “Because if you’ve ever flown commercial from Miami to Portland … it’s not easy. That’s something nobody knows about, but it made an impact on me right away with Evan. It really showed a lot about him.’’

It wasn’t the only time this season a teammate offered private jet service. Last Saturday, the team had its last off day before the regular season after returning from a two city trip to Salt Lake City and Oakland.

Damian Lillard had a family emergency he had to attend to in a city he didn’t want to disclose. He secured a private jet and sent out a team-wide invitation if anyone wanted a ride to the city he was headed to, as long as they returned that night with him. Although nobody ended up taking him up on the offer, it resonated.

“Everybody on this team is inclusive in everything, which is really cool,’’ Plumlee said.

Dental Daze

Earlier in training camp, Turner posted a photo on Instagram that had people laughing: A shot of he and Davis at the dentist office after having oral surgery.

The funny thing is, both hardly recall the picture being taken.

“You know, I’m not really a big picture guy anyway, but he said I saw him and said ‘Let’s get a picture,’’’ Davis says. “But I was gone. I don’t remember it. I don’t remember anything.’’

Davis said his appointment was at 6 a.m. that morning, and Turner had his appointment at 6:20 a.m. Both remember going to the office, but the rest is hazy.

“I just remember somebody saying ‘You have a visitor’ and I look up they had wheeled him in and I was like … Ed?’’ Turner says. “He pulled his phone out, and a lady took the picture … and in my head, I’m like, are we even capable of doing this? The whole thing was off. It was kind of weird. Crazy. We were out of it.’’

Pulling together as one

One of the subplots to this Blazers season will be how Terry Stotts uses his deep roster, and how the players handle what figures to be limited minutes at certain positions.

If there is an example of how the team should handle potential conflicts, they need to look no further than center, where Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis have a mutual respect.

“We have a genuine relationship, it’s not fake,’’ Davis said. “We are in the same position, but it’s all love. You’ve got guys in this league, who are at the same position and they don’t want to see the other guy do well. It’s not like that with us. It’s not about minutes. And it’s like that with other guys; we don’t have too many egos.’’

Plumlee, the starter, says he feels the same about Davis.

“Everything about Ed is genuine. He’s just a real guy, no motive, no angle, just a straight shooter. And what we have, what our team has, it’s very rare,’’ Plumlee said. “You always think you are the guy to get the job done that night, but sometimes you just have to have that mature mindset to realize, you know what, sometimes I need help.’’

Plumlee says a game in Memphis last season is the perfect example.

“It was at Memphis, and Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) scored on me three times in a row, and they put Ed in and he shut the water off,’’ Plumlee said. “That’s a great feeling. Had he not come in and guarded like that, we wouldn’t have won that game. You need everybody and I think our team has a great realization of that.’’

In closing

I started the Behind the Locker Room Door series in the 2008-2009 season because that Blazers group was so unique in its closeness and openness that I felt compelled to share their experiences and bonds, beyond what happens between the lines.

The series died in part because the team and the personalities changed, but also because I never felt drawn to a team like those with Brandon Roy, Joel Przybilla, Greg Oden, Jarrett Jack, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake, etc.  … until this season.

This is a special group, top to bottom, with a bond and spirit of togetherness that is uplifting and inspiring. My hope is to continue to chronicle their journey this season not only daily, but also with a monthly resurrection of Behind The Locker Room Door, providing I can once again navigate the delicate tightrope of providing insight while respecting the sanctuary that is the locker room and practice facility.

I apologize for not including every player in the introductions, it is not a reflection on any of the players, it was more a matter of running out of time. But there’s plenty of days ahead and stories to be told, and I promise to get to them.


Blazers Behind The Locker Room Door, Part One: Player Introductions

Blazers Behind The Locker Room Door, Part One: Player Introductions

In my 17 years of covering the Trail Blazers, I’ve found that fans here don’t want to just root for the Blazers. They want to embrace them. Love them. Feel like they know them so they can treat them like family.

It’s why players here are often referred to by their first name more than their last. It’s why it was Clyde, Terry, Jerome, Buck and Duck back in the day, much like it’s Dame, CJ, Mo, Chief and Mase today.

One of the benefits of covering the team is the behind-the-scenes access that is afforded in the locker room and at practices, which can provide organic and candid moments that go a long way in revealing a team’s character and personality.

So with the 2016-2017 Blazers season upon us with the opener Tuesday at home against Utah, it seemed an appropriate to introduce the team, not so much as players, but rather as people.

Below is a collection of stories and snapshots of these players, as well as their views of their teammates through their own lens, which hopefully helps explain why this team is so close and has so much fun.

I think you will find this is a team in the truest sense, a group of players who will make you laugh, a group who will touch your heart, and a group who can inspire.

It is a peek Behind the Locker Room Door of the Blazers, Opening Day edition.

This is Part 1, which includes introductions to most of the players (time and access ran out, preventing every player to be included).

Part 2 involves more scenes and stories centered around the team dynamic.


EVAN TURNER: ‘A different dude’

Nothing causes the Blazers players to shake their head and smile more than mentioning Evan Turner, the newest addition to the team.

They can’t seem to put their finger on how to describe the man who goes by “ET.”

He’s funny. He’s odd. He’s tough to read. And he’s entirely likeable.

“A different dude, man. Different dude,’’ Ed Davis says. “He’s a dude, but he’s different. Just different.’’

Last week while the team was in the Bay Area for a preseason game against Golden State, the team finished its pregame breakfast at their San Francisco hotel. As the players were headed back to their rooms, Turner blurted out ‘God bless you all. Y’all be safe!’’

“And all we were doing was walking from the breakfast room to go back up to our rooms,’’ Damian Lillard said, still bewildered. “So we all laughed, but then we look at him and he’s straight-faced and dead serious. He’s just off-the-wall like that.’’

Turner knows exactly what Lillard is talking about. He gets that a lot from people.

“Sometimes I just have moments where I float around aimlessly and I don’t know what the hell I be saying,’’ Turner says. “I just say stuff and I don’t know where it’s coming from.’’

Naturally, every day brings a greater understanding of Turner and his quirky personality, just like Turner becomes more at ease with the Blazers’ vibe.

He came from Boston to a close-knit Blazers team that returns 10 players from last season. The Celtics had their own brand of chemistry, which was rooted in group text messages that would circulate throughout the team.

“In Boston, our group text would go on for days,’’ Turner says.

When he got to Portland, he tried initiating conversation in the Blazers’ own group text.  

“Nobody would respond,’’ Turner says.

Then when it came time to hang in the locker room, he would find a silent room.

“When I first got here, I was like, ‘Does anybody talk?’’’ Turner wondered.

Turner is an antsy sort, very talkative, and the type who can’t sit still. The fact he couldn’t gauge the personality of his new team left his mind racing.

“I talk a lot, and there was a time where I was like, man, I wonder what the temperature is with this team?’’ Turner says. “I was more wary  … was I switching it up and making people not feel like talking?’’

At some point, the ice was broken.

“I found they are all great guys,’’ Turner said. “You just have to start a conversation with them.’’

Now, after a month of practices and seven preseason games, there is no lack of dialogue back and forth.

“He doesn’t stop talking,’’ Noah Vonleh says.

Turner is entrenched in the card games on the team flights that include regulars Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Davis. Turner says one of the main reasons he plays is to take his mind off his fear of flying.

And Turner, the Blazers have found, will never be shy in starting conversation. Usually, he is quoting a movie or television show, his wheelhouse being any of the “Friday” movies, anything from Eddie Murphy and the TV show “Martin.’’

The players speak highly of him, almost always accompanied by a laugh. He has some wildcard to him – you’re never quite sure what is going to come out of his mouth or where he is coming from – making him the most colorful personality on a team that, for the most part, is a blend of gentlemen and laid-back cool.

Now, heading into the regular season, the getting-to-know-you process is over and everybody is comfortable.

“It has been more of a pleasant surprise than I thought,’’ Turner said of his acclimation.

If it was a bumpy transition to the Blazers, it wasn’t something that was going to derail Turner. He has an interesting backstory of overcoming odds.

Growing up in Chicago, he was hit by a car at age three. He said he popped his ear and also landed on his head. He proudly shows off a scar on the left side of his forehead, near the hairline, from the accident.

Around age eight or nine, he said he suffered from Bells Palsy, which includes partial paralysis of the face, and he also dealt with bucked teeth, which cause a speech impediment.

“I was sick a lot as a kid,’’ Turner said. “Took a lot of speech classes, and I had a learning disability.’’

He credits his mother, who raised him alone, for helping him through his learning disability. She would tutor him when he would come home from school.

 “It all built me to be a dude who perseveres,’’ Turner said. “Like my mom always said: ‘Hard work and perseverance brings great rewards.’’’

Even today, he works on his learning disability.

“I make sure I do extra to keep up as I get older. I still read or dive into the news …  to not get dumber,’’ Turner says.

He has found a particular connection to Harkless, perhaps because like Harkless, Turner was raised by a single mother.

“I look back on so many different ways I could turned, so many different ways I could have went, and all the sacrifices my mom did for me. It’s unbelievable,’’ Turner says. “And with Mo, you can tell whatever his mother told him growing up, it stuck.’’

Whether he is chirping movie quotes or giving off-the-wall quotes to the media,  there doesn’t figure to be a dull moment this season when ET is around. Lillard says there are times when Turner is visibly upset during practice, throwing his hands around, scowl on his face, and nobody knows what he is mad about.

“Sometimes I don’t know either,’’ Turner says. “It’s a battle in my head. Sometimes it’s reads, other times just chemistry, getting to know how guys play … I’m trying to hold myself accountable. As I get older, I’m finding it’s not good to have hissy fits.’’

If the first month with Turner has shown anything, there is bound to be more fits of laughter than anything else.

“Easy to get along with,’’ CJ McCollum said. “And he’s funny. First of all, his voice: He sounds like (rapper) Lil Yachty. His voice is hilarious. But he is a smart guy, he understands the game and he understands how we are going to be successful.’’

NOAH VONLEH: The Baby Brother

The past month, the Blazers locker room has been filled with laughter, mostly at the expense of Noah Vonleh.

The youngest player on the roster, the 21-year-old Vonleh is also the most picked on, the latest hazing centered around his hairdo.

Vonleh this fall can’t seem to decide between his experimentation between braids or a full afro, even if his teammates’ have long ago cast their vote.

“It’s awful,’’ McCollum says of the braids. “One of the worst decisions he’s made and I blame Ed (Davis). Ed has taken him under his wing. It’s Ed’s fault he is growing his hair out like that. He needs to cut it off. Ed has told him, we have all told him, to get rid of it. But if he isn’t going to listen to Ed, he isn’t going to listen to anybody else.’’

Davis and Vonleh have a close relationship, with Davis serving as a mentor to Vonleh.

“We’re pretty close. I just look at him like he’s my vet, my big brother,’’ Vonleh said. “I go to him for advice for things on and off the court. Anything with life in general, I look to him for guidance.’’

Davis, who showed up to Media Day in braids, claims no responsibility, however, for Vonleh’s hair. He calls it “weird (expletive).”

Added Mason Plumlee: “Oh, it’s terrible. But that’s a thing about our team: Nobody is off limits. You do something out of line, we are going to let you know.’’

Vonleh has been a target of ridicule before. Last season he decided to try out a headband during games. Then he tried different versions of facial hair.

“It’s always something,’’ Lillard says. “He’s just doing something all the time, so we are always getting on him.’’

Vonleh is also a notorious sleeper, rivaled on the team only by CJ McCollum.

Vonleh sits in the first row on the team plane, so he has a partition in front of him, and he has a routine of taking off his shoes and posting his feet on the wall as he falls asleep.

“Every flight. Doesn’t matter what time, where we are going, how short the flight is, he sleeps every flight,’’ Davis says. “The man might have five alarms going off in an hour, but he still sleeps.’’

Truth is, behind all the good-natured teasing, Vonleh is the player who brings out the soft side in his teammates. They adore him, and speak proudly about him.

“He is like the baby brother around here,’’ Lillard says. “Noah … you just want to wrap your arms around Noah.  Everybody loves Noah and you want to see him do so good because he’s such a good dude.’’

The consensus among the players: Vonleh is headed for a breakthrough.

“Everybody wants to see Noah succeed because he’s put the time in,’’ Mason Plumlee said. “He is a special talent and it’s going to happen. He’s going to explode at one point, it’s just a matter of when.’’

Added Turner:  “There’s a beast in him that is going to continue coming out. Once he taps into it and understands who he is and how good he can be, he will be a force to be reckoned with.’’

McCollum sees the same future for Vonleh.

“He’s strong as an ox, and once he figures out how strong he is and how good he can be, he is going to be a terror in this league, just because of his skillset,’’ McCollum said.

Not to be overlooked in that development is Vonleh’s ability to be himself. He says as a rookie in Charlotte, he was coerced by veteran teammates to cut his hair. When he arrived in Portland in the Nicolas Batum trade, he saw the impressive manes on Davis and Allen Crabbe and instantly regretted having cut his hair.

“So I ignore them,’’ Vonleh says of the hair critics. “I’m going to do whatever makes me happy.’’

That attitude has only strengthened some of the strong feelings teammates have for Vonleh.

“I like that he’s expressing himself,’’ Aminu says. “Usually when you get on somebody for a couple of days they switch it up. But I appreciate him not changing it up.’’


When it comes to the Blazers’ chemistry, nobody is more vital behind-the-scenes than Al-Farouq Aminu, or “Chief” as he is called by everyone from coaches to teammates.

Aminu comes from Nigerian roots, and Chief derives from his middle name, Olyedey, which means “The Chief has arrived.” His first name, Al-Farouq translates to “The Pharaoh.” Teammates alternate between calling him Chief and Rouq, but never Al.

“Al means ‘The’ in Arabic. That’s why I don’t like being called Al,’’ Aminu says.

To those outside of the team, Aminu might seem quiet and to himself. But inside the team, Aminu is a strong personality and one of the most popular figures. Teammates love being around him in part because of his trash talking, and because he has varied interests ranging from producing music to meditation to being a voracious reader. 

“You’re off balance with Chief a little bit,’’ Lillard says, referring to Aminu’s unassuming, yet powerful presence. “He’s quiet, yet outspoken at the same time. He’s never going to go out of his way to be like ‘This is me; look at me.’’’

But that doesn’t mean he goes unnoticed.

“He has these one liners in practice,’’ Plumlee explains. “He doesn’t ever say a lot, so when he does, everybody turns their head and it’s usually pretty funny. Like, he’ll be quiet all practice, then he will hit a shot and somebody will look at him and he will yell ‘Don’t look a killer in his eyes!’’

Aminu says quotes like that are designed to alleviate some of the pressure of the game.

“A lot of real stuff happens with us – you know, we just had some cuts,’’ Aminu said, referring to the release of Grant Jerrett and Greg Stiemsma. “We have people fighting for positions, fighting for their livelihood. Sometimes we can get caught up in that pressure … and it’s good to let everyone remember you are still just dribbling a basketball for a living.’’

If he wasn’t playing basketball, Aminu figures he would pursue music as a career.

 “I want to be a producer,’’ Aminu said.

For the past five years he has dabbled with a keyboard, microphone and Logic Pro recording studio on his Mac computer. But lately, he has gone from dabbling to taking it more seriously. On Sunday, he wrote a song about Nigeria.

“Dame inspired me,’’ he said of Lillard, who has a burgeoning rap career. “I always thought it would be something I would do after my career … but after he did it, I was like, why not?’’

Not all of his teammates are aware of Aminu’s musical talents. McCollum and Lillard have heard samplings, as well as Davis.

“Not a fan,’’ Davis says. “Just not a fan.’’

If Aminu isn’t playing with music, chances are he is meditating or reading. He and his wife have created a Book Club between themselves, which helps give them a commonality during the long road trips throughout the season.

The last book he read was “The Whole-Brain Child” which is about the brain development of kids.

“I’m not big on make believe books,’’ he says.

There was a motive behind the book topic. Last October, Aminu and his wife Helina had their first child, daughter Emanah.

“It’s made me more sensitive,’’ Aminu said.

ED DAVIS: ‘The Everything Guy’

If there is a group discussion in the locker room, chances are it was instigated by Ed Davis.

Last week before the final preseason game at Golden State, there was debate among some players whether Islam was a language. As Shabazz Napier fished for confirmation that it was a language, Davis settled into his seat and ended all discussion.

“Islam is a religion; Arabic is the language of Islam,’’ Davis said.

When it comes to the personality of the team, Davis is the glue. He is widely considered the funniest guy on the team and also shares the title of biggest trash talker with Aminu. He is the coolest of cool, but also one of the most engaging and thoughtful guys on the team.

“A great person in the locker room,’’ Plumlee said. “He likes to pick the topic of choice, and he is going to be very direct with his questions. When he talks to you he’s going to ask you what you believe, how you treat your girlfriend … he wants to really get to know people.’’

He can appear like he has a scowl, and he walks like he’s about to kick some butt, but he is one of the easiest to smile and one of the reasons this team laughs so much.

“Just super cool. I love Ed,’’ Lillard said. “If I could pick a person – a glue guy, great teammate  -- who I could play with for the rest of my career, like LeBron and James Jones, I would take Ed. I would take Ed with me everywhere. I would take Ed to a fight with me, I would take Ed if I had to go gamble, if I had to do anything, I’m taking Ed with me. He’s just an everything guy.’’

He’s also considered to have some of the best clothing style on the team, and pays special attention to his shoes.

“At a young age, I remember my dad when I came out of the house one day and I had a spot on my shirt,’’ Davis says. “He told me to go in the house and change. I didn’t really understand. I’m 10-years old. Walking around with something on your shirt? Who gives a damn? But he said ‘You always want to look nice, present yourself nice.’ Ever since that day on, I just made sure I left the house looking presentable. It just stuck with me.’’

SHABAZZ NAPIER: Lillard’s twin?

Last week after the Blazers beat the Jazz in an exhibition in Salt Lake City, Shabazz Napier sat in front of his locker with a stack of paper towels on his thigh. Between each towel was cash, and Napier was carefully dabbing the money to dry it out.

Earlier that day, after the team’s shootaround, he had turned in his laundry bag with his wallet still in his sweatpants pocket.

“I took a nap that afternoon and woke up and was like ‘Oh (crap)! … I just knew I left it in there,’’ Napier said.

He immediately called equipment manager Eric Hallman, who happened to be doing the laundry at the time. Sure enough, he found Napier’s wallet amid the water and suds.

“Thankfully, it wasn’t in the wash for more than 15 minutes,’’ Napier said.

Naturally, as Napier hand-patted his money in front of his locker, he drew snickers and head shakes from his teammates. Turns out, he was more concerned with his family pictures of his siblings and nephews and nieces, but nevertheless, the money drying drew attention.

“Washing money … that’s so middle school, man,’’ Davis said, disgusted. “I’m one of the older guys, and I try to help these guys out, but I don’t know what you can do about that. He’s still young.’’

Napier joined the team over the summer after spending his rookie year in Miami and last season in Orlando. Although he has only been with the Blazers for a month, it seems to everyone like he has been here for years.

“He’s fit in right away,’’ Plumlee said.

There might be an explanation for how easily Napier has blended with the Blazers: Napier said he and Lillard are eerily alike, perhaps stemming from their birthdays.

“It’s quite funny: Dame was born a day after me – (July) 15th and I’m (July) 14th – although he is a year older,’’ Napier said. “But he and I are basically the same. It’s weird, when I hear him discussing certain things about what he did outside the court – I’m like, I’ve done that, too.’’

Napier has replaced the now-departed Gerald Henderson in the post-practice shooting group with Aminu, Harkless and Crabbe and has become one of the more animated of what is daily a spirited contest.

“He fits with us, for sure,’’ Aminu said. “That’s the capability of point guards, they know how to talk, know how to initiate conversations.’’

MAURICE HARKLESS: The good heart

When teammates talk about Maurice Harkless, they often bring up his mother, Rosa, who raised him by herself in Queens, N.Y.

“You can tell his mom did a really nice job,’’ CJ McCollum said.

He is a sensitive, self-described mama’s boy, one who calls his mom in June to wish her a Happy Father’s Day because she filled both the role of mother and father.

Teammates call him “bubbly” and “real” and always mention his New York heritage.

“He’s a New Yorker, but he’s not a New Yorker,’’ Davis says. “A lot of guys from New York are cocky, they talk a lot, they know it all and they think they are tough and all that. But Mo reminds me of somebody who is from the South. Just laid back.’’

Liillard often spends time off the court with Harkless because their mothers are close and the families have get togethers at Lillard’s Lake Oswego home, with Lillard’s nephew playing with Harkless’ nephew.

This past week,  Lillard said Harkless showed him how genuinely interested he was in him outside of basketball.

“I was telling the team, ‘Everybody better go buy my album as soon as it is out,’’’ Lillard said referring to his release of The Letter O. “And everybody on the team posted about it, and went out and got it, but over the course of the last couple days, I’ve heard Mo singing my songs, like at least five songs … singing the words, which means he really took the time to listen to my music.’’

The wait is over: Blazers open the regular season vs. Jazz

The wait is over: Blazers open the regular season vs. Jazz

Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers will tip-off its 2016-17 NBA campaign when the Blazers host the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, October 25th.  The Trail Blazers took both preseason games vs. the Jazz.  Portland beat Utah on October 3rd, 98-89.  The Blazers then beat the Jazz in Utah, 88-84 last Wednesday night.

During the first week of the preseason, Jazz starting small forward Gordon Hayward fractured his left ring finger.  Hayward is not expected to return to the Jazz lineup until three weeks into the regular season.   Last season, Hayward averaged 19.7 points and five rebounds per contest.  The Jazz will of course need the 26-year-old back at full strength to live up to the national media expectations of competing for the winner of the NW division title.

Utah has also been without power forward Derrick Favors (left knee).  Favors is listed as questionable for Tuesday night’s game against the Blazers.

We will set the stage for the Blazers and Jazz game on Rip City Live on CSN at 6:oopm.  And if you can’t get to a TV, you can catch The Scoop Pregame Show streaming live at 6:00pm on



Quick Links:

Trail Blazers put preseason to bed, proclaim they are ready for games to count

Blazers exercise player options on Noah Vonleh and Shabazz Napier

Blazers put NBA-record win streak on the line opening night

Video:  Team’s are going to attack the Blazers backcourt

Video: Stotts: I think everybody is ready

Video: Lillard: Team is comfortable with each other, more confident


Game Details:

Where: Moda Center, Portland OR

Television: KGW, 7:00pm

Live streaming: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 6:00pm at The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at

CSN Programming:  Rip City Live (6:00pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Blazers put NBA-record win streak on the line opening night

Blazers put NBA-record win streak on the line opening night

Portland Trail Blazers (0-0) vs. Utah Jazz (0-0)

Tuesday, Moda Center, 7 p.m.

Television: Rip City Live (5:30) CSN; Utah vs. Portland (7 p.m.), KGW; Talkin' Ball (9:30), CSN.

There are traditions, and then there are traditions. The Trail Blazers have established a meaningful tradition that has been in the making since the turn of this century and it's an NBA record.

Portland has won a league-record 15 consecutive home openers and that's the task facing the visiting Utah Jazz Tuesday night in Moda Center. Utah lost to the Trail Blazers twice during the exhibition season. But those games were meaningless and, quite obviously, for these two teams on the rise that are often predicted to be fighting over the same playoff berths this season, this game is not.

Utah and Portland are loaded with young players expected to develop into cohesive units. The Jazz has made its reputation on defense, built around shotblocking center Rudy Gobert. Portland is a high-scoring unit that is offensively efficient and looking to improve at the defensive end.

I would expect these teams to be fighting for the fourth or fifth playoff spots in the Western Conference. And I certainly believe Portland, if healthy, is capable of churning out 50 wins this season. The Trail Blazer leader, Damian Lillard, says his team is ready for the season.

"Seven preseason games and a lot of workouts, I think we're prepared to go," Lillard said Monday after practice. "We played them twice in the preseason and over the years, we know that they're going to defend. they have great length, they play hard -- they're a competitive team capable of coming in here and beating us. We've got to be sharp. We've got to put our best foot forward.

"It's always great to open up the season at home. You know you're going to get that excitement from the crowd. Our guys will be pumped to play in front of crowd and have that homecourt advantage. But just because we're the home team doesn't mean it's going to be a fun, easy game. We have to go out there and attack the game and be ready to play."

Terry Stotts believes his team is prepared.

"I think everybody is ready," he said. "October was good, the preseason games were good and I think everybody's ready to go."

"I think they're going to have a very good season," Stotts said, when asked about the Jazz. "Just the addition of some veteran guys like George Hill and Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson -- guys who have played at a high level on 50-win teams. One of the problems the Jazz had last year was closing out some games. I think that experience will help them along with just that internal growth that they'll have. Obviously without (Gordon) Hayward it will be a little bit of a challenge for them."

Hayward is out a few more weeks with a broken finger on his left hand and forward Derrick Favors is nursing a sore knee that kept him out of the latter part of the preseason schedule. The Trail Blazers will be without center Festus Ezeli, who did not participate in the exhibition season because of a medical procedure on a knee.

As of Monday afternoon there were still a limited number of tickets available for the game.

Blazers exercise player options on Noah Vonleh and Shabazz Napier

USA Today

Blazers exercise player options on Noah Vonleh and Shabazz Napier

The Portland Trail Blazers have exercised the fourth-year contract options on forward Noah Vonleh and guard Shabazz Napier, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

Vonleh, 21, posted averages of 3.6 points (42.1% FG, 74.5% FT), 3.9 rebounds, 0.4 assists and 15.1 minutes in 78 games (56 starts) last season with the Trail Blazers after being acquired from the Charlotte Hornets on June 24, 2015. Vonleh was the ninth overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Acquired on July 7 from the Orlando Magic in exchange for cash considerations, Napier, 24, has averaged 4.4 points (36.1% FG, 34.7% 3-PT, 76.2% FT), 1.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 15.2 minutes over two seasons with the Miami Heat and Orlando. Napier was originally selected as the 24th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Trail Blazers put preseason to bed, proclaim they are ready for games to count

Trail Blazers put preseason to bed, proclaim they are ready for games to count

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The good news Friday was the Trail Blazers looked good in their final preseason game.

The bad news is it wasn't even close to beating the Golden State Warriors.

Stephen Curry scored 35 points and Kevin Durant 28 as the Warriors overcame a 16-point first quarter deficit to beat the Trail Blazers 107-96 at Oracle Arena in the preseason finale for both teams. 

Portland finished 4-3 in the preseason and will play host to Utah on Tuesday in its regular season opener. Golden State went 6-1 in the preseason and will play San Antonio in Oakland on Tuesday.

Both teams played their regular-season rotations into the fourth quarter before Stotts emptied his bench with about 7:30 left and the Blazers trailing by 14.

The Blazers for the past week have said they were ready for the regular season, and they backed that up with solid performances Wednesday in Utah and Friday against the defending Western Conference champions. 

With crisp ball movement and aggressive drives to the basket, the Blazers raced to a 26-11 lead as Damian Lillard hit his first four shots and the Warriors started 2-for-8. Lillard was particulary effective driving past Curry for layins and scored 10 of his 20 points in the first quarter. 

By halftime, Golden State had come back to lead 57-56 as Curry had 28, then Durant in the third quarter spurred a 17-2 run by hitting back-to-back-to-back three pointers. 

Stotts used the same starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game -- Lillard, CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee -- with his top four players off the bench being Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh. 

Lillard led the Blazers with 20 points in 27 minutes on 7-of-15 shooting and McCollum added 16 points in 32 minutes on 7-of-18 shooting. Vonleh had nine points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes.

Notes: Meyers Leonard entered the game with 3:22 left in the third quarter after missing the past two games with a sore back. He made his first two three-pointers and finished with 12 points and one rebound in 16 minutes ... Shabazz Napier did not play because of a sprained left ankle. 

Next up: Regular season opener -- Utah at Portland, 7 p.m. Tuesday (KGW).