Some notes from the Portland Trail Blazers' Tuesday morning shootaround.
BCS Bragging Rights
The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Louisiana State University Tigers, 21-0, to win the BCS National Title on Monday night. Blazers forward Gerald Wallace spent one season at Alabama while big man Chris Johnson played four seasons for LSU.
Rare is the opportunity that such a dominating college football performance occurs without some locker room ribbing between teammates but Wallace's disaffection with Alabama runs so deep that he chose to jog away from a group of reporters, ending a quick interview, rather than trumpet his alma mater. John Canzano of The Oregonian noted that Wallace predicted an LSU victory in a recent radio interview.
Wallace, an Alabama native, told Scott Fowler of NewsObserver.com in 2010 that he wanted to skip college entirely and only attended to appease his mother. He left Alabama as soon as the season was over and said he didn't enjoy his time on campus after reportedly failing to see eye-to-eye with coach Mark Gottfried.
"The experience was totally unbearable," Wallace said. As soon as the season was over - Alabama made it to the 2001 NIT final and lost - he quit school and went home to Childersburg to await the NBA Draft. This time, his mother didn't try to talk him out of it.
Wallace still has such bad memories of his brief college experience that he once asked Bobcats media relations director B.J. Evans if he could be introduced before every game as a product of "Childersburg High School" instead of the University of Alabama. Because of NBA protocol, Evans had to tell Wallace no.
"So when I hear my introduction at each game, I don't think of the University of Alabama," Wallace said. "I think about the state of Alabama itself, which I am proud to represent."
Johnson, meanwhile, calls himself a "big LSU sports fan" and said the defeat was stinging. He also said he didn't believe Alabama should have been in the BCS title game after losing to LSU, 9-6, in the regular season.
"I was kind of shocked," Johnson said. "You go from a 9-6 game to a 21-0 game, I don't know what happened. I don't think there should have been a rematch. We already beat them. Somehow they got back into it. That's what it is with the BCS I guess."
Johnson said that he was surprised that he didn't catch more heat from Wallace but noted that he didn't emerge unscathed thanks to veteran center Marcus Camby, who made sure to enforce the NBA maxim that no loss goes unremarked upon, even if the actual victor couldn't care less.
"[Wallace] didn't give me anything. I think Cam gave me the most grief," Johnson said, shaking his head. "He texted me last night: 'Roll Tide.'"
Camby went to the University of Massachusetts, whose football team finished 5-6 in FCS play this season.
Shaking Up The Starts
After Sunday night's blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers there was some uncertainty about what the Blazers had and hadn't done in an effort to get off to a hotter start. Coach Nate McMillan said he had tried to up the tempo during an afternoon shootaround while multiple players said nothing really happened out of the ordinary.
McMillan said Tuesday morning that the group had gone "three-quarters" speed on Sunday and clarified that he had intended to say that the team "should have done more" to pick up its energy after taking a day off on Saturday and opting for an afternoon shootaround instead of a morning shootaround.
"I just felt like we laid around and it was a long 24 hours," McMillan said. "That six o'clock game is a different time so now we don't have a morning shootaround, we've got an afternoon shootaround and laying around even longer. My thought was to move them around a little more than normal just to get them going. I felt like we were still asleep in the first half and we finally woke up in the second half. We did move around but my thought was that we probably should move around even more."
For now, with Portland playing at least four games per week until the All-Star break, there's no set plan in terms of how he will manage the intensity of Portland's gameday or off-day workouts. If the Blazers opted for an afternoon shootaround on Wednesday prior to the game against the Orlando Magic, for example, he wouldn't necessarily try to up the tempo again.
"It's more of a feel of your players and yourself," McMillan said. "For me, I'm not playing [but] I can sense when they can get up and move and when they need to get off their feet."
Strategically there are no plans to tweak Portland's early offense in an effort to eliminate the slow starts. McMillan instead preached defense, where Portland is currently ranked No. 4 in the NBA.
"I think it's not so much offensively as opposed to defensively," McMillan said. Two games ago we had a team shooting over 70 percent in that first quarter. We've got to stop somebody. It's two ends to the floor [and] you've got to play both of them well."
An eisel style drawing board with 10-12 halfcourt play sets was visible inside one of the coach's offices on Tuesday.
McMillan confirmed that he is still in process of expanding the playbook.
"We've slowly added more sets and counters to what we are doing," he said. "Like any regular season you slowly adding things that you didn't get in due to training camp and the fact that now you've seen some of your players and what they're capable of doing. Trying to move them around and put them in positions where they can be productive."
Asked for his thoughts on the shooting woes of Raymond Felton, who is shooting just 12 percent from deep, McMillan did his starting point guard a solid by dispersing the personal criticism and making it a team issue.
"It's very important for Raymond and [Jamal] Crawford and Nicolas [Batum] and all of our guys to find their shot," McMillan said. "We haven't shot the ball well to start the season. That's something we're going to need to do."
Portland currently ranks No. 20 in the NBA in shooting percentage and No. 21 in three-point shooting percentage.
Big Man Rotation
Chris Johnson has seen his playing time evaporate thanks to the free agent additions of Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith. Happy-go-lucky by nature and used to playing time uncertainty, Johnson has moved into his role as fifth big man in stride.
"Minutes aren't guaranteed, something you have to earn," Johnson said. [Thomas and Smith] are doing a great job. Craig came in, stepping up big-time minutes. Whenever the time comes, I'll be ready. Right now I'll be a cheerleader, support all the guys. That's my role right now."
He did see some court time at the end of Monday's win over the Cavaliers, registering a solid chasedown block on an attempt by Cleveland rookie point guard Kyrie Irving.
"I got it a little bit," Johnson chuckled. "You can't give up on the plays. I just read that one perfectly. Timed it."
As noted on Monday, Blazers forward Luke Babbitt and guard Armon Johnson are currently in the D-League on loan to the Idaho Stampede. Johnson had a chance to hit a game-tying basket in a D-League Showcase game, but it rimmed out.
"Twice Armon went down the floor the other night [and] tried to score the game-winner," McMillan said. "Very aggressive. Babbitt looked at him like he should have passed the ball. Some similar things happen there that happen up here."
Back in December, McMillan openly wondered whether Johnson was a point guard.
McMillan said Babbitt had been "aggressive" and was "able to score down there."
The Blazers have had talks about bringing the pair back to the Blazers but no timeline has been set.
Update (1:32 p.m.): The Blazers just announced that Babbitt has been called up for Tuesday night's game. He averaged 21 points and 9 rebounds in three games for the Stampede.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter