Opening night of the Portland Trail Blazers' 2013-14 season is finally upon us.
Here's a quick round-up of links as we count down to tip off between the Blazers and Phoenix Suns. Game preview is right here.
This was inspired work by the Blazers' Twitter guys on Tuesday night.
Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has a season preview quote from Blazers GM Neil Olshey.
"I like the uncertainty, the mystery," the Blazers general manager said. "I don't want stability to be confused with complacency. The team is better, it's deeper, but there's a lot of mystery to it. I'm comforted by the fact that we know what we're getting out of our core group. But I think the mystery of, we just don't know yet how good our young guys can be, that's what's exciting. The ability to watch them grow in an environment where you've got to earn your time is positive. You want to play? You need minutes? Well, those are the guys you're going to have to beat out to get it, and they're guys who have proven themselves in this league."
Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune reflects on Wesley Matthews following a recent heartbeat scare...
Matthews is an acquired taste as a player. I didn't fully appreciate him for some time after he joined the Blazers following a successful rookie season with Utah as an undrafted player out of Marquette. He's a streaky shooter and not a great scorer, both important skill sets at 2 guard. He's not particularly quick, not a big rebounder or assists guy for his position. I wasn't sure he'd ever be complete enough to be a bonafide starter in the league.
But Matthews has won me over. He averaged 14.8 points and shot .398 from 3-point range last season. He has come through in the clutch at times. He is a willing and able defender. He's a tough guy. Best of all, I'm convinced he's one of those rare pro athletes who puts team over individual pursuits.
There's a certain irony to his recent ailment. In a metaphorical sense, Wesley Matthews is right at the heartbeat of the Blazers.
Eggers picks the Blazers to win 41 games but miss the playoffs.
Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com checks in with Mo Williams, who wants to win the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award.
"Oh yeah, wining that award is a goal of mine," Williams admitted to CSNNW.com. "I feel like if I'm the Sixth Man of the Year, this team is going to be pretty good. I'm going to be a problem. Like Drake says on his new album, ‘I'm going to be on my worst behavior.'
"That's the mentality that I have. I'm like that every day at practice. I'm like that every day in the games. I'm just going to be a problem. I'm going to be on everybody's scouting report because I feel like that'll take pressure off of Dame [Lillard] and L.A. [Aldridge]."
Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com writes that the Blazers are running LivingSocial.com ticket promotions because November games against high-profile opponents like the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets are not sold out.
Casey Holdahl offers a thorough player-by-player camp evaluation for the Blazers roster on ForwardCenter.net.
LaMarcus Aldridge battled a few minor injuries during training camp, which kept him out of three of Portland's seven preseason contests, but it hardly seemed to matter. When Aldridge did play, his performances were dominant yet effortless, signaling that he's reached the point of his career in which the run up to the regular season is more about building chemistry with his teammates than anything else.
The last-minute surprise addition of Mo Williams via free agency was the cherry on top of Neil Olshey's already impressive offseason transformation of Portland's bench. Lineups consisting of Williams playing alongside Lillard were some of Portland's most fun to watch throughout Portland's preseason schedule, if for no other reason than it was a medical-grade breath of fresh air having a competent ballhandler who could also score coming off the bench.
Danny Schwartz writes for Washington University in St. Louis's student paper, and he recently profiled Connie Zhou, a golfer from Lake Oswego who attends the university. Zhou was featured in the "Faces in the Crowd" profile section of this week's Sports Illustrated, and she talks about an encounter with her neighbor, none other than Blazers guard Damian Lillard.
Zhou is not an NBA player, but a golfer. She won the Golfweek Fall Invitational on Oct. 13-15 at the Baytowne Golf Club in Destin, Fla., with the lowest three-round score in Wash. U. school history, a 219 (76-72-71). Her final day score of 71 was the third-lowest round in school history.
An avid Portland Trail Blazers fan, Zhou was excited to be featured in the NBA preview issue alongside her favorite team. In fact, Zhou is a neighbor of Lillard and met last season's Rookie of the Year during the summer.
"I heard him dribbling through my window, and I walked over to his house," Zhou said. "He was practicing with his friend and said to me and my friend, ‘Hey, come over here,' and they just asked us some questions and were really nice. He just seems like a really down to earth guy."
Emmanuel C.M. of XXLMag.com interviews Lillard about his love of rap music.
What was your first hip-hop moment?
I listened to a lot of Nas, Juvenile, Jay Z [growing up]; Nas was my favorite though. I remember I was younger I went to a Hot Boys concert and it was tight. They came to Oakland and Lil Wayne was young, he was like a little kid. That's when I started to love Jjuvenile. Like 400 Degreez my favorite album. I heard 400 Degreez when I was in 4th grade. When I heard it, everybody in the neighborhood was listening to it at the time. And my cousin had the CD. Back then, I didn't know what he was talking about on half the songs. But when I finally got up to speed, I started understanding it.
What type of music did they have in the Bay Area?
Growing up, it was not hyphy-hyphy; it wasn't quite there yet when I was in high school. It was all local rap. Everything they were rapping about is what was going on in the city; it wasn't any music where they talk about what they got. It was like Mistah F.A.B., Yukmouth, The Team, Clyde Carson. It wasn't nobody who wasn't really that dude. A couple of years ago I could tell you the difference [between LA and The Bay] like, "That's something that is going to go in LA but ain't going to go in Oakland." Now it's all kind of that same "ratchet"-type music. Tyga, YG, all their stuff is going to get play in Oakland because you got that ratchet circle to feed into.
Freeman with more from Lillard on the music stuff and his growing ambitions.
"I want to be in movies, I want to rap, I want to do everything," Lillard said. "And I know it's all possible because I can do it off the brand Damian Lillard, you know what I'm saying? I think it's important for me to take every idea that I come up with and everything I want to do and put it out there right now, while I'm relevant as an NBA player. I can do these other things off the fact that I'm an NBA player."
Dane over at A Young Sabonis offers his 2013-14 season preview.
Here are some of the keys to the season for this year's Portland Trail Blazers.
Mo Williams as a leader
Perhaps the biggest offseason catch, on value, has been Mo Williams. A former scoring star in Milwaukee, Williams has shone in the Portland preaseason in terms of maturity and leadership. His shot selection has seemed forced at times, but that appears to be for lack of familiarity with his new teammates. A reasonable expectation would be for that to settle as the season continues.
Joel Freeland is the backup center
It's hard to believe but Joel Freeland has beat out Meyers Leonard for the backup role and it's mostly due to his ability to jump straight up and down on penetration shot attempts. Meyers Leonard has been disappointing in the preseason thus far, and Freeland is the best option if Terry Stotts wants to win now. And he does.
Erik Gundersen of The Columbian runs down some key questions facing the Blazers...
Is this the year that Nicolas Batum makes "the leap?"
He was a borderline All-Star and for the first part of the season and it was easy to argue that only Kevin Durant was a better small forward in the Western Conference. With players around the conference improving and Batum's second-half struggles last season, the conversation doesn't seem so clear anymore.
A consistent wire-to-wire season from Batum could put that pecking order back into focus again.
Gundersen checks in on C.J. McCollum, who is rehabbing from his foot procedure...
Now McCollum says that he has no noticeable swelling and that he is doing some upper body workouts while getting his cardio activity done in the pool. While the team comes out to play the Sacramento Kings, McCollum is getting his weight room work in.
"Game days I usually lift when they are about to go out and take the court," he said. "Then I come out at the end of the first half or start of the second."
He says that he talks to his parents, his brother and is reading the bible.
"What can you do?," he adds.
Joe Swide of Portland Roundball Society gets geared up for the season opener.
For a playoff hopeful like the Blazers, this is the kind of game they need to win consistently throughout the season. Meanwhile for a hopeful lottery winner like the Suns, this is the kind of game they will need to lose consistently throughout the season to fulfill their goal of drafting one of the top-five messiahs next June. But the Suns players may not be as spiritless and failure-driven as the Suns management. Eric Bledsoe, acquired from the Clippers over the summer, will want to prove this season that he's more than just an athletic backup and that he can stand comfortably with some the elite point guards in the entire league - one of which he'll be playing against tonight in Damian Lillard. Plus, Bledsoe was portrayed calling LeBron James in the latest feature-length commercial from Samsung, for whatever that's worth. Bledsoe's backcourt mate Goran Dragic has shown that while giving up Steve Nash to turn the reigns over to Dragic may have been a bit too bold, the Slovenian guard certainly has the ability for some big scoring nights. Even backup, and former Kentucky Wildcat, Archie Goodwin brings some additional scoring talent to the wing position, albeit packaged in a frame that might weigh 85 lbs soaking wet.
Chris Reichert of HoopsHabit.com predicts a fast start to the season for the Blazers.
As luck would have it the NBA gods deemed it fitting to provide the rebuilding Phoenix Suns as the Blazers first victim, err, opponent. There's one win notched and the season is off to a beaming start. Now, if you take a look at their next nine opponents it looks rather opportunistic for the Blazers. After the Suns they play, in order: Denver, San Antonio, Houston, Sacramento (twice), Detroit, Phoenix, Boston and Toronto.
So, here's how the first 10 games should pan out. Damian Lillard & Co. are going to get off to a very favorable start to the 2013-14 season. This season instead of 5-5, the Blazers will go 7-3 in their first 10 games - the losses will be to the Spurs, Rockets and Detroit.
Sekou Smith of NBA.com is looking forward to watching Lillard on League Pass.
First and foremost, League Pass is the greatest thing to happen to NBA basketball since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird showed up. Seriously, the greatest! I'll make it a point to find the Portland Trail Blazers every chance I get. Damian Lillard was an absolute baller last season, snagging Rookie of the Year honors and doing so without nearly the fanfare he would have garnered had he played in a bigger media market. It's one thing to see highlight clips of what he did or to read accounts of it. It's quite another thing to watch his games and study how advanced his game was for a rookie at what has become the league's most difficult position to play. He's attained some commercial success over the past year and clearly made a name for himself with the basketball establishment (he was invited to Las Vegas for the U.S. Men's Senior National Team's mini-camp in July for a reason). League Pass gives you a chance to tune in and watch the evolution of a young superstar from afar. And it doesn't get much better than that in my eyes.
Sean Deveney of The Sporting News writes...
This could be a breakthrough year in Portland, provided the mix of youth works well with the team's more established veterans. Mainly, that amounts to the interaction between All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge and the reigning Rookie of the Year, point guard Damian Lillard. Lillard had outstanding numbers last season (19.0 points, 6.5 assists), but was a volume shooter, making only 42.9 percent of his shots and leaving something to be desired when it comes to playmaking. Lillard needs to improve in that regard, and can do a lot in terms of elevating Aldridge's game.
Sky Muller of KCBY.com discusses the Rip City Relay, the Blazers' cross-state game ball delivery, which hit Coos Bay.
Jerome Kersey, a former Blazers forward, says they want to reach out to communities all over the state. "It's a community thing to get people involved and feel, and be a part of the Blazers and what they're doing."
The ball will be walked, jogged and passed through several stops along the coast. "It's going to be going 219 miles, starts here in Coos Bay and obviously, ends in Portland," Hankins said.
Kersey says he is excited about the season. "A lot of big things going on with the Trail Blazers and all their partners, and this is just a way to kick it off and get it going for the, hopefully, upcoming great season."
Sweet pumpkin pinwheel from blazersman in the FanShots.
Here's a season preview hype video from YouTube user pinwheelempire.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter