Apologies: I've been under the weather the last few days. Here's a round-up of various Portland Trail Blazers links from that time period.
First things first, be sure to check out the latest information on Blazer's Edge Night. I made my donation this morning and it felt great.
Jen Murphy of the Wall Street Journal catches up with Damian Lillard about his work-out routine...
This season, the Trail Blazers began using a new biomechanics evaluation system called OptoGait, which uses optical sensors to analyze a person's gait and claims to measure data such as power, balance, speed, acceleration and symmetry to the accuracy of one-thousandth of a second.
With OptoGait, "I can tell little things, like if I'm jumping half a centimeter higher off my right foot," says Mr. Lillard.
At the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Mr. Lillard was working through a left ankle injury. During practice, he would jump in between the OptoGait's two LED sensor strips on the floor, five times on his right leg and five times on his left.
"I could feel that my right leg was more powerful," he says. "The OptoGait let me track that exercise to the point where I was jumping off both legs with equal power."
Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com talks with Wesley Matthews, who opens up about his relationship with his father, a former NBA player who "took off" when Matthews was a young child.
"I'm living in probably his second-most popular city that he's lived in other than Bridgeport," he said. "I mean, he's the man in Wisconsin. I'm carrying his name and I knew nothing about him other than that everybody else around me loved him. And I'm having the toughest time trying to figure out why the hell he's not around."
Matthews has been dubbed the "Iron Man" for his willingness to play through multiple injuries with reckless abandon. The moniker is fitting. However, the rigid iron settled in long before his basketball days.
"I don't know if I'll fully know the extent of my upbringing until I have a kid," he admitted. "I know it hardened me. It made me tougher. I don't know if that's good or bad. But I know I'll find out down the road."
Joe Freeman of The Oregonian discusses Blazers coach Terry Stotts' successes in After Time Out situations, including some thoughts from Earl Watson...
"You figure both teams have five or six timeouts and you have (start of) quarters, so that's 15 plays a game - 15 times a game where you have a chance to make an impact," Stotts said. "So that's 15 percent of your possessions. Every once in a while, if you are able to do two plays out of a timeout, all of a sudden, you're at 20 percent of your half-court possessions. That becomes a pretty important part of trying to win a game."
Given a blank canvas to create and time to ponder just the right play, a team's success out of timeouts over four quarters can play a significant role in the outcome of a game.
"The play is so good in the NBA," Watson said. "I think it's very important to score out of timeouts ... because when you're playing San Antonio, Oklahoma City, or another one of the top teams in the NBA, six points a game is important. It's major. It's a discreet six points that no one pays attention to. It's a sneaky six points. And it may either help you win the game or lose the game."
Dave participated in a Blazers.com round table, offering some thoughts on CJ McCollum...
I thought McCollum played well within himself in his first taste of NBA action. That's no small feat for a high-scoring lottery pick who's waited this long to take the floor. His shot attempts were measured, he paid attention defensively, he didn't seek out the ball or attention. It seemed like he was trying to fit in, not to break the system...a prudent sign of respect when playing with veterans who've accumulated a 75% victory rate in your absence.
That said, McCollum is going to have to get more aggressive and open up the throttle before we see how the car will handle. As long as the Blazers keep winning and fighting for high playoff seeding Mo Williams will have an advantage over CJ due to experience. CJ's job is to show enough potential to make the coaches (and eventually the front office) think he could eat into Mo's minutes and fill Mo's scoring role. Then he needs to show enough control and court-savvy to make them actually pull the trigger. Odds are that won't happen this year but McCollum should be able to generate momentum in that direction.
The more point guard skills McCollum can demonstrate the easier it's going to be to get him on the floor. You can make a more compelling case for him to play alongside and in place of Damian Lillard than you can for him to play alongside or in place of Williams right now, if nothing else because Lillard plays better off-ball than Williams does. Either that or McCollum will need to keep demonstrating the ability to flourish without dribbling as he showed against Boston.
Casey Holdahl has the lowdown on LaMarcus Aldridge paying off a University of Oregon-related bet at ForwardCenter.net.
Matt Moore of CBSSports.com includes Blazers coach Terry Stotts at his favorite to win Coach of the Year (although he picks Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek).
Stotts coaches the league's hottest team and the biggest surprise team through the first half of the season. The Trail Blazers were supposed to be better this season but not "homecourt advantage" good. Instead, Stotts has orchestrated arguably the league's best offense, with a decent chance of pushing two separate Blazers to All-Star status. Portland spent much of the first two months of the season at the top of the brutal Western Conference, and Stotts' management of both the rotations on Portland's bench, finding matchup advantages, and out of bounds play execution (the Blazers are No. 1 in side-out-of-bounds plays according to Synergy Sports) has to catch your eye.
Is their defense good enough to sustain what will inevitably be a comedown from their wild close-game record through the first two months of the season? If the Blazers are still really good but slip from the top four of the West, will the altered expectations hurt Stotts? Had to tell but you have to think taking a fringe playoff team and making them what some consider a title contender is going to earn you points.
Sam Amick of USA Today Sports picks both LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard for his Western Conference All-Star team.
Aldridge: Speaking of MVP candidates, the Portland big man who was already considered one of the best in the game has never been better. He's sixth in the NBA in scoring (a career-high 23.6 points per game) and rebounding (a career-high 11 per) and is averaging a career-high 2.9 assists per game to boot for this Blazers team (28-9) that is the surprise of the season.
Lillard: From an out-of-nowhere Rookie of the Year honor last season to the first All-Star appearance that should be coming his way, the player who was drafted sixth overall out of little-known Weber State has exploded on the NBA scene. Beyond the 21.4 points, 5.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game, he has fast become one of the most clutch players in the game. Lillard trails only Curry, Harden and Durant in fourth-quarter scoring (6.7 points per in the fourth) and has become a regular at game-winning shots (three this season). His inclusion here will likely depend on Kobe Bryant, who is second among all vote-getters but could - and should - decline the honor so that a deserving talent can take part.
Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com opines that this year's Blazers have a new-found sense of pride...
This team has the best self-image of any Portland team in years. These guys feel good about their teammates and the way they play.
Yes, that's what it is -- pride.
Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group writes about Robin Lopez's fit in Portland...
"They've welcomed me with open arms," the former Stanford star said of his first season as starting center for the Portland Trail Blazers. "It's a weird place, weird as hell. And I'm weird as hell. So it goes hand in hand."
He collects comic books, loves the 1985 movie, "Goonies," and gained attention last month for yanking an "Afro" wig off Pistons mascot "Hooper," whom Lopez decided was making fun of his hairstyle.
"That was totally on him," Lopez said. "That was self-defense on my part."
Erik Gundersen of The Columbian looks at Earl Watson's influence...
What's stood out from this young Blazers team, aside from their fantastic offense, is how their young players come to work every day without knowing how or if they will be used.
"They work as hard as any young group I've ever been around," said 12-year veteran Earl Watson, the team's elder statesman.
"I'm a firm believer in how young players come in this league make a lasting impression on their career," said Stotts. "Those eight guys are very fortunate to have a guy like Earl."
Coach Nick of Basketball Breakdown has a whole bunch of Portland Trail Blazers videos...
LaMarcus Aldridge discusses the pindown | Damian Lillard dissects how he reads pick-and-roll defense | Nicolas Batum talks about his shooting mechanics | Terry Stotts examines his offensive principles.
Martín: Is it harder to see the team still so high in the rankings?
Claver: I feel a mixture of joy and rage. Joy because the team is good and rage because I'd like to participate and experience it on the court. But we have a good dynamic and my goal now is not that we begin to lose, but that I can find a hole.
Martín: Are you sad?
Claver: Like any player who does not participate, I feel like I need to play. I'm busy, I give my all in practice, but I'm waiting for my moment to take minutes and recover the sensation of playing an important game.
Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com notes Portland's good health.
"That's a huge turnaround," Batum said. "The last couple years, a lot has changed. We got a new coaching staff, got a new GM, got new players, got a lot of new things. This is a new era. The old injury era, I think, is over. I hope it's over. It's different now."
Knock on wood. Literally.
"We talk about it," Batum, a Blazer since 2008-09, said of the new good fortune. "We (have) had no injury yet" - he reaches out with his left hand and taps a wooden wall of the adjacent locker - "so that's good. That's good. We need everybody on the court."
PS Thanks to Oregon_Fan, Excaliber1111, and Andrew Challoner in the FanShots.
Be sure to follow the new, official @Blazersedge account right here.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter