The NBA decided to suspend its season amid the coronavirus outbreak. Commissioner Adam Silver hopes games can be resumed after a 30-day hiatus. Orlando Sanchez and Nate Hanson share their reactions to the news and what it could potentially mean for the Portland Trail Blazers.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we gauge our confidence level in Portland's playoff chances, debate which was the worst thing to happen to the Blazers this season, and make predictions for the next four games.
Get more Blazers coverage at kgw.com/blazers
1. The Blazers have lost two of three since the All-Star break and they're still without Damian Lillard. But they've actually gained a game and a half on the Grizzlies, who have lost four in a row. With 23 games left, Portland trails eighth-place Memphis by just 2.5 games. On a scale of 1-10, what's your confidence level that the Blazers will make the playoffs this season?
Jared: I'll put my confidence level at a 4. I expect Memphis to continue to struggle because of its difficult schedule and injuries to key players. But I think the team that has the best chance of surging past Memphis — and the Blazers — is New Orleans. Zion Williamson is incredible, and the Pelicans have talent, good health and an easier schedule than the Blazers. I'm not counting the Blazers out, but a lot of uncertain things have to turn in Portland's favor. Damian Lillard needs to return in the next few games, and the Blazers need Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back soon, as well, to shore up their depth. Once Lillard and hopefully one or both of Nurkic and Collins are back, I think Portland can go on a run considering their soft schedule. Until Lillard gets back, the Blazers must beat the bad teams on their schedule. They have to stay ahead of the Pelicans, because New Orleans is going to win a lot of games down the stretch and they have the tiebreaker against Portland.
Nate: I’ll say a 2. Not as low as it was during the All-Star break, but I still have very little confidence they’ll finish the season ahead of both Memphis and New Orleans. The things the Blazers need to happen have happened over the last week. Memphis has lost all four of its games since the All-Star break and will continue to have a difficult schedule the rest of the season. Meanwhile, after Thursday’s game against Indiana, Portland has a six-game stretch against teams below .500 before they play Memphis again. So, the schedule would suggest Portland can make up ground. But I still believe Memphis is a better team than the Blazers. They beat Portland before the All-Star break and I don’t expect the Blazers will beat Memphis in both of the two remaining matchups this season to make up ground on them head-to-head. And Memphis may not be the team that should worry the Blazers the most. New Orleans is just half a game behind Portland, has won 8 of their last 12 games, has a favorable schedule and owns the tiebreaker over the Blazers.
Orlando: So much of this question revolves around the health of Damian Lillard. If he’s back this week, I like their chances and would put it at a 6 or even a 7. Without him, they are done. The longer it takes for their All-Star to get back, the lower their chances are of making the playoffs. With 23 games left, the 8 seed is there for the taking, especially with 2 games against Memphis, in Portland. It’s a 3-4 team race for the final spot. Laugh at me if you want, but I’m actually looking forward to seeing how the race for the 8 seed plays out.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we talk about Damian Lillard being out for the next few games, the development of Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons, whether criticism of CJ McCollum is justified, and make predictions for the next three games.
Get more Blazers coverage at kgw.com/blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers have had a nice, long break during the NBA's All-Star festivities and now they have 26 games left in the regular season to achieve their goal of making the playoffs.
To get there, they'll have to make up some ground with the eighth-place Grizzlies holding a four-game lead in the standings over the Blazers. And they'll have to start that pursuit without their best player.
The biggest question for Portland is Damian Lillard's health. Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported last Thursday he'd miss a week or two with a strained groin. A couple days ago during a radio interview, head coach Terry Stotts said, "maybe a week, maybe a month." Then on Thursday, KGW's Orlando Sanchez reported that Lillard said he'll likely miss three to five games.
The next few games will be a tough stretch for the Blazers without Lillard. The next three games are at home, but they're against the Pelicans, who are 3-0 against Portland this season; the Celtics, one of the best teams in the East; and the Pistons, which gives Portland a chance at a victory. Then a road trip begins against a talented Pacers team with star guard Victor Oladipo back in its lineup.
After these four games, the Blazers have an easy schedule down the stretch and two head-to-head matchups at home against the Grizzlies. So there's still hope. But there's so little margin for error right now, losing Lillard even for the next few games could push the Blazers too far back to rally.
Nipping on the Blazers' heels are the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans. Both of those teams have easy schedules down the stretch, just like the Blazers, and they're not dealing with the kind of injuries that are plaguing Portland.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we talk about Damian Lillard being out the next few games, the development of Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons, whether criticism of CJ McCollum is justified, and make predictions for the next three games.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we talk about Damian Lillard's injury and whether the Blazers can still make the playoffs, discuss the potential return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, revisit our worst preseason predictions and make one big prediction each for the rest of the season.
Get more Blazers coverage at kgw.com/blazers
1. Damian Lillard is hurt and the Blazers are now five games back in the loss column for the final playoff spot in the West. Are the playoffs still possible?
Nate: Any hope remaining for the Blazers to make the playoffs is on life support. The only reason I'm still saying they have a sliver of hope is because of Damian Lillard. He didn't seem too concerned that the injury he suffered against Memphis would keep him out an extended period, so I don't expect him to miss much time. We've already seen him carry this team for a two-week stretch this season. And a three-game losing streak by Memphis could put Portland right back in the thick of the race. But the Grizzlies are 22-10 in their last 32 games. If they play .500 the rest of the season, they'll be 42-40, which I would put on the low end of what their record will be at the end of the season. That means Portland would have to finish the season 17-9 to get to 42-40. That seems like too big of a hole for the Blazers to dig themselves out of, but I'll give them a slim chance because of Lillard.
Orlando: If this Damian Lillard injury is serious and he's missing games, it's a wrap. If he's OK, then they've still got a chance. Anyone who legitimately follows this team knows you can't count them out with Lillard on the court. After the Memphis game he said, "Don’t think that was just it." He was referring to the two-week tear he went on. He might not average 45 points per game but he is going to play at a high level and elevate the guys around him. He does it every year. The Blazers have 26 games left and they have one of the easiest remaining schedules, while Memphis will be put to the test with arguably the strongest schedule in the league. Portland will have opportunities to catch them. They just have to hope they don't end up in a tie breaker situation with New Orleans. The Blazers have their work cut out for them, five back in the loss column, but to write them off, I'm not going there yet. This is setting up to be an entertaining race to the finish.
Jared: The Blazers are now four games behind the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West and five games back in the loss column. In the past 10 seasons, only one team has been that far back at the break and still made the playoffs (h/t Matt Moore). The Blazers face an uphill, almost unprecedented climb to get into the playoffs. You never want to count out Damian Lillard, but you also can't count on him because at this time, we're still unsure of his injury status. If it's a Grade 1 strain, he could be back shortly after the All-Star break. If it's a Grade 2 strain, he could miss a couple months. If Lillard comes back shortly after the break, it's not over. Many of the reasons for optimism still exist. Dame is really good. The team could get Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back. Memphis has the toughest-remaining schedule in the league while Portland has one of the easiest. The Blazers have two games left against the Grizzlies, both at home. But if Dame has to miss a significant amount of time, it's over. The Blazers are 10 points worse per 100 possessions this season without Lillard on the court. The team has had a negative net rating when he's been off the court each of the past four season, and during that same timeframe, Portland is 10-10 in the 20 games Lillard has missed. That’s not good enough. If the Blazers want to make the playoffs for the seventh season in a row, they'll have to be much better than a .500 team after the break.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we react to the moves the Blazers made and the moves they didn't make at the deadline. We also make predictions for the next five games, answer your questions, and play a rousing game of Rip It!
Get more Blazers coverage at https://www.kgw.com/blazers
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we talk about the death of Kobe Bryant, debate whether it's time for Blazers fans to believe in this team again, discuss Carmelo Anthony's desire to retire in Portland and make predictions for the next three games.
Get more Blazers and NBA coverage at kgw.com/blazers
1. The Blazers beat the Rockets, again. They've won five of eight. Dame got his first-triple double and is playing at the top of his game. Is this the start of another second-half surge for Portland? Should Blazers fans believe again?
Nate: We had a similar question two weeks ago when the Blazers beat the Rockets and my answer was no. And while my answer is still no, it’s not as definitive as my answer two weeks ago. So, what’s the difference? The Blazers beat another good team in Indiana. Trevor Ariza is an upgrade from Kent Bazemore. And Damian Lillard is playing out-of-this-world ball right now. With all that said, the Blazers are still just 3-3 since beating Houston two weeks ago. Granted, it was against a stretch of schedule that could have gone 1-5. But the Blazers need to start making up ground at some point on Memphis and not just holding serve. And as great as Damian Lillard is, I don’t see him averaging 43.7 points, 9.2 assists per game and shooting 50% from beyond the arc the rest of the season. The Blazers have needed Lillard to play at this historic level in order to stay afloat the last six games. If his production dips, even just back to regular All-Star level, I’m not sure the Blazers will be able to win enough to make up ground and make the playoffs.
Jared: Count me as a believer. In the past 13 games, the Blazers are 7-6, and their offense ranks fourth in the NBA. Their defense is still a train wreck, but they've been scoring enough to carry them to wins, even against good teams. In the past 13 games, Damian Lillard has been on a tear, averaging 34.8 points on 49.6% from the field and 45.8% from 3. The Blazers are getting contributions from Hassan Whiteside (16.0 points, 15.0 rebounds, 4.0 blocks), efficient scoring from CJ McCollum (19.3 points on 45.5% from the field and 41.1% from 3) and though it's been only three games, Trevor Ariza looks like he's just what the Blazers needed (finally, a real small forward!). Portland is also getting a little consistency from its bench. Over the past 10 games, Gary Trent Jr. and Nassir Little have actually helped the Blazers when they've been on the court lately. The Blazers haven't had many reserves you could say that about this season. In the past 10 games, Trent Jr. is averaging 10.3 points, shooting 42.3% from 3 and has a net rating of +7.2. Little's stats are fine even if they don't jump off the page, but his net rating is an impressive +6.2. Portland isn't likely to take off quite yet because their schedule remains tough. They face winning teams in eight of their next 12 games. But after that, the schedule gets much easier. Only seven of Portland's final 22 games are against winning teams. If Portland can keep their heads above water, they're poised for a really big run to end the season.
2. Carmelo Anthony told The Portland Tribune's Kerry Eggers he wants to retire in Portland. Buy or sell? Anthony returns to the Blazers next season to finish his career in Portland.
Nate: I’m going to sell this. But compared to where we were when Melo first signed with the Blazers in November to where we are now shows just how much both Melo and the Blazers have benefited from this partnership. The reason I say no is because I think Melo will garner interest from more teams this offseason now that his reputation has been stabilized. And given the Blazers' cap situation, I could see Melo going somewhere else where he has an opportunity to potentially make more money. If it’s not money, then the biggest factor will be what Melo values. If he values winning and is open to being a scorer off the bench, then I could see him staying with Portland. That would certainly be a dimension the Blazers would love to have. In Eggers’ story, Melo talked about how hard the adjustment to going to the bench was for him in Houston. So, as happy as he has been in Portland this year, I can't help but wonder if he's really willing to accept a bench role with fewer minutes and scoring opportunities.
Jared: I've really enjoyed watching Carmelo Anthony on the Blazers this season. He's so fun to watch. I know he's inefficient. I know he's not an impactful defender. But I still really enjoy watching him play. He's also been great in the locker room and a great interview. The idea of Anthony returning next season to finish his career in Portland is appealing on some levels, but I'm going to have to sell this because I don't think the situation next season will match what Anthony wants. The reason this partnership has worked so well this season is because the Blazers had an available starting position, as many minutes as Anthony could handle, and a coach who wasn't going to try and turn Anthony into a player he isn't. I don't know if that seamless fit exists in Portland next season. Anthony's role would likely be as a high-scoring reserve, and I don't know if that's what he wants. It seems like he wants to be in a position where he can start and be a major part of a team's offense. And he may get better offers in free agency than what the Blazers want to pay him. There may be better fits elsewhere next season.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we talk about the Blazers trade with the Sacramento Kings, Damian Lillard's 61-point masterpiece, Jusuf Nurkic's return and make predictions for the next three games. We also answer your questions and play another rousing game of Rip It!
Get more Blazers coverage at kgw.com/blazers!
1. The Blazers made their first trade of the season, sending Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and two second-round picks to the Sacramento Kings for veteran forward Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel. What are your thoughts on the trade?
Jared: In a vacuum, this trade is fine. Not good, not bad, just fine. The Blazers saved $12 million in luxury tax payments in a season where they're not competing for anything more than a first-round exit from the playoffs. And they did get better. Not by much, but Ariza is a slightly better player than Bazemore, and the other pieces are a push at worst. At the very least, the 6-foot-8 Ariza (with a 7-2 wingspan!) is a true small forward, unlike the 6-4 Bazemore, who was playing out of position at that spot. The trade also improves Portland's ability to make moves this offseason and even into next season. Looking at the big picture, though, this trade is a bit of a letdown considering what Blazers' fans expectations were with Bazemore's expiring contract. The thought was that Portland would use these big expiring contracts at the trade deadline this season to add another star to Portland's roster. Ariza is not a star. It's not really the Blazers' fault that Bazemore performed so poorly or that the value of expiring contracts took a nosedive this season. This is probably the best return Portland could get for Bazemore in this market. But considering expectations for what would happen at this trade deadline were so high, the trade is a little underwhelming.
Orlando: The trade makes a lot of sense for a team that had the highest payroll in the league and is near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Shedding more than $12 million off the books and adding a player like Trevor Ariza who is expected to give you a similar amount of production that Bazemore was giving seems like a decent deal for ownership. We're going to see if the latter is true real soon. This deal doesn't move the needle and likely doesn't make the team better, but it is saving ownership some money. There are still moves to make ahead of the trade deadline and I’m reserving judgment until Feb. 6. This first move felt more like a team becoming a seller and punting on the season. At least Rip City got to witness the Anthony Tolliver game to beat the Hornets. It's too bad Bazemore didn’t work out in Portland, he seemed like the right fit and would flourish in this roster. Sadly, I'm signing off from "Bazemore Island" for the final time this season.
Nate: It doesn't really move the needle for me, positively or negatively. Bazemore's value, mostly because of his poor play, was not as high as we expected when the Blazers traded for him in the offseason. To me, the biggest upside of this trade is perhaps the Blazers could get more value for trading Ariza next year than they could for trading Bazemore this season. At the very least, Ariza provides the Blazers more flexibility in terms of whether they see him as a fit on next year's roster or not. If they don't, they can cut him in the offseason with minimal financial penalties. If he plays well down the stretch and Portland decides to keep him next season, then they once again have a movable expiring contract and potentially a helpful role player. Portland also created a $7 million trade exception, but as we know from the past, that doesn't necessarily mean Olshey will use it.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we talk about the win against the Houston Rockets and the upcoming NBA trade deadline. We also answer your questions and play a rousing game of Rip It!
More Blazers coverage at kgw.com/blazers
With three weeks to the deadline, the NBA trade rumor machine is whirring quietly, but there have been a couple reports about the Blazers in the past week. The Athletic's Sam Amick reported that sources close to the Blazers are downplaying Kevin Love as a viable trade option for Portland, and ESPN's Brian Windhorst said the message he's hearing that the Blazers are putting out there is they might "stand pat" at the deadline. Is this really going to be a quiet trade deadline for the Blazers?
Orlando: It would be a shame if this turns into a quiet trade deadline, but I still believe it won't be. The deadline is still a few weeks away and things haven't really even started happening league wide yet. Even though NBA insiders are saying this, we all know how the Blazers operate and not much gets out with them, especially when they are actively pursuing a deal or player. There's way too much time to accept the possibility nothing will happen by Feb. 6.
Jared: With those two reports, there are a couple things that could be happening. First, Amick and Windhorst are good reporters so let’s assume their sources are sound. The first potential scenario is that the reports are true. Maybe the Blazers don't want to trade for Kevin Love. Maybe they plan to sit out trade season. Maybe ownership values the expiration of Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore’s large contracts more than any potential return. Maybe the market is sluggish. Maybe Whiteside and Bazemore don’t have a lot of trade value. The second potential scenario is that the Blazers don’t have a lot of leverage and Olshey is trying to generate some ahead of the deadline. Every executive knows the Blazers’ most available trade pieces are the expiring contracts of Whiteside and Bazemore. Other front offices may be trying to use that knowledge as leverage against the Blazers in trade conversations. Putting out a message that Portland is unengaged could prompt front offices to improve their trade offers to the Blazers as we get closer to the deadline. I don’t know which scenario is more likely, mainly because I don’t know what ownership goals are right now. If ownership wants to save money, all bets are off. If that’s not a priority for ownership right now, then I expect Neil Olshey will do everything he can to try to make trades that improve this team.
On this week's episode of KGW's 3 on 3 Blazers podcast, we debate whether injuries are the only reason for the Portland Trail Blazers' poor performance this season, talk about what kind of trades we expect the Blazers to make this season, make predictions for the next four games, answer YOUR questions and play another rousing game of Rip It!
Get more Blazers coverage at kgw.com/blazers
2. We’re now less than a month away from the trade deadline. We touched on this in our last podcast but let’s make it a question this time. Do you think the Blazers will make a move for a top-of-the-line forward (i.e. Kevin Love) or does the organization settle for role players to better fill out this roster?
Jared: I think the Blazers are more likely to make a big move at the deadline than trade for a role player or two. This is the moment for Portland's front office. They have these big expiring contracts, they have all their first-round draft picks going forward and they have some intriguing young players they can include in trade offers. If Portland strikes out trying to make a big move, I think they're more likely to keep Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore the rest of the season and go into the offseason with some cap space to work with. I still think the Blazers will ultimately be the team that trades for Kevin Love. Portland reportedly tried to trade for him two summers ago. He reportedly wants to play for the Blazers. There's some smoke there. If the Blazers don't trade for Love, the only other top-of-the-line forwards who might be on the market are Robert Covington and Danilo Gallinari. If Covington is available, he'll be a hot commodity and could generate a bidding war. If the Blazers were willing to take back Gorgui Dieng and include some draft compensation, they'd have a chance. Trading for Gallinari is a big risk because he could leave this summer as an unrestricted free agent. Do you give up a first-round pick if there’s a chance he doesn't stick around? Seems unlikely.
Orlando: I think we're all in agreement that a trade is coming. It makes the most sense. Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes says it's hard for him to believe Kent Bazemore and Hassan Whiteside are in Portland after the trade deadline. That’s a lot of money that could return a big name like Kevin Love. I wonder who else is out there, though. The Blazers do a great job of not leaking much information, so it has many of us guessing. It seems like it's just as realistic they bring in multiple players that aren't All-Star caliber, but fill needs like defending and perimeter shooting. I won't be surprised when they go that route of settling for role players, but this is a chance to swing for the fences and bring in a player they likely couldn't get via free agency.
Nate: I feel my blood boiling again. With regards to the trade deadline, I’ve said the Blazers finally need to push their chips all in toward the goal of winning a championship over the next three years. I believe Portland needs to make a move for a top of the line forward in order to compete for a championship. They’re not going to get an opportunity in free agency or the draft to do that. But outside of Kevin Love, is there another high-level forward that will be available? There may not be. So, I think Olshey will ultimately go with filling out the roster with role players. And if that happens, Blazers fans should be disappointed. Even with a deep bench, I don’t believe a starting lineup of Nurkic, Collins, Hood, McCollum and Lillard can compete with the LeBron and Anthony Davis-led Lakers or the Kawhi Leonard, Paul George-led Clippers.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we discuss what has been going right for Portland lately (other than an easier schedule), debate whether the Blazers have the best backcourt in the NBA, and make predictions for the next SEVEN games. Plus, we answer YOUR QUESTIONS, and play a special Holiday Edition of Rip It!
MORE BLAZERS COVERAGE AT kgw.com/blazers
Buy or Sell: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum make up the best backcourt in the NBA this season. Explain.
Nate: This season, I'm buying. The only other three backcourts I considered were Houston's James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Boston's Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown, and Toronto's Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry. All three of those other backcourts are new this season playing together and don't have the long-term consistency of Lillard and McCollum. That's one of the reasons I'm going to say the Blazers' backcourt is the best in the NBA this season. Damian Lillard is having one of the best seasons of his career, and you can make the argument that CJ McCollum, after a slow start to the season, is playing the best basketball of his career. Over the last 19 games, McCollum is averaging 23.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4 assists and shooting 49% from the field, all of which would be career-highs if he could keep up that pace for the rest of the season. Lillard and McCollum have also kept the Blazers afloat despite the injuries that have taken place all around them.
Jared: The competition is in Houston with James Harden and Russell Westbrook; Boston with Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown; and Toronto with Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. I'm a disciple of ESPN's Real Plus-Minus and their ratings finally came out this week. Lillard and McCollum rank 13th and 14th overall, and in RPM wins (the estimated number of wins each player has contributed to their team's win total on the season) they rank eighth (McCollum) and ninth (Lillard). So, according to RPM wins, the Blazers have the best point guard in the game (narrowly edging Ben Simmons) and the second-best shooting guard (well behind Harden). All due respect to the duos in Boston and Toronto, but I think Lillard and McCollum are better than both (and the data backs that up). So it comes down to Harden and Westbrook. Though I think Lillard and McCollum are both better than Westbrook, Harden is so much better than everyone else that it gives Houston the nod. Case in point: The total RPM wins for Lillard and McCollum is 5.5. James Harden's RPM wins alone is 5.32. Add in Westbrook's 0.67 wins and Houston's duo edges Portland's. But just barely and only because Harden is so dominant.
Orlando: They definitely deserve to be in the discussion and have been one of the best backcourts for years now. Dame is arguably the best point guard and leader in the league, while CJ continues to be a rising star in this league, but I can't ignore the fact that this team is 12-16. Is it fair? Probably not, but I have a hard time putting them on top when I look at team success. Would you put them ahead of Russell Westbrook and James Harden? I have a hard time doing that right now. You've got two MVP level players getting it done in Houston. Their stats smash what the Blazers are doing in most categories and the Rockets are winning games.
MEET THE 3-ON-3 BLAZERS TEAM
- Jared Cowley is a digital producer who writes about the Blazers and other topics for KGW.com. Jared has written about the Jazz and Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.