The Los Angeles Clippers clearly have their eyes on the rival Lakers as playoff seeding and matchups come down to the wire, and they even know who they want the Lakers to play in the first round if it were up to them.
According to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, Clippers players actively want the Lakers to have to face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, as they believe the Blazers could actually beat the Lakers. The sentiment is strong enough that coach Doc Rivers reportedly heard his players discussing the scenario, either on the bench or in the locker room.
The Clippers could have helped increase the likelihood of such a scenario Saturday had they lost to Portland, but they ultimately won a game that led to some serious bad blood.
As of Sunday afternoon, Portland sits a game and a half behind the eighth place Memphis Grizzlies in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot. Whoever gets it will face a Laker team that looks vulnerable, having gone just 2-4 since entering the Orlando bubble.
One can see why the Clippers would favor Portland, a team with two star guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and a sturdy interior defender in Jusuf Nurkic. Ironically, the Clippers’ win Saturday may play a big role in preventing their preferred matchup from happening.
This season the Los Angeles Lakers hold a 17-2 record against the six teams competing in Orlando for the right to inevitably lose to them in the first round of the playoffs. It remains no secret that the basketball world yearns to see LeBron James and Zion Williamson square off in a ceremonious battle of the present versus the future this coming postseason. Guidelines weren’t explicitly put in place to ensure a Williamson versus James matchup, but it seems highly coincidental that the ninth seed must finish within four games of the eighth seed to force a play-in game for the final playoff spot, as the Pelicans currently sit 3.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Memphis. Also sitting 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies are both the Sacramento Kings and the Portland Trail Blazers.
While the Kings have continued to improve since their underwhelming 15-29 start to the season, the Trail Blazers remain the most intriguing matchup for the Lakers on account of one player alone: Damian Lillard.
Legendary play-by-play announcer Kevin Calabro is stepping down from his role as the TV voice of the Portland Trail Blazers after four seasons on the job.
Portland announced the news on Wednesday.
“This was a very difficult decision to make and I want to thank the Allen family and Chris McGowan for their support and understanding,” said Calabro. “I’ll always be grateful to the Rip City fans for welcoming me into the family.”
The Oregonian’s John Canzano says the decision was Calabro’s and that the announcer was not laid off by the team.
Calabro tweeted about the announcement and said he had decided to “hit the pause button”.
Calabro began working as an NBA announcer in 1979 and served as the voice of the Seattle SuperSonics for 21 years. He teamed with Lamar Hurd to announce Trail Blazers games beginning in the 2016-17 season.
Local broadcasters will not be a part of the NBA’s bubble in Orlando. The plan is to have local announcers call games remotely from their local studios. Studio host Jordan Kent will assume the team’s play-by-play duties.
The NBA’s determination on how the order of the standings will be decided could have some significant advantages for one team.
According to Tim Bontemps of ESPN, the league has determined that the NBA’s normal tiebreakers will remain in effect. However, as the various teams being invited to Orlando will have played a different number of games, another measure will be needed to determine seeding. Thus, the NBA decided that the final order of the standings will be determined by winning percentage.
This could benefit the Portland Trail Blazers in particular. The Blazers are tied for ninth in the Western Conference, but have played two more games than rivals New Orleans and Sacramento. Thus, if the three teams post the same record in their eight Orlando games, Portland will win the tiebreaker due to having a win percentage one one-thousandth of a point better than the Pelicans or Kings.
This is an odd way to do it, but the league has little choice but to adapt to the circumstances. That’s what it has done all along, and it’s produced a pretty reasonable set of guidelines for the Orlando bubble. This one is somewhat ironic given the Blazers were the only team to oppose the 22-team plan to begin with.
The NBA’s Board of Governors on Thursday approved a plan to have 22 teams finish the 2019-20 regular season, and the proposal was one vote shy of having unanimous approval. The Portland Trail Blazers were the only team that voted “no.”
While there were likely other teams that disagreed with the 22-team format, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports that the Blazers were the only organization to do so openly.
The Blazers knew the proposal was going to be approved, so it seems like they were trying to make a point. So what point was that? ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Blazers want to resume the season but thought there were “more competitive and innovative formats” that would have been better.
Portland may also be unhappy that the NBA is not seeding playoff teams 1-16, which is one of the ideas that was floated. Instead, the top 22 teams in the league will be included in the resumption of the season, but there will still be eight playoff teams from each conference. Because the Western Conference has been more competitive than the Eastern Conference this year, 13 of the top 22 teams in the NBA are in the West. Only nine are in the East.
The NBA is holding eight more regular season games, and there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed in each conference if the ninth-place team is within four games of the eighth-place team at the end of the regular season. That means nine teams are fighting for eight spots in the East, while 13 teams are fighting for eight spots in the West. The Blazers are currently the No. 9 seed in the West and are 3.5 games behind the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies.
Had the NBA thrown out conferences altogether, two different play-in tournaments could have been held for the 15th and 16th seeds in the postseason. Portland probably would have preferred that.
Not surprisingly, it was a Blazers star who said he would refuse to take part in the resumption of the season if his team did not have a legitimate shot at making the postseason. Portland definitely has a chance, but they don’t seem happy with the format.
The NBA is exploring a number of potential formats for when the 2019-20 season resumes, and Damian Lillard says he will refuse to partake in games if the plan does not give the Portland Trail Blazers a fair shot to reach the playoffs.
One possibility the NBA is considering is to jump straight into the postseason, which would eliminate Portland. The Blazers are currently in 9th place in the Western Conference and 3.5 games back of the 8th-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Another scenario that has been mentioned is playing a handful more games so all teams reach 70, which would allow them to fulfill regional television deals. If the league opts for the latter, Lillard told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports he will refuse to play.
“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating,” Lillard said. “I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there.”
Lillard said he will show up to work and take part in practices with the Blazers, but he has no interest in playing another four meaningless games after such a long layoff. He’d love an opportunity to finish the entire season and have a shot to reach the playoffs with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins due back from injuries, but he does not want to simply go through the motions so the NBA can fulfill the terms of its TV contracts.
“I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone. It’s going to be hard to get going with no fans, you’ve been off all this time and some people are just ready for summer like, ‘[Expletive] it, I haven’t played in a long time and the season is basically over to me. Do I really care like I cared before?’ It’s going to be a lot of those factors going on and that presents a lot of room for a team to sneak some [expletive]. Like, really mess around and knock some teams off and then, ‘Oh, they’re in the Western Conference finals.’ It’s room for that with this situation. So the fact that it’s possible and we wouldn’t get an opportunity at that, that’s weak to me. I ain’t getting no younger.”
If the Blazers were somehow able to sneak into the postseason, they could be set up for a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Lillard believes Portland could be competitive in that series and entertain fans. He added that he has remained in shape but will consider that a head start in his summer training if the Blazers aren’t given a legitimate opportunity to compete.
While it would be a bold statement to sit out, Lillard can’t be the only player who feels that way. That is one of the issues the NBA has to juggle, as coming back for only a few regular season games would seem completely meaningless to teams that aren’t going to be included in the playoffs.
A survey the NBA recently distributed to executives listed several potential formats the league could follow when play resumes, and a play-in tournament was among them. That would likely be something that interests Lillard and others.
Kevin Love wants to be traded to a contender if the Cleveland Cavaliers finally decide to move on from him, and his hometown team is reportedly at the top of his wish list.
Love has his sights set on playing for the Portland Trail Blazers, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reports. Love was born in Santa Monica, but he grew up Lake Oswego, Ore., which located just minutes from the heart of Portland. He played at Lake Oswego High School and led the team to the state championship game in 2005.
The Blazers may not be considered a contender at 9-15, but Love could potentially make them one. Portland has been impacted by several injuries, including those to big men Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. Nurkic broke his leg last March and is expected to return later this season, and he and Love could compliment each other nicely with Love’s ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots from outside.
O’Connor notes that the Blazers have the expiring contracts to make a potential Love trade work. Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) and Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million) are both in the final year of their current deals, so one or both could be unloaded to allow Portland to take on Love’s $30 million salary.
Love has expressed a desire to remain in Cleveland even in the second post-LeBron James era, but the Cavs are one of the worst teams in the NBA with their 5-18 record. Love is averaging 15.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and has shown that he is still capable of playing at a high level, so he should have plenty of suitors.
People within the NBA community are slowly starting to back Daryl Morey after the Houston Rockets general manager started a firestorm by tweeting about the protests in Hong Kong, and Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts is among those who supports Morey’s point of view.
Stotts was asked about the controversy between China and the NBA this week, and he complimented NBA commissioner Adam Silver for doing an “excellent job” managing a difficult situation. He also said he sides with those standing up for freedom of speech and democracy.
The latter point is the important one. While there’s no question Morey’s tweet has sparked controversy for the NBA and could potentially cost the league billions of dollars, the GM was supporting protestors who are fighting in favor of democracy in a communist country. That should be a cause self-proclaimed social justice warriors like LeBron James get behind, but some — including LeBron — have been hesitant to support Morey out of fear that their bank accounts could be impacted.
Both Stotts and Doc Rivers have supported Morey despite the fallout, while other prominent NBA coaches have been a bit more hesitant.
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The Portland Trail Blazers made a surprisingly deep playoff run this season when they reached the Western Conference Finals, and they have proven this offseason that they are intent on keeping their core together.
On Tuesday, the Blazers agreed to a three-year, $100 million contract extension with CJ McCollum. The star guard had two years remaining on his previous deal.
McCollum has been the model of consistency for the Blazers for several years now, and he averaged 21.0 points per game last season. He elevated his game in the postseason and averaged 24.7 points, which was one of the primary reasons for Portland’s success.
The Blazers signed Damian Lillard to a max contract extension worth around $200 million earlier in the offseason, so their backcourt is now locked down for several years.
Enes Kanter had the option to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he claims he was not given nearly enough time to make a decision on his future.
Kanter agreed to a two-year deal with the Boston Celtics on Monday. He told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, however, that he had the chance to remain with Portland, but was given six minutes to decide whether he wanted to stay.
NBA free agency moves quickly. One wonders if Kanter was prompted to make a quick decision because the Blazers were making a big trade involving a center on Monday, and perhaps their ability to swing it depended on Kanter’s plans.