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broy

Brandon Roy is not your typical NBA star. In fact, he’ll tell you the word “star” doesn’t even apply. But for a writer, Roy is everything you want in an interview, let alone a player poised to lead a young team into the playoffs.

Classy.

One writer whispered the word as he passed by, with Roy genuinely taking his time answering questions after the Blazer lost at home a few games back to the Phileadelphia 76ers. Insert cliche’ here: it was a game they should have had.

Everyone knew it. Brandon – who had a non-typical Roy game – knew it. Yet there was no “both teams played hard”. No “we let this get away”. No “this is one we should have had.”

The loss hurt, but still.

No canned answers.

Classy.

Last week after putting the hurt on the Phoenix Suns on TNT, the word jumped to life with Roy.

I was busy working on a story for HOOPSWORLD about the changes going on out West with the playoffs approaching. A team like the Suns – who are always postseason shoe-ins – likely won’t make it. Portland though – a young team on the come-up – easily will.

Goodbye Shaq. Hello Brandon Roy.

Times, they are a changing.

After getting some timely words and razzing from Shaq, I wanted to snag Roy for the piece. As I ran down the hall to the Blazers locker room, I thought for sure Brandon was long gone. Game had been over about an hour at that point. But opening the door to a nearly empty locker room, there was Roy – humble and real – still talking to a couple writers. Pretty soon, it was one on one with Roy.

And as we stood there talking about his days in Seattle, his infant son Brandon Jr., and how he came to know Shaq at the All-Star Game, I couldn’t help but think of that one word.

Most of the players had bailed. Writers were off meeting deadlines. The Blazers communication team huddle in a corner making late night plans.

And Roy just smiled and talked about basketball and life.

Classy.

pic via: o-live

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Trail Blazers Knicks Basketball

Remember earlier in the season when Portland’s intensity level was often in question? Well, the Blazers pretty much killed that theory within twelve minutes on Tuesday.

On a night when Portland desperately needed to show a division rival like the Utah Jazz how legit they are, the Blazers accomplished that and then some. They started aggressive, were active and efficient – essentially providing a glimpse of how good this team really is.

The Blazers 39 points in the first quarter was the most in the opening period this season and tied a team mark for the most in any quarter.

Intense. Exactly how Portland wants to play with the playoffs approaching.

And it went a little something like this….

10:53: Brandon Roy jumper

10:29: LaMarcus Aldridge alley-oop

10:01: Steve Blake three-pointer

9:03: LaMarcus Aldridge lay-up

8:24: Brandon Roy three-pointer

8:13: Steve Blake three-pointer

7:20: Brandon Roy fade away jumper

6:46: LaMarcus Aldridge jump shot

6:24 Brandon Roy dunk

5:49: Brandon Roy lay-up

5:03 Nicolas Batum dunk

4:47: LaMarcus Aldridge freethrows (2-2)

4:13: Greg Oden freethrows (1-2)

3:59: Brandon Roy jump shot

3:33: LaMarcus Aldridge freethrows (2-2)

1:42: Greg Oden freethrows (2-2)

1:02: Greg Oden dunk

0:05: Sergio Rodriguez three-pointer

Three quarters later, Portland finished off Utah with a 125-104 win – their third straight victory of 20 plus points.

Who would have thought Portland would be sitting a game and a half back of the number two spot out West? Crazy.

Now if the Blazers can only show up on the upcoming road trip to Oklahoma City, Houston, Memphis and San Antonio.

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The Latest: Oh, how the shameless plugs pile up….let me count the ways.

Plenty of Western Conference playoff talk go on over at HOOPSWORLD, and guess who has received those assignments?

 And finally….while the Phoenix Suns are quickly fading in the postseason picture behind Dallas, questions about the offseason are already taking place.

Will Grant Hill return? Will Alvin Gentry be back?

After speaking to both guys, it’s clear they want their journey in Phoenix to last.

 pic via: washington post

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shaq

It’s tough to beat a good Shaquille O’Neal story. It really is. Even having covered the guy a number of times before, I’ve learned if Shaq is going to talk, then you better be around to listen.

After Portland put the hurt on Phoenix last night at the Rose Garden and on TNT, Shaq held court with a handful of us around in the Suns locker room.

He waxed poetic – in his signature mumbling fashion – and comical about the game for a few minutes and Portland center Joel Przybilla, whom he has history with. They’ve mixed it up before. Plenty. (check out HOOPSWORLD for his take on Joel and “flopping”.)

Somewhere in the middle, I asked what he thought of Greg Oden.

The kid’s been playing nice of late – the last two games that is.

Now, I knew Shaq would be Shaq with the reply. But you have to ask, just for the sake of getting the response from Mr. Quotatious himself. I mean, we are after all talking about Shaq here.

“I don’t,” he said when asked what he thinks of the Blazers young center.

Shaq didn’t even look my way, at least until he repeated himself first.

“I don’t.”

“I’m a Shogun. You can’t ask me about a low level ninja. I still have to worry about Yao Ming, Dwight Howard.”

Classic.

Minutes later Shaq wraps up the postgame interview and we all disperse. As I’m heading out of the Suns locker room, I hear this low, deep, mumbling voice right behind me.

“You can’t be asking me about no ninjas.”

Didn’t think he was talking to me until I turned around and there’s Shaq smiling. I turn around letting Shaq know I had to ask, even though I know full well the routine.

“Don’t be asking me about no ninjas,” Shaq said driving home the point, again with a smile.

Okay, I get it. But I had to ask. Now I know.

Don’t ask about no ninjas – and never miss the chance to speak with the Shogun.

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The Latest: With all the playoff talk floating around Portland, you have to think the Blazers could be one of those teams prepared to pull an upset once they do reach the postseason.

Got into this the other day at HOOPSWORLD – the key to shocking Rip City and actually advancing to the second round.

pic via: takegreatpics.com

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team

Knowing where Portland has come from the past few seasons, I can’t believe the Blazers winning the Northwest Division remains a possibility. Figured they’d make the postseason. Just didn’t imagine they could beat out Utah and Denver in the process.

So late last about midnight – after spending about a good five hours painting the master bedroom in my house – I had some work to do. The task: trying to figure out how Portland can get this done – win the Northwest.

The goods are running now over at HOOPSWORLD, and for me comes down to something the Blazers have played Jekyll and Hyde with all season long – winning on the road. Those two games in Texas – against Houston and then San Antonio – are going to be rough.

Think we all know what happened a couple weeks back.

With 18 games remaining (8 at home, 10 on the road), how will this race play out? Here’s the tale of the tape from here on out – with a little guessing game to boot:

Portland plays New Jersey, at Atlanta, at Memphis, at Indiana, at Cleveland, at Milwaukee, versus Philadelphia, Phoenix, Memphis, Utah, at Oklahoma City, at Houston, at Memphis, at San Antonio, versus the Lakers, at the Clippers, versus the Thunder and versus Denver.

Record: 10-8

The eight losses? I have Portland falling to Atlanta, Indiana, Cleveland, Phoenix, Utah, Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio.

That would give Portland a final record of 50-32. Is that enough to win the Northwest?

Discuss….

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The Latest: Know I am getting this update out late…..but it’s been one of those weeks. First, I think with Rudy Fernandez – who was pretty gimpy before the game – fully healthy, Portland would have beaten Dallas on Wednesday night. They missed his three-point shooting. I’m just saying.

But you still can’t argue with how the Mavericks always handle the Blazers. It’s pretty sick. Same goes with Dirk Nowitzki doing what Dirk Nowitzki does. Those two shots over LaMarcus Aldrige with a minute and under left in the game are as clutch as they come. You can’t stop that.

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roy41It was one of those love-hate moments. For the past few months, I’ve been barking about the Portland Trail Blazers being devoid of physical emotion and toughness. The Blazers were forced to bark back on Monday night.

I loved seeing Portland take a stand against the Los Angeles Lakers – a series that is constantly chippy. I loved seeing Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Travis Outlaw display some much needed chutzpah in the final seconds of the third quarter.

I just hated to see it come at the expense of Rudy Fernandez laying under the basket in pain and clutching his chest after taking a hard foul from Lakers Trevor Ariza. It was a scary time. You never want to see that happen to any player – a guy carted off on a stretcher with his neck and body stabilized.

It’s that time of season. Games will be physical from here on out.   

Roy said it best after the game (via HOOPSWORLD’s “Courtside Blog”). The foul was one thing. Ariza “bucking” (talking trash) was the final straw. That’s what got Roy and everyone else on the Blazers sidelines heated.

No need to see a fight. But I’ll take the Blazers getting fired up any day.

I’ve seen this happen before. So has Channing Frye – who was in the thick of the pushing and shoving between the Blazers and Lakers.  Sure he thought back to New York just as I did.

Back in December 2006, Frye was with New York when the Knicks and Denver Nuggets “brawled” at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks took exception to the Nuggets running up the score in a blowout when then-Knick Mardy Collins grabbed J.R. Smith around the neck on an open layup.

Soon players were shoving, posing, throwing punches and both benches got involved in the end. Frye was one of 10 players tossed, while avoiding a suspension. Seven others weren’t so fortunate.

It was a nasty incident. Didn’t have to go there. But it happens.

I’ll never forget watching from the pressbox at MSG as Carmelo Anthony threw a haymaker at Jared Jeffries only to backpedal all the way down to the other end of the court to hide behind his teammates.

A real tough guy.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed at the Rose Garden on Monday night.

Here’s the footage….getting fired up versus getting into a fight:

pic via: bleacher report

 

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oden

Let’s just have the conversation shall we. No foul in that. For the sake of debate: could it be Portland is actually playing better without Greg Oden right now?

Come on now. I can’t be the only one having these thoughts, can I?

As I stayed up way too late on Saturday night writing about how Joel Przybilla really is an unsung hero for the Blazers and that this whole Oden knee-jerk isn’t going away any time soon, that’s the thought that ran through my mind: is Portland better without him right now?

Ran through my mind again after listening to Nate McMillan say that the healing process is “a lot slower than we expected” before the Blazers/Spurs game.

Let’s recap: better without him right now?

Blasphemy? Reality.

Who would think such a thought? Me, I guess. Anyone else?

Come to think of it, I was all for Przybilla staying in the starting five when Oden came back from his first injury. Thought Oden should have earned that spot – and that has nothing to do with him being fragile. Now I can’t help but think – if and when – Oden does return, will he once again be inserted into the starting lineup.

The kid has to get healthy first. Then, he has to earn it.

It’s a legit debate: right now, are they better without him?

You consider what Portland has been able to do without him this season – going 3-3 when Oden missed six games to open the season and now moving to 5-2 since Oden injured his left knee cap – and it’s not a farfetched conversation to have.

I pressed the issue with McMillan recently. Wondered if Portland could rely on what they endured last season without having Greg available. Could that experience – for better or worse – benefit the Blazers during another episode of “Life Without Greg”.

Nate wasn’t having it…..I get that.

But still, I have to ask: are they better – right now – without him?

pic via: daylife

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Wizards Cavaliers Basketball

I’m going to make this one quick and painless. Because I was right and I was wrong – at least for the time being.

For the past few weeks, I’ve said the Portland Trail Blazers were not going to make a move. Well they did by shipping out Ike Diogu. I also said the Blazers would wait until the summer to make major moves. And they will, especially now with the team receiving $3 million in a trade exception along with Michael Ruffin (formerly of the Washington Wizards, above).

Ruffin has been injured. He hasn’t played this season with the Chicago Bulls. And who knows if he will even report – or even yet – is waived by Portland.

For the time being, Nate McMillan shared this thoughts on the trade and upcoming deadline….running now over at HOOPSWORLD.

With the trade deadline set for tomorrow afternoon, I’m sure to have another post or two.

Stay tuned.

pic via: daylife

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Gone Mental….

roy

The NBA All-Star weekend is nearly upon us, but I’m getting the feeling the Portland Trail Blazers – with still two more games before the break against Oklahoma City and Golden State – have taken their leave a bit early.

Mentally, they are already on vacation.

If Sunday’s near loss to the New York Knicks said anything, it said that. In fact, that truth was spoken last Friday night in Oklahoma City. Loud and clear.

This is in no way taking away from the shocking comeback win and late game heroics of Brandon Roy. Amazing wears number seven. This much we know. Guess Jared Jeffries ignored the scouting report about Roy’s trademark sweet lefthand scoop to the hoop– even if Jeffries did get caught on a switch.

But as I got into after the game during a postgame HOOPSWORLD blog entry, the Blazers nearly gave that one away….a few times.

I know Nate McMillan said afterwards he’ll take the win. But there is no way he takes blowing a 17 point lead, turning the ball over 14 times and letting the Knicks basically run amuck in the second half.

You can’t take that, not when the real season starts after the All-Star break.

Portland can’t afford the same costly mental lapses during the second half of the season.

pic via: o-live

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knicks

It’s been two seasons since I’ve seen the New York Knicks up close and personal. I missed their trip through Portland last season due to the flu, but having covered the Knicks for three seasons prior I was used to being sick.

The Knicks now are nothing like the Knicks then.

Slowly but surely the organization is starting to turn things around. Okay, it’s not the glory days of Frazier, Ewing or Houston. The wins aren’t there. But it sure beats the charade New York endured during the Isiah Thomas era – or error as those in the know prefer to call it.

Here’s some quick hits on the Knicks then – as I saw them for three seasons, versus the Knicks now:

Then: The Garden Gestapo tried to muzzle Larry Brown from speaking openly to the press. When Thomas took over on the sidelines, he opted for a “just tell them what they need to know” approach with the media. And even that was hard for him to do

Now: Head coach Mike D’Antoni can speak his mind and freely interact with the media….as it should be.

Then: David Lee could barely get a start.

Now: Lee is the man.

Then: Beat writers typically had their conversations with players transcribed by media relations staff members into handheld devices, where they were then sent on to upper management.

Now: All beat writers have to worry about looking over their shoulder at are the constant layoffs in the newspaper biz.

Then: Larry Brown heralded Eddy Curry as the Knicks next big man. To Thomas, Curry was an All-Star in the making.

Now: Basketball is the furthest thing from Curry’s mind.

Then: The Knicks brawled against the Denver Nuggets.

Now: They are fighting for the eight spot back East….21 wins and all.

Then: Channing Frye was part of the Knicks foundation.

Now: He can’t get off the Blazers bench.

Then: Stephon Marbury was a locker room cancer.

Now: The Knicks are close to being cured with Marbury out of the picture.

Then: Marbury said he was the best point guard in the league.

Now: He’s teamless.

Then: Nate Robinson was an out of control point guard.

Now: Robinson makes the Knicks go.

Then: Thomas hoped veterans like Steve Francis, Jalen Rose and Kelvin Cato would help lead the Knicks.

Now: D’Antoni has all the faith in the world with a youngster like Wilson Chandler.

Then: Jerome James was known as “Big Snacks”.

Now: Well, some things just don’t change.

pic via: nymag

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coach-brownI had a feeling it would go like this when Larry Brown came to Portland. I’m not talking about the Blazers steamrolling a hobbled Charlotte Bobcats either. It’s more about Brown leaving a lasting impression.

Call it “Six Degrees of Larry Brown” if you will.

There was a reason Brown held his pregame availability at 5:00 at the Rose Garden. Whereas most visiting coaches tend to hold a typical intimate press conference closer to 5:45 outside their locker room, Brown opted for the early bird special.

He had places to go; people to see. Actually, now in his 28th year in the NBA, it was more like people coming to see him.

I gotta go talk to Coach Brown….

That phrase was heard plenty around the Rose Garden on Wednesday.

First it was assistant Blazers Monty Williams who grabbed a seat courtside next to Brown. Williams played under Coach Brown at Philadelphia in 2002-03, a time Williams has told me before he will always cherish. It was in Philly where Monty came to appreciate Brown, his work ethic and also where he got to know Brown’s family.

Minutes later – as Williams and Brown parted ways – General Manager Kevin Pritchard sidled up alongside his former head coach. Pritchard won an NCAA title in 1988 thanks to Coach Brown while at Kansas, and his gratitude extends all the way back to those early days in Lawrence when Brown used to ride Pritchard in practice.

See, Brown tends to be hard on his point guards. It’s always been that way. Ask Rod Strickland, Mark Jackson, Allan Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Stephon Marbury, Raymond Felton – and of course, Kevin Pritchard – about that.

“Oh man, was he,” Pritchard said when I asked if that was the case.

“If not, I’d like to meet someone who is harder.”

But looking back, Pritchard also knows it was all for the better.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Coach Brown.”

That’s why it was refreshing – knowing the paternal relationships involved – to hear Brown heap praise on the Blazers after the Bobcats loss. He knows how far they have come and likes where they are going.

Next up is Channing Frye.

While it’s uncertain if Frye had a chance to swap “hellos” with his first coach in the league, there remains a reason in my mind why Frye’s rookie season in New York was his best yet: Coach Brown. He knew how to use “Channin” (as Brown always mispronounces Frye’s first name) and “Channin” fit well into his Brown’s system.

Poor “Channin”.

Heck, even Nate McMillan recalled before the game how he took-in one of Coach Brown’s annual summer coaching seminars a few years back and spoke fondly about what he learned from the coaching legend.

As for me, the “Six Degrees” has come full circle with Coach Brown – from one coast to the other.

My first year covering the NBA in New York, the Knicks brought in Larry Brown to help right the ship. And while the Knicks season – and Coach Brown’s tenure in New York – sunk like the Titanic, I will never forget being able to listen and talk the game with Coach Brown during pregame and post game interviews and at practice. 

It was amazing.

It was crazy.

It was truly a blessing.

pic via: upi

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