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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off arguably their best win of the season, a 123-114 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves that marked their seventh win in a row at home.
With the team playing as well as it has all season and rumors swirling around Portland with the trade deadline just two weeks away, it's time to check in on the Blazers with another edition of 3-on-3, a weekly KGW feature.
Every Thursday, three members of the KGW sports team will answer three questions about the Blazers. You can join the conversation on Facebook during a live chat with our panel every Thursday afternoon at 3. Can't join us on Thursday? Not a problem. You can listen later on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
This week's questions focus on the meeting between Damian Lillard and team owner Paul Allen, the team's strong performance in January and predictions for the next three games.
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MEET OUR PANELISTS
- 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.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State 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.
1. The biggest story of the past week was the report by ESPN’s Chris Haynes that Damian Lillard had a meeting with team owner Paul Allen before the Pacers game a week ago in which he reaffirmed his commitment to Portland and sought assurances that the franchise’s aim is to build a title-contending roster around him. Lillard, general manager Neil Olshey and head coach Terry Stotts downplayed the report, saying the meeting did happen but it was blown out of proportion. Do you think Blazers fans should be encouraged or discouraged that this meeting took place? And do you think the front office will approach the trade deadline differently because of the meeting?
Nate: Blazers fans should be encouraged by the meeting because it means two things: 1) Paul Allen sees Damian Lillard as the pillar of the franchise and wants Lillard involved in discussions about the future of the franchise. 2) Lillard reaffirmed his commitment to Portland, and by all accounts from the report, wants to win now. For Blazers fans that are tired of first-round playoff exits with this group, Lillard's urgency to win big in the next couple seasons is good news. I don't think the meeting will impact how the front office approaches the trade deadline. Based on other reports, it sounds like Allen has already been investigating what can be done with this roster and organization to achieve more wins. With Lillard adamantly in Stotts' corner, it's obvious the pressure is on general manager Neil Olshey to work his way out of this mess he's made. And if he can't, his time leading the Blazers organization may be over sooner than anticipated.
Jared: This meeting was a good thing! The biggest news to come out of the report was that Lillard didn't demand a trade and that he wants the front office to put winning pieces around him. All good things. You want your star player invested in your franchise and this meeting proved that Lillard is definitely invested in Portland. Lillard has started to exert himself more, pursuing star players like Paul George and Carmelo Anthony through social media and direct communication last offseason, and now letting ownership know exactly where he stands in regards to this team's immediate future (he’s not interested in a rebuild). I don’t think this meeting will effect much change in how the front office approaches the deadline. Olshey has been trying to put winning pieces around Lillard and I think he’ll continue to do that. He pursued George and Anthony last summer, and according to reports, he’s reached out to the Clippers about DeAndre Jordan and the Bulls about Nikola Mirotic. All of those would classify as win-now moves. I expect the front office to continue to pursue star players when they are made available, while attempting to protect valuable roster-building assets like first-round draft picks and young talent.
Orlando: When was the last time you met with your boss’s boss? For most of us, not very often. That alone, got my attention. If the report is true, that Damian Lillard and Paul Allen have never talked on this type of level, that says something. In my second season covering the Blazers, it was a first for me, seeing Allen by the locker room. If you’re a Blazers fan, you gotta like that Lillard is stepping up and having a legitimate conversation with the owner about the future of this team. Lillard is in the prime of his career and the clock is ticking. This team isn’t good enough to win a championship right now and there’s some urgency to get there. Terry Stotts is probably right, he mentioned multiple star players who have met with owners around the league, but it’s reportedly not often that it happens in Rip City. Minimum, Lillard has opened a line of communication to the top and Allen values his top asset enough to hear him out.
2. January is almost over and with little fanfare, the Blazers have put together a pretty good month. Portland is 8-5 with wins against the Timberwolves, Pacers, Thunder and Spurs. They rank third in offense this month, averaging 112.5 points per 100 possessions. Their defense has taken a big step back. They rank 26th this month in defense, giving up 110.7 points per 100 possessions, and have fallen to ninth overall for the season. But this month, the team has multiple quality wins, a winning record, a positive net rating, and a return to elite offense. What do you think is responsible for the team’s improved play this month? And is it sustainable?
Jared: I have to give credit to Stotts. The players deserve praise — just about every player in the rotation is playing their best basketball of the season right now — but Stotts put them in situations where they can succeed by finding some lineups that really hum together. The Blazers' starting lineup of Lillard, CJ McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkic, which debuted back on Dec. 9, is outscoring teams by 9.5 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. And in January, the Blazers' second-most used lineup, featuring Shabazz Napier, McCollum, Turner, Aminu and Nurkic, has a net rating of 9.8. The third-most used unit, with Napier, McCollum, Pat Connaughton, Zach Collins and Ed Davis, has a net rating of 24.9. The three-guard lineup featuring Napier, Lillard, McCollum, Aminu and has a net rating of 20.7. Barring injury, the Blazers should be able to sustain this level of play the rest of the season, even with a more challenging schedule. It’s not like the January schedule has been a cakewalk. Nine of the Blazers’ 16 games this month are on the road with 10 of the 16 against teams with winning records, and Portland has fared well. If the Blazers continue to win games at the same rate they have this month, they'll go 21-13 the rest of the way and finish with 47 wins.
Orlando: I’ll take wins over rankings and ratings. I’m sure the Blazers do too. You gotta ride the wave with this team, the defense has taken a step back this month, but big picture the defense still ranks ninth overall. I think there’s been a focus on an improved offense and maybe there’s been some slippage on defense because of it. I’m not concerned about the defense at this point. Consistency is the question, but hasn’t that been the case all year?
Nate: I think Lillard being forced to sit out a few games was a big factor for the uptick in the Blazers offense. It made other players take on the scoring responsibility. They had two choices: Elevate their game or slump and potentially let the season slip away. To the Blazers' credit, they stepped up. And when Lillard came back, he found his shot that had escaped him all season. Prior to the injury, he was shooting 41 percent from the field and 34 percent from beyond the arc. Since his return, he's shooting 50 and 44 percent, respectively. The Blazers are also taking better care of the ball, the ball movement is crisper which is resulting in more assists, and they're taking and making more 3-point shots. We know the Blazers can maintain this level of offense because we've seen it the past two years. What's yet to be seen is if it will result in more wins in the second half of the season, like we've seen from the Blazers the last two seasons.
3. Prediction time! The Blazers play three games between now and the next time we meet. On Friday, they travel to Dallas to take on the Mavericks (16-32), then they’re off until Tuesday when they play the Clippers (23-24) in Los Angeles. They’re back in the Moda Center the next night for a home matchup against the Chicago Bulls (18-30). Which games do the Blazers win and which do they lose?
- Jared: 31-17
- Nate: 31-17
- Orlando: 31-17
Orlando: The Blazers have a great opportunity to keep the momentum going. Dallas is a bad team, but this will be a close game away from the Moda Center. Portland shot lights out to win the last meeting less than a week ago. This will be a grind-out game, but I’ll take my chances and bank on a Blazers road win. Then it’s on to L.A. where DeAndre Jordan should be closer to 100 percent to team up with Blake Griffin and Lou Williams. I’ll take the Clippers to beat the Blazers again. Then it’s back to Portland for a win over a struggling Bulls team that should be in tank mode. This week, the Blazers go 2-1.
Nate: I'm going to say the Blazers go 2-1 over the next three games. I think they're going to get to five games above .500 for the second time this season with a road win over the Mavericks. And even though it's road-to-home back-to-back, I think Portland will win a close game against the Bulls at home, where the Blazers have won seven straight games at Moda Center. I'll pick the Clippers to beat Portland on the road. Blake Griffin, like DeMarcus Cousins, is a player who I think presents a matchup nightmare for the Blazers. Behind another strong Griffin performance, I'm going with the Clippers.
Jared: I think the Blazers have a shot at their first four-game winning streak of the season. I'm going all in and picking them to go win all three of these games. The Mavericks aren't a very good team, even at home, where they're 10-16. Blazers win. The game against the Clippers will be tough, but they've watched their defense fall apart during a three-game losing streak in which they've allowed 121.3 points per game. The Blazers' improved offense will carry them to victory in Los Angeles. The Bulls are a tough nut to crack, but they've come back to earth a bit after a strong December. They're 5-7 in January. Even with the Blazers playing the second game of a road-home back-to-back, I'm picking Portland to win this one for their first four-game winning streak of the season.
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