Blazers look to shake off last season’s disappointing end
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Trail Blazers head into fall camp still stinging from last season’s first-round playoff sweep by New Orleans.
The trick now is not to overcorrect.
“You run the risk of overreacting to defeats, and maybe being blinded by victories,” coach Terry Stotts said. “I think it’s important that we learn from it, I don’t want our team to forget about it. I don’t want our team to forget about the feeling we had, not just after the series was over, but what we had to live through over the summer, and keep that edge. Hopefully, we use it as a learning experience.”
Portland returns the nucleus — Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic — of a team that went 49-33 last season. Apart from the early postseason exit, it was mostly considered a success.
Boosted by a 13-game winning streak that started with a victory over the Golden State Warriors just before the All-Star break, the Blazers secured the third seed in the Western Conference. They clinched the Northwest Division title for the seventh time in franchise history and went to the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
Lillard again drove the team’s success. In March he averaged 27.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.5 assists. He also set a franchise record by making 64 straight free throws. But New Orleans contained him in the playoffs. He averaged 18.5 points during the series, after scoring 26.9 per game during the regular season.
Lillard tried in the offseason to balance the positives and the negatives.
“I think I do a good job of placing my energy in the right place,” Lillard said. “I always look back and say, ‘I made another All-Star game, I was first-team All-NBA,’ that means I was one of the five best players last season. A lot went into that. .. It didn’t make up for it (the sweep) but it’s important that you acknowledge those other things.”
No sixth seed had ever swept a No. 3 in a best-of-seven series.
McCollum is focused on the future.
“You have to move on from it but it sticks in the back of your mind. It’s healthy to be upset. It’s healthy to go through that process of figuring out what you could have done better and watching film,” McCollum said. “And then you have to remove yourself from it because it’s the past.”
CONTINUITY: The Blazers have been an incredibly steady team over the past three years. Two seasons ago, they returned 10 players, last year it was 12 and this season it’s 11, including the starting lineup.
“The disappointing thing for me is that the last two years we haven’t gotten off to good starts. In January, we’re below .500. So it hasn’t manifested itself into early-season success, which you would think that having that carryover, it would,” Stotts said. “We don’t have that luxury this year.”
PORTLAND’S CURRY: One of the additions this summer was guard Seth Curry, who was signed to a two-year deal. The 6-foot-2 younger brother of Steph Curry didn’t play last season because of a leg injury, but the season before he averaged 12.8 points and 2.7 assists in 70 games with the Dallas Mavericks.
ED’S EXIT: The biggest absence this year is undoubtedly Ed Davis, who was effective off the bench and popular in the locker room. Davis averaged 5.3 points and 7.4 rebounds for Portland last season. A free agent, Davis went to the Brooklyn Nets. Portland also lost reserves Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton.
PROTEST: Outside the Moda Center on Monday a group of demonstrators displayed companion banners that read “Blazers Yes” and “Warcrimes No.” The signs were part of an ongoing protest of the team’s relationship with Leupold & Stevens, an Oregon-based company that manufactures rifle scopes and binoculars. The protest targets the company’s deal in 2017 to supply scopes for the ground arm of the Israel Defense Forces. The company sponsors a “Hometown Hero” award at each home game.
OPENING NIGHT: Portland’s opening night game is set for Oct. 18 against LeBron James and his new team, the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I think it’s similar to when he came back to Cleveland, it takes time,” Lillard said. “Anytime you bring guys in and they join a young team, a new team, I think it just takes time to gel, being on the floor together, learning each other, learning how to win together. So I think it’s good that we get them early.”
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