Rip City reloads

A mere .9 seconds is all it took for Portland’s All-Star point guard Damian Lillard to send the city of Portland into absolute mayhem and on to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. The shot that had the basketball world wondering if the Trail Blazers could be serious title contenders and putting the target on their backs for the 2014–15 season.

Portland surprised the league last year with a hot start, posting a 31–9 record to start the season, putting them in excellent position to grab a postseason berth.

A rough March kept them from nabbing home court advantage in the first round and Rip City’s Cinderella story began to fade as All-Star forward Lamarcus Aldridge went out with a back injury during a game at San Antonio, resulting in Portland dropping 9 of 17 games in the month of March, wrapping up the regular season with a record of 54–28. That mark was good enough to tie with the Houston Rockets for fourth place in the Western Conference. To finish up regular season play, the Trail Blazers caught fire again; winning 9 of 10 before heading to Houston in what had everyone in Portland on the edge of their seat for six straight games. Despite 15 of 18 ESPN “experts” picking Houston to win the first round, the Blazers found a way to steal the first two games in Houston and the series.

For some, it was a fluke season. For others, it’s just the beginning of what the young Trail Blazers are going to become in the near future. Last season they were ranked fourth in points per game, first in rebounds, ninth in assists, but 22nd in points allowed at an alarming 102 points per game. Lillard ranked No. 16 in scoring last season, just two points shy of the 10th spot, and made the third most 3-point shots of any player last season, in just his second year in the league.

With 25 percent of the vote coming from the league’s general managers, Portland’s All-Star Lamarcus Aldridge was voted the best power forward in the NBA. He is looking to match his 2013–14 numbers of 23.2 points to go with 11.1 rebounds per game. He also racked up 40 double-doubles while appearing in 69 games during the regular season. He took his dominance to another level in the postseason, averaging 26.2 PPG.
The Blazers offseason moves haven’t garnered much attention but that won’t be the case for long as Portland has found two solid players to come off the bench.

Former Blazer Steve Blake chipped in 9.5 points and 7.6 assists with the Los Angeles Lakers last season and shot 39.7 percent from behind the arc. Blake was picked up after Mo Williams wasn’t granted the contract he desired, ultimately signing with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Playing in just 39 games with an average of 18.9 minutes per game, Chris Kaman put up 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in a reserve role for the Lakers alongside Blake. Kaman will now be sharing minutes with center Robin Lopez. “I’m excited with the pick-ups. Kaman and Blake are both veterans and they’re ready to go,” Lillard said.

Thomas Robinson is looking like he might finally reach the potential he showed when he was selected fifth in the 2012 NBA draft, averaging 13.7 points on 50 percent shooting in the NBA’s Summer League before suffering a thumb injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the tournament.

Robinson seems to have found a home in Portland after playing for two different organizations in two years. The power forward was drafted by the Sacramento Kings and traded to the Houston Rockets. Fortunately for Portland, the Rockets didn’t know what they were giving up until his strong playoff showing against them the following season. Robinson will be a key reserve, bringing energy off the bench and adding to the highlight reel with thunderous blocks and scrappy play.

During the preseason, the performance from the Blazers reserves has been a testament to all the work they have put in over the summer. The organization is expecting big things from 2013 lottery pick CJ McCollum in his first healthy season after a foot injury limited him last year. McCollum’s number was called to go head-to-head with All-Star Clippers point guard Chris Paul in a preseason game Oct. 12, as Lillard sat out with a tweaked ankle. His eye-opening numbers spoke volumes about the sophomore’s potential in the league as McCollum exploded for 19 points and six assists in 26 minutes, going 7–12 from the field and 5–8 from behind the arc.

It’s an exhilarating time for the Trail Blazers and the city of Portland as head coach Terry Stotts and his players look to pick up where they left off and build upon last season’s success.