Shootaround Notes: Starting A Trip Versus The Champs, Collins Gets An Opportunity And Injury Updates

by Casey Holdahl
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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround Monday morning at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in preparation for tonight’s game versus the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports NW, Rip City Radio 620 AM and streaming on the NBC Sports Gold Blazers Pass). Some notes from shootaround…

• Facing the reigning NBA champion Warriors, who also happen to have won six-straight and eight of their last 10, doesn’t seem like a great way to start a five-game road trip, especially for a team that has lost four-straight. But at least one Trail Blazer doesn’t see it that way. While beating the Warriors at home has been nearly impossible for the Trail Blazers as of late — their last win at Oracle Arena occurred over four years ago — beating the odds-on favorite to repeat as NBA champs would certainly put them on the right path as the trip turns east.

“I think it’s the perfect way to start another road trip with a great challenge,” said Damian Lillard, who was one of only two players who was on the roster the last time the Trail Blazers won in Oakland. “We need to carry over the energy and effort that we had in the last game into tonight and play free, play comfortable, play confident and go out there and try to get a win to start the trip off.”

Though the Trail Blazers have lost their last four, their performance in their most recent game, a 124-117 loss to the Rockets, the only team in the Western Conference that has been better than the Warriors this season, showed signs of improvement.

“We all know it’s a challenge, but it’s like playing Houston the last game,” said head coach Terry Stotts. “You play a good game against a good team, you give yourself a chance to win and again, there are no moral victories but it’s about playing well. That’s what was encouraging without Houston.”

• If you’re trying to find reasons to be optimistic about Portland’s chances Monday night, the absence of Warriors guard Stephen Curry is probably the first place to look. The 6-2 sharpshooter and two-time MVP will miss his third game due to a sprained right ankle, which should improve the Trail Blazers’ chances of stealing a win. Then again, Curry sitting out means the other MVP on the Warriors’ roster, forward Kevin Durant, takes on a larger role, which isn’t exactly great news for the opposition.

“Without Curry, it certainly changes the dynamics,” said Terry Stotts. Kevin Durant is handling the ball more, he’s initiating the offense more. They still have all-pros and MVPs and stuff like that so they’re still a really good team. But I think they’re running more sets, they’re not as random. I think when you put Curry on the court, he’s hard to replicate with other players.”

As for the Trail Blazers, they’ll be without both Jusuf Nurkić (right ankle) and Maurice Harkless (left quad) for the second-straight game after both players sat out Saturday’s loss to the Rockets. Damian Lillard, who is suffering the lingering effects of rolling his right ankle versus the Rockets, said that while he’s not 100 percent, he has no plans of sitting out Monday’s game.

“It’s a little sore but it feels fine,” said Lillard. “Usually I have a little injury like that and then when the game gets started I just forget about it, my mind goes other place. I should be fine.”

• Jusuf Nurkić being sidelined with a sprained ankle has opened up over 20 minutes of playing time at the center position, which has given rookie Zach Collins the opportunity to see extended minutes for the first time this season. The 7-0 center out of Gonzaga played 19 minutes, which was almost more minutes than he played in the last month combined, in Saturday’s loss to the Rockets and finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting, three blocks, two rebounds and an assist.

“I thought defensively I did pretty well,” said Collins of his first extended minutes. “Rotations, being in the right spot, being in good help side position but also knowing that I have to get back and recover to shooters. And then offensive rebounding, extra possessions, things like that, I think I did a pretty good job.”

While Saturday’s game was the first time that fans got to see flashes of the defensive instincts that led to the the former Gonzaga Bulldog getting selected with the 10th overall pick of the 2017 Draft, his teammates have seen his steady improvement during practices.

“I think we all knew that he had the ability,” said Damian Lillard of Collins. “He’s really, really talented and when you’ve got a really talented rookie like that, some of the things might be they think they’re better than they really are, think they know more than they really know and he’s always really receptive to anything you tell him. He’s constantly asking questions and wanting to learn, and because he’s like that, it allows us to tell him ‘Look out for this situation’ or ‘When this happens, this is what you should do.’ He’s been prepared for moments like last game and he’s also not scared. That’s half the battle, just being fearless and being confident in yourself as a player and he has those things.”

The Warriors will be without starting center Zaza Pachulia, who is sitting out Monday’s game due to left shoulder soreness, which likely means JaVale McGee, who absolutely demolished the Trail Blazers during Golden State’s sweep of Portland in the first round of the 2017 Western Conference playoffs, will see more action. And if that’s the case, it’s very possible Collins will be called upon to slow down a player who averaged 9.8 points on 78 percent shooting versus Portland in the playoffs last season.