Shootaround Notes: Quiet Free Throws And Memories Of Master P

by Casey Holdahl
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ORLANDO -- The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround Thursday afternoon in Orlando in preparation for tonight’s game versus the Magic at Amway Center (tipoff scheduled for 4 p.m. on NBC Sports NW and Rip City Radio 620 AM). Some notes from shootaround…

• Friday night’s game will complete the season series between the two teams after the Trail Blazers won the first meeting 99-94 at the Moda Center on November 15. In that game, Damian Lillard posted game-highs in points (26), rebounds (11) and assists (seven) while Shabazz Napier went a perfect 5-of-5 from three on the way to posting 19 points against his former team.

After getting their season off to a great start, the Magic have won just three times since facing the Trail Blazers back in mid-November. But while they haven’t been great as of late, they showed early that they have the ability to beat any team on any given night, especially when their three-pointers are falling.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” said Lillard. “They’ve got good size and athleticism, they play really hard, they play really well at home. They started off the season really good and they’ve kind of been up and down since then, but I think they’ve showed what they’re capable of to start the season. That’s what we’ve got to come in here looking forward to playing against is getting their best shot.”

• On the injury front, Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkić, who has missed the last three games with a sprained right ankle, went through a workout after the team’s shootaround Thursday afternoon in Orlando. He was upgraded from out to questionable and is expected to be a game-time decision for Friday night’s game. If he’s unable to go, Meyers Leonard, who missed Wednesday’s victory in Miami due to illness, or Zach Collins, who got the first start of his career versus Miami, and Ed Davis are the most likely candidates to get the start at center.

As for the Magic, they should get a boost with the return of forward Aaron Gordon, who was cleared to play Friday morning after clearing the NBA’s concussion protocol. The 6-9 forward out of Arizona has last two games after suffering a concussion in the third quarter of Orlando’s 103-89 loss to the Nuggets in Denver on December 8.

But the Magic will be shorthanded even with Gordon returning, with Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reporting that Arron Afflalo (back), Jonathan Issac (ankle) and Evan Fornier (ankle) all unavailable Friday night.

• Rookie Zach Collins handled himself well in his first career start in Wednesday’s victory versus the Heat, finishing with nine points, three rebounds and a block in 21 minutes. But there was one area where the 7-0 center out of Gonzaga seemed to struggle: shooting free throws. A 74 percent free throw shooter in college, Collins has made just two of his six career free throw attempts after going 1-of-4 from the line Wednesday night.

So during Thursday’s shootaround, the entire gym was hushed silent while Collins took a free throw during shooting drills. He missed.

“When it’s dead quiet it’s a little tougher,” said Collins. “When you’ve got a little noise around you, to me it’s a little better.”

Luckily for Collins, it’ll never be as silent during an NBA game as the gym was Thursday after shootaround, though getting players out of their comfort zones is one of the tools coaches use to improve player performance. It also serves as a little rookie hazing, which Collins doesn’t seem to mind.

“That wasn’t even brought on by the players, it was brought on by a coach,” said Collins of his silent gym free throw shooting. “It’s all fun man. Making it tough on me shooting free throws, I went 1-for-4 last night, so just trying to get that back. They like giving me a hard time so it’s all good, I’ll take it.”

• Finally, Master P, legendary rapper and founder of No Limit Record, will be sitting courtside at Friday’s game as a part of a promotion to raise money for the Team Hope Toy Drive for Kids Foundation. While best known for songs such as “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!” and for his label producing iconic album covers, Master P, whose real name is Percy Miller, was also good enough at basketball to earn preseason tryouts with both the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors in the late-90s.

Given that, it only made sense to ask Portland’s best known player/rapper, Damian Lillard, what he remembered about Master P.

“I just remember people always talking about how he was the only rapper that played in the NBA and stuff like that,” said Lillard. “He a big time rapper but he was in the league too, he played for the Raptors and he played for the Hornets, people used to say all kinds of stuff.

“The thing I would probably say I remember the most is when his shoes came out, the P Miller shoes, my cousin had the basketball shoe. And if I’m not tripping, they kind of looked like some Foamposites or something, like they had a Foamposite type look. My cousin had the shoes with one of his CDs and I remember if you opened up the little booklet inside of it it had all his other music that was coming out. Like, he was the first person on that marketing stuff where he had release dates for all the stuff that was coming out the next couple months or whatever and it was like all these different album covers and different music that was coming after this album was out. I’ll never forget that kind of stuff because my cousin used to be all over it.”