Mar 16

The New Era Starts with a Bang

By mikebarrett

Following an emotionally-draining day, near the conclusion of a disappointing and eventful seven-game road trip, comes one the most dramatic wins for the Trail Blazers in recent memory.  You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.  Reality truly is better than fiction.

You know to expect the unexpected, or at the very least to never rule out the totally unexpected, but I’m not sure I even let myself consider this as a possible ending to this night.  I should have, but I didn’t. 

After trading two-fifths of their starting lineup, and firing their head coach on Thursday, to then beat the team with the NBA’s best record, and do it on their home court, one game after they had humbled the Miami Heat?  Please.

Jamal Crawford, who wasn’t even expected to be a Blazer heading into the final moments of the trade deadline, told me in the hotel lobby Friday morning, “I’m so thankful I’m still here.  We’re making the playoffs.  We’re not mailing in anything.”  I wanted to believe him (on both counts), and did my best to imagine Portland drastically turning things around.  But, I’ve been on courtside for these couple of losses.  Understand?

Never underestimate the power of belief.  Say what you want about Kaleb Canales, he believes.  As everyone said after he was unexpectedly hired as the interim head coach of the Trail Blazers, the players love him, respect him, and believe in him.  They were out to show everyone that at the United Center on Friday night.

It was clear the Blazers were playing with a different level of confidence and focus, even in the early stages of the game against the Bulls.  But, that much was very predictable.  There’s a very wide gap between coming out fired up, and then actually sustaining that, coupled with poised play, for a 48-minute NBA game against a dominant opponent.

Chicago expected to get Portland’s best.  They were firing on all cylinders in the first half, shooting 55 percent at halftime, and led by three points.  But, they could never shake the Blazers.  Near the end of the third quarter, they took a 79-71 lead, and looked to be perhaps ready to pull away.  But, Portland fought back again and trailed by just one point heading into the fourth.

Knowing the Blazers were 0-20 when trailing after the third quarter this season, and Chicago was 31-0 when leading, nobody inside the arena appeared too concerned.  But, Portland’s run was just getting started.  They continued to hit big shots, but more importantly absolutely locked down Chicago defensively in the final 12 minutes.

The Bulls, who had been so sharp with their offense most of the night, were suddenly stagnant, and fighting to find ways to attack a swarming Portland defense.  Chicago ended up shooting just 3 for 23 in the fourth.  The Trail Blazers ended the game on a 28-10 run, and won the game 100-89.

After the game concluded, Canales gathered his players together and told them he loves them, and believes in them.  He had tears in his eyes when he approached me for the post-game interview, so, I tap danced for a moment to give him a second to take a breath.  I don’t remember much about the interview, only that I was interviewing this kid that I have known for a decade, who is now in charge of an NBA team, and had just beaten the cream of the crop.

In the locker room I saw Crawford heading for the shower, and he said again, “we’re making the playoffs.”  He also said, “I only had 8 points tonight, but it felt like I had 30.  There’s a reason I’m still here.”  LaMarcus Aldridge told me this was the most fun he’s had in a Blazer uniform.  Nic Batum said he was so proud of his teammates.  Nolan Smith didn’t seem that bothered that Duke had just been upset in the big dance.  Even Joel Przybilla, who turned down Chicago and Miami to come back to Portland, had a smile on his face that was pure Joel- that look like he’s trying not to smile, and is embarrassed that he can’t stop.

I don’t know what’s going to come out of this.  I don’t know if it was just one night, or if we’ve really stumbled on to something.  But, right now I don’t really care.  This was a good night for the Trail Blazers, and a very good night for all of their fans.  You deserve it. 

One more and we head home.  Talk to you from OKC.



  1. During that interview with Kaleb, you also had the biggest smile I've ever seen on you, MB. Ear-to-ear doesn't begin to cover it.

    by dgpdx on 3/16/2012 10:18 PM
  2. Loved the intesity, game started off with the energy feel, but LA was not hitting at all. Batum stepped up very nicely, and in near all star far, just put on a clinic scoring 15 points; oh, Felton and smith helped in this clinic. Early in the second half I felt Batum get stagnant on offense but saw LA warm up, and Crawford hit a big shot. In the fourth I saw LA and Mathews Take over. Our defense dared them to shoot 3's and we won the dare. I was not only happy to see the energy in the team, but also loved how when one player was not hot anymore someone else stepped up. Such a well balanced attack will beat anyone in the league.

    by jamsmashers on 3/16/2012 10:24 PM
  3. Nice one Mr. Barrett. Almost made me happy for the W. I AM happy for Kaleb though, that's a great story.

    I will be very, very interested to see what happens Sunday, and especially, to see the reactions of the fans :)

    Good night!

    by SisillaRiann on 3/16/2012 10:24 PM
  4. I had my doubts but I'm so glad I was wrong and even though I like Nate, Marcus and Gerald this change was needed very badly,


    by Tom Foster on 3/16/2012 10:31 PM
  5. what i saw out there were guys not hanging there heads after making a mistake and getting back on defense. the bulls commentators kept mentioning how slow pryzbilla is. i have to agree, he's not fast but he defends the paint better than most in the nba. and i just love the fight he has in him. meet me after... that's old school style for you right there.

    babbit and n. smith are looking more and more comfortable out there. it is so nice to get something from everyone and it looks as though everyone on the team truly believes.

    congratulations to coach kaleb on his first win. i was impressed with his substitutions and his timing of substituting. it was obvious that he wanted the guys to play freely and they did. and it worked.

    i'm very excited about this team again. i'm happy to see heads held high. we have talent and we've got a coach that knows how to use it.

    go blazers!

    by thedanman on 3/16/2012 10:44 PM
  6. What a great win Mike! Since I'm busy studying, haven't been able to watch, but it's just wonderful knowing we regained some footing and more importantly, a better mindset going into these last 20 games or so. Though I didn't witness the last few weeks, it was painful enough knowing the team and of course, us fans were having to witness our team going through whatever internal things were happening that were translating onto the not so great effort on the court.

    It'll be interesting to see how we do at OKC - we've given them good battles, but they are one tough and consistently good team to say the least.

    As long as they fight hard, I think we can all be satisfied, no matter the result, as it was clear that the effort was missing recently.

    Great to see the positive emotions flowing after a long time with this team.

    by Anees on 3/16/2012 10:55 PM
  7. Well butter my bread and call it toast. That was surprising. Haven't felt that excited to be a Blazer fan since... jeez... I don't remember when.

    by Herr on 3/16/2012 11:11 PM
  8. Mike, as you know, Kaleb Canales is such an inspiring story. I really hope he ends up being the permanent coach after the season (and Chad became the permanent GM -- that's another topic). The Blazers listen to Kaleb and respect the heck out of him and that's very important in the locker room. I love the culture he is creating with it. I also liked the new offense sets he put in there to create more spacing; something the team was surely lacking. And most of all, the players are having fun again because of him. Hiring anybody else if this keeps up would be a mistake.

    It was so touching to see Kaleb in tears when you were interviewing him. My wife and I were so happy for him. That is as special as it gets. Blazer basketball just got fun again!

    by Shem on 3/16/2012 11:15 PM
  9. Was it me or was Lamarcus the most upbeat and excited that I had ever seen him in that post game interview in the locker room? It was such a breath of fresh air to see all the guys back with a smile and to be enthusiastic about the future. I am also glad to hear that Crawford still is optimistic about the season dispite all of the trade rumors (not that I expected him not to be). Job well done.

    by slade91 on 3/16/2012 11:20 PM
  10. Wow, Mike what a game. I kept expecting the Blazers to quit or run out of gas, but Kaleb kept running fresh legs in and if a player was hitting he left them in. I was really surprised that Rhino stayed in so long and he does great. A different game than LMA and sometimes that is what we need.
    I am still upset about losing Nate, then the team plays good, but since I can't control that, I will just enjoy the win. I thought that Chicago would be down after that emotional game and may have been looking past us and we caught them at the right time. We have been there after the OKC game, and now it might be before the OKC game, but I sure hope there is not to much of a let down.

    It sure should make a more confidence team anyway.
    lets work together to make it better.

    by Hg on 3/16/2012 11:26 PM
  11. Like all of you, I had a lot of fun watching this game. Let me just single out Wesley Matthews as a player who looked more relaxed than we've seen him all season. He's been pressing and pressing, and all of a sudden he had a new ease and flow and confidence in his shot, and looked like the Wes who was such a great addition last year. Of course I was happy that the idea of actually using the bench guys worked out so well, but their good work was the same story; guys were just doing their best and not tying themselves in knots from fear of making a mistake. Nolan made a few glaring mistakes, but he also made some big plays, and you felt that he'll come away remembering that he contributed, while listening eagerly to advice on how to correct the errors. Don't know how long this upbeat mood will continue, but I'll do my best to enjoy it while it lasts.

    by Islander on 3/16/2012 11:50 PM
  12. I don't remember the last time I enjoyed a game as much as this one. I think the difference was our bench which is surprising considering we had to reach so deep since we lost two starters.


    by mgb on 3/16/2012 11:59 PM
  13. Finally the kind of play we wanted to see from our Blazers. During the NYK game all the people on the live chat were pretty discouraged and repeating that all we could do was go up from there. We were all trying really hard to believe it. So we were cautious in our hope during the chat tonight. No one foresaw things going up quite so much. Hopefully this is just the beginning. If anything at least tonight it was a good night to be a Blazers fan.

    Lets go, Blazers! :)

    by Niki C on 3/17/2012 12:37 AM
  14. Can anybody feel for Elliot Williams?

    by Hg on 3/17/2012 2:40 AM
  15. Hey all. Hi Hg, bro. I really have to say the same thing that everyone is saying. That was a fun game to watch. I just had to get on here again since I have only been here once this year. Lots of work and really no time, but this was a must. OK, I have been saying this for a while. "the team will play better if they are having fun". That game proves it. Nate brought this team out of a bad blazer era and into the light, but he lost the team and had run his course here. He really had to go. I know Hg, but really look at it and you know that is the only thing to do with what has been happening as of late. I think we may be loosing our owner soon too. Maybe he will fall in love again, if Kaleb and the team can keep this thing going this way. I don't know if he can and right now it doesn't matter to me much. What does matter is what I saw at the end of that game. Emotion! Something I haven't seen in a while. Maybe all these guys needed was a HUG and someone to believe and trust in them and to be there with them. Someone they consider a friend. Who knows! I know it was the most fun to watch that I have seen in a long long time. Good stuff right there. Don't tell anyone but it brings a tear to my eyes to see all that emotion. Hey Mike, YOU BIG SOFTY! lol Yea, me too. lol. "IT'S A GREAT DAY TO BE A BLAZER"! Sorry Wheels, just had to borrow it.

    by mfre1111 on 3/17/2012 5:20 AM
  16. Well done Portland. Congratulations Kaleb. The youngest head coach to ever win a NBA game. The first Mexican born head coach in NBA.
    His first game he puts in what he called a little wrinkle. He put LMA and Joel at the elbow facing the basket to create spacing. Sure the energy was high but I liked that approach. It gave everyone room to operate.
    This win may be fools gold but it is gold in color. Somehow I get the feeling our boys won't soon forget how every team has beat them down. There is a new fire burning now.
    Mike you mentioned how nice the weather has been on this trip. For two hours yesterday the sun shined brighter here than it has in a long time.
    That was fun. GO BLAZERS!!

    by Divotking on 3/17/2012 7:26 AM
  17. Hey mfre1111: Long time buddy;
    Yes, I understand that Nate had to go, Kind of like a divorce, sometimes neither person is at fault they just grow and go in different directions. If indeed there was a mutiny to get rid of him then ya that ticks me off. Nevertheless, I am a Blazer fan and have learned to adjust to different coaches and different players.

    I was watching the Adam and Sarah team the other day, and Sarah was talking about going to miss GW because he was her favorite, but she was OK with it and she is in the mode of whatever it takes to MAKE IT BETTER. I don't remember the exact quote, but of course, I had been in quite a funk and had already summarized that the team wasn't playing BB, and was quitters. That is rough on a Homer such as me, Long short, I took that statement as my new motto, and yes I can see that dismissing Nate made it better; that is not saying that kaleb is better or worst, just at this time can get the players out of their funk, and really that is what it is about.

    I have mixed emotions about some of the players, as a team it was terrific to see them play, but as individuals I hate to see them win like this, at the expense of the coach.

    by Hg on 3/17/2012 7:50 AM
  18. I'll be danged, never would have thought that possible. I'll say this for sure — there is NO WAY that bunch of jumpshooters in Chicago are going to beat the Heat this year.

    Terrific performance. Actual Blazer defense was seen at times and Joel getting chippy with Boozer was like Old Time Week. Joel still can't jump and his timing is still off so that he's no longer a world class rebounder, but at least he's moving better this season. I'll take his intensity over the laid back, mundane, bored and boring approach of his predecessor any day of the week.

    At the start of the year I felt that this team would go just as far as Nic Batum could carry them and i still think that's right.

    by Carrite on 3/17/2012 7:54 AM
  19. It's fun to play when you have options and are given the freedom to decide what the right thing to do is. It's fun to play when you aren't worried about being sent to the bench if you miss a shot, or a pass. Playing relaxed and playing as a team does make a difference. Thank you Coach K.

    by Mieke Appel on 3/17/2012 7:58 AM
  20. Divotking:
    I was confused as why Joel was out there facing the basket, because he is not great at shooting from there, the Chicago announcers was say the same thing. But guess what Joel doesn't have to make those shots and he doesn't have to dribble in gracefully, if they don't guard him he can make those shots and the defense has to play him honestly. Now, can you imagine of Okur was actually healthy and was out there with the ability to shoot outside and drive. That explodes my mind. Kurt can already play that position and can burn anybody that doesn't guard him.

    I was having a debate with a poster from one of the varies sights I post on, it may have easily been you, since I read so much to learn, I forget the source; We were debating Nate's style because I said until the Blazers learn to do something different all teams we play knows what we are going to do everytime down the floor, and they all know what it takes. sag to the middle making it easy to double team LMA and dare the jump shooters to beat them. The poster said if we played outside in, compared to inside out, which wasn't working anyway, because by sagging back they had the passing lanes and driving lanes pretty much shut down, the poster said pass the ball around the horn make the defense scramble leaving shooters open for drives to the basket and even making some shots because they are more involved in the offense. With LMA being able to shoot like he does his game opens up and he gets easier shots. Anyway that is what I thought I was seeing last night. I sure like it and we don't get in the grind it out mode with LaMarcus. being the only scorer.

    by Hg on 3/17/2012 8:33 AM
  21. Hg;
    Pryz won't make any shots from out there. He will set screens. He knows when to slide down for the offensive rebound.
    LaMarcus has always been an outside threat. He came into the league with those skills. Nate forced him into the low post. His back to the basket. LMA developed that part of his game. With big help from Bill Bayno. (I sure miss that guy) Now LMA has both skills. Nate's time was not wasted here. It was part of the process.
    It's a new time now.

    by Divotking on 3/17/2012 8:54 AM
  22. A win sure brought out the bloggers. Nice to see Nolan and Luke get a chance. We'll see how long the enthusiasm lasts. They played defense for the first time in a long time. I hope it continues.

    by Ancientone on 3/17/2012 9:17 AM
  23. That was a game by a team that gives its all. This is a team I am proud of and its good to be a Blazer fan. They made each other better all night.

    by dguyer on 3/17/2012 10:24 AM
  24. Obviously the win was great. It was the first time in several weeks where the team played hard for 48 minutes. The highlight of the night from a comedy standpoint came from Mike Rice. Joel won a jump ball from Asik and the shot clock went to 24 seconds and then was changed to five seconds. Mike Rice rips off his headset and starts yelling at the refs. The entire time MB is keeping his cool and looks as though he is keeping all of the paperwork in order while keeping Rice off of the mic. Good job MB. You have to love Rice's passion there.

    by Danimal on 3/17/2012 11:47 AM
  25. congrats to the blazers. congrats to the new head coach. congrats to the fans.

    winning doesnt cure everything. i am still very upset and could possibly use some not so nice words towards several of the players left on the team.
    i am still a diehard blazer fan, and still watched the game. but i'm unable to be excited or cheer for this team at the moment. i'll cheer for certain players on the team to do well and cheer for good basketball, because i'm a fan of the game.
    winning does not cure everything.

    by Brandon Weinant on 3/17/2012 11:53 AM
  26. Good job Kaleb

    by carmenL on 3/17/2012 1:11 PM
  27. I had to repost this. after all of the new post that just deleted for some reason. And sorry this is so long, but it's all part of my frustration. I'm going to vent and let out my frustrations because we all need a moment to be sad and real distraught at what has taken place over the past couple of years. First off I really regret waiving Oden. Don't come at me debating about anything because now's not the time, rather ignore debate and controversy over a random blog and hear this.. what if he becomes the monster we saw him in 21 games of that 2009-2010 season. I looked back at those 21 games and I saw so much promise. What if all of a sudden he never gets injured again for another team and is like Shaq for the future? If I were a manager i'd plan on keeping him til his demise like Roy. I mean it's your #1 pick. I would do the same with KD. I know i sound like i woke up the night after Oden went down but it can't end like this really? For anyone out there saying "look at this guy, venting wasting time and wasting our time" but i feel like HG right now and we should all be if were passionate. As fans we should be distraught at how everything just fell apart. We were supposed to be champs early this decade with all those guys we had. What happened? Well time to turn the page on this.

    Looking at it now, I agree we shouldn't look to make a quick fix anytime soon like adding another GW or replacing Felton because i feel we'll just keep depleting. We need to build again, get another piece and maybe a couple of draft picks, build those around Batum, Aldridge and the rest of the guys. I want that (youngest team in the league and scary) feeling the media kept giving us again when we had the fresh legs of the like (outlaw, webster, fernandez, batum, all centered around not including Oden) Aldridge and Roy. I really hope if were going to start over, we don't start over all the way back when we brought in McMillan because nobody wants this team to sink to 21 wins next year. Rather we should backtrack to 2009 before all the injuries when we had this idea and let's just roll with it. With a little spice added (new coach and team philosophy.) So from that we need a GM. I also really miss K.Pritchard now because of all of those moves he made to get this team where it was supposed to be. We're so lucky he made the move before his time ran out in getting EW because we need another key player along with Aldridge and we also need another key big man! this upcoming draft. I'm thinking we can test-drive EW, and i'm hoping he's the one! but if it's him and Aldridge (I've also come to conclusion that Batum is going to be more of a Tayshaun Prince for his whole career, only good in many areas but will never elevate to that superstar status like Roy because I've been hearing ppl say that so please get it out of your head) then we need to add another big and build around these 3. Not one like Oden, more like Jared Sullinger who is more complete. One who has no problem getting up and down the court, hasn't had a past of injuries and has a complete game offensively and defensively. To pair him and Aldridge together would make a monster team! But it all It started with a win in Chicago last night, so let's do this!!

    by Ballinrotation365 on 3/17/2012 4:08 PM
  28. I was glad League Pass had the game on late on the west coast as I am not in Portland right now. The game was so much fun to watch. The only problem was having to listen to the Bulls announcers who were totally flabbergasted that the Blazers won it and that Joel beat out Asik on the jump ball. I really liked getting to see so much more of the bench and for some quality playing time. It was a great start to a new era. Well done, Coach K and Trailblazers!

    by allie-oop on 3/17/2012 6:43 PM
  29. This is from an ESPN article about the Blazers reboot:

    "The 'new' backcourt of Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford simply didn't produce much in the way of defense and quickly became a target of McMillan's ire as he chewed both players out in front of the team at a film session."

    Chewing out veterans in front of everyone, including the young guys? This kind of "coaching" is probably not conducive to building respect and getting the best out of those thus chewed.

    Seems like Nate let his frustrations get the better of his judgement and thereby lost the team.

    by dgpdx on 3/17/2012 8:11 PM
  30. Well I haven't wrote anything in a while, but now I think it's time. I still think Raymond is too fat. Any pro that has to play his way into shape makes the whole team suffer while they burn off the fat! We are not going to make the play offs. I'm not being negitive just truthful. It was fun watching the game and I hope to see this team grow. Lottery! Yea!

    by civilhold on 3/18/2012 1:29 AM
  31. Don: I had read something of that effect earlier, and that is where the Mutiny rumor came from, You can add to the fact that publicly he through Batum under the bus, by saying that we all see the great shot blocking from behind, but lets his man score down low or something to that effect. Therefore if those two things came out with all his and the teams frustration, I am sure there were other encounters that we haven't heard about. All in all there were plenty of reason's to lose the players, but the main thing is the team he has now and the team he brought to the play-offs is completely different; it may be the fact that they just grew apart.

    You and I are from the old school, if things get tough we get tougher, but the new generations with marriages included goes with the motto, if things get tough then it is time to move on. So the days of the Nagging coaches, and Parenting with hard love may be the things of the past.

    For all that my new motto from Sarah is whatever it takes to make it better, but that does not include Tanking CIVILHOLD :>)

    by Hg on 3/18/2012 3:08 AM
  32. That was an amazing game to watch. The guys played much more free than they did with McMillan. I think the freedom Coach Canales gave them and the power to make their decisions was huge. It is like LaMarcus said in the postgame interview that this game was the most fun he has had in any game in his career.

    It is refreshing to see the way the team responded to all of what happened on Thursday. The players love Coach Canales. My hope is that they keep playing hard for him. Maybe Crawford is right. Just maybe we could still make the playoffs. I want to see these guys go for that.

    by Angi on 3/18/2012 9:17 AM
  33. Oklahoma: Halfway into the third is where we really started to pick up the intensity. Lamarcus didn't start playing hard until the fourth quarter. If we would have played four quarters like that fourth we could have won.

    The first half it looked like Felton dribbling a lot, driving and then looking to see if anything was available when the defense collapsed. I liked the idea but a lot of the guys seemed unsure of where to be and when to cut.

    Batum and LaMarcus are two guys that must produce offensively for us to have a chance against good teams like Oklahoma.

    I was happy to see us scrapping out there. At least we are giving ourselves a fighting chance.

    Go Blazers!

    by thedanman on 3/19/2012 4:00 PM
  34. The kid is tall. He barely fit in the tv screen. Talking about HT.
    Maybe Johnny will find new life.

    by Divotking on 3/19/2012 4:57 PM
  35. was waiting for Mike to post a fresh blog before I added any comments, but...since it's looking like that won't be until after the next game, here's my thoughts on the last 2 games and the recent changes now that I've had a chance to see how they might affect the rest of this season:

    Chicago: What a game. Who'd have thunk it? I expected the Blazers to play with new life and energy, but I wasn't expecting them to actually win that game. And it's not like the Bulls played poorly. Yes, they were without Derek Rose. But really I don't think he would have been that much of a factor. The things I really liked about that game: The Blazers won it with defense and hustle, especially in the 4th quarter. All the guys played, and all the guys brought something to help the team.

    OKC: Not quite a win, but another valiant effort, imo. The Blazers defense seemed a little more sluggish in this game, but still the guys didn't just quit. They kept trying to battle back. There were a lot of good look shots that just didn't fall, and that truly was the difference in this game. Add to that the rather poor job done by the refs (why does OKC always seem to get favorable reffing when they play us?), and it's actually a wonder the Blazers weren't blown out by 30.

    In the end I like the new energy and hustle the blazers have found, and I hope they can keep it coming. Their playoff hopes for this season are definitely looking brighter, but they still have a long ways to go and that April schedule is just plain brutal.

    Also, i realize it's only been 2 games, but I like what I'm seeing out of Coach Canales. He's manged to get guys fired up and hustling, which is something Nate ALWAYS struggled with. I, for one, am hoping that we truly give him a chance to prove himself and maybe have that "interrim" part of his new title dropped.

    by soulseeker on 3/20/2012 11:59 AM
  36. I think it was someone at ESPN who said the Blazers should have fired their coach or done the trades, but not both. I think he was right. We're tanking, but with the firing of the coach the players are rejuvenated. At least this is a deep draft. We can get value at even 15.

    by ascreamingcomesacrossthecourt on 3/23/2012 10:57 PM
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