Blazers, refs foul up his return to Portland, but playing here still 'dream come true' for former Jefferson High star

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Houston Rockets power forward Terrence Jones makes a pass during Thursday's loss to the Trai l Blazers at Moda Center.When he was a youngster, Houston Rockets power forward Terrence Jones used to watch Trail Blazers games from the suite of his cousin, former Blazers point guard Last season, when the former Jefferson High star stepped onto the Blazers' floor for the first time as an NBA player, the result was not good. In 13:52, he went 0 of 2 from the field, recorded no points and had no rebounds.

In Jones’ second appearance in Portland on Nov. 5, he had even less of an impact, playing 1:01 and not taking a shot.

On Thursday night, in his first start in Portland, the 6-9, 250-pound Jones played much better, finishing with 10 points and going 5 of 10 from the field.

Still, for much of the Blazers' 111-104 victory, Jones looked like a starry-eyed kid playing against players he had idolized during his youth. He was in foul trouble throughout the game and struggled on the defensive end.

“Having been playing a lot, I felt real comfortable,” Jones said, of his performance on Thursday. “It’s just tough playing through foul trouble.”

When he was announced before the game, Jones drew a good hand for a visiting player. He estimated that he gave out at least 20 tickets to friends and family.

“I felt a lot of support from my friends and ‘fams,’ people who have been supporting me my entire career,” Jones said.

Jones drew arguably the toughest assignment on the floor, being matched up against Blazers All- Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge, two inches taller, used his size to outmuscle Jones in the post and heavily contribute to Jones' foul trouble.

While much of what Aldridge did came off defensive switches and while Jones was on the bench, Portland's leader finished with 31 points.

“Aldridge is going to get a lot of guys in foul trouble,” said Kelvin Sampson, who was coaching the Rockets while coach Kevin McHale was absent from the team due to his mother’s death. “He (Aldridge) will hurt a guy like Terrence. Terrence is very young. He’s very inexperienced.”

Jones started well, cutting through the lane and slamming home a dunk less than two minutes into the game. But, after picking up his third foul before the nine- minute mark in the second quarter, Jones was relegated to the bench until intermission.

“There were two tough ones that the refs just decided to call,” Jones said.

In the first half, Jones was 1 of 3 from the field, with two points and one rebound.

In the third quarter, Jones found his rhythm for a bit, scoring six points. Midway through the period, though, Aldridge drew Jones’ fourth foul and Jones was forced back to the bench.

In the fourth quarter, as the Blazers surged to the victory, Jones added two more points.

Sampson said Jones’ final stat line did not tell the complete story.

“He had a lot of almost plays,” Sampson said. “He drove and almost dunked it with his right-hand. He almost had a 3, but his foot is on the line. He went after a rebound and it bounced between him and Dwight (Howard) and somebody picked it up. He almost got a loose ball. He had a lot of almost plays tonight. Terrence can play better.”

Sampson’s faith in Jones’ ability to play better is based on Jones’ talent as well as the way the Portland native has come to the position he is in now.

At Jefferson, Jones was one of the most dominant prep basketball players in Oregon history. He led the Demos to three consecutive Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A championships. Jones was a nightmare for prep opponents. Because of his ball-handling and ability to consistently shoot 3s, Jefferson often played him at point guard.

The McDonald’s All-American spent two seasons with the Kentucky Wildcats, helping them win the national championship his sophomore year.

The Rockets selected Jones with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. During his rookie season, Jones was used sparingly. Playing in just 19 games, he averaged 14.5 minutes, 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds.

During the offseason, Jones became notorious across the country for allegedly assaulting a Portland homeless man.

On July 31, Jones was arrested at 2 a.m., when a police officer saw him walk by a doorway where two homeless men were sleeping in downtown Portland. The officer reported Jones yelling “wake up" and then lifting his foot and stomping on the leg of one of the men.

Jones was charged with one count of harassment, a Class B misdemeanor. He pleaded not guilty to the charge, and his lawyer claimed that Jones “tripped” over the homeless man and “may have nudged him.”

The trial has yet to take place.

Jones said the incident has not affected him this season.

“I just try to leave that as its own situation,” he said. “I’m just trying to play basketball and do what I can to make all the people that know me proud. The people that know me know that that’s not me. I’m just trying to play my game.”

At the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, it appeared Jones would continue seeing little of the basketball court. With the Rockets using a Twin Towers lineup of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, Jones was rarely in the mix through the first five games, averaging 3.2 points and .2 rebounds.

“We were committed to the Asik-Howard lineup early,” Sampson said. “When the season started, Terrence got put on the shelf.”

That lineup was scrapped, though, and Jones found himself starting as a power forward. His numbers soared. Heading into Thursday’s game, Jones was averaging 10.2 points and 6.9 rebounds.

“I’m getting more comfortable, confident,: Jones said. "My teammates have more confidence in me, and I’m just playing off them and trying to do things to help us win.”

Said Sampson: “We’re ecstatic with the way he has played. He hung in there (at the beginning of the season), didn't get down, and when we decided to go away from it (Howard-Asik), he was ready to go."

Point guard Jeremy Lin credits Jones with sparking the Rockets and helping them to their 15-8 record.

“He’s been great,” Lin said. “He probably turned the season around in terms of just coming in and doing what he does.”

Many have wondered whether power forward is Jones’ ideal position. He says the difference between the 4 and 3 spots is minimal, though.

“Playing the 3 and the 4 is the same thing,” he said. “I’m just trying to be a forward who can guard, play off guys and score when I need to.”

Playing power forward puts Jones alongside Howard in the front court. The Houston center has been impressed with Jones so far.

“I love his attitude,” Howard said. “I love his effort, I love his willingness to get better.”

Jones said there is still a lot of room for him to get better.

“I’m still new out there, and I’m trying to be able to attack and finish and shoot better,” he said. “There’s so much to add to my game. I’m just getting started.”

Lin and Howard agree that Jones will continue to get better.

“He’s matured, and he’s going to have to continue to grow and figure out what it takes to do this on a nightly basis -- which he’s already been showing,” Lin said. “He’s still learning. He’s still young, and his ceiling is very, very, very high.”

Said Howard: “He’s going to continue to grow as a player. He’s doing everything the right way. He’s coming in every day, he’s working hard after practice, he’s doing everything the right way. He needs to continue to stay humble, continue to play, not let anyone from the outside stop him from doing what he needs to do. If he does that, he’s going to have an amazing career.”

The Blazers will play at Houston on Jan. 20 and March 9. There is a chance, of course, that Portland and Houston could meet again in the playoffs.

Whenever Jones gets another chance to play in Portland, he will be living out a child's dream.

“It’s a dream come true,” Jones said. “It’s always something I want to do. Growing up, being in Damon’s suite and watching him when I was young, and watching Brandon Roy and LaMarcus, there’s so many guys who I’ve seen play in this building. To be one of them is just a great opportunity.”

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