So, how are the Trail Blazers handling being isolated away from family and friends in the "bubble" in Orlando, Florida, for the NBA restart?
Not only are they only spending time with teammates and team personnel — which is a good thing — and perhaps opponents, the Blazers also have the unknown about the coronavirus hanging over their heads. Baseball has already postposted some series. Fortunately, nobody has tested positive, yet, inside the NBA bubble.
"Good question," coach Terry Stotts said. "I think we're handling it very well. There was some trepidation coming down here because of the unknown. We didn't know what to expect.
"We've been here three weeks, and everybody has a routine, facilities have been great both from a living and a basketball standpoint. Mentally, I don't think it's been as challenging as expected coming into it. I sent some videos to family about life in the bubble, and they said it didn't looked too bad. More than anything else, it's unique. Mental health — I don't take that for granted, but I think everybody's handling it pretty well."
As far as bonding with teammates, CJ McCollum said, "There's no one else here to hang out with."
• The Blazers start their NBA games at 1 p.m. Friday against Memphis at the Wide World of Sports Resort in Orlando.
Along with bowling, pool time and maybe tennis and golf, another thing that could keep the Trail Blazers busy is watching other games.
Damian Lillard and some of his teammates sat and watched the Lakers-Clippers game on Thursday.
Not often do NBA players get the chance to watch other teams live, because of the usually busy schedule that includes travel, games, practice and rest. But, Lillard and the Blazers will have idle time on their hands, even in the next two weeks.
• Stotts reiterated the importance of Friday's game with Memphis. Lose, and the Blazers (29-37) fall 4 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies (32-33) in the Western Conference with seven games to play "and then fighting for that ninth spot will be tough." Win, and it's a 2 1/2-game deficit.
The Grizzlies beat Portland 111-104 Feb. 12 in the teams' only meeting. For Memphis, reserve forward Brandon Clarke had 27 points on 12-of-14 shooting and rookie star guard Ja Morant had 20 points and nine assists.
Lillard and McCollum went 16 of 44 from the field, combined.
"(Clarke) got behind us too often in transition, and he was good on the offensive boards," Stotts said. "He dove hard to the basket on picks and rolls.
"It was our sixth game in nine nights. We were heavy-legged."
• Stotts on Morant: "Dynamic point guard. Really gets to the rim, difficult to guard. He's the engine that gets them going."
Said Lillard: "I love his game. He's a really good playmaker, he has a good feel for the game. He shoots better than given credit for. I just like how competitive he is."
And, Lillard also likes that Morant came from a mid-major college (Murray State). Lillard, of course, played at Weber State.
• Lillard said his left foot feels fine, after dealing with some pain, and he expects to play regular minutes starting Friday.
"This is the playoffs," he said, adding that the Blazers play only one set of back-to-back games, and because there won't be travel, players have time to rest and they live on the Wide World of Sports Resort campus in Orlando.
"I've trained, my body feels strong," Lillard added.
• No fans, no problem to find motivation for the Blazers, Stotts said.
"Once the ball is tipped, everybody will be competitive," he said. "Coaches and players will treat it like a normal game with or without fans. I do think it'll be a competitive environment."
Music, sound effects, big team colors and logs, fans on Zoom-style screens — the NBA has tried to be creative to enhance the environment for games. And, if you listen closely, you can hear trash-talking, which wouldn't be the case with fans in an arena.
"The league has made it feel like an exciting environment," Stotts said, "even though you're playing in an empty gym."
Said Zach Collins: "The whole atmosphere was weird for sure (during scrimmages). A little funky. But, you get lost in the game."
Added Carmelo Anthony: "You gotta be self-motivated in this environment. You can hear everything. ... We miss the fans, but playing in front of fans drowns out that trash-talking, (now) you hear anything from everybody, coaches and players. Playcalling's gotta be sharp because everybody's going to hear what plays are being called."
• How has Hassan Whiteside adjusted to playing alongside Jusuf Nurkic and Collins, and perhaps accepting less responsibility and playing time as a big man?
"He's been good," Stotts said. "He was slowed with injuries, missed the first (scrimmage), missed some practices, that was kind of a setback. From an emotional standpoint and team perspective, he's been terrific. It's an eight-game sprint. What I like about 'playoff' basketball, the way we're approaching it is everybody's doing what they can to help the team win. Hassan has been terrific."
• Stotts commented on Lillard's leadership recently:
"Dame probably inspires his teammates by who he is. His game speaks for itself, the way he handles himself. Same as Melo. You reach a certain level you inspire people by the way you carry yourself. Players listen to what he has to say. He speaks from the heart, speaks the truth and doesn't sugarcoat things; as young players that's good for them to hear. I'm inspired by the way he conducts himself with family, his music career, basketball, interactions with teammates and coaches. Most coaches are grateful to have great leaders and have their best player be their best leader. Look at Magic Johnson and Pat Riley, Riley and Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson."
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