Cliff Pfenning's blog

Blazers are playoff-building bound

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 10:03pm
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

The Memphis Grizzlies haven't been a secret for some time in how they've been developed during a season - they're built for a playoff run. Incredible how that can be said when Zach Randolph is one of their starters, but the deliberate and physical style of play they have says "we want to make every possession count."

In the past four seasons, they've been past the first round twice, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2013. The other two seasons, they lost in the first round - in seven games each time.

Heck, if they've had Greg Popovich as coach, the Grizzlies might have an NBA Title or two in the trophy case.

So, how can the Portland Trail Blazers create that same reputation around the NBA? That's going to be quite a challenge this summer for General Manager Neil Olshey with the team facing that prospect soon by trailing the Grizzlies 3-0 in their first-round series.

The Blazers have pieces of a playoff contender in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, but the third part of the planned threat - Nicolas Batum - has never played up to his role. Perhaps it's time to see what his value is on the open market. This summer.

With only one playoff series win in the past 14 seasons, and only two seventh games since 1990, Portland just hasn't gotten the playoff excitement its fans crave.

Somehow, there's a gameplan that hasn't gotten on the chalkboard that will get Portland into some form of playoff run it hasn't been in since the days of Clyde, Terry, Duck, Buck and Jerome.

Aldridge is a player. Lillard is a player. CJ McCollum appears to be one who can take his place in the building process.

Olshey is in need of being a player himself this summer. Portland is a wierd place that remains calm during the summer, making solid moves like bringing Robin Lopez in at center two summers ago. But, that move got only one playoff series win. Snagging Aaron Afflalo at the trade deadline this season didn't make an impact either.

Whatever the moves end up being, one of the playoff elements that can happen even off the court is in the court of public opinion. Portland has chased after big names, notably Paul Millsap one summer, but no big names seem interested in winding up in a nice, humble town. That's a factor that has to change this summer if the team's history is to change in the playoffs.

There must be a million ways to lose in the West

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 6:00am
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

Wow. Just a couple weeks ago, it was sort of a gimme that the Portland Trail Blazers would be playing either the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs or possilby the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

After a pair of stirring runs by the Spurs and Clippers, the opponent could be Memphis or Houston, with the Blazers having played their way out of homecourt edge in the series.

This is what makes the Western Conference one of the best conferences in any pro sport in the world. Not only are there so many quality teams - two teams with winning records will miss the playoffs entirely, but so many of the playoff teams are closely matched that even their playoff seeds are up in the air until the final three days of the season.

Sports books in Las Vegas must be loving this because there's two odds-on favorites - Golden State and San Antonio, but so many upset potentials.

NBA executives have to be loving how the playoffs are shaping up, too, with a pair of season upstarts: Golden State in the West, and Atlanta in the East, possibly lining up against the stars of their conferences: the NBA champion Spurs against Lebron James' Cleveland in the conference finals.

But, that's anything but a gimme in the West.



West leading Dallas just what the Timbers need

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 8:33am
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

PORTLAND - After four games the Portland Timbers are just three points shy of the third spot in Major League Soccer's Western Conference. Trouble is, that's a big three points as it equates a victory.

So far, the Timbers have been victory-challenged, turning in four solid performances that turned into three draws and a frustrating loss at Vancouver Saturday.

Portland has scored three goals during the season, and given up four, but two of those were in the 90th minute or stoppage time, including Saturday's game-winner.

Vancouver won 2-1 in the first of six games that make up the Cascadia Cup between the Timbers, Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders.

A victory this week would be a huge lift as Saturday's opponent is Dallas FC, which leads the Western Conference with 10 points in four games.

Dallas has scored six times, and given up a league-low one goal amongst teams that have scored at least one goal. Colorado has given up no goals, but also scored none, settling for three draws.

Saturday's game is set for a 7:30 p.m. start.

Portland's offense has been centered around forward Fanendo Adi, who has all three goals, which has him tied for first in the league with four other players. One of those players is Blas Perez of Dallas.

The Timbers appear ready for a breakout game offensively. They lead the league in corner kicks with 26, and are second in shots-on-goal with 18, trailing only Vancouver with 20.

Timbers not in a hurry to panic

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 10:20am
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

After a lively practice performed in front of more than a dozen local media members, Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter had a resilient response to the undertone of the ensuing question-and-answer session that resonated around the teams’ first three games - all draws.

The undertone? Is he starting to get frustrated/worried about the Western Conference standings and the points his team is missing out on by not winning at least one of the games, two of which it clearly outplayed the opponent.

The answer? Not at all.

“We’ve got three points, and that’s more points than we had after three games than we had two years ago when we won the West,” Porter said referring to his first season as coach when the Timbers finished atop the conference standings. “The points will come. We just have to stay consistent in what we’re doing because we’re playing well.”

Portland won the conference title in Porter’s first season after moving up from the University of Akron. The team attacked the goal constantly and it turned into 57 points. Last season, the speed of play seemed to slow down just a tad other than a regular late blast and it turned into 49 points.

But, those 49 points were one shy of Vancouver for the fifth and final playoff spot.

So, naturally there’s regular conversation from every group of team supporters about those points left on the field and not being put on the standings.

Porter pointed to the length of the season - 29 more games - and the fact the Timbers have given up just two goals.

What’s frustrating to watch is how well the team plays and the results that it doesn’t turn into. In their season opener, for example, Portland scored an amazing 11-0 edge in corner kicks against Real Salt Lake. The game, though, ended 0-0.

The Timbers went up by a goal twice the following week against Los Angeles only to have the Galaxy even the score for a 2-2 draw. Saturday, an evenly-played match ended 0-0 at Kansas City.

This week the team travels to Vancouver, B.C. for the first of their matches with their Cascadia Cup rivals.

Portland actually has some good history on its side in looking at its record. Not only do the Timbers have three points, but they’ve got two shutouts. Under Porter, the Timbers have finished seasons impressively. Not only did they win the West in 2013, they finished third in the league in goals scored, and first in goal differential - 21. They led the league in draws as well as had a league-low in losses with just five.

Last season, Portland finished third in goals scored and second in draws. In his third season, Porter is 26-14-31.

Three points after three games is actually a good start to a season, but that’s equal to one win and two losses. That’s maybe the most frustrating part for fans, deciding if one win - to get that sense of victory - coupled with two losses is better than not losing at all. It goes against the drama of sports, which the Wide World of Sports highlighted in the ‘70s with the tagline “Thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.”

Draws work well in that they keep a team moving forward in the point totals, but they get on a supporters’ nerves after awhile. So, hopefully, this week the Timbers will get off that train of single points, and either win or lose.

After three no-decisions, even a loss might help fans feel more comfortable with the team this season.

Tattoo: The Ducks! The Ducks!

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 7:42pm
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

Oregon's big foray into the college football signing day phenomenon actually happened five days late - or later - in terms of news the rest of the nation could focus on.

Monday, the Ducks extended the contract of head coach Mark Helfrich to the 2020 season, with the specifics being $17.5 million over five seasons. Oregon put a tattoo on its coach for the rest of the decade, unless he wants to bolt for the NFL - and the $3 million buyout. Doesn't seem likely, though.

Then, later in the day, the Ducks announced they had landed Vernon Adams, the three-year starting quarterback at FCS power Eastern Washington, as a potential replacement for Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

Adams joins a crowded group - at least until someone transfers - of players awaiting their shot at becoming the next standout at Autzen Stadium.

Adams threw for more than 10,000 yards while guiding the Eagles on their red turf. He'll graduate from EWU in June, then be able to join the Oregon football team in time to get ready for another run at a national title.




In-state basketball got a wake-up call

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 7:19am
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

It was just four days ago that Oregon State celebrated its first men's basketball upset of a Top-10 team in 15 years with a massive celebration on the Gill Coliseum court. Thursday, it was back to business in the Pac-12 at Washington, and the Huskies brought the Beavers back to Earth.

And two of their in-state brothers, Washington State and Eastern Washington, also scored wins over their Oregon rivals - the Ducks and Portland State Vikings, respectively.

Add in the University of Portland's loss to Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, and the state went 0-4 in Div. I basketball Thursday, something that hasn't happened in ... a time that some guys from STATS, Inc., would have to look up.

Oregon's four Div. I schools are successful enough these days that having all four lose on the same day is a big unusual, although none of them have stood out during the regular season to a Top 25 level for any length of time. Oregon played close to that level, and then won the Pac-12 Tournament title two years ago, but got seeded lower in the NCAA Tournament than it did last year when it didn't hit the level of play from 2013.

So, what is the state of basketball in Oregon? Currently, it's pretty routine, although that's not a bad thing as none of the four schools is going to play its way into the NCAA Tournament in January. They're each going to focus on winning their conference tournament and getting an automatic berth.

Here's a brief look at the four schools.

Oregon, which has been to the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, is 14-5 overall, and 2-2 in Pac-12 play having beaten Oregon State in its conference opener, split with the Arizona schools, and lost to Washington State in overtime Thursday. The Ducks got run over by Arizona last week, but have played at a level that makes them at least a consideration to score a significant coup by winning the Pac-12 Tournament when it plays out in Las Vegas beginning March 11.

Oregon State is 11-5, 2-2 after its loss at Washington, and has the challenge of beating the rest of the conference with only eight scholarship players in coach Wayne Tinkle's first season. That number got hit, too, on Thursday when it's third-leading scorer, Victor Robbins earned a 10-game suspension for violating a team rule. Ten games, though, still gives him a few games to get back into the system before the tournament, and showing off their win over No. 7 Arizona last week makes a case the team can play with anyone in the conference on its best days.

Portland is 11-7, 2-4 in the WCC after a 80-69 loss at LMU, but the Pilots have some energy available in the form of Kevin Bailey, the team's leading scorer who missed most of December and the first week of January with a foot injury. He's returned, but is working to relocate his form. In Thursday's loss, he hit just one of 10 shots from the field, and finished with five points. But, the conference tournament is seven weeks away, and that's when the team needs to hit on all cylinders.

And, Portland State is 8-7, 2-3 in the Big Sky Conference after a 92-85 loss at home to the Eagles. The Vikings are the longest-shot to win their conference title, as their roster is thin in the paint, and the team hasn't won back-to-back games against Div. I schools since November. The BSC Tournament begins March 12 at the regular-season champions home gym. PSU needs to finish in the top eight of the 12-team standings in order to qualify to the tournament, and they're on the edge of doing that.


Helfrich had a banner season, almost

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 12:09pm
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

Well, Mark Helfrich is no Urban Meyer. At least not yet.

Pretty darn close, though.

Helfrich got his version of the Oregon Ducks to the first college footb

all national title in just two years, taking over a program that had gotten to the previous version of the national championship in the second season under Chip Kelly. Unlike Kelly, though, Helfrich doesn't seem like the type of coach who will use the college game as a steppingstone to the National Football League.

And, there's not really any place to go in college football that's going to be more higher-profile that Oregon. So, for the foreseable future, it looks as though Oregon fans have their coach, and he's only going to get better ... at game management, program management, recruiting.

Recruiting gets its first major test with replacing Marcus Mariota - even though he hasn't officially announced he's leaving for the NFL.

With Braxton Miller, the Ohio State quarterback who has one season remaining and could transfer?

Miller will be a Heisman Trophy-level quarterback when he arrives, and Oregon is a school that expects that level of player at that position. The Ducks have two quarterbacks who were redshirting this past season, and sophomore Jeff Lockie as Mariota's back-up. Bringing in a transfer might be seen as unfortunate for those guys who are already in the system, but that's the level the Ducks are at now - national title contenders every year. The player who takes the snaps needs to be at that level, and if Miller does transfer in, the way to get snaps for the players currently in the system is to simply be better than he is.

Or wait for him to get injured. Ohio State had three quarterbacks capable of taking the team to the title game and winning. If Miller transfers in, that would give the Ducks at least one player at that level. The other quarterbacks would only benefit from that kind of competition in practice, and they've all got at least one more season of eleigibility left after 2015.

In Eugene, in might start to be rare - and hopefully it is this way - that a freshman gets to start at quarterback because the level of play ahead of him is at such a high level.

Off we go into Helfrich's third off-season, one of many more to come.


A great day for Oregon, almost

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 8:20am
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

As the clock wound down on Oregon's 59-20 thrashing of Florida State on Thursday, many of the FSU players were taken to task a bit for not crossing the field to shake hands with their fellow college athletes, regardless of the outcome. Then, shortly thereafter, Oregon players surfaced on the internet for having taunted FSU quarterback Jamies Winston, which attracted immediate attention.

In the Dirty Laundry-crazed world, it's extremely unfortunate that the internet video of something that had no bearing on the game ends up being one of the headline moments for most of the media. On numerous information sites such as, the Oregon players' post-game chants of "no means no" got a headline higher up on the page than Oregon's on-field win.

It is the world we live in.

As troubling as that is, though, it's not nearly as troubling as the FSU reaction during the game to Oregon's offense. It wasn't hard to see the Seminoles basically stop trying once the score got away from them. Oregon's only struggle with scoring was converting a center snap in shotgun formation in the fourth quarter.

That's something that has to give every school recruiting against FSU a big edge for several years to come.

Florida State reaching the College Football Playoffs might have been the worst thing that could have happened to the program because is showcased how the program handles adversity at the championship level. Sure, the team responded to deficits all season long, but when the deficit became too great, they just gave up.

Oregon's program showed itself off, too. After the Ducks lost to Arizona, they basically blew out the rest of the schedule with the final two games - the Pac-12 title game and Thursday's Rose Bowl, as huge recruiting statements. And, some of the handling that success is learned following games through the internet.

The Bad News Beavers are back

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 7:55am
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

Are those the Oregon State Beavers at 8-3 as a basketball team?

Were it not for a wildly sub-par performance Sunday afternoon in Connecticut, they'd be 9-2 and possibly even getting some votes in the Top 25.

Wow, what a turnaround from the past six years when the program was competitive, but didn't stand out as being even remotely worthy of national attention beyond coach Craig Robinson's brother-in-law.

This season, coach Wayne Tinkle has the Beavers looking like - they might finish ahead of Oregon in the Pac-12 standings. At least OSU supporters can ponder if that's possible.

Heck, it's not just the record, but the victories that get some attention starting with DePaul on Thursday. It wasn't just a victory, but a shellacking - 90-59 - at Gill Coliseum. That followed a 71-43 win over Grambling State three days earlier. Maybe it was the water in Corvallis ... that didn't transfer to the East Coast where the team lost 60-52 to Quinnipiac Sunday.

Tinkle, who got a nod as "Sexiest Coach in America" by a female writer last season, has a team of "Bad News Beavers" sparking attention to team records. When was the last time the Beavers reached the NCAA Tournament? The year was 1990. A whole century ago. The team hasn't finished as high as fifth since 2010, and hasn't finished higher than that since 1990, the year after Ralph Miller retired and left successor Jimmy Anderson with a team capable of winning the conference title.

Last season, OSU finished 16-16 and 8-10 in conference games, matching it's top conference win total for the previous 21 years.

Oregon State has finished with a winning record just twice in the last 24 years.

The Beavers, who have five players with passports to play here, are off until a home game with UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 30, then travel to Eugene for a January 3rd game with the Ducks, who are also 8-3, but with a far less impressive resume so far. Oregon, though, has a program that responds to late-season pressure, so 8-3 is just fine. Oregon State is a program that simply needs to respond to every game, and it's been doing that this season in a way it hasn't for decades.

Life in the Shadows

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 11:53pm
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 12 hours 55 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

Christmas came early for the David Douglas and Sprague girls basketball teams Friday in the form of an collective adrenaline rush.

For programs rebuilding, retooling, just flat out surviving to an extent, a 35-33 game with all the trimmings of a last-second shot to win was a blessing. David Douglas led the entire game, but had just a one-point lead late before pulling out their second win of the season.

"It was a lot of fun to win a game like that," David Douglas junior Takayla Hadley said after her team improve to 2-4. "That kind of excitement is what the game is all about, and I love to be a part of that."

Sprague trailed by 12 in the first half, but scrapped together a consistent comeback that got within 33-32 before Scots senior Taliah Graham got a long pass and made an uncontested lay-up with 56 seconds left. Sprague got a free throw with 12 seconds remaining, and had the ball with four seconds left, but couldn't get off another shot.

The Olympians dropped to 1-5, but Friday's game was the first that hadn't been decided by 21 points or more. The team lost its first four games by an average of 50 points, then beat McKay on Tuesday by 21.

"It would have been nice to get a win, but I'm happy the girls got to play a game like that," Sprague's first-year coach Casey Williams said. "We haven't had that kind of experience this season.

"It was especially good for our team because of how we battled back. That's got to give the girls some confidence in themselves."

The excitement, in front of a receptive crowd of parents and the David Douglas cheerleaders, was great for both teams, who face differing challenges that both involve losing by significant margins. The Scots suited up just eight players, a fact that sparks the senses because the school has more than 2,500 students - the largest high school in the state. Sprague had a full bench, but played a consistent line-up of four freshmen and either a junior or senior.

David Douglas had actually played two other games decided by four points or less, but they were both against Jefferson, which won one of the games and has one other win - McKay. David Douglas coach Kristinya Birch was nothing but smiles after the game, not only for the outcome, but the outcome of last week's camp for younger players.

"We had 35 girls, which was a great showing," she said. "That's part of our working to build the program, which is what we need."

Both programs are hardcore into a building mode, something highlighted by Friday's game featuring, unofficially, at least 60 turnovers. Sprague went winless two seasons ago, and went winless in conference play last year. It's four starting freshmen, though, produced plenty of fight and showed off a level of skill that might make the other 11 freshmen in the program put in some of the extra work needed to be part of a winning program.

The Scots have 14 freshmen and another 11 sophomores in their program, which Birch is leading on an interim basis after coach Joanne Maki suffered a medical illness that required she step aside for the season. Birch, a teacher in the district for eight years, is committed to helping build the program with Maki, neither of whom is rushing players to the varsity level before they're ready. Birch said basically anyone who tried out found a spot.

Hadley, who has played since third grade, said she's optimistic about the team this season, but gets frustrated at times passing by classmates who were once teammates but simply bailed on the game.

"It's tough when I see girls I know can play, who could be helping us," she said. "But, you have to be committed at this level, and that's not something everyone can do."

Monday, the Scots play at Class 5A Woodburn, which is 3-4 and has scored no less than 33 points in all of its games. Regardless of the score, Birch will be happy to get another nightly-contested outcome.

"I know it's fun for the girls to play in games like this," she said. "It's not so good for my heart, but it's great to get the kinks out of your game before league play starts."






RSS feed