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Winterhawks finally get the season go-ahead

WHL begins play on Friday; Portland begins March 18
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

It’s official.  The Portland Winterhawks return to the ice for the start of the WHL Regular Season on Thursday, March 18.

The league finalized the schedules for the US Division Wednesday, two days ahead of the start for the rest of the league in Canada. Portland rivals, Tri-Cities, Spokane, Seattle and Everett will play each other for the shortened season, which is 24 games.

Normally the WHL has a 72-game schedule.

The Hawks will begin practicing March 5 at the team's facility in Beaverton.

The WHL has developed an extensive set of protocols to not only provide a safe environment for players and staff, but to protect residents in the community. Details of those protocols have yet to be announced.

As the WHL returns to play in Washington, no spectators will be permitted for games.

Portland was at the top of the WHL standings last season when it was abruptly cancelled with two weeks left.

 

 

Loss at Denver keeps Blazers sliding

Portland falls to sixth place in the West after 111-106 loss
Staff Report

Denver center Nikola Jokic went off for 41 points and Portland lost for the third time in four nighrts, 111-106 Tuesday night in Denver.

Portland got 25 points and 13 assists from Damian Lillard and 24 points from Carmelo Anthony off the bench, but Jokic couldn't be stopped and the Nuggets were pressured into only one turnover throughout the night. Jamal Murray added 24 points for Denver.

The Blazers were within 93-92 with five minutes left, but Denver went on a 10-2 run and improved to 17-14 overall, just a game behind the Blazers in the conference standings. They finished with seven fewer field-goal attempts and the Nuggets made 17 of 18 free throws, which was eight more attempts than the Blazers had - they made all of them.

Portland, which had a six-game win streak snapped Saturday, dropped to sixth place in the West at 18-13 overall, which is 2.5 games ahead of ninth-place Dallas. The Mavericks beat Boston 110-107 on a 3-pointer by Luka Doncic with 0.01 seconds left Tuesday night to improve to 15-15. 

The Blaers play at the Los Angeles Lakers, who are currently in third place in the West, Friday night, then finish the first half of the regular season next week with three home games in four nights: Charlotte (14-16), Golden State (17-15) and Sacramento (12-19).

Dallas heads to the All-Star Break with a three-game road trip at Philadelphia, Boston and Orlando and at home against Oklahoma City.

 

 

Blazers flop at Phoenix

Portland stumbles in third quarter at Phoenix for second straight loss
Staff Report

The Portland Trail Blazers went cold in the third quarter as part of a 132-120 loss at Phoenix, the team's second straight defeat

Phoenix outscored the Blazers 37-17 in the third, and took a two-game lead over the Blazers in the race for fourth place in the Western Conference.

Portland still sits in fifth place, but is just a half-game ahead of San Antonio.

The Blazers play tonight at Denver, which is in seventh place, two games back.

Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 24 points, and seven assists. Gary Trent, Jr. had 11 points, but no other Portland starter finished in double figures. 

Enes Kanter had six points and 15 rebounds. Nassir Little had 18 points off the bench.

Devin Booker had 34 points and Chris Paul had nine assists to lead Phoenix.

Portland, 18-12, had a six-game win streak snapped Satuday night, but is still 3.5 games ahead of ninth-place Dallas and Memphis with five games remaining in the first half of the regular season.

 

 

Blazers falter as playoffs loom

Washington takes a 118-111 win and Portland falls to fifth
Staff Report

Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, and the Washington Wizards snapped Portland’s six-game win streak with a 118-111 victory over Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers on Saturday night at the Moda Center.

Bradley Beal scored 37 points, helping Washington to its fourth straight win. Rui Hachimura added 17 points, and reserve Robin Lopez had 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Lillard had 35 points and 12 assists, but he was 10 for 30 from the field. Enes Kanter had 19 points and 13 rebounds for Portland, and Robert Covington finished with 11 points and 11 boards.

“We were on a winning streak too but they were feeling confident,” Kanter said. “They beat three good teams before us and they were playing confident, making shots. We cannot let our offense affect our defense.”

The win moved the Wizards within 2.5 games of a playoff spot with two weeks of the season left.

Lillard was held in check in the first half, going 2 for 13 from the field. But he scored 23 points in the third quarter on 7-for-8 shooting. He was hit in the neck by an elbow from Washington’s Raul Neto, but he remained in the game after he was examined by the Blazers training staff.

Lillard’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the just in front of the mid-court logo lifted Portland to a 92-89 lead heading into the fourth.

The Trail Blazers had a 96-93 lead with 8:39 left when the Wizards grabbed control with a 10-2 spurt. Lopez sparked the run with a layup, Davis Bertans hit a key 3 and Hachimura finished the decisive stretch with a foul shot, making it 103-98 with 5:40 to go.

Bertans made another big 3 with 2:18 left, lifting Washington to a 110-101 lead.

Portland plays Monday at Phoenix, which moved to fourth in the West, one game ahead of the Blazers, with a win over Memphis Saturday.

The Blazers are one game ahead of sixth-place San Antonio, and two ahead of Denver, where the team plays Tuesday.

 

Lillard real judge for 2021 will be after All-Star Game

Playoff success will easily overshadow another All-Star Game snub
By Cliff Pfenning, Publisher

Social media lit up around the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday when the NBA exposed its line-up for the upcoming All-Star Game ... and Damian Lillard was not a starter for the Western Conference.

Lillard, Dame to the league's fans, got stiffed. Turns out it was by the NBA's fans, who picked Lebron James, Steph Curry and Luka Doncic as the starting guard trio, even though players and the league's media picked Lillard for the third spot.

Dame got stiffed for that third spot.

But, really, who cares as the big prize is on the court after the All-Star Game, which is set to be played between the end of the pandemic-shortened regular season and the unshortened playoffs on March 7 in Atlanta.

Would have been nice, really nice, for Damian to get into an All-Star starting role for the first time in his nine-year career.

This season is his most deserving as he's averaging nearly 30 points, four rebounds and eight assists per game to lead the Blazers to fourth place in the West, regularly closing out games with the decisive shot. And those decisive shots have been highlight worthy night after night for viewers on ESPN and the web.

But, Doncic, in his third year with Dallad, is hot right now, and even a bit outspoken about his team's motivation to win as the Mavericks struggle to reach .500 and a spot in the playoffs.

That's the real judge of the season for Dame, and he is an All-Star for the sixth time, so at least the league respects him. His fellow players and those who cover the league voted him to a starting role, but fan votes carry more weight. As do the playoffs, and fan voting has nothing to do with those games.

Portland is lined up for a first-round battle against Phoenix currently, although that's entirely volatile with seventh place and a meeting with the Lakers only 1.5 games away with seven games left on the schedule. Four of those games are against current West playoff teams.

The Blazers play at Phoenix on Monday, then at the Lakers next Friday.

 

BLAZERS WIN SIXTH STRAIGHT

NEW ORLEANS - Damian Lillard showcased his clutch credentials with 43 points, including a go-ahead three-point play with 16.5 seconds left, to lift the Trail Blazers to their sixth consecutive victory, 126-124 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

Lillard also added 16 assists – his third consecutive game of at least 30 points and 10 assists — for a team playing without backcourt mate CJ McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic.

“Our guys fought hard, but we just could not contain him at all,” said Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy. “Stopping them is 90 percent stopping him.”

Lillard had 11 fourth-quarter points and was clutch in the final seven minutes. JJ Redick gave the Pelicans a 105-103 lead with 7:34 left, capping a 7-0 New Orleans run, but Lillard then came off the bench and immediately hit a 3-pointer as Portland regained the lead. Anfernee Simons added a 3-pointer on the next possession to make it 109-105.

The Pelicans retook the lead on a pair of 3-pointers by Lonzo Ball and Redick and led for the final time at 124-123 with 26.4 seconds left after Zion Williamson made two free throws. Williamson’s finished with 36 points.

But Lillard drove past Ball on the left side of the lane for the layup and drew contact to put Portland up 126-124.

“There were 26 seconds on the clock, and I knew that whether we scored or not, if we just got a quality shot and gave ourselves enough time, even if we fouled and they made both free throws, we still would have had a chance to tie and go into overtime,” Lillard said. “So, it was really no pressure on that possession.

“I just wanted to attack, make an aggressive move. I was able to get some space. I drew contact and I just focused on the finish.”

The Pelicans had a final chance, but Ball missed a 3-pointer and Brandon Ingram threw up an airball at the buzzer.

Lillard had 11 points in the third quarter as the Blazers outscored New Orleans 35-22 to take a 94-91 lead, with Gary Trent Jr. hitting a 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer.

Lillard hit three consecutive 3-pointers in a 1:44 span as part of his 15-point, first-quarter flurry, which keyed a 21-8 run and produced a 35-30 Portland lead. The Blazers led by as many as 11 in the first quarter, but the Pelicans, shooting 52 percent closed out the period with an 11-5 run.

Lillard played the entire first quarter, but when he sat for the first six minutes of the second, the Pelicans made a move, taking a 45-43 lead behind Williamson’s eight points on an array of power moves to the basket from the high post. New Orleans used a 28-9 run to take a 53-45 lead.

During one five-minute stretch, New Orleans made nine consecutive shots, including two 3-pointers by Ball and one each by Eric Bledsoe and Willy Hernangomez, to stretch its advantage to 64-49. Ball’s 16 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting from long range helped the Pelicans to a 39-24 edge in the second quarter and gave the Pelicans a 69-59 halftime lead.

Timbers season just ran dry

Those last-minute goals were a soul-wrenching, playoff killer
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

The Portland Timbers had a pretty good run in 2020, for the crazy year it was. 

But, the MLS Cup playoffs ended in dramatically crummy style - a shootout loss.

It was just a minute away from a win, or even a couple inches in terms of how a ball rebounds of a post.

They worked out in favor of a scrappy FC Dallas team on a chilly, damp Sunday night.

Portland still ended up having won the mid-year MLS Challenge Cup and finished third in the Western Conference, good enough for a spot in the North America Champions League in 2021.

 

Winterhawks get back to action - sort of

Kishaun Gervais reps for team in NHL21 tournament
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

The Portland Winterhawks don't know if or when they'll be playing next on the ice, but they know one of them will be duking it out with the rest of North America for hockey supremacy in the Memorial eCup shortly.

All 60 junior hockey teams in Canada and the U.S. will be represented in a 64-team tournament using NHL21 to determine a winner. Portland is represented by Kishaun Gervais.

Gervais is in his second year with the team as a 5-foot-8 winger from Kamsack, Saskatoon. He had eight goals and nine assists in 31 games last season.

Portland led the WHL in wins and points when the season was abruptly halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2020-21 season is set to begin Jan. 8, with all the Canadian teams playing amongst themselves and the five teams in the U.S. Division playing amongst themselves. But, none of the U.S. teams have announced a schedule, or whether they will actually play this upcoming season due to not having the ability for fans to attend.

The Hawks are also in the unique situation of still looking for an owner after previous owner, Canadian Bill Gallacher, put the team into bankruptcy and for sale once the pandemic arrived.

 

 

NBA Max Contracts are kind of insulting

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Those giant contracts result in higher ticket prices
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

In the era of economic upheaval society is in across America, and across the globe, a constant theme continues to emerge on a daily basis - pro sports doesn't seem to be affected by lack of money.

On Sunday, the Utah Jazz reported it had signed dynamic 24-year-old Donovan Mitchell to a contract extension that would keep him in Salt Lake City for another five seasons. All they needed to do was give him the Rookie Max Extension of $163 million over those five seasons, which could balloon to $195 if he plays his way onto the All-NBA Team in one of the next three seasons.

If you read the headline again, it's potentially $195 million over five years. That's $39 million per season.

Even though there were no fans in the stands for the NBA Playoffs at the end of summer, the NBA apparently isn't having a problem with money. Mitchell isn't, of course, the only player getting a Max Contract, regardless of the economics of the day. And, regardless of the fact there may not be fans in the stands when games begin again for the 2020-21 season in late December.

So, how I read this news is no one in the NBA better be complaining about lack of money because of the pandemic's affect on society.

And, that goes for all the other pro leagues. In spite of all the troubles with money so much of the public is facing, pro sports can throw it around like Monopoly paper. 

Pro leagues are just going about their business as usual in terms of player signings, which they really have to according to their contracts with players unions. But the negotiations between those parties should get some publicity to show that even pro sports are dealing with economic stress, something a $195 million player signing does not indicate.

Pro sports teams are not poor, so they better not cry poverty, even when they're laying off significant portions of their administrative staffs in some cases.

 

Timbers head to offseason with loss

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Dallas wins shootout to end Portland season
Staff Report

PORTLAND - The magical season the Portland Timbers had constructed for themselves came to a dramatic end Sunday night in a penalty-kick shootout with FC Dallas.

Just one minute away from a 1-0 win in regular time, gave up a goal and then lost the shootout 8-7 in the first round of the MLS Playoffs at Providence Park.

Portland won the MLS Challenge Cup in summer and seeded third in the Western Conference playoff bracket. The Timbers outshot Dallas 22-12, and had eight shots on target, but could only get the one goal.

Portland went ahead in the 82nd minute when Jorge Villafana took a crisp pass from Diego Valeri in the left side of the box and fired into the upper portion of the net.

FC Dallas equalized in the third minute of extra time when Ricardo Pepi, who entered in the 85th minute pounced on a loose ball near midfield and raced to the goal. His initial shot hit the right post, but it rebounded directly to him for the score.

The late goal was the fourth time this season the Timbers had given up a goal to tie a match in extra time.

 

What's PDX known for best?

What do sports fans mention first? Soccer or basketball?
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

When drivers for Uber or Lyft pick passengers up at the airport and describe Portland on the way to a downtown hotel, the many nicknames for the city easily glide off the pallet - Rose City, Bridgetown, Bridge City, Stumptown among the top ones.

And, Portland has two very distinct monikers for sports: Rip City and Soccer City. Or is it Soccer City and Rip City?

That's the Sports Jury question for this week, which you can vote for on the front page of oregonsports.com.

Portland has an equally fanatic fanbase for both basketball and soccer, but which one would come up first as in if there were an election and every resident could only vote for one? Ultimately the outcome might be 50.1 - 49.9 percent. One of the names would need to come first. What do Portlanders know Portland best for?

Is it Rip City? Portland got the nickname in 1977 during the NBA Title run, when radio play-by-play commentator Bill Schonely came up with it to highlight the key moments of the stirring season. Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Bobby Gross, Dave Twardzik - they were Red Hot and Rollin' in the Rip City. Portland began a sellout streak at Memorial Coliseum that engrained 12,666 - a full house - in everyone's mind.

Portland is Rip City.

By 1977, though, Portland had already developed the nickname Soccer City from its inaugural season in the North American Soccer League due to the large, loud crowds that took over Civic Stadium for Timbers games. When the team actually outperformed its expansion expectations and reached the playoffs, not only did the Timbers win, they set attendance records twice on the way to Soccer Bowl '75.

The team and league folded less that a decade later, but the rebirth of the franchise in 2001 and it's move to Major League Soccer in 2011, have come with a fanatacism the rest of the nation has watched and admired as the way to support an American team with European flavour.

Portland is Soccer City, USA.

But with just one vote, which one gets it?

 

 

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