Portland Trail Blazers practice report: Thoughts on Warriors' player-coached win over Suns, Jusuf Nurkic updateThe Oregonian, Portland, Ore. — Joe Freeman The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
Feb. 13--TUALATIN -- Near the end of the Portland Trail Blazers' Tuesday afternoon scrimmage, coach Terry Stotts halted play with an unusual announcement.
"OK, timeout," he shouted. "White team, you call the plays. Draw up what you want."
Then the coaching staff handed the clipboard to a surprised captain Damian Lillard and the scrimmage was suddenly in the hands of the players at the team's practice facility in Tualatin.
"I was little bit frozen trying to think of what I wanted to draw up," Lillard said. "Then I warmed up to it, drew a few plays. I think it's pretty cool for coaches to challenge players mentally like that."
Perhaps it was a coincidence. Perhaps it was a byproduct. But, either way, the move came hours after coach Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors -- the Blazers' next opponent -- allowed players to run timeouts and calls plays in a Monday night win over the Phoenix Suns, effectively allowing them to coach the game.
The unusual move, which Kerr said was designed to help him "reach" a team he felt had been tuning him out, was a hot-button topic across the NBA on Tuesday. The Blazers had a mixed reaction.
On the one hand, it worked, as the Warriors steamrolled the Phoenix Suns 129-83 and the players, according to accounts of the game and postgame interviews, seemed to relish the experiment. On the other hand, we're talking about the Warriors -- a team that has reached three consecutive NBA Finals, won two championships and features the best record this season (44-13).
The best team in the NBA has a lot of leeway, especially when playing an 18-win Suns teams.
"I guess when we go to three straight Finals, I'll know what to do," said Stotts, who was mostly dismissive about the subject Tuesday.
The Blazers players, however, were intrigued by the idea.
Lillard, who calls a high percentage of plays during Blazers games, said he already thinks like a coach. He contemplates in-game situations and what plays to run at various moments. He reads coverages, even when he's not playing. He knows who's hot, who needs a shot to get hot and what aspects of an opposing team's defense are easiest to exploit.
But, as far as in-game huddles go, Lillard -- who called Kerr's move "pretty cool" -- does his talking before Stotts and his staff address the team.
"Usually, I say everything I need to say in the huddle before (Stotts) gets there, so when he comes he can have the stage," Lillard said. "My teammates will tell you, when I come to the huddle, everybody sits down, I get everybody's attention, I'll say what I need to say based off what I see on the floor. I say all my stuff and then I let him do his job."
"I think it depends on what seed (in the standings) you're in, whether you like it or not," McCollum said. "I think that at this point in the season, his explanation made sense based on him wanting to get through to his team in a different manner. Allowing them to coach allows them to be more active, more involved, more engaged. When you hear the same voice over and over again, it can drown you out. It's like hearing a voice from your parents."
As for Tuesday's practice, Lillard said coaches have asked for his input on plays a few times in the past. But this was the first time Stotts has turned things over to he and his teammates.
Of course, there's a big different between the Blazers and Warriors.
"When you're a .500 team, you do it in practice," Stotts said. "When you're an NBA champion, you do it in a game."
JUSUF NURKIC INJURY UPDATE
The Blazers have listed Jusuf Nurkic as questionable against the Warriors with a trio of ailments: low back soreness; a right calf strain; and a right oblique strain.
Nurkic apparently suffered the injuries early in the third quarter of the Blazers' Sunday night loss to the Utah Jazz, but it's unclear exactly how and when. He left the locker room after the game before reporters were allowed in and then declined an interview request from The Oregonian/OregonLive following Tuesday's practice.
Stotts and teammates said Nurkic participated in the team's scrimmages on Tuesday.
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