About Dame time for these teams to blossom

Illustration: Getty/AP

COVID Response: The Blazers have had some first-hand exposure to COVID lately, having closed their facilities on December 6 due to three positive tests in the building — one player, and two staff members. They’ve since moved past it, returning to practice and to preseason games, but head coach Terry Stotts clearly expressed his disappointment in the situation on a Zoom call with the media on December 7:

“It’s going to be a challenge, this is a critical time. The good thing is that we do have nine guys coming back from last year. We have to integrate the rookie, Derrick (Jones Jr.) and Robert (Covington) and Enes (Kanter) and fortunately Enes has spent time with us. Those guys know how to play basketball and that transition will be pretty smooth, but nonetheless, with some of the things we were hoping to do defensively, that’s going to take repetition. We lost two days of repetitions.”

Staying Away: The Trail Blazers have made the decision to start the season with no fans in attendance, and have made no projections or goals as to when that will change. In an interview with Washington Post NBA reporter Bel Golliver, Trail Blazers team president Chris McGowan said “You have to plan for no fans, limited capacity, then look at it with a longer-term mindset when you can build towards a full building. We’re focused on making the arena experience safer [with enhanced] sanitation protocols, contactless payments, ticket processing and communicating the basics like washing hands. When fans can come back, they’re going to know we’re ready.”

Oh, He’s Here Now? The Blazers made several offseason moves, bolstering their core of Damien Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic, with the key additions of forwards Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. Covington can space the floor well, and is also one of the better defenders at his position. Jones brings energy and athleticism on offense and defense. They also brought back Enes Kanter as a depth center after losing Hassan Whiteside, and drafted Washington State wing CJ Elleby 46th overall.

Where’d He Go? Trevor Ariza was traded to Oklahoma City, Hassan Whiteside went to Sacremento in free agency, Wenyen Grabriel signed with New Orleans, and Mario Hezonja went to Memphis in a trade.

What To Expect: The Blazers had one of the best offseasons in the Western Conference with their new additions and the re-signings of Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony. We know their offense will perform with the duo of Lillard and McCollum, and a healthy Nurkic in the key, but the outlook of this team will depend on their defense. If they can make improvements from their 16th-ranked defense last year, they are poised for a deep playoff run.

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