Blazers notebook: Second half of season won't be easy

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

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PORTLAND — Whatever familiarity breeds, the Portland Trail Blazers and their opponents will have plenty of it during the season's second half.

Starting with Thursday's game against Denver, 27 of Portland's final 40 games are against teams in the Western Conference.

It's said familiarity breeds contempt. That's true in the NBA.

"Games tend to be a little chippier because of the familiarity," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "It's certainly not like a playoff series … but games are a bit edgier. It's more challenging."

Portland's schedule gets tougher down the stretch. Teams the Blazers have faced thus far have a winning percentage of .507, with is 13th toughest. Teams awaiting the Blazers have a winning percentage of .520, which is fourth toughest.

Entering Thursday, the Blazers were 16-9 against the West.

"You know players tendencies a little better," Damian Lillard said. "It might be a little harder because of the team being more familiar with you."

All-Star waiting game

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will have to wait until to find out if they're part of this year's All-Star team.

Selected by a fan vote, starters were announced Thursday. Reserves are selected by a coaches' vote and will be revealed Jan. 30.

Aldridge is a sure bet. Lillard is in the running.

"They're both deserving," Stotts said. "LaMarcus has established himself as the best power forward in the league. Damian continues to improve and show what an important player he is."

Stotts might coach the West, as that duty goes to whichever coach's team has the best record through Feb. 2. Portland entered Thursday 11/2 games behind Oklahoma City for the West's top spot.

San Antonio's Gregg Popovich can't coach if San Antonio has the best record, as coaches cannot serve two consecutive years.

Country calls for Aldridge, Lillard

Others will have to wait for an All-Star nod, but Aldridge and Lillard were named among select company Thursday. They were among 28 players named to the 2014-16 USA Men's National Team Pool.

That means they are available to be selected for Team USA at the 2014 World Championships this summer in Spain. If the team qualifies, they would be eligible for selection to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

Lillard took part in the 2013 Team USA mini-camp in July.