NEW ORLEANS — The Portland Trail Blazers broke a four-game losing streak Friday night in New Orleans with a 111-103 victory versus the Pelicans in front of 16,913 at the Smoothie King Center. With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 43-23 on the season and 19-15 on the road.
“A much needed win, needless to say,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I was really proud of the way we competed. Our focus, the style of play, just the way we moved the ball offensively. Even though we gave up 103 (points), I thought we did a lot of good things … Everybody that was on the floor tonight really had an impact on the game”
The Trail Blazers, playing without both LaMarcus Aldridge (lower back contusion) and Mo Williams (hip strain), were led by Nicolas Batum, who finished with a monster double-double of 22 points and 18 rebounds in 45 minutes. Batum also added five assists and a steal in the winning effort.
“That was big for us to get this win without LaMarcus, without Mo, without Joel (Freeland),” said Batum. “Everybody stepped up tonight. That was a tough one. A win is a win, so we’re good.”
Batum is the first player in Trail Blazers history to record at least 22 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and four 3-pointers in a game and joins Kevin Love, LeBron James and Antoine Walker as the only players in NBA history to accomplish the feat. He’s also averaging 12.6 rebounds in the month of March, which is almost six boards higher than his season average.
“We played small, so (rebounding) is kind of my job to do,” said Batum. “I tried to do it the last couple of games when LaMarcus was out. I can’t leave Robin by himself inside or Meyers or T-Rob, so I’ve got to go (to the boards). I’ve got the ability to go get rebounds. That’s what I do the last couple games, so I just tried to keep doing it.”
Batum played the entirety of the second half and sat less than three minutes total, which was an unfortunate necessity with two of Portland’s top six rotations players on the bench due to injury.
“I just couldn’t take him out,” said Stotts. “He was playing so well, doing every as a facilitator, shooter, rebounder, various defensive assignments. I just couldn’t take him out. I don’t like playing a guy a whole half, but Nic was able to handle it.”
The Trail Blazers used a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter, with seven of those points coming courtesy of Damian Lillard, to turn a five-point deficit into a four-point lead with 3:47 to play in regulation. The second-year guard, who most recently played at the Smoothie King Center as a member of the Western Conference All-Star team, scored 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter.
“Everybody was contributing,” said Lillard. “I think that’s how we was able to stay in the game. Coach just kept deciding to put me in ball screens and put me in situations where I could attack, especially late in the game. Shots started to fall. I was able to make some plays and get it going a little bit.”
After shooting just 3 of 10 in the first three quarters, Lillard went 5 of 7 from the field and 2 of 3 from three in the fourth, including a deep triple with 1:14 to play to put Portland up 107-100 to all but assure victory for the road team.
“Big plays,” said Stotts of Lillard’s fourth-quarter. “He lives for those moments. The three that he hit was a big three for us. But defensively he was into the ball, got some deflections. He was very determined.”
The Blazers were aided by the play of Dorell Wright, who started in place of Aldridge and responded by going 4 of 8 from the field and 4 of 6 from three to finish with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes. Wright was particularly effective in the early going, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the first half while Lillard and Wesley Matthews struggled from the field.
“If I’m open, I’m going to take my shots and I’m going to knock them down with confidence and I’m going to shoot them with confidence,” said Wright. “Guys were able to find me early on in the game. I was able to hold it down a little bit before Wes and Dame really got it going. I think the shots I did make in the first half really kept us in the game as well when I was in there. Wes finally got it going, Dame finally got it going and I think they did a great job as far as closing the game.”
Wright also drew the unenviable task of guarding Pelicans All-Star power forward Anthony Davis for much of the game. The second-year player out of Kentucky finished with a career-high 36 points on 15 of 27 shooting but pulled down just nine rebounds against an undersized Portland squad.
“He’s a young, good player,” said Wright of Davis. “He’s going to be real, real good. He’s going to be a big star in this league. You can just see the potential. He’s still raw out there but he definitely has the tools to be one of the great players. I just tried to challenge him, use my speed against him, speed him up a little bit and make him make tough shots. He’s about six inches taller than me, so sometimes he didn’t see me. I just tried to do the best I could, make him take tough shots.”
Portland also got double-digit scoring from Matthews, who ended the night 20 points, two rebounds and two assists, and Robin Lopez, who put up 19 points, four rebounds and three blocks playing against his former teammates.
While finishing the trip 1-4, which included two regrettable losses to the Mavericks and Rockets to being the losing streak, the Trail Blazers return home to Portland basically in the same position when they left: in fifth place in the Western Conference standings.
“We needed to stop the bleeding, there’s no question about that,” said Stotts. “I think there was some frustration losing four in a row, but we played some good basketball during those stretches and we just came up short. You’ve got to stem the tide. This was, especially with LA and Mo out, I think that made it even that much more important.”
The Trail Blazers now head back to the Moda Center for a three-game homestand starting on Sunday versus the Warriors. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”