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.