Blazers Best Bucks To Win Eighth-Straight, Sweep Four-Game Road Trip

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago


MILWAUKEE — It seems as though some are waiting for the other sneaker to drop when it comes to the better-than-expected start of the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers. And perhaps it eventually will. But it would not be Wednesday night, as the Trail Blazers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 91-82 to extend their win streak to eight games.

“We don’t have to win every game,” said Damian Lillard, who finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes. “Probably the second we lose a game they’ll say ‘They’re not like what everybody thought they was.’ But we’re not trying to live up to what other people say we are or what they think we are right now. We’re playing well, we’re finding a way to win games. It’s going to come a time when we might lose a game, we’ve just got to focus on the next one after that. It’s still early and we understand that but we focus on every game. We’re going to continue to do what we’ve got to do to win games.”

With the victory in front of a sparse crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Trail Blazers swept a road trip of at least four games for the first time since January of 2003.

“To finish a road trip undefeated and to do it with the defense and energy that we had the second half is great,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “There is no question that it was a solid win. I believe it’s the fifth game where we’ve won a game shooting under 44 percent and I think that is something we take pride in as well.”

Portland is now 10-2 on the season and have won six road games, something they didn’t accomplish last season until Jan. 4, 2013.

Despite entering the game with a 2-7 record and playing without starters Brandon Knight and Larry Sanders, the Bucks were able to hang with the Trail Blazers for most of the night. At times it felt as though the contest had the makings of a trap game for Portland, though they were mindful from the opening tip that they’d need to bring enthusiasm, if nothing else, to avoid losing their first game since Nov. 5.

“In the huddle before the game in warmups, you could just hear everybody say we’ve got to bring our own energy,” said Lillard. “There wasn’t a lot of people here, that has nothing to do with what we do on the floor. So I was just happy to see we were able to go out there and get it done.””Every team in this league can win and we respect everybody — I know it’s cliche,” said Stotts. “It’s important that you come into the game and after a game like Brooklyn where you’re playing against Hall of Famers in New York City and all that, I liked our mindset, coming in and taking care of business in this game.”

Portland led by as many as 11, but the victory never seemed sure until Damian Lillard scored five straight points with just under three minutes to play to put the Trail Blazers up 89-78. Portland would miss their next four shots and Nicolas Batum would miss three-straight free throws, but the Bucks were unable to capitalize on Portland’s mistakes late, resulting in the Trail Blazers escaping with a nine-point victory.

“I think we’re better at finding ways to win games,” said Lillard. “At the start it was like we were shooting the ball really well and our confidence was high because of that. On this road trip we’ve had spurts where we shot the ball well and some games where we didn’t. Regardless of how we were shooting the ball, we was able to find ways to win the game and that says a lot.”

The “way” the Portland was able to avoid an upset was on defense, particularly in the second half. The Trail Blazers held the Bucks to just 13 points in the third quarter and forced six turnovers, which allowed Portland to shoot just 32 percent in the quarter and yet still add four points to their lead.

“I think we realized in the first quarter we were doing a lot of things right,” said Robin Lopez, who had eight points and eight rebounds on the night. “They were beating us to the loose balls and that was really giving the second-chance opportunities and I think that’s what was keeping the game close. We realized (that) at halftime. So we came out in the second, decided we had to be the aggressors on defense. We had to get on the floor, do whatever it took to secure the ball, because we were playing okay defense in the first half, just not securing the possession.”

LaMarcus Aldridge led all scorers with 21 points on 10 of 22 shooting to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. Nicolas Batum added eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Wesley Matthews, playing in front of a number of family and friends in attendance, did much of his damage by scoring all 15 of his points in the first half. He would also tally three rebounds and three assists to help the Trail Blazers get their first win in Milwaukee since 2011.

“We’ve played good teams, we’ve played quality teams. That team was tough,” said Matthews. “This is a tough place to play, it’s a different atmosphere. I don’t care about the big name stuff. They get paid just like we do.”

The Trail Blazers now return home to the Moda Center to host the Bulls Friday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.

“It’s very satisfying, no question,” said Stotts. “You go out on a road trip and you sweep a road trip, that doesn’t happen very often. We’re proud of that. We’ll enjoy the flight home, take tomorrow off and we’ve got our eyes set on Chicago.”

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Stotts Roots For His Doppelganger In Super Bowl 50

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 hours ago

The 2015-16 NFL season comes to a close Sunday with the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers facing off at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, CA. And after having an official rooting interest the last two years by way of the Seattle Seahawks, a team owned by Paul Allen, making the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons, the Trail Blazers seem fairly ambivalent about the result this time around. Various player on Portland’s roster have acquaintances on both the Broncos and Panthers, and Gerald Henderson is probably pulling slightly for Carolina considering he spent his first six NBA seasons in Charlotte while playing for the Bobcats/Hornets, but outside of those casual ties, the preference among most of the Trail Blazers is to simply see a good game regardless of which team wins.

Outside of Terry Stotts, that is. While he’s not taking the game too seriously, if at all, Portland’s head coach would like to see the Broncos win the Super Bowl for one reason: he looks a bit like Denver quarterback and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Despite being almost 20 years older and roughly five inches taller, it’s not uncommon for Stotts to be mistaken for Manning, at least outside of Portland.

“I was sitting in Starbucks in a Vegas and a guy kept looking at me while I was drinking my Starbucks,” recalled Stotts. “As I was leaving he showed me a picture on his phone and he goes ‘Is this you?’ and it was a picture of Peyton Manning. I said ‘No, wrong guy’… And last summer I was up in Canada and somebody thought I was Peyton Manning up there, too.”

It’s not hard to see the resemblance. They share similar complexions, similar builds and just have the somewhat difficult to pinpoint look of men who have played contact sports at their highest levels for extended periods of time. Putting your body through that kind of rigor obviously takes a toll, one that can be seen in both Stotts and Manning, the most obvious example being the long, thin nose rendered permanently crooked by countless hits and multiple breaks that both men share.

peytonstotts

But on a more obvious and less esoteric level, the two share some easy to distinguish features that make for apt comparisons. They both have narrow jaws, long faces, large foreheads and closely cropped, slightly thinning brown hair parted from left to right. Then there’s the shared facial expressions that fluctuate between aw-shucks when content and red-faced, about-to-blow when angered. Whatever is, Stotts looks enough like a Manning to get mistaken for Peyton on the regular while somehow avoiding comparisons to his younger brother Eli, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants.

One might assume Stotts would take offense at being mistaken for a Manning considering he’s built a relatively impressive pro sports resume of his own, but apparently the flattery of the comparison more than outweighs the annoyance of being lesser known.

Said Stotts: “Saying that I look like someone who is 20 years younger than me is totally okay.”

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Harkless And Henderson Hit On The Same Night In Houston

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
20 hours ago

It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,

Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.

For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.

But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.

“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”

Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.

“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”

As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.

“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.

“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”

While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.

“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”

He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.

“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”

“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”

It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.

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Trail Blazers Put The Past Behind Them By Winning In Houston

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
23 hours ago

HOUSTON — The old saying goes that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Saturday’s result in Houston is any indication, the Trail Blazers’ collective memory is well intact.

After losing to in overtime in the last game in Houston despite owning a 15-point fourth-quarter cushion, the Trail Blazers did a much better job protecting their lead in the second meeting, with the result being Portland besting the Rockets 96-79 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 18,308 at the Toyota Center.

“That was a really good win, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we came out. Defensively we were solid all night, for the most part… They’re a dangerous team. They can get the threes going and I liked we kept our composure when they made their run.”

Portland is now 25-27 overall and 10-16 on the road this season after playing their last seven games in the cozy confines of the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers have now won 10 of their last 13 games and are currently mere percentage points behind the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference.

The Trail Blazers looked to be the better team Saturday night from the opening tip. Portland shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the first quarter while scoring eight points on six Rockets turnovers to take a 29-23 lead into the second quarter. They’d start the quarter a 13-2 run to take their first double digit lead of the night and would go up by 21 by way of holding the Rockets to just four made field goals in the second quarter while turning six more turnovers into seven more points. Add with the Portland bench outscoring Houston’s 18-0 in the first half and it was easy to see how the road team took a 55-36 lead into the intermission.

“We played really well defensively, I thought,” said Damian Lillard. “We set the tone from the start of the game with active hands, getting our hands on the balls. We just weren’t fun to play against to start the game. That’s what we wanted to go coming out tonight and we did a great job.”

Portland would take their largest lead of the night at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter, though Houston managed to get that down to 21 before the start of the fourth. The Rockets would continue to slim the Trail Blazers’ lead, getting it down to 11 points in late in the fourth quarter. One can imagine there had to be a little nervousness on Portland’s bench after seeing two-thirds of a 32-point third quarter lead evaporate, especially with the specter of the last game in Houston still looming. But after a 10-0 Rockets run cut the lead to 91-76 with two minutes to play, Portland scored the final five points of the game to secure the 17-point lead.

“I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but certainly the way (Houston) won the last time here, I think that was probably in the back of everybody’s mind,” said Stotts. “They’re capable of doing that… I liked the way we kept our composure and pulled out the win.”

Six Trail Blazers finished in double figures led by Damian Lillard, who went 7-of-20 from the field and 3-of-9 from three to finish with 21 points and 10 assists for yet another double-double in 36 minutes.

CJ McCollum went 6-of-13 from the field to finish with 16 points, while Gerald Henderson went 5-of-8 from the field to 16 points as well. Al-Farouq Aminu filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. Maurice Harkless, who started his second-straight game in place of Noah Vonleh (sprained left ankle) and saw extended minutes due to Allen Crabbe missing the game with gastritis, went 6-of-13 from the field for 14 points, six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.

Portland’s bench would outscore Houston’s 24-12 thanks in part to the Rockets not getting any points from a reserve until early in the fourth quarter. James Harden finished with a game-high 33 points with Dwight Howard adding 17, but no other Rocket scored more than eight points in the loss.

“James (Harden) is a good player,” said Henderson, who spent a good chunk of his minutes defending the hirsute shooting guard. “He knows how to score, he knows how to draw fouls so sometimes it’s very difficult to guard him. He got his 30 but we felt like we did a good job containing some of the other guys.”

Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Memphis to finish a quick two-game trip versus the Grizzlies at FexEd Forum on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 pm.

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