“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.”
There’s no better time to ponder the future of an NBA team than the period of the offseason before the draft and free agency. There are nothing but possibilities. Every free agent is a potential target who could change the direction of a franchise, every draft pick a presumptive superstar in the making who could eventually lead your team to glory.
Of course, the Trail Blazers don’t have a draft pick this year and attracting big-name free agents to Portland has always been a challenge, but when you’re the third-youngest team in the NBA, the future isn’t primarily defined by potential additions. And that’s especially true for a team coming off a 44-win season and their second playoff series victory in the last 16 years. While signing a all-star caliber free agent or obtaining a pick in the 2016 Draft would certainly help going forward, Portland’s fortunes are dependent on variables such as Allen Crabbe stepping into a bigger role, Al-Farouq Aminu building on a career season, CJ McCollum making the jump from very good to great and Damian Lillard becoming to bona fide Top 10 player in the league.
So while it never hurts to be optimistic about the opportunity for adding new talent, the Trail Blazers already have a strong footing going forward after rebuilding their roster just under a year ago during the 2015 offseason. That’s probably the main reason Portland jumped 10 spots to No. 8 in ESPN’s most recent Future Power Rankings. Here’s what ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton had to say about the ranking…
While we were relatively optimistic about the Trail Blazers in September, they’ve still tied for the largest jump since then. Portland moved back into the top 10 after not only defying expectations by making the playoffs but winning a series (albeit aided by the Clippers’ injuries) and competing with the Warriors in the second round.
Now, the Blazers have the opportunity to clear max space while retaining their young core, led by the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. That’s possible because GM Neil Olshey locked up young free agents Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis to contracts that look like enormous bargains.
To threaten the West’s upper crust, Portland still must hold off younger teams rising out of the lottery. But a strong management team of Olshey and newly extended coach of the year runner-up Terry Stotts gives reason to believe in the Blazers.
Portland’s best rankings come in management (5th) and players (9th) while their worst score comes in money (19th), which is somewhat ironic considering one of the wealthiest people in the world owns the team, though this ranking is surely more reflective of their salary cap situation than an unwillingness to spend.
The Northwest Division does well in the future rankings, with the Utah Jazz just ahead of the Trail Blazers at No. 7 and the Minnesota Timberwolves just behind at No. 9.
With Portland’s playoff run now over, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard now has some free time on his hands to pursue his off-court interests. He’s already hit up Oak’s Park for some late-night rollerskating, attended a Portland Thorns game at Providence Park and welcomed his old buddy Tim Frazier back to town. And today, we know he’s back in the studio making music.
In a re-launch of the “Music Monday” feature that he started last offseason on his Soundcloud page, Lillard, or to be most specific, “Dame DOLLA,” has posted a new track entitled “Talk To Em” featuring V.I.P and Bozzle (who I think are Lillard’s cousins)…
One of Dame’s verses…
They glorifying goofballs, I’m salty as Utah
When you real they uncomfortable, plotting for you to fall
Man I’m changing up the game, forget about the politics
I stick my neck out for my loved ones, I’m like an ostrich
A lot of love around me you haters keep doing opposite
I’m really incompetent to taking many compliments
That sounds about right. Previous “Music Monday” releases from last year include “Soldier In The Game,” “Full Stomach,” “Why?” “Free Bands” and “The Villains.” Then there’s non-Music Monday releases such as “I Wish I Could Tell You,” “Heatwave,” and “They Sleep,” which, like “Talk To Em” was produced by Jahlil Beats, who also produced, among other things, the Rick Ross/Meek Mill hit “Ima Boss” and that Bobby Shmurda song whose name I can’t put on this blog. And of course, there’s “Bigger Than Us,” the video for which currently has roughly 750,000 views on YouTube.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.