PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers finished the 2013-14 regular season with a 110-104 victory versus the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night at the Moda Center. The win was Portland’s 54th of the season, which is tied for the sixth-best regular season record in franchise history. Their 21-game improvement over last season is a franchise record.
“I was glad to get a win to set that record,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “To establish a 21-game turnaround is really something to be proud of. I told the team that we’ve had a regular season that we should all be very proud of.”
With playoff seedings locked in, neither team had anything but pride to play for Wednesday night. With the Clippers assured the three seed and the Blazers guaranteed the fifth seed, both teams fielded lineups and players that were little used this season.
The Clippers left J.J. Redick and Blake Griffin back in Los Angeles for various reasons, and while he traveled with the team to Portland, Chris Paul sat out as well. DeAndre Jordan started the game at center but was subbed out less than two minutes in the game, presumably to rest and remain injury-free for L.A.’s first round series against the Warriors.
As for the Trail Blazers, they gave the night off to starting power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and backup guard Mo Williams, both of whom were inactive for Wednesday night’s contest.
Portland’s other four starters — Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez — all started their 82nd game of the season. It is the first time in team history that four players started all 82 games and are the first time since the 2010-11 Lakers to accomplish the feat.
“It’s luck. Honestly, it really is,” said Matthews, who has missed just 13 games in his entire NBA career. “With the way the game is now, to be able to play all 82 games and play through injuries and not be injured, it’s a blessing and a lot of luck. To be able to do it with four of your five starters is a big deal. We’re excited about that.”
After playing the entire first quarter, Lillard, Matthews and Batum sat for the remainder of the game. Lopez, however, started the second half and played just long enough to collect his 326th offensive rebound this season, which breaks the franchise record previously held by both Kermit Washington and Chris Dudley.
With Lopez on the bench, Stotts was able to give extended minutes to backup power forward/center Joel Freeland, who played for the first time Wednesday night since spraining the MCL in his right knee more than two months ago. Playing in five minute spurts as a precaution, Freeland ended the night with six points and seven rebounds in almost 18 minutes.
“I actually wasn’t as tired as I thought I was going to be,” said Freeland. “I played 17 minutes and I felt great. The knee was fine, didn’t really have any pain at all when I was playing. The thing I was more worried about was my wind. I really thought I was going to get tired quick and I didn’t. I sustained and I felt good. I was really surprised.”
The second-year player from England is averaging 3.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in nearly 14 minutes per game this season, which doesn’t sound like much. But he was one of Portland’s most consistent performers off the bench this season and gives the Trail Blazers another big body and six more fouls going into the postseason.
“I thought he competed well,” said Stotts. “He didn’t look like he was favoring his leg. I couldn’t tell if he was fatigued or not on some of his shots, but I thought the game probably for him was invaluable to get him out there and play him the last three minutes of the game in a game we’re trying to win. I was pleased with how he played.”
With most of the regular rotation out of the game or in street clothes, many of the Trail Blazers’ younger players were allowed to play significantly more minutes than their season averages.
“I was really pleased with the way everybody played,” said Stotts. “They starters came out and did a terrific job in the first quarter, set the tone. Offensively, the first half was fun to watch — 21 assists and the ball was moving and guys were making shots. It was fun basketball. I was proud of the young guys in the second half, the fact that they struggled through a third quarter where the offense didn’t quite click and it was a close game.”
Will Barton was the biggest beneficiary of extended minutes, finishing the game with a career-high 23 points, 10 rebounds, two assist and a steal in 35 minutes.
“Any time I get to play, it feels great man,” said Barton. “Being out there with my teammates and the other guys who don’t get to play much like Victor (Claver), Joel (Freeland) with his comeback, C.J. (McCollum), AC (Allen Crabbe), Meyers (Leonard), all of us work hard every day to get better and just be prepared just because we never know when our number is going to get called. So to be out there with those guys and to get a win, it was great.”
With the regular season now in the books, the Trail Blazers now have four days to prepare for Game 1 of their first-round matchup with the Houston Rockets. Portland lost the season series 1-3 to Houston this season, but enter the postseason having won five in a row and nine of their last 10.
“I was proud of the way our team responded after the Orlando game,” said Stotts. “That was the low point as far as trying to get things back on track. Since that point, winning nine out of 10 and beating some playoff teams got us back on track. In this league, you’re going to have some rough patches and it’s how you get through them (that matters). I was proud of the way that we fought through the rough times. Part of those rough times were in February when we lost a lot of close games in a row and we fought throught that as well. I thought that showed our mettle and you need that going into the playoffs.”
That you do. Tipoff for Game 1 in Houston is schedule for Sunday at 6:30 PM on KGW, TNT and 620 AM.
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”
PORTLAND — What a nice way to go into the All-Star break.
For the second time in five days, the Trail Blazers built a large third-quarter lead against the Rockets, then allowed them to make a comeback, only to make a final push to come away with the double-digit victory, this time to the tune of a 116-103 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, we’ve been really good the last two or three weeks. Our aggressiveness has been good, our alertness has been very good and I thought we did that for most of the night tonight. It’s good to go into the break on a win streak and playing well.”
The Trail Blazers are now 27-27 overall and 16-11 at the Moda Center this season. With the win, Portland is .500 for the first time since the team was 4-4 on November 9, 2015, have won eight of their last 10 games at home and 12 of their last 15 games overall, regardless of venue. Thanks to that streak, the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings while the Rockets, a team that started the game in seventh place, drop to ninth.
“We dug ourselves a hole to start the season, giving up some games late, but we stuck with it, we kept going, we kept working,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t get too high or low. We were able to close in and get to .500 going into the break. Our team has done a great job of sticking to the grind, working every day in practice and staying together. That’s gotten us to where we are now.”
After ending the first quarter tied 29-29, the Trail Blazers used a 18-3 run in the second quarter to build a 12-point lead. Portland would expand their lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut the deficit to five with 9:31 to play in the fourth. But the Trail Blazers would close out the game by outscoring the Rockets 23-15 to come away with the 13-point victory.
Portland won Tuesday’s contest despite shooting worse percentage than the Rockets from the field and the three-point line, but making eight more free throws despite having the same number of attempts and turning 20 Rockets turnovers in to 31 points more than made up for their so-so field goal percentages.
“I like the fact that we’re doing it within the context of our defense rather than gambling and extending our defense,” said Stotts of forcing turnovers. “We’re being aggressive on the ball, we’re alert on the weak side, so I think those two things combined help create those turnovers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 9-of-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to go along with nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.
Maurice Harkless remained in the starting lineup, despite Noah Vonleh being on the active list for the first time in the last two games, and responded with his best game as a Trail Blazers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.
“I liked his defense on Harden, he finished around the basket, he got rebounds, he ran the floor well,” said Stotts of Harkless. “He did a little bit of everything in a kind of understated way.”
Meyers Leonard went 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu shot just under 50 percent to finish with 11 points and five rebounds and Ed Davis grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes. Gerald Henderson went just 3-of-10 from the field but made up for it by going 7-of-10 from the line to finish with 13 points.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 34 points, and Dwight Howard, who added 28 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers have more than a week off before hosting the Golden State Warriors on February 19.
“We’re playing well and hopefully when we get back we pick up where we left off,” said Stotts, “but everybody could use a break.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.