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.