MEMPHIS — The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 42-22 on the season, 18-14 away from home and 0-3 on their current road trip after falling 109-99 to the Grizzlies Tuesday night at FedExForum in Memphis.
“Probably what’s frustrating is I thought we competed really hard,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We were aggressive, got to the free throw line. It seemed like they made big shots and we came up empty. I thought (Memphis) shot the ball really well. I thought we defended but they shot the ball well. We gave up too many fastbreak points in the first half but we controlled that in the second half. They’re a good team, especially here at home.”
Portland has now lost three-straight for just the second time this season. With the loss, the Trail Blazers hold a two-game lead on the Golden State Warriors for the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers took a 23-22 lead into the second quarter despite shooting 36 percent from the field while the Grizzlies shot 52 percent. But the poor shooting would eventually catch up with the road team, with the Grizzlies shooting 56 percent for the game to outscore Portland 87-76 in the final three quarters.
“We won the first quarter, they had a little spurt,” said Stotts. “I thought we had a lot of shots that we normally make. We took care of the ball, we got to the free throw line, we were aggressive. Give them credit, they’re a good defensive team but I thought it was one of those nights.”
Portland was led by Damian Lillard, who shot 8 of 22 from the field and 4 of 8 from three to finish with two points while handing out seven assists and grabbing four rebounds while turning the ball over just two times in 39 minutes.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, assert myself in the game and just make sure I could have an impact on the game” said Lillard. “Whether I was digging on the post and helping, being more vocal, being more aggressive on offense. I thought we played a really aggressive game, played really hard. Some things just didn’t go our way.”
LaMarcus Aldridge logged a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but shot just 8 of 23 from the field.
“I’m getting great shots,” said Aldridge. “I had at least six open shots tonight that I (usually) knock down, just not making them right now. As I play more and more I should make them. It was just one of those nights. I made them on and off. I actually got to the basket better than I’ve done all season tonight, so that was kind of funny. But I had looks that I didn’t make tonight.”
Nicolas Batum also stuggled from the field (5 of 13) but shot3 of 5 from three to finish with 15 points and eight rebounds.
“I thought defensively we did a good job,” said Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. “We did a really good job on LaMarcus Aldridge by making every shot tough and being physical with him. By taking him away, we made them an outside team.”
Both Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson played extended minutes off the bench with Robin Lopez getting into early foul trouble. The second-year players each shot 4 of 6 from the field to finish with eight points apiece.
The Grizzlies had five players score in double figures led by Gasol, who got into shouting distance of a triple-double with 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes.
In injury news, backup guard Mo Williams left the game in the second quarter with pain in his right hip. He did not return and his status for Wednesday night’s game versus the Spurs in San Antonio is unknown.
“We’ve just got to go out there an keep playing,” said Lillard. “We can’t be worried about what’s happened these last three games and we can’t get caught up in, ‘There’s something missing. We need to fix this, we need to fix that.’ We’ve got to go out there and be ourselves and try to make it a game coming down the stretch and try to win one.”
Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 5:30 PM on CSNNW, ESPN and 620 AM.
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.