PORTLAND — Trail Blazers reserve forward Dorell Wright hit a go-ahead three-pointer with 7.3 seconds on the clock to give Portland a 100-99 victory versus the Sacramento Kings in front of 20,002 Wednesday night at the Moda Center.
there,” said Wright, whose only make of the night was the game-winner. “That was pretty cool right there, especially sitting over there being mad at myself for not making those shots the whole game and then Coach giving me an opportunity to go back out there. That was big time. It was a big win for us. I’m just happy I was able to knock it down.”
Portland is now 1.5 games behind the Houston Rockets for the fourth seed in the West and up two games on the Golden State Warriors for the fifth seed with three games to play.
With the win, the Trail Blazers are now 51-28 on the season, which is tied for the eighth-most wins in franchise history, and 29-10 at the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers have take the seasons series with the Kings 3-1 and have not lost a series to the Kings since the 2007-08 season.
“It was an exciting way to win a game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Dorell picked a good time to make his shot. Sacramento did what they do well. The way they rebounded the ball in the second half in particular really hurt us. Turnovers hurt us. For me, it is good to get one of these close wins. It’s been a while since we’ve won some close ones so no matter how it comes, it gives us a little momentum.”
Portland led by as many 15 in the first half, though one never got the sense that the Trail Blazers were going to put the Kings away early. While the Trail Blazers shot 62 percent from the field in the first half to just 35 percent shooting for the Kings, Portland turned the ball over 10 times, leading to 16 points for Sacramento.
“Like in most cases, it’s a little bit of everything,” said Stotts as to the cause of Portland’s turnovers in their first game since clinching a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. “Some of it is poor decisions, some of it is good defense. It’s kind of a mixed bag.”
The tide started to turn for the Kings at the end of the first half, with rookie point guard Ray McCallum hitting a three-pointer as time expired in the first half to cut Portland’s lead to 56-46 heading into the intermission.
Sacramento would drastically improve their shooting in the third, hitting 11 of 18 shots while center DeMarcus Cousins put up 14 points in the quarter on 7 of 10 shooting. And while the Trail Blazers wouldn’t keep up the hot shooting they experienced in the first half, they managed to cut their turnovers down to just three in the third, which resulted in the home team giving up just two points of their halftime lead going into the fourth.
And that’s where things would really go sideways for Portland. Sacramento started the fourth on a 13-5 run to cut the lead to one with just under nine minutes to play in regulation. The Trail Blazers were able to hold off the Kings for the next seven minutes, but another Sacramento run, which was capped by a 17-foot jumper by Cousins, gave the visitors a 97-95 lead, their first of the night, with 1:31 to play.
“We made that a lot tougher than it should have been,” said Lillard. “We had a double-digit lead and we didn’t come up with rebounds, we didn’t make the plays we need to make the plays that we needed to make just to finish the game out and they made a huge charge.”
The Kings lead 99-97 with 14 seconds to play after the teams traded free throws. Portland called a timeout to draw up a play for Lillard and Aldridge to get into a pick and roll, though neither would end up taking the penultimate shot of the game. That honor would go to Wright.
“In that situation, you have LA and Damian in a pick and roll and they have to make a play,” said Stotts. “With Nic, Wes and Dorell out there, they have to make a decision. Reggie Evans was guarding Dorell and he was protecting with LA on the roll and Dorell was open. It was a good decision by Damian to find him and showed trust that you have to take what the game gives you and Dorell knocked it down.”
Wright’s three, which he said was his first since high school, was the only thing that kept the Trail Blazers from a crippling loss, playoff seeding-wise, to a team long since eliminated from the postseason.
“Coach gave me the option to go run the baseline and go to either side,” said Wright. “I know that play. Dame likes to go to his right hand so he can get to the basket. Once Reggie Evans – he’s a four-man and that’s the best thing about me being out there with bigger guys on me, he crashed the paint. I moved Nic up a little bit and I was in the corner where I could give him an easy outlet and he made a good pass and I just took it with a lot of confidence and knocked it down.”
The Kings had one last chance to win the game, but McCallum, who scored 10 points in the fourth and finished with game with 23 points on 7 of 15 shooting, missed a 21-footer as time expired.
“I thought I got a good look at a shot, that’s just a shot that I have to make,” said McCallum. “Unfortunately, I didn’t knock it down.”
The Trail Blazers were lead by LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished the night with 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. Lillard’s last assist gave him a double-double for the night with 19 points and 10 assists. Wesley Matthews also scored 19.
The Kings got 30 points and 12 rebounds from Cousins, who averaged 33.3 points and 11.5 rebounds versus the Trail Blazers this season.
Next up, the Trail Blazers play their final road game of the season Friday night in Utah versus the Jazz. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM.
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.