The Portland Trail Blazers moved to .500 for the preseason season with a 99-92 win against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. It is the second time the Trail Blazers have defeated the Jazz in as many games.
Portland trailed by as many as 12 midway through the third quarter, but the Trail Blazers, spurred by the rugged post defense of Robin Lopez and the long range shooting of Mo Williams, finished the final 5:50 of the third quarter on a 21-8 run to take a one-point lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would not trail again.
“I was pleased that we stuck with our defense,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously, I thought Robin Lopez had a terrific impact on the second half. I don’t know what his numbers were in the second half but you felt his presence out there. He got a lot of run, rebounds, block shots, finishing around the basket. Offense is slow to catch up but our defense kept us in the game to have a chance to win it.”
Damian Lillard, who received a nice round of applause during pregame introductions from the Weber State fans in the arena, lead the Trail Blazers with 22 points on 7-of-20 shooting to go along with four assists, three steals and two rebounds.. He was also a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line, which was especially helpful on a rough shooting night from the field.
“That’s something that I need to do a better job of, getting to the free throw line,” said Lillard. “Shots weren’t falling. I made some shots but, for the most part, I missed a lot of shots, so it was important for me to get to the free throw line and make those free throws.”
Lillard’s perfection from the line was a godsend considering his teammates were a combined 9-of-21 from the charity stripe.
LaMarcus Aldridge (16 points, four rebounds, two assists), Wesley Matthews (11 points, eight rebounds, five assists), Will Barton (10 points, five rebounds) all finished in double figures as did Mo Williams (17 points, three rebounds, three assists), who was playing against the Jazz for the first time since leaving the team to sign as a free agent in Portland in the offseason.
“Mo did what we wanted him to do and that’s one of the reasons we got him,” said Stotts. “He’s a secondary ball handler, a creator, he can make shots, he can make plays for everybody else, he’s got speed. The layup he made at the beginning of the fourth quarter was … not a lot of guys can make that play. He just turns on the jets and gets to the rim. He has composure, he knows the game and I think he and Damian play well together out there.”
Lopez had his first double-double of the preseason with a 13-point, 13-rebound effort and drew praise from everyone in Portland’s locker room for his post defense.
“It was a paint presence on defense that we haven’t have since I’ve been here,” said Lillard of Lopez’s performance. “He did a great job of altering shots just being there. I think him just being there, even when he committed fouls, they knew he was there and they weren’t going to just get layups and easy shots in the paint.”
Wednesday’s victory was the first appearance as a Trail Blazers for Dorell Wright, who started in place of Nicolas Batum (concussion) and finished with three points, four steals and two assists in 14 minutes.
“Shoot, I’ve been working on my game and trying to get better this whole summertime, so finally to be out there for the first time during the season is great,” said Wright, who has been nursing a dislocated right middle finger for much of training camp. “I felt comfortable, I was a little better with my wind than I expected, especially starting the first game being here in Utah with this thin air. So I think I did a good job as far as being on top of the schemes and knowing the plays and being in the right spots.”
Jazz center Enes Kanter scored 16 points in the first quarter and finished the game with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Gordon Hayward scored 10 of his 20 points at the free throw line to go with six assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal in 34 minutes. Derek Favors (10 points, 17 rebounds) was the only other Jazz player in double figures.
Next up, the Trail Blazers travel to Los Angeles where they’ll be hosted by the Clippers Friday night at the STAPLES Center. Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 PM on NBA TV 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.