PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 45-24 on the season and 26-9 at home with a 116-103 victory versus the Washington Wizards Thursday night at the Moda Center.
Portland is now 21-4 against the Eastern Conference this season, the best mark of any Western Conference team. The win also broke Portland’s three-game losing streak to the Wizards dating back to the 2011-12 season.
The Trail Blazers used a 19-2 run spanning from the 1:37 mark in the second quarter to the 10:02 mark in the third quarter to take the lead, one they would not relinquish the rest of the game.
“The ball was moving,” said Wesley Matthews. “It was a lot of fun to be out there. That’s how we play. That’s how we get on a roll. That’s how we got to be one of the hottest teams, because the ball was flying and we caused a problem either in pick and roll or in isolation situations where two are looking at one and we kick the ball out and we move it and the ball finds energy. We were all moving tonight.”
The ball moved particularly well in the third, with Portland tallying 10 assists on 13 made shots in the quarter. That ball movement yielded great looks from three and the Trail Blazers responded by shooting 62 percent from the field while going 6 of 11 from beyond the arc in the third.
“Make shots – there really wasn’t much to it other than I thought the ball found our shooters and they shot it with confidence,” said Stotts of his team’s third quarter production. “It wasn’t necessarily anything that we ran. I just felt like shooters were shooting with confidence. The thing that I’m pleased about is that our spacing lineup is kind of getting a rhythm, whether Mo (Williams) is in the game or Mo is not in the game. It’s kind of working the way it should as far as opening up the court and opening up three point opportunities and we’re still able to defend and rebound with that group.”
While the Trail Blazers broke the game open in the third, they were only in that position thanks to coming out with much better energy early in the game. Portland’s first quarter was downright stellar compared to their performance Tuesday night against the Bucks. The Wizards, led by 13 points from All-Star point guard John Wall, had a 28-23 lead after the first 12 minutes of the game, but Portland turned the ball over just twice and shot 40 percent from the field, both which were vast improvements from the game before.
“I was really pleased with the way we played,” said Stotts. “The first quarter was a little slow, but offensively, we were really moving the ball. There was a nice rhythm to it.”
Portland got early production from Dorell Wright, who started in place of LaMarcus Aldridge (lower back contusion) for the fourth-consecutive game. After going 0 of 8 Tuesday against the Bucks, Wright hit 3 of 5 shots in the first for seven points while also pulling down five rebounds in the first. Wright would finish the game with 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the field, 3 of 6 shooting from three and seven rebounds.
“It was all mental,” said Wright of his improvement from his previous performance. “I’m a shooter. I’ve been doing it for a while now and I understand what I need to do as far as getting prepared for the next game. I just had a short memory and tried to make my shots today.”
With shots falling, all the Trail Blazers needed to do in the second half was lock down defensively to come away with the victory. They did just that, holding the Wizards to 32 percent shooting in the third while forcing four turnovers.
“We were more ready to start the second half,” said Nicolas Batum, who pulled down nine rebounds in the third. “More intensity and more energy to start the second half. We got stops, we started running and we got more rhythm. When we got in a rhythm, we started making shots. So we started on defense and then we got open shots. Damian got some good assists and Wes made shots. Very good second half tonight.”
Batum ended the night with 12 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in 34 minutes.
Portland was led by Matthews, who matched a season-high with 28 points on 8 of 16 shooting from the field and 4 of 9 shooting from three.
Lillard finished with a double-double of 23 points and 10 assists while turning the ball over just once in 35 minutes.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Lillard. “We did a great job of moving the ball. Guys were flying around on the defensive end, tipping balls, and that allowed us to get out in transition. I think we just made the right plays. If there was an open guy, we made that pass. Some guys even had wide open shots and passed it up with the defender running at him to get the next guy a better shot. When you have that, that’s when you have a special situation. That’s what makes our team special, like we were at the beginning of the season. It’s exciting to see that we’re getting back to that.”
With four three-pointers in Thursday’s game, Lillard broke his own franchise record for three-pointers made in a season. He now has 186 threes this year with 13 games remaining in the regular season.
Next up, the Trail Blazers hit the road for their second five-game road trip of March with a game against the Bobcats in Charlotte on Saturday.
“We didn’t fare as well as we wanted to on the last road trip, to put it nicely, politely,” said Matthews. “So we know what we’ve got to do. We’ve got a tough stretch, teams that we’ve taken care of before. We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to show up to play and we’ve got to play with urgency like every game is our last.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 4 PM.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”