PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 48-27 on the season and 27-9 at the Moda Center this season with a 105-98 victory versus the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday night.
“Well much like the last few games, I really liked how we’re playing,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I liked our mindset, I liked our focus from beginning to end. Except in the fourth quarter – outside of a couple loose possessions, I thought we were really locked in on both ends of the court. We matched their physicality.”
With the win, coupled with a Warriors loss, the Trail Blazers now have a two-game lead on Golden State for the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Portland is also two and a half games behind the Houston Rockets for the fourth seed.
“Memphis is most likely a playoff team and they’ve beaten us rather handily, particularly the first game,” said Stotts. “The second game, we’re in the middle of rough road trip and they caught us at a good time and we didn’t play that well. It’s not about a statement game, but I do like the process of how we’ve gotten better over the last three games.”
The loss dropped the Grizzlies to ninth in the West, though just a half game behind both the Mavericks and Suns, a team that lost to the Lakers Sunday night, for the seventh and eighth spots.
After being soundly outplayed in the the first two contests against the Grizzlies this season, the Trail Blazers started out Sunday night’s game with their best quarter of the season versus Memphis. Portland shot 55 percent from the field in the first and out-rebounded the Grizzlies 12-9. Memphis also shot better than 50 percent from the field, but Portland was nonetheless able to take a 25-23 lead into the second quarter.
But Portland had led at the end of the first quarter in the last game against the Grizzlies and still managed to lose by double digits.
So to make sure that piece of history would not repeat itself, the Trail Blazers started the second quarter on a 16-6 run to take an 11-point lead with just under six minutes to play in the half. Mo Williams and Thomas Robinson would each go 3 for 3 from the field in the second to combine for 14 points.
“That’s something that’s been consistent actually over the past few games,” said Robin Lopez of Portland’s bench production. “Even when we didn’t come out with a win necessarily, we’ve been getting nice contributions from our bench. They’ve been getting a lot of experience and they’ve been proving themselves.”
LaMarcus Aldridge was also perfect in the second, hitting both of his shots from the field and all four of his free throws for eight point. Portland as a team would shoot 63 percent from the field and out-scored Memphis, a team featuring talented post players Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, 18-12 in the paint. The Trail Blazers also made 12 of 14 free throws and out-rebounded Memphis 13-7 to take a 57-45 lead into the halftime intermission despite hitting just one three-pointer.
Portland, despite playing their third game in four nights, all in different time zones, came out just as well in the second half as they did in the first. The Grizzlies give up the third-fewest amount of points in the NBA at 94.0 per game, but had no luck slowing down the Trail Blazers Sunday night, with the home team following up a 32-point second quarter with a 29-point third. Portland would once again shoot better than 60 percent as a team from the field, though this time it was Damian Lillard who would do the damage, going 4 of 5 from the field and 2 of 3 from three for 10 points in the quarter.
The Trail Blazers, up 16 points, would let down their guard a bit going into the fourth quarter, particularly near the end of the game. After shooting well above 50 percent for the first three quarters, Portland’s percentage in the fourth dropped down to 32 percent. Luckily for Portland, Memphis wasn’t much better, shooting 42 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. They’d win the quarter 28-19, but needed to do much more to make up for the first three quarters.
Portland was led by Aldridge who finished with 28 points on 50 percent shooting while grabbing four rebounds and playing deft defense on Gasol. The three-time All-Star, who recently missed seven games with a lower back contusion, fell on his backside late in the fourth quarter, though he remained in the game and played 33 minutes on the night.
“I’m a little sore,” said Aldridge. “It definitely woke up my little contusion, but I’m okay.”
Williams finished with 17 points on 7 of 9 shooting and handed out four assists in 29 minutes. The 6-1 guard in his 11th season is shooting 63 percent from the field in his last three games, all wins, while averaging 5.6 assists.
Lopez ended up one point short of a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes. He become just the fourth Trail Blazer to record at least 300 offensive rebounds in a season and is only one of two players in the NBA with at least 300 offensive rebounds this year. He is the first player since Dwight Howard in 2010-11 to log at least 300 offensive rebounds and 130 blocks in a season.
After a quick stop at home after a five-game trip, the Trail Blazers now head back on the road for a one-game trip in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Tuesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 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.”