The Portland Trail Blazers got a bounce back performance from their starting point guard, a near-perfect shooting performance from his backup and near identical production from their starting frontcourt to beat the Detroit Pistons 109-103 at the Moda Center Monday night.
“I thought it was another solid win,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I was pleased with our offense, disappointed wiht our defense, but ultimately we made stops when we needed to. You can never analyze a win too much, but it was definitely good to get a win and I think it shows we still have room to grow.”
With the victory, which was achieved on Military Appreciation Night, the Trail Blazers move to 5-2 on the season and have won three-straight for the first time since a four-game streak in early January 2013.
After a one for 15 shooting performance in Saturday night’s 96-85 victory against the Kings in Sacramento, Damian Lillard responded Monday night with a seven for 16 night from the field to finish with 25 points. He did much of his damage from deep in the first half, going a perfect four of four from three. He also added four assists, five rebounds and a block in 35 minutes.
“I didn’t shoot the ball well in Sacramento but I thought I played a good game other than that,” said Lillard. “We won the game. I took the same shots that I’ve been taking, they just went in (against Detroit). I didn’t think about it too much but I’m happy we were able to win the game.”
Stotts predicted prior to the game that Lillard would have a bounce back effort similar to the 33-point performance he turned in against the Heat last season after going one for 15 two nights before against the Magic.
“I had a good feeling that he would play a good game,” said Stotts. “I think he’s somewhat unphased by a bad shooting night and, in some respects, comes back even better. I think he showed that last year.”
Lillard’s performance, while impressive, wasn’t nearly as efficient as Mo Williams’, who finished with 17 points on seven of nine shooting. Williams hit his first five shots of the night before missing a 19-foot jumper at the 2:36 mark of the fourth quarter.
“He was big time,” said Lillard of Williams. “He always picks up the pace of the game with the speed he plays at. Tonight he made shots, he made plays for guys. Guarding (Brandon) Jennings, he was pursuing over every pick and roll. He changed the game and that’s what we need him to do, come in and change the game.”
But it wasn’t just Portland’s guards who had hot nights from the field. LaMarcus Aldridge turned in yet another fine all-around performance with 18 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while his fellow big man Robin Lopez had his best game as a Trail Blazer with 17 points on seven of ten shooting and 10 rebounds.
“I love Robin,” said Stotts. “He just played hard every minute he’s out there. He gives effort at the boards at both ends. He’s a great team player and does what we need him to do. When he’s able to contribute offensively, that’s great. For him to get a double-double, he’s really an important part of our team.”
After the game, Aldridge attributed Lopez’s performance to the time-tested advantage of playing in front of family.
“His mom is here so she’s staying for the rest of the season now!” joked Aldridge. “He was making post moves and diving to the basket, throwing dimes to me. Tonight, he played with that energy and that high level that we need from him. He blocked shots, he rebounded, he scored, he was talking more tonight. I thought his energy was great tonight.”
While Lopez’s energy and Portland’s shooting percentages could be described as great, their defensive, by the admission of nearly everyone in Portland’s locker room, was not, as evidenced by Detroit outscoring Portland 60-36 points in the paint. While Stotts was satisfied with some of what the team did, particularly forcing the Pistons to shoot mid-range jumpshots, he said he’d like to see his team slow down opponents more often.
“I’d like to get to the point where we’re able to take away other teams’ strengths a little bit better,” said Stotts. “Detroit did what they did. They are a paint team, they are an offensive rebounding team. We did a better job with the transition defense, but they’re a transition team. I’d like to get to the point where we’re a little bit better at taking away other teams’ strengths. That being said, they shot a fair amount of mid-range shots. Actually, they shot more mid-range shots than they usually. They shot 42 percent from mid-range which is a decent number. If you look at effective field goal percentage, we did a nice job. We took away threes. I would have liked to have rebounded the ball a little bit better. The first half, I would have liked to control their transition a little bit better. Shots at the rim, control that a bit better. Just getting to a point where – teams do what they do, we just need to not let them do it quite as well as they normally do.”
The Pistons were led by Brandon Jennings (28 points on 11 of 24 shooting) and sophomore Andre Drummond, who turned in a double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds in 42 minutes. Greg Monroe added 19 points and eight rebounds in the losing effort.
Next up, the Trail Blazers look for some opening-night revenge when they host the Suns at the Moda Center. Tipoff is schedule for 7 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.