Portland’s Bench Balls To Blowout Nets

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

The Portland Trail Blazers won their 40th game of the season Wednesday night in blowout fashion with a 124-80 victory versus the Nets to sweep the season series in front of a sellout crowd of 20,015 at the Moda Center.

The 44-point deficit is tied for the eighth-largest margin of victory in franchise history. It is also the largest margin of victory for either team in the history of the series. Brooklyn’s 80 points are the fewest points allowed by the Trail Blazers this season.

Portland now sits in third in the Western Conference standings, three games back from Oklahoma City for the top spot. The Trail Blazers have now won four-straight despite playing without three-time All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (strained left groin).

The win was all the more impressive considering the Trail Blazers played the night before in Denver and were severely undersized without the services of Aldridge (left groin strain), Thomas Robinson (left patella tendon strain), Joel Freeland (right MCL sprain) and Meyers Leonard (left ankle sprain).

With so many players injured, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was forced to play smallball lineups almost exclusively while looking to the end of the bench for help. He got plenty of it, particularly from guard/forward Will Barton and power forward Victor Claver.

“Well, I didn’t see that coming,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was a good effort by everybody who played. I thought really the turning point in the game was the second group at the end of the first quarter — Mo, C.J., Will, Victor and Wes, they really picked up the energy, got aggressive. We were undersized but we did a lot of good things during that stretch. We were able to just keep going from there, but I thought that group really did an important job for us in the first half.”

The Trail Blazers took a nine-point lead into the second quarter, which the bench unit pushed to 24 by the halftime intermission to put the rout into motion.

Barton, averaging just 6.1 minutes per game this season, provided a spark off the bench, something he’s done more often recently as his minutes have seen an increase due to injures.

“I had a lot of fun,” said Barton. “We got a win, a big-time win, without a lot of guys that were down and injured. This is huge for us to keep this winning streak going until we can get all of our guys healthy. We just went out there and balled, everybody, as a team.”

Barton provided his trademark flair, finishing numerous alley-oops and blocking shots at the rim, to finish with 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists and a block. He is the first player with at least 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists on better than 60 percent shooting since … Will Barton on April 7, 2013.

“Just playing within myself, being aggressive, playing hard, my teammates finding me for lobs,” said Barton of what he attributed his success Wednesday night to. “Just trusting me and believing in me out there. It was just a real big team effort. It wasn’t just me, it was everyone.”

Claver, who has played the vast majority of his minutes this season in the last three games, played center for much of the game and responded by scoring 13 points on five of seven shooting and five assists in 22 minutes.

“I knew it was going to be hard without all the big men,” said Claver. “When I came on the court and we played with a lot of energy, playing full-court defense, I think that pushed the team to play faster, we get some distance in the score.”

“Victor’s very smart and defensively, very rarely does he make a mistake,” said Stotts. “He’s in the right place at the right time. He’s very alert to what’s going on and he sees the game. Obviously, I thought Victor had a terrific game. There weren’t too many guys who didn’t have a terrific game tonight.”

Portland’s bench combined to score 68 points, including 13 points from rookie CJ McCollum. Mo Williams led the bench unit with 21 points, seven assists and six assists.

“We just go in to help,” said Williams. “The bench, as far as minutes-wise, we just big guys coming in and do our job. Some nights it’s going to be scoring baskets, some nights going to be just going in there and not messing up. I think that’s, for the most part, the bench guys, that’s what they do. With LA being out, those minutes have increased and we’ve been asked to do more. We’ve been asked to make plays and score the basketball and play minutes that we’ve not played all year … I thought we responded.”

With the game well in hand, Portland’s starters got some much needed rest on the second night of a back-to-back, with none of the first five playing more than 29 minutes.

“Guys came in – this wasn’t the first game that they came in ready and really stepped up for us,” said Damian Lillard, who finished with 14 points on six of 11 shooting after scoring 31 points the night before in Denver. “Will came in and flirted with a triple double. Same thing with Mo. Vic played a great game. Everybody kind of came in and played a great game. It wasn’t necessary for me to have to do a whole lot so it was good to get the rest and I’m excited we won the game.”

Nicolas Batum added 19 points, six rebounds and six assists and Robin Lopez finished with 11 points, eight rebounds in 26 minutes.

The Trail Blazers now have two days off to get healthy before hosting the Nuggets on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.

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Harkless And Henderson Hit On The Same Night In Houston

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 hours ago

It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,

Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.

For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.

But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.

“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”

Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.

“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”

As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.

“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.

“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”

While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.

“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”

He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.

“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”

“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”

It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.

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Trail Blazers Put The Past Behind Them By Winning In Houston

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
5 hours ago

HOUSTON — The old saying goes that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Saturday’s result in Houston is any indication, the Trail Blazers’ collective memory is well intact.

After losing to in overtime in the last game in Houston despite owning a 15-point fourth-quarter cushion, the Trail Blazers did a much better job protecting their lead in the second meeting, with the result being Portland besting the Rockets 96-79 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 18,308 at the Toyota Center.

“That was a really good win, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we came out. Defensively we were solid all night, for the most part… They’re a dangerous team. They can get the threes going and I liked we kept our composure when they made their run.”

Portland is now 25-27 overall and 10-16 on the road this season after playing their last seven games in the cozy confines of the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers have now won 10 of their last 13 games and are currently mere percentage points behind the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference.

The Trail Blazers looked to be the better team Saturday night from the opening tip. Portland shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the first quarter while scoring eight points on six Rockets turnovers to take a 29-23 lead into the second quarter. They’d start the quarter a 13-2 run to take their first double digit lead of the night and would go up by 21 by way of holding the Rockets to just four made field goals in the second quarter while turning six more turnovers into seven more points. Add with the Portland bench outscoring Houston’s 18-0 in the first half and it was easy to see how the road team took a 55-36 lead into the intermission.

“We played really well defensively, I thought,” said Damian Lillard. “We set the tone from the start of the game with active hands, getting our hands on the balls. We just weren’t fun to play against to start the game. That’s what we wanted to go coming out tonight and we did a great job.”

Portland would take their largest lead of the night at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter, though Houston managed to get that down to 21 before the start of the fourth. The Rockets would continue to slim the Trail Blazers’ lead, getting it down to 11 points in late in the fourth quarter. One can imagine there had to be a little nervousness on Portland’s bench after seeing two-thirds of a 32-point third quarter lead evaporate, especially with the specter of the last game in Houston still looming. But after a 10-0 Rockets run cut the lead to 91-76 with two minutes to play, Portland scored the final five points of the game to secure the 17-point lead.

“I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but certainly the way (Houston) won the last time here, I think that was probably in the back of everybody’s mind,” said Stotts. “They’re capable of doing that… I liked the way we kept our composure and pulled out the win.”

Six Trail Blazers finished in double figures led by Damian Lillard, who went 7-of-20 from the field and 3-of-9 from three to finish with 21 points and 10 assists for yet another double-double in 36 minutes.

CJ McCollum went 6-of-13 from the field to finish with 16 points, while Gerald Henderson went 5-of-8 from the field to 16 points as well. Al-Farouq Aminu filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. Maurice Harkless, who started his second-straight game in place of Noah Vonleh (sprained left ankle) and saw extended minutes due to Allen Crabbe missing the game with gastritis, went 6-of-13 from the field for 14 points, six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.

Portland’s bench would outscore Houston’s 24-12 thanks in part to the Rockets not getting any points from a reserve until early in the fourth quarter. James Harden finished with a game-high 33 points with Dwight Howard adding 17, but no other Rocket scored more than eight points in the loss.

“James (Harden) is a good player,” said Henderson, who spent a good chunk of his minutes defending the hirsute shooting guard. “He knows how to score, he knows how to draw fouls so sometimes it’s very difficult to guard him. He got his 30 but we felt like we did a good job containing some of the other guys.”

Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Memphis to finish a quick two-game trip versus the Grizzlies at FexEd Forum on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 pm.

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VIDEO: Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving And Paul George To Appear On ‘We Bare Bears’ Cartoon

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
1 day ago

It’s well known that Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has many interests. While practicing and playing basketball is how he spends the vast majority of his time, the 6-3 guard out of Weber State is an aspiring rapper, a pitchman for the likes of adidas, JBL and Spalding and an ambassador for Special Olympics. And now, he can add “cartoon character” to his list of roles, as he, along with Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Indiana’s Paul George voiced characters for an upcoming episode of “We Bare Bears” on Cartoon Network…

 

Some additional information from the folks at Cartoon Network…

… A special episode of the Cartoon Network Original Series We Bare Bears, featuring Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, premiering Thursday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. (ET/PT). The episode, “Charlie Ball,” features characters voiced by the players. The “All-Star” episodes of Teen Titans Go! and We Bare Bears will replay on Cartoon Network throughout NBA All-Star weekend.

Cartoon Network continues its NBA All-Star 2016 celebration with special segments integrated into some of its leading television shows beginning on Thursday, Feb. 11. Through its popular CN Sayin’ app, Cartoon Network will provide kids with an opportunity to send questions via video submissions to their favorite NBA players. Select questions and responses will then be featured within Cartoon Network’s on-air integrations throughout NBA All-Star.

Sports-themed episodes of Cartoon Network series will be available on VOD and TVE. Highlights from the All-Star special episodes of We Bare Bears and Teen Titans Go! will be on Cartoon Network’s YouTube Channel, the Cartoon Network app, CartoonNetwork.com, as well as VOD.

Not being named to the 2016 All-Star Game was certainly disappointing, but being immortalized in an All-Star themed cartoon seems like a decent consolation prize.

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