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.
With Portland’s foray into free agency now complete, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
In this almost all Twitter-submitted questions edition, we discuss the signings of Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli and Meyers Leonard, the decision to match the offer the Brooklyn Nets extended to Allen Crabbe, how the additions and returns could change lineups going forward and the notion that the Trail Blazers need to make a trade. There’s also some hot Pokemon Go and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” talk to start the show, so you might want prepare yourself to fast-forward through the first few minutes.
UPDATE: The team has officially announced that they have matched the Nets’ offer sheet to Allen Crabbe, though a “formal announcement” and Crabbe actually signing the contract will not occur until later in the week.
After finishing up their pursuit of new free agents, the Trail Blazers have wasted little time in turning their attention to the free agents on their own roster. After reportedly signing restricted free agent power forward Meyers Leonard to a four-year deal, the Trail Blazers, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, have matched the four-year, $75 million offer sheet the Brooklyn Nets tendered to third-year guard/forward Allen Crabbe, ensuring that the former Cal Bear will be back in Portland next season…
The Portland Trail Blazers have matched Allen Crabbe’s four-year, $75M offer sheet with Brooklyn, league source tells @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
Nets bid on Crabbe has been thwarted — and Crabbe returns to Blazers on four-year, $75M contract. Now, Nets wait on Tyler Johnson sheet.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
The message out of Portland ownership and management is clear: Blazers trying to win this year and beyond — loading up on this roster.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
As is often the case when it comes to restricted free agents, the Nets offer to Crabbe, who has averaged 7.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game through three season, was considerably larger than many assumed the 6-6 wing would receive in an effort to discourage the Trail Blazers from matching. And after the Trail Blazers signed free agent guard/forward Evan Turner to a four-year deal, some assumed that combined with the size of the Nets offer might result in Trail Blazers letting Crabbe walk.
But that would not be the case. Crabbe has been a favorite of the front office and coaching staff since the team acquired former Pac-12 Player of the Year via trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2012 Draft. And though he played sparingly in his first two seasons, he saw his minutes increase dramatically in 2015-16, as he appeared in 81 games and responded with averages of 10.8 points on 44 percent shooting and 39 percent shooting from three, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists while serving as one of the team’s best perimeter defenders.
There were rumors that outside of the money and years, Crabbe, who has typically come off the bench for the Trail Blazers, was intrigued by the opportunity to start and play a larger role with the Nets. But for his part, Crabbe seemed more than satisfied that he would be returning to Portland…
— Allen Crabbe (@allencrabbe) July 10, 2016
With Crabbe now signed, forward Maurice Harkless is the last Blazer still available on the free agent market. Like Crabbe, Harkless is a restricted free agent, which gives the Trail Blazers the right to match any offer he receives from another team. It is also possible for the Trail Blazers to sign Harkless even if he doesn’t receive an offer sheet from another team, as they have reportedly did Sunday with restricted free agent power forward Meyers Leonard.
UPDATE: The team has officially announce that they have signed Meyers Leonard to a new contract. From the press release…
“Meyers is a core member of our organization and continues to show the promise and potential we anticipated when we drafted him,” said Olshey.
Leonard averaged career-highs with 8.4 points (44.8% FG, 37.7% 3-PT76.1% FT), 5.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 21.9 minutes in 61 games (10 starts) in 2015-16. He missed the final 14 games of the regular season due to an injured left shoulder.
“Today is a day which is hard to describe. I’m overcome with happiness and joy,” said Leonard. “I’m thankful for the people who have remained loyal and loving in my life. This is the product of a lot of hard work and time. I feel like I have found a new gear mentally and physically and really am excited for the next four years. The future is going to be bright with this team.”
The Trail Blazers and Meyers Leonard sat down at the negotiating table prior to the start of the 2015-16 season in an effort to hammer out a new contract in an effort to keep the 7-1 power forward from hitting the (restricted) free agent market. Despite mutual interest, the two sides were unable to strike a deal, though considering the Trail Blazers had the right to match any offer Leonard received as a free agent, it always seemed likely he’d be back even if terms on an extension couldn’t be reached.
As it turns out, an offer sheet from another team wasn’t needed for both sides to ultimately come to an agreement.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Leonard and the Trail Blazers have agreed on a new four-year deal worth $41 million…
Leonard, a restricted free agent, has built his value as a stretch four with an ability to spread the floor and deliver a presence on the defensive boards.
Leonard is part of a core expected to compete for 50 victories in the Western Conference this season.
Leonard, 24, missed the final 20 regular-season games with a left shoulder surgery in 2015-16, but has shown steady improvement in the past two years after being selected at No. 11 overall in the 2012 NBA draft.
The reported four-year deal is roughly the same as the offer the Trail Blazers reportedly extended to Leonard prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. At the time, it was reasonable to assume Leonard might receive a larger offer from another team, as his combination of size, athleticism and shooting are highly sought after in today’s NBA. But missing the final 20 games of the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder, not to mention the widely-held assumption that the Blazers would match any reasonable offer for Leonard, likely cooled interest from other teams. And though he didn’t say it explicitly, it always seemed as though Leonard’s preference was to continue his career in Portland after being selected by the Trail Blazers with the 11th overall pick of the 2012 Draft.
“I was drafted here, I’ve been with Terry (Stotts) the entire time, Neil (Olshey) obviously drafted me, being here with now our franchise player Damian (Lillard),” said Leonard back in March. “So the future is bright here and I truly hope that I can be a big part of it.”
Leonard returns to a big man rotation that features Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh and Festus Ezeli, who signed with Portland as a free agent on Friday.
While Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said the team is done chasing new free agents for the year, whether restricted free agents Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe, who received an offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets worth reportedly $75 million over four years on Thursday, return to Portland next season is still to be determined. The team has until 9 pm Sunday night to decide whether or not to match the offer made to Crabbe.