MEMPHIS — The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround Tuesday morning at the FedExForum in preparation for their upcoming game against the Grizzlies (tipoff at 5 PM on CSNNW and 690 AM). Some notes from post-shootaround …
— Monday night, Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez posted the photo above featuring himself alongside Grizzlies forward Quincy Pondexter and professional wrestler Big Show from last night’s edition of “WWE Raw” held at the FexExForum. Lopez said that he isn’t much of a wrestling fan, but that he was happy go to go spend some time with a long-time friend.
“I went to high school with Quincy,” said Lopez. “It was Quincy’s birthday and he got us front row seats. We had a good time … I’m not that big of a wrestling fan. I’m aware of the various wrestlers and everything, but Quincy is a pretty big fan. He watched growing up and everything. I had a great time and I know he loved it.”
Despite the size of his stature and personality, Lopez said he doesn’t think he’s got a future in professional wrestling, though he thought at least one of his teammates could potentially thrive in the ring.
“I suppose anything could happen,” said Lopez. “I’d definitely be the good guy. I could probably see Wes being in that position first.”
— On a more serious note, the team spent a good portion of their off day in Memphis visiting the National Civil Rights Museum and St. Jude Children’s Hospital (I’ll have more on the latter trip later this week). The museum, which is housed at the Lorraine Hotel, the location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, is just a few blocks from where the team stays in Memphis. Despite playing an overtime game in Houston the night before, the team got up first thing to tour the museum and present a donation on behalf of the organization …
“We think we’re tough – and we are- and we think we go through stuff. I don’t know if I could have gone through a sit-in. I feel like I’m as tough as they come, I don’t know if I could have gone through a sit-in and be beaten up and dragged out and not retaliate. That’s toughness.” — Wesley Matthews
“The things that African Americans went through to gain civil liberties and civil rights took tremendous courage. You don’t know if you have that same courage until you’re put in that situation.” — Terry Stotts
“It was almost perfect, timing-wise. We had just come off two tough losses, two losses where we could get caught up in ourselves and our profession and we forget what’s outside of basketball. It’s always important to be able to have something to bring you outside of this life. Going to St. Jude and the Civil Rights Museum just puts everything back in perspective for you.” — Wesley Matthews
Click here for more photos from the team trip to the museum, courtesy of Jim Taylor.
— Finally, tonight’s game in Memphis marks a homecoming of sorts for Blazers swingman Will Barton, who played his two season collegiate seasons for the Memphis Tigers. Even though he was born and breed in Baltimore, Barton said going back to Memphis feels like home.
“I spent my two years in college here, performed really well and the fans really embraced me and I really embraced them,” said Barton. “They kind of took me in. It’s like my second home now. Any time I come back here to play, it always feels good. It’s just a wonderful experience.”
Despite playing spot minutes, Barton has become somewhat of a fan favorite among Trail Blazers fans for his freewheeling style of play and boundless energy, something that his fans in Memphis appreciated during his two seasons playing under Josh Pastner.
“I get a lot of love because they appreciate what I did here for my two years while I was here,” said Barton. “I really appreciate that. I always say Memphis fans and Portland fans remind me of each other because they’re so passionate about basketball. The fans really embrace the city and the team and the players. I love Memphis, it’s my second home and it’s always good to come back.
“They love me here in Memphis, too. I can go anywhere in the world and make it my home.”
OAKLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers had roughly 36 hours to prepare for Game One of their Western Conference Semifinals matchup versus the Golden State Warriors after eliminating the Clippers in Game Six at the Moda Center on Friday night. There was only so much film they could watch, only so many Warriors-specific plays they could learn before a 12:30 pm tipoff Sunday afternoon in Oakland.
That was a reality reflected in Portland’s performance to start the game, as they made just five field goals and trailed by as many as 20 in the first quarter before going on to lose 118-106 to the top-seeded Warriors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena. The Warriors now lead the series 1-0 with Game Two scheduled for Tuesday.
The good news is the Trail Blazers improved as the game went on. Portland shot 52 percent from the field an 67 percent from three in the second quarter, utilizing small lineups that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” to eventually outscore Golden State 34-28 in the quarter. The Trail Blazers managed to cut the Warriors’ lead to single digits on numerous occasions before the half but were never able to keep the deficit in check for more than a possession or two, allowing the home team to take a 14-point lead into the intermission.
The Warriors, playing without reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a sprained right MCL, would reestablish their dominance in the third quarter, holding Portland to 9-of-27 shooting from the field and a particularly stingy 1-of-8 from three. Between their defense and shooting 50 percent from both the field and three in the quarter, Golden State took a 26-point lead, their largest of the night, before heading into the fourth up 93-73.
Portland was able to give the final score an air of respectability by outscoring Golden State 33-25 in the fourth, but never realistically threatened the defending champs before the final buzzer.
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who finished with 30 points, five assists and four steals in 41 minutes. CJ McCollum added 12 points, three rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes. Portland’s starting backcourt combined to shoot 13-of-43 from the field, with many of those makes coming when the game was already out of reach.
Al-Farouq Aminu shot 6-of-13 from the field and 3-of-8 from three for 15 points in 25 minutes. Harkless added 10 points and three rebounds, with Mason Plumlee grabbing a game-high 13 boards.
Allen Crabbe continued his strong play as of late, going 6-of-9 from the field for 15 points and five rebounds in 33 minutes. Ed Davis went 5-of-6 from the field to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes.
The Warriors were led by Klay Thompson, who shot 50 percent from both the field and three to finish with a game-high 37 points to go along with five rebounds in 37 minutes. Draymond Green put up a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 37 minutes. Shaun Livingston added 12 points and with both Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut finishing with 10 points.
Next up, the Trail Blazers will try to regroup before heading back to Oracle for Game Two on Tuesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.
When the Trail Blazers take the court for Game One of their Western Conference semifinals versus the Warriors on Sunday, they’ll be doing so in one of the most hostile environments in the NBA. Golden State has been all but unbeatable at Oracle Arena in recent years, so much so that they set the NBA record for most consecutive home victories before dropping two games on their home court in the last two weeks of the regular season.
But while the vast majority of those in attendance for the Game One Sunday matinee will be rooting hard for the Warriors, there will be a small contingent of fans at Oracle doing whatever they can to will the Trail Blazers to victory. Some will be transplants from Oregon, others will make the sojourn to the bay area, likely paying exorbitant prices for tickets, in order to see their team play in the second round for just the second time in 16 years.
And there will be at least one more group making the short trip from the Brookfield neighborhood in Oakland to Oracle to see Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard face off against the team he grew up cheering for as a boy growing up in the east bay. Sunday afternoon’s game will be the first time the Trail Blazers and Warriors have ever met in the postseason, which also means it’s the first time Lillard will have a chance to play in front of his family and friends in a playoff game at Oracle.
“First of all, the opportunity to play against the best team in the league, that’s the thing I’m most excited about, having another challenge where people are going to say we don’t have a chance,” said Lillard, who graduated from Oakland High School, which sits roughly five miles from Oracle Arena, before playing his college ball at Weber State. “That’s the most fun part of it for me. And second, being able to play in front of my family and friends. Since college they haven’t been able to see me play a lot and to be able to come home and play on the highest stage against the best team in the league, there’s no greater feeling and I’m really excited about it.”
Which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows the 6-3 point guard. Lillard is incredibly proud of his hometown and takes every opportunity he can to remind people about the city that helped shape him into the man he is today. Be it the the tattoo of the Oakland Tree across his chest or insisting on having his neighborhood on the soles of his signature adidas sneaker, Lillard is all about repping where he’s from.
“Growing up in Oakland, it just made me tough,” Lillard told ESPN analyst Doris Burke. “You see a lot of things, you’re around a lot of things. You’ve got to be able to handle it. You’ve got to take it in stride. Everybody’s going through it, so you can’t feel sorry for yourself. If something bad happens you can’t be the guy that sticking out, uncomfortable. You’re raised there, it prepares you to survive anywhere. You can handle any moment.”
Which is good news if you’re a fan of Lillard and the Trail Blazers. While an NBA playoff game doesn’t pose anywhere close to the kind of life or death challenges that sometimes come along with growing up in a place like Oakland, the difficulties of trying to win a game against the defending champions on their home court, even without the services of reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a minor knee injury, will be numerous. Winning a road game in the playoffs, as Portland will have to do sooner or later if they want to win the series, is always going to be hard, but doing so against one of the best teams in NBA history will be a vicissitude in excess of anything the Trail Blazers have experienced this season. Given that, it’s somewhat ironic that the toughness instilled in Lillard by way of growing up in Oakland could ultimately be what helps the Trail Blazers pull off the near-impossible task of besting the Warriors at home.
That would be just fine for those who might duck out of church a bit early Sunday morning in order to get to Oracle to cheer for their son, brother, grandson, cousin, uncle or friend from around the way as he attempts to take down their hometown team.
“Everybody is excited about what they’re doing, but everybody that I grew up with and people in my family, they Damian Lillard fans first, Warriors fans second,” said Lillard. “That’s just what it is.”
Few thought the Portland Trail Blazers would make the playoffs when the NBA regular season started back in November. And even those who did believe that Portland could overcome significant roster turnover to make the postseason, it’s hard to imagine that even they figured the Trail Blazers would still be playing come the beginning of May.
Yet here they are.
After winning their first round, best-of-seven playoff series 4-2 versus what ended up being a significantly hobbled Los Angeles Clippers squad, the Trail Blazers now advance to the Western Conference semifinals to take on the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, with Game One scheduled to tip off Sunday at 12:30 pm at Oracle Arena.
As was the case versus the Clippers, Portland’s matchup versus Golden State is the first time the two teams will have met in the postseason. The Warriors took the 2015-16 season series 3-1, with their wins coming by an average of 20.3 points. But on the plus side, the Trail Blazers handed Golden State one of their nine losses this season, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 in the first game back from the All-Star break.
And there’s also the matter of Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who is expected to miss at least the first two games of the series with a sprained MCL in his right knee. The reigning MVP, who is expected to win the award again this season, averaged 32.5 points on 54 percent shooting from the field and 53 percent shooting from three, 6.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds versus the Trail Blazers this season, so the fact that he’s sitting out at least the first game of the season certainly helps Portland’s chances. However, the Warriors still managed to beat the Houston Rockets in the first round with Curry sidelined and the Trail Blazers struggled at times to eliminate a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, so even with Curry out, Golden State are still the heavy favorites, especially playing at Oracle Arena, where they’ve lost just twice during the regular season.
Before the series starts on Sunday, brush up on the matchup by perusing some of the pertinent details of the previous meetings this season
SECOND ROUND SCHEDULE
Game One — Sunday, May 1: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, 12:30 pm on ABC, 620 AM and ESPN Radio
Game Two — Tuesday, May 3: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM
Game Three — Saturday, May 7: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers at Moda Center, 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM
Game Four — Monday, May 9: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers at Moda Center, 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM
Game Five* — Wednesday, May 11: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, Time TBD on TNT and 620 AM
Game Six* — Friday, May 13: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers at Moda Center, Time TBD on ESPN and 620 AM
Game Seven* — Monday, May 16: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, 6 pm on TNT and 620 AM
* if necessary
TRAIL BLAZERS TALK CLIPPERS
“We thought (the Clippers) was tough without (Chris Paul) and Blake (Griffin), but that’s a championship team. Even without Steph (Curry), they’re still a championship team. We’ve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. We’ve just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in defensively.
Lillard on how they beat the Warriors during the regular season…
“To beat them we basically had to outscore them. Against a team like that, when you don’t get stops and you let them get rolling, if we weren’t making shots the way we were, we probably would have lost by 30. We can’t let them be that comfortable, as comfortable as they were that night. They’re going to make shots, we can’t be discouraged by that, but every possession matters when you’re playing against a team like that because they always one three away from running off on you. So we’ve just got to be ready for that.”
“They pose a lot of problems. Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, even without Steph (Curry), they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond (Green) is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves the ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team and he gets everybody involved. Klay (Thompson) will be a little bit more aggressive looking to score without Steph and Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston and the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.”
“We’re ready for them. Obviously you get so locked in to one team that you have to take a deep breath, step back and start watching the film. They’re the champs, so you’ve got to beat them. They aren’t going to have off nights, they’re going to be locked in and we’re ready for the challenge.”
“It’s a big challenge, but we’re up for it. We feel like we can compete with anybody in this league. We’re NBA players just like them. We know it’s going to be a big challenge, but I think it’s going to be exciting for us.”
“Obviously they’re a great team, got a lot of pieces. Steph (Curry) is out but it’s still a great team. Without Steph they probably still a boarder line 50-win team. It’s not like they can’t play or whatever, so it’s going to be a tough series for us, so we’re going to take it one game at a time… It’s going to be a tough series, they’re a great team, they’re defending champions, so you know they definitely have a lot to play for. It’s going to be a tough series for us.”
“It’s a team we’re familiar with, we played them five times this year including preseason, so we’re familiar with them. There’s no surprises as to what they do well, what they want to do. I don’t know how long Steph will be out — I haven’t actually got to watch them much in the playoffs without him — but it’s a little different with him out there. They still play the same style but having a player like that out… I guess would change things a bit.”
PORTLAND: Meyers Leonard is OUT for the series after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder on April 8, 2016.
GOLDEN STATE: Stephen Curry (MCL sprain, right knee) and Kevon Looney (left hip surgery) are OUT for Game One.
Points per game: Trail Blazers 105.1 (6th), Warriors 114.9 (1st)
Points against per game: Trail Blazers 104.3 (20th), Warriors 104.4 (19th)
Point differential: Trail Blazers +0.8 (13th), Warriors +10.8 (1st)
Field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45 percent (16th), Warriors 49 percent (1st)
Opponent field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45 percent (16th), Warriors 43 percent (3rd)
Three-point field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 37 percent (4th), Warriors 42 percent (1st)
True shooting percentage: Trail Blazers 55 percent (10th), Warriors 59 percent (1st)
Rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 45.5 (5th), Warriors 46.2 (4th)
Offensive rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 11.6 (3rd), Warriors 10.0 (20th)
Rebound differential: Trail Blazers +1.8 (10th), Warriors +2.3 (8th)
Rebound percentage: Trail Blazers 51 percent (10th), Warriors 51 percent (8th)
Assists per game: Portland 21.3 (21st), Warriors 28.9 (1st)
Turnovers per game: Trail Blazers 14.1 (17th), Warriors 14.9 (25th)
Pace: Trail Blazers 98.31 (12th), Warriors 101.6 (2nd)
Offensive rating: Trail Blazers 106.1 (7th), Warriors 112.5 (1st)
Defensive rating: Trail Blazers 105.6 (20th), Warriors 100.9 (5th)
Net rating: Trail Blazers +0.6 (14th), Warriors +11.6 (2nd)
• October 9, 2015: Trail Blazers 118, Warriors 101 (preseason)
While it’s foolhardy to draw too many conclusions from two games, it’s hard not to get a little excited about how the Trail Blazers have fared during the preseason, particularly on the offensive end, after their performance Thursday night against the defending NBA champs.
Thanks to the Allen Crabbe’s shot, Damian Lillard’s ability to get to the free throw line, a yeoman debut performance from Al-Farouq Aminu and quality contributions up and down the roster, the Portland Trail Blazers got their first win of the preseason Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors with an impressive 118-101 victory in front of 19,303 at the Moda Center.
“It was a positive night,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I was pleased with the way we played. Obviously scoring 77 in the first half, I didn’t see that coming but I really liked the tempo of the game. I liked how we were getting our shots, we were moving the ball. Both halves were completely different. It was up and down first half and much more of a defensive game in the second half. I thought we had a lot of good performances. Obviously (Crabbe) had a night and that was good to see the rhythm. I thought for the most part offensively we helped each other get shots and that helps the ball go in a little bit.”
The Portland Trail Blazers had their entire squad available for Friday night’s game against the defending NBA Champion Golden State at the Moda Center. There were no injuries, no illnesses, no suspensions and no clerical errors to speak of, making Friday’s contest one of the first this season in which Terry Stotts had the entirety of the roster at his disposal.
It didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
The Warriors, as they’ve done more often than not to their competition this season, dominated the Trail Blazers whenever they seemed to put their minds to it and eventually came away with a wire-to-wire 128-108 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 20,035, many of whom came to support the road team.
“Well, it was pretty obvious Golden State’s a pretty good basketball team,” said Stotts. “They showed why they have the record they have. They shot the ball really well, they passed — 36 assists. I think one of the things they do best is their passing and their shooting sets up a lot of their passing, obviously. They’re a good team.”
The Portland Trail Blazers entered the All-Star break playing their best basketball of the season, so there might have been some concern that a week off might have threatened their momentum.
But as Damian Lillard often says these days, don’t let that worry you.
Despite playing the Golden State Warriors, a juggernaut of a team that had lost just four games this season going into Friday night’s game, the Trail Blazers picked up right where they left off, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 in front of a sellout crowd at the Moda Center.
“It’s an understatement: we played very well,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we kept our composure. Offensively, we were terrific all night moving the ball. Dame had it going early, had it going late. After giving up some easy baskets in the fist quarter, I thought our defense was pretty solid the rest of the night. It was a great way to start after the break.”
The Portland Trail Blazers set out to do two things that no other NBA team had done this season: defeat the Golden State Warriors twice and hand the defending NBA champions their first loss on their home court since 2015.
They succeeded in neither.
The Warriors built a 15-point lead in the first quarter, which they extended to 23 in the second quarter on the way to scoring 81 points in the first half to eventually beat the Trail Blazers 128-112 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena Friday night in Oakland.
“They’re a championship team and they played like it,” said Damian Lillard. “I thought we came out and we had a pretty decent start. They’re great shooters, they see the ball go in and there’s not a whole lot you can do after that… They played a much better game than we did.”
On Friday, the Boston Celtics, a day after losing to the Trail Blazers at the Moda Center, became the first team this season to beat the Golden State Warriors on their home court this season, proving that the reigning NBA champions were not actually invincible at Oracle Arena.
But while that might be good news for the rest of the league, it didn’t do the Trail Blazers any favors Sunday afternoon in Oakland. Behind yet another ridiculous shooting night from reigning MVP Stephen Curry, a Warriors team determined to avoid suffering consecutive home losses for the first time since January 2014 bested the Trail Blazers 136-111 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596.
“We played much better than we did last time (in Oakland),” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They jumped on us early and we were never really in the game the last time. At least this game we were competitive for two, almost three quarters. It’s hard to look at the score and feel that, but we certainly played better than last time.”