Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe, both of Grantland.com, talk NBA playoffs for over an hour on Friday’s edition of The BS Report. The conversation eventually turns to the first-round series between the Trail Blazers and Rockets. Lowe, who has picked the Rockets to win in five games, doesn’t have a whole lot of complimentary things to say about the Blazers, stating that the Blazers are the team every other Western Conference team wanted to play and that Robin Lopez has “no shot” against Dwight Howard.
But Simmons isn’t so sure. The Sports Guy goes so far as to say that he doesn’t think the Rockets can win if Patrick Beverley isn’t healthy, wonders how Houston is going to stop LaMarcus Aldridge and calls Damian Lillard one of the “toughest guys in the league.” He also predicts the series goes seven, though he never says which team he thinks will win, and that Lillard and Beverley will come to fisticuffs before it’s over. There’s also discussion of how Wesley Matthews might attack James Harden, the issues for Lillard and Jeremy Lin on defense
(The segment pertaining to Trail Blazers vs. Rockets starts around the 15:45 mark)
Bill Simmons: I want to go back to Houston one second. Van Gundy picked them to win the title.
Zach Lowe: It doesn’t surprise me. Houston, if you’re going to make an out of the box championship pick, Houston is the best possible pick. And I think Golden State would have been the best possible pick had Bogut been healthy but he’s not. And I think Houston, they have the profile and they put together about a 35-game stretch where they really had the profile of a championship contender. And then Beverley got hurt and Howard started missing games and they sort of were just there for the last 15 games of the season.
They have two stars, they have a decent defense on the right night, sometimes a very good defense sometimes a bad one, and an explosive offense. And they got — I don’t mean to demean Portland because they’re a good team — they got the team that everyone in the West wanted to play in the first round and they were 4-0 against San Antonio. If you’re going out of the box — I don’t even think Houston is that far out of the box — but if we assume that they are that’s the smart pick.
Simmons: The part everyone forgets about the playoffs is you only have to play well four times. So, you look at Indiana and be like, well, Indiana’s been a .500 team the last two months. That’s true, but in the playoffs if you’re .500 that means you have Game 7 at home if you’re Indiana. You can go .500 in the playoffs.
Lowe: This is the Heat the last two years. They played well four times every series and that’s all they need.
Simmons: We’ve talked about Houston before and how dangerous they can be in a series. They have the one James Harden game where he scores 48, they have the one Chandler Parsons game where he makes nine threes, they have the one huge Dwight Howard game when he has the 30-20 and that’s three wins.
I worry that they’re going to be healthy enough, cause Howard really hasn’t been totally Howard since that little stretch they had where they knocked off the three contenders in a row then he got his butt kicked by Joakim Noah and that whole thing. We haven’t really seen him unleash holy hell for about two straight weeks in a couple months. Did we ever figure out how Beverley came back so fast? Are we sure he’s 100 percent?
Lowe: We’re not, and he has to be. In this series with Portland, with Lillard going around those pick and rolls where he needs just the smallest sliver of daylight to launch a three and with all the shooters around him. This round and beyond they need Beverley and they need Howard this round badly because Howard — I wrote about this in my preview — he just absolutely destroys Robin Lopez. Robin Lopez has no shot against a healthy Dwight Howard. He shot like 60 percent in the post, just obliterated Robin Lopez. If they are healthy, that’s the key to the series for me.
We don’t know how healthy Amir Johnson is for the Raptors and he’s a crucial player for them. All these sort of late-season injuries, it’s hard to tell sometimes how much is an injury and how much is, okay, he’s recovered but we’re just going to sit him out because the game don’t really mean anything anymore.
Simmons: Controversial opinion: I don’t think Houston can beat Portland if Beverley’s not healthy, because for two reasons. One, he’s really their only guys on the perimeter who can guard anyone. And two, I think he’s kind of the key guys for them from a toughness standpoint and they feed off him. If he’s not right, I think that’s really going to effect them. It puts a lot of pressure on Jeremy Lin.
Oh, by the way, Jeremy Lin versus Damian Lillard might be the all-time “nobody can guard nobody” matchup. Everybody just clear out of the way and let guys get layups if that happens.
Lowe: Unless we get a couple of random cross matches where Harden is guarding Lillard. Then the universe might implode on itself. By the way, any time you have, during one season, like three YouTube compilations of your horrible defense become viral, you know that you’ve had a bad defensive season.
Simmons: I really feel like Harden was ruined psychologically by trying to guard LeBron in that Finals and it effected his offense and then he was like “Ah, you know what? Everyone has to make choices in life and I’m making mine now. I’m an offensive player. I will never try that hard on defense again. I’m just not doing it.” But in this series he’s not going to really have to guard anybody. It’s a nice matchup for him.
Lowe: I will say this: Wes Matthews is going to take him to the block.
Simmons: He should!
Lowe: I was watching film of their games the other day and I’ve talked to Wes about his post game. He goes after Harden, to the point that they may put Parsons on him for some of the series so Harden can take Batum. Wes is going to make him bang down there.
Simmons: My predictions are always wrong: I predict that this series goes seven. I just feel this series to me reeks of seven. It stinks of seven. I can just feel it. If Howard isn’t right I think Portland can win. I don’t think this is a slam dunk by any means. I think this is actually a pretty good matchup, for the most part, for Portland except for what you mentioned, that Robin Lopez against Howard.
One of these, I remember like in, I’m going to say in December, these two teams played on a Thursday night game and I remember Aldridge really took it to Houston. I do wonder, like, that’s another interesting part, if Howard isn’t right. He’s really the only guy on that team that can guard Aldridge. So, you know, if he’s not right then all the sudden you’re looking at Motiejūnas and people like that. That’s not going to be good. I guess they could bring Asik in but then, the Asik/Howard combo, they’ve had such limited success with it. Do you think they’ll starting playing them in the playoffs or do you think they’ve just given up on it?
Lowe: I think they’ve mostly given up on it but — we’ve talked about this before — I do think there will be a situation where we see it. They’re on the opposite side of the bracket from Memphis so that’s not going to happen probably, but Asik will get some time in this series on LaMarcus Aldridge. And then that game you’re mentioning was primarily LaMarcus Aldridge going crazy on Terrence Jones late in the game, to the point that they had to switch Howard onto LaMarcus Aldridge. I think we’re going to see that switch sooner in this series because Terrence Jones just isn’t big enough.
But Howard has done well against Aldridge. The downside of that is it takes Dwight away from the rim on pick and rolls and all those other plays that LaMarcus Aldridge is in. That is interesting. You’d rather have Dwight near the rim for obvious reasons, but if that becomes untenable, how long do you stick with Terrence Jones? And they played at least once after Aldridge came back from, what did he have, a groin injury and then he fell on his back, they played at least once since then and Aldridge wasn’t quite himself and they were like “We don’t give a crap who is covering you. We’re leaving you one-on-one.” Chandler Parsons, one-on-one. James Harden, one-one-one. They let Harden guard him one-on-one a couple of times and they just let him do whatever he wanted to do. We’ll see if they change that of if they’re sort of going to let LaMarcus get his.
Simmons: There’s two possibilities for a massive fight in Round 1. The first one is Steven Adams against anybody on Memphis, probably Zach Randolph … But then the other one, obviously, Beverly and Damian Lillard, at some point, those guys, that’s just going to be like, the streams are going to cross and it’s not going to be pretty. Cause Lillard is one of the secretly toughest guys in the league. He doesn’t take anything from anybody. And Beverley knows that and he’s going to trying to get into his head the whole series and at some point somebody is getting mad at somebody.
Lowe: They’ve exchanged some trash talk, have they not, this year? Wasn’t there some verbal back and forth the two of them had? I can’t remember what the particulars were but they definitely did.
Simmons: Yeah, something is going to happen.
Simmons: Talking about Lillard for a second though, I think every playoffs, somebody makes the leap, right? It’s always a younger player on a big stage, he comes through, everybody gets really excited, kind of a breakthrough moment. I think Steph Curry is a great example last year where he was one one level going into the playoffs, jumped a level when he got to the playoffs and put himself just in a different place. I would say that two big candidates this year for this are Damian Lillard and John Wall. Who am I missing?
Lowe: I was going to say Wall. DeRozen and Lowry with the Raptors, although Lowry is sort of a veteran so maybe he doesn’t fit
Of all the adjectives one could use to describe the 2015-16 Portland Trail Blazers, “resilient” might be the most applicable. Despite being the third-youngest team in the NBA this season, the Trail Blazers have been remarkably adept at bouncing back. Whether it was replacing four of five starters from the season before, enduring two losing streaks of at least five games or finishing the season by going 33-18 after starting the year 11-20 to make the postseason and finish fifth in the Western Conference, the Trail Blazers, under Terry Stotts’ steady hand, have shown a level of maturity with regard to the way they’ve dealt with disappointment that belies their relative youth and inexperience.
Which is good, because they’re going to need every last bit of fortitude they can muster to get over their fourth-quarter performance at Oracle Arena in their 110-99 loss to the Warriors in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals. Despite leading by as much as 17 in the game and 11 in the fourth quarter, the Trail Blazers were outscored 34-12 in the final 12 minutes, resulting in an 11-point loss and a 2-0 series deficit.
“They’re not a young team, they’ve got a lot of guys that have been around, they’re very smart,” said Damian Lillard of the Warriors. “They see slippage and they go after it. If they see something that they can take advantage of, they take advantage of it. In that last five minutes (of Game Two), we just let our foot off the gas a little bit. I don’t know if it was fatigue mentally but we had some mental mistakes. One or two plays got them going, they got into it and the better they played offensively, they just got sharper defensively. That hurt us.”
While every loss stings, Portland’s loss in Game Two seemed to be more painful than most, for multiple reasons. First, the Warriors have lost at Oracle Arena just twice during the regular season, setting the NBA record for most consecutive home victories in the process, making the unfulfilled opportunity of beating the defending champs on their home court, and in a playoff game no less, a rather bitter pill to swallow, especially after leading for all but the last five minutes of the game. The Trail Blazers will have to beat the Warriors at least once at Oracle to move on to the Western Conference Finals, and one could argue that they won’t get a better chance to do so than they had Tuesday night.
“After that game, I was pretty hot about that one,” said Lillard. “Just because not only was it a great opportunity, but we had it. It was right there, all we had to do was four and a half, five minutes where we just got to be as sharp as possible. That was the challenge for us, just lock in even more, take it to a new level. Instead of that, we went a little bit downhill and they picked it up the way we needed to pick it up. We just wasn’t able to finish it. It sucked man. I was pretty hot about that one.”
And then there’s the matter of soon-to-be two-time MVP Stephen Curry, who has sat out the last two games with a sprained MCL in his right knee. While the Trail Blazers are in no way rooting for Curry to remain sidelined, the simple fact is they have a much better chance of beating the Warriors when the best player in the NBA is in street clothes. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said the Curry would probably sit out Game Three as well, though it seems very unlikely he misses another game this series at Oracle, which, once again, makes the loss in Game Two that much more disappointing.
“I can’t speak on behalf of (the rest of the team), I don’t know how they feel personally, but it’s a game we should have won,” said CJ McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that we let it slip away. That’s what good teams do, they hang around and they finish off games at home. We’ve got to be better than that and I think we will be better. Got to move forward now and take advantage of Game Three.”
Luckily, the Trail Blazers have a bit of extra time to put Game Two behind them. While they have shown an ability to learn from their mistakes and move on this season, some players admitted that Game Two going down the way it did was lingering a bit. And in those situations, sometimes the best solution is playing another game as soon as possible, though that might not be the case this time around.
“Yesterday, I didn’t even want to see a basketball,” said Lillard. “I wasn’t even going to watch the playoff game yesterday until I heard Cleveland was hitting a bunch of threes, so I wanted to see for myself. But I didn’t even want to have nothing to do with basketball yesterday after that game.”
But after a day away from the game, Lillard and the rest of the Trail Blazers returned to their facility in Tualatin to prepare for Game Three at the Moda Center. If they’re able to make the improvements and adjustments necessary to get their first victory of the series Saturday night in Portland, they might truly be able to move on from what happened Tuesday night in Oakland.
“Ain’t nothing I can do about it now. In my mind, it’s over,” said McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that it had to happen but we can learn from it. We can’t sulk and moan and act like it’s the end of the world. We’re down 0-2 against a very good team. Now we’re at home, now we have a very good opportunity to take advantage of two home games and learn from mistakes in the first two games.”
Now back in Portland for games Three and Four of the second round series versus the Golden State Warriors, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record a Game Two recap edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this latest edition we discuss Portland’s collapse in the fourth quarter of Game Two that turned what looked like a rare road win at Oracle Arena into an 11-point loss, how the Trail Blazers go about putting that game behind them before Game Three at the Moda Center, the reports of Stephen Curry sitting out Game Three, Maurice Harkless’ defense on Klay Thompson, the overall quality of the defending champs and answer a few questions about Game Three adjustments, Portland’s locker room, Draymond Green, how far we can run at this point in our lives and a few more random things that I’ve already since forgotten.
OAKLAND — For the first three quarters, it looked as though the Portland Trail Blazers might actually beat the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, something that only two teams have managed to do in the last seven months.
But unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, NBA games last four quarters. And Tuesday night in Oakland, the Warriors outscored the Trail Blazers 34-12 in the final 12 minutes to come away with a 110-99 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals.
“We played three really good quarters, and we showed that we can compete with them, and it got away from us in the fourth quarter, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to lose a game that you’re competitive and you’re in a position to be in the fourth quarter. But we’ve got to close it out… It was an opportunity to get a win on the road, and we’ve got to learn from it and be ready to go get one in Game Three.”
The Warriors now lead the series 2-0.
“I think nights like tonight, they suck,” said Damian Lillard. “It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth. The entire season has been growth for us. But nights like tonight, we have to close that out. We have to get that done. It was just a missed opportunity.”
The first half of Tuesday night’s game went about as well as the Trail Blazers could possible expect, with Portland taking a 17-point lead in the second quarter thanks to shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Though the Warriors would cut into the Trail Blazers lead thanks to an 18-3 run, Portland, as was the case for most of the night, always seemed to counter at just the right time to quiet the Oracle Arena crowd. That counter in at the end of the second quarter came courtesy of back-to-back threes from Al-Farouq Aminu and Damian Lillard to push the lead back to eight by the intermission.
Portland, thanks mostly to Lillard going 6-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from three in the third, extended their lead to 11 going into the fourth quarter before Golden State got white hot to finish out the game. The Warriors took their first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter and would go on to win by 11 after finishing out the game by shooting 11-of-18 in the final 12 minutes of regulation. The Trail Blazers also play right into the Warriors’ hands by turning the ball over five times while going 5-of-19 from the field.
“I think the last run, they were desperate,” said Lillard. “It got to the point where it was win or lose. There wasn’t another quarter after that. It wasn’t just stay with it. It was, ‘We’ve got to do it now.’ And they played desperate, and we just didn’t respond to it well enough to finish the game.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored 17 in the third quarter before finishing with 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from three, six assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes. CJ McCollum went 9-of-19 for 22 points, two rebounds and two assists in 41 minutes.
Aminu got off to a fast start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter before finishing with 14 to go along with six rebounds and two assists. Maurice Harkless would add 11 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes with Gerald Henderson coming off the bench to add 12.
As was the case in Game One, Klay Thompson would lead the Warriors with 27 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field and 5-of-14 shooting from three. Draymond Green, who was the driving force along with Festus Ezeli in Golden State’s pivotal fourth quarter, was just shy of another triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes while also blocking four shots.
“I think there came a point where me and Klay were trying to do too much,” said Green. “When we settled down and trusted everybody else, that’s when everything started to click for us. So as far as the way I’ve been playing with the exception of that one game, it’s playoff basketball. This is what we live for. You play the whole season to get to this point.”
Shaun Livingston and Harrison Barnes scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, with Andre Igoudala putting up 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting off the bench.
Next up, the series takes a three-day break before shifting to Portland for Game Three on Saturday at the Moda Center.
“We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away,” said Lillard. “We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different. In our last series against the Clippers, we were down 0-2. We went home, and the next two games they were pretty much full strength. They had their guys and we got it done those two games. Obviously, Golden State is a different monster, but we know the same thing can happen, and that’s what we’re going in there thinking and believing, and we’re back on our home floor. We’ve got to go out there and play a game like tonight and go finish it.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.