The Portland Trail Blazers have played in, and ultimately won, numerous harrowing games during the course of their current win streak. And while that wouldn’t necessarily be the case Monday night against the Knicks, the final result was probably closer than the Trail Blazers would have liked.
Not that they weren’t satisfied with a 102-91 victory, their eleventh straight, against a struggling New York team that has lost five straight and eight of their last ten, but after leading by as many as 22 in the first half, head coach Terry Stotts probably would have liked like a nice, relaxing fourth quarter for his 55th birthday. Unfortunately, that would not be the case.
“I was really pleased with the way we set the tone in the first quarter, particularly at the defensive end, and we maintained that throughout the first half,” said Stotts. “I thought that was a great effort. We’re a little dissapointed we let them get back in it, but New York has a lot of talented scorers and three-point shooters and we made a few mistakes.”
The Knicks, lead by 34 points from Carmelo Anthony, stayed just close enough, cutting the lead to seven with 1:47 to play in the fourth quarter, to keep Portland’s starters in the game to preserve the win streak.
“I thought the first half was exceptional in what we did at both ends,” said Stotts. “We gave up 52 in the second half and didn’t win a quarter. They were 0 for 6 from three in the first half and 6 for 9 in the second half. We didn’t win the second half. So the first half no question was better. Learning to play with the lead, it’s difficult in this league. You see teams give up leads a lot.”
Which the Trail Blazers know all too well, inasmuch as they’ve been the team coming back from leads this season, most recently in victories against the Bulls and Warriors. Luckily they’ve been on the good side of those comebacks, but a time while come when those leads are insurmountable, which makes games like Monday’s against weaker competition the perfect chance to practice staving off a beatable opponent.
“We’ve got to get better playing with a lead,” said Wesley Matthews. “We’ve already proven that we can play down, we’ve proved we can play in close games, now we’ve got to get better at playing with a lead, because that’s what San Antonio does, that’s what the Heat do and that’s what OKC does. We’re not comparing ourselves to those teams, but those are the upper-echelon teams and if we want to be in that group, when we get you down, we’ve got to keep you down.”
But it was a wire-to-wire win nonetheless, made even more impressive considering Mo Williams’ absence due to suspension. And the fact that the Trail Blazers are in a position where their biggest complaint is their inability to take a double digit lead and keep it throughout a game is proof of how far they’ve come since finishing last season on a 13-game losing streak.
And really, how upset could they be? After all, their 11-game winning streak is now tied for fourth longest in a single season in franchise history and their 13 victories this month is tied for the most wins in November by a Blazers team. But for a team that has talked a lot recently about being “greedy” during this streak, it’s not entirely surprising to hear the coaches and players push themselves closer to perfect.
“I thought we did a great job controlling the game,” said Damian Lillard. “First half we came out and hit ’em hard, jumped on ’em. That third quarter we kind of had a rough patch where they got some good looks and we had some turnovers and didn’t execute as well as we would have liked to and they kind of made it a game. I felt like, for the most part, we had full control of the game.”
It was Nicolas Batum’s turn to come out on fire Monday night, scoring 23 points while adding seven rebounds, six assists, a block and a steam in 39 minutes. Batum, who joked that he had to be aggressive because Matthews, sitting just a few feet away, missed his first three shots, became just the third player in NBA history to log 200 points, 90 rebounds, 70 assists and 30 three-pointers through a team’s first 15 games.
Lillard picked up the slack in the second half, finishing the night with 23 points, six assists and four rebounds in 36 minutes. After a few rough nights from the field, Lillard finished a very respectable nine of 20.
LaMarcus Aldridge turned in a double double with 18 points and 14 rebounds to go with three assists and two blocks. Aldridge moved into ninth on the franchise all-time list in rebounds with 4,092.
Matthews rounded out the the double digit scoring starters with 17 points and six rebounds, though he shot “just” three of nine from the three, well below his season average of 53 percent. He did, however, get an all-time “shooters bounce,” befitting for a player on a hot streak as Matthews is, by banking in a three-pointer from the corner.
“That’s my first in my life,” said Matthews of the shot. “I thought that was so off. I thought that was going to skid and hit (team owner) Paul Allen.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Phoenix to face the Suns on Wednesday. Tipoff is schedule for 6 PM.
“I think Phoenix is the team that gives us the most trouble right now, regular season and preseason, too. We know it won’t be easy against them but we need this game. We’re going to get this game.”
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 consultation prize.
PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers saw both a seven-game homestand and a five-game winning streak come to an end with a 110-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 Thursday night at the Moda Center. What’s more, the win was Toronto’s first in Portland since the 2006-2007 season, ending Portland’s seven-game home winning streak versus the NBA’s lone Canadian squad.
“Toronto is a good team, I think that’s pretty obvious,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They’re a very good team and there’s a reason why they’re the second-best team or have the second-best record in the East. I thought we were close — obviously the first quarter getting behind (14) — but they shot the ball extremely well.”
With the loss, the Trail Blazers fall short of getting back to .500 for the first time since the second week of November. Portland is now 24-26 overall and 15-11 at home this season. The win moves the Raptors to 34-16 and is their 13th victory in their last 14 games.
While it wasn’t a wire-to-wire victory for the road team, the Trail Blazers’ lone lead came after less than a minute had elapsed in the first quarter. The Raptors would take a 14-point lead by the end of the quarter.
“Our first quarter defense wasn’t even close to being good enough, especially against a playoff team, a really good team like them” said Damian Lillard. “They shot the ball really well and we made a few mistakes that allowed them to get themselves going and start believing. You have to take your hat off to them, they;re a really good team and they brought a real challenge to us. Hopefully the next time we play them we’ll come out and have a better start.”
In a trend that would continue for the majority of the night, every time the Trail Blazers would succeed in cutting into the Raptors’ lead, Toronto, usually led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, were always able answer with a few timely baskets or defensive play to keep Portland at bay. Portland had a chance to cut Toronto’s lead to three with 35 seconds to play after a Lillard steal, but CJ McCollum couldn’t get the midrange shot on the ensuing fastbreak to fall.
“It’s a shot I hit nine out of 10, easily,” said McCollum. “Left it a little short. Can’t happen. End of the game, that’s a big possession, open shot, open look. I hit that then it’s a three-point game, 36 second left, don’t need to foul, we can play it out. It’s a good learning experience.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored just six points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first half before finishing with 27 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. His first three-pointer, which didn’t come until the fourth quarter, made him just the third player in NBA history to make at least 125 three-pointers in each of his first four season. Lillard also added 11 assists for his 12th double-double of the season.
McCollum went 8-of-18 from the field and 4-of-6 from three to finish with 21 points, six rebounds and two assists. Allen Crabbe scored 17 points off the bench and Gerald Henderson added 10 to round out Portland’s double-digit scorers. Henderson’s ninth point Thursday night gave him 6,000 points for his career.
Portland forward Maurice Harkless started Thursday’s game in place of Noah Vonleh, who sat out with a sprained left ankle, and finished with two points, two points, two blocks and a steal in 16 minutes.
Toronto’s starting backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan combined for 59 points on 21-of-44 shooting. Jonas Valanciunas put up a double-double of 14 points, 11 rebounds. Portland native Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph each scored 12 points off the bench.
Next up, the Trail Blazers hit the road for the first time in nearly three weeks to take on the Rockets in Houston. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 pm.
The NBA announced the participants Saturday night events at the 2016 All-Star Weekend in Toronto on TNT Thursday night, with Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum being one of the eight players selected to compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
Here’s what McCollum had to say about being selected to participate in the Skills Challenge, his chances of winning the event, not being “cool,” the addition of power forwards and centers and what else he’ll be up to in Toronto…
Your thoughts on being invited to participate in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. You had said you wanted to compete in at least one of the events at All-Star, sounds like someone was listening.
CJ McCollum: “I would have liked to be in the Three-Point Contest too, but I’m definitely thankful for the opportunity to participate in the Skills Challenge. I look forward to trying to bring home another winning trophy like Dame did.”
When did you find out you were selected?
CJ McCollum: “A couple of weeks ago.”
Damian won it twice, I assume he’ll probably give you some pointers. But that’s got to be some pressure too considering he’s going to rib you if you won’t win it.
CJ McCollum: “Nah, no pressure. This is all in good fun, it’s a competitive environment, the juices will be flowing. I’ll definitely get some pointers from him, get a little bit of practice in next week.”
What do you feel like you bring to the Skills Challenge that will put you in a good position to win it?
CJ McCollum: “I’m gonna go hard and try to win. I ain’t going to be cool like a lot of those other guys. Hopefully they continue to try to be cool; I’ll go hard. Get in and out of cuts, try to make crisp passes, knock down the shot and keep it moving.”
You mentioned practice. You going to wait until you get in Toronto or put in some time before that?
CJ McCollum: “I’ll probably practice here next week, get a couple runs in.”
What do you think about the field? They’re letting bigs in this year.
CJ McCollum: “Yeah, I see we got a lot of big men in there. They’re shooting threes now days, they’re becoming more well-rounded. Glad to see them competing in this as well and hopefully a guard brings home the championship, not a big.”
I think a lot of people are picking last year’s winner, Patrick Beverley, or Isaiah Thomas as the favorites. How do you like your chances?
CJ McCollum: “I like my chances. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good chance at winning. Obviously it’s about getting the pass in there, making sure you make the jumpshot and everything else should be easy.”
A lot of guys who come up playing basketball participate in three-point or dunk contests, but have you ever done anything similar to the Skills Challenge?
CJ McCollum: “No, I’ve done three-point competitions before, but never a skills setting like this.”
You mentioned you were planning on going to All-Star Weekend even if you weren’t selected to compete in an event, so what else do you have scheduled for Toronto?
CJ McCollum: “I’ll be at the Players Association meeting on Friday. I have a couple of events with my sponsors, I think I’ll have something with Mountain Dew, a couple NBA Cares events and then I also sit on a panel. And I think I might do a segment for Inside Stuff while I’m there, maybe a community service event as well. But I don’t have my full schedule yet.”