OAKLAND — After ending the 2012-13 regular season on a 13-game losing streak, the Portland Trail Blazers will begin their 2013-14 campaign riding a five-game preseason winning streak thanks to defeating the Golden State Warriors 90-74 Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
The Trail Blazers entered the second half down 48-41, but a 22-0 run that started early in the third quarter, which featured lockdown defense from the Blazers and a cottage worth of bricks from the Warriors, allowed Portland to take control of the game.
“I thought we played an exceptional defensive half in the second half, particularly the third quarter,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We had it marked as 17 consecutive stops, something like that … We rebounded the ball well, we took a lot of pride in our defense and on a night when offense wasn’t very good, we were able to pull away because of our defense.”
Damian Lillard, who was described by the public address announcer as “the pride of Oakland” during pregame warmups, lead the Trail Blazers in scoring with 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting while playing in front of family and friends at Oracle Arena, a place that Lillard said was a ten minute walk from the house he grew up in.
“It’s home, so every time I come here I get a different feeling than any other arena that I play in,” said Lillard. “I know there’s a lot of family members out there, I know there’s a lot of friends I grew up (with), a bunch of familiar faces. It’s an honor for me to be able to come back and play in an NBA game in front of them.”
Lillard performance was quality in it’s own right, but getting the better of the point guard battle against Stephen Curry (17 points on 7-of-22 shooting), made Lillard’s performance that much more impressive.
“He’s a great shooter,” said Lillard of Stephen Curry. “Sometimes he’ll make a shot where you’re right in his face. You might foul him and he’ll still make it but we just wanted to let the percentages win it over. There’s not too many guys on this planet that’s gonna make every shot with you in their face constantly. I’m quick enough to be up into him and stay attached to him. I think I did a good job of that.”
Nicolas Batum turned in one of his most effective rebounding games of his career with 15 boards while helping the Trail Blazers out-rebound Golden State 58-47. Batum, who also spent much of the second half making life miserable on the offensive end for Stephen Curry, scored 10 points, handed out three steals and logged a block while finishing a ridiculous +22 while on the floor.
“I know (Curry) is one of the best point guards in the league, one of the most valuable players in the league, so just try to put some length on him,” said Batum. “We tried to just deny him. He’s one of the better shooters in the game right now, maybe the world, so just tried to deny him, put some length on him and make him drive, make him put the ball on the floor.”
“Nic has the ability to impact a game in a lot of different ways,” said Stotts. “Tonight you saw his rebounding and defense. Obviously he can score, he can pass. One of the things we’ve talked about is, on a given night, it’s going to be one thing, it’s going to be another and embracing that challenge every night, to have an impact on the game but not necessarily knowing how that impact is going to play out. Tonight it was pretty obvious: his rebounding and defense were terrific.”
LaMarcus Aldridge struggled from the field, going 4-of-15, but still managed a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. He also added three assists, three blocks and heaped more praise on Joel Freeland, who played 15 minutes off the bench and seems to have to taken hold of the backup big man role in Stotts’ rotation.
“He’s buying into that role and I love it because I feel like great teams have guys who know who they are and they know their role and they want to do it to the best of their ability,” said Aldridge of Freeland. “I feel like him buying into like ‘I’m going to come in and if I get five (minutes) or I get eight or 12, I’m going to play it hard. I’m going to block shots, I’m going to clog the paint, I’m not worried about touches. If I get shots, I’ll take it.’ I feel like that’s what we need to be one of the top teams. I feel like that’s big for us.
The Warriors played without David Lee, who sat out Thursday’s game with a tooth issue. The Trail Blazers were without starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who remained in Portland after experiencing an irregular heartbeat during the team’s practice on Wednesday.
The Trail Blazers now return to Portland before traveling to Phoenix for the regular season opener on October 30.
“We’re not a finished product,” said Stotts. “We still need to maintain a consistency, our offense needs to improve, our turnovers have to go down, but on the whole, you win five in a row and improve in the areas that we needed to improve on going into the season. That’s the positive that I take (from preseason).”
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”