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).”
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”
PORTLAND — What a nice way to go into the All-Star break.
For the second time in five days, the Trail Blazers built a large third-quarter lead against the Rockets, then allowed them to make a comeback, only to make a final push to come away with the double-digit victory, this time to the tune of a 116-103 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, we’ve been really good the last two or three weeks. Our aggressiveness has been good, our alertness has been very good and I thought we did that for most of the night tonight. It’s good to go into the break on a win streak and playing well.”
The Trail Blazers are now 27-27 overall and 16-11 at the Moda Center this season. With the win, Portland is .500 for the first time since the team was 4-4 on November 9, 2015, have won eight of their last 10 games at home and 12 of their last 15 games overall, regardless of venue. Thanks to that streak, the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings while the Rockets, a team that started the game in seventh place, drop to ninth.
“We dug ourselves a hole to start the season, giving up some games late, but we stuck with it, we kept going, we kept working,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t get too high or low. We were able to close in and get to .500 going into the break. Our team has done a great job of sticking to the grind, working every day in practice and staying together. That’s gotten us to where we are now.”
After ending the first quarter tied 29-29, the Trail Blazers used a 18-3 run in the second quarter to build a 12-point lead. Portland would expand their lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut the deficit to five with 9:31 to play in the fourth. But the Trail Blazers would close out the game by outscoring the Rockets 23-15 to come away with the 13-point victory.
Portland won Tuesday’s contest despite shooting worse percentage than the Rockets from the field and the three-point line, but making eight more free throws despite having the same number of attempts and turning 20 Rockets turnovers in to 31 points more than made up for their so-so field goal percentages.
“I like the fact that we’re doing it within the context of our defense rather than gambling and extending our defense,” said Stotts of forcing turnovers. “We’re being aggressive on the ball, we’re alert on the weak side, so I think those two things combined help create those turnovers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 9-of-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to go along with nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.
Maurice Harkless remained in the starting lineup, despite Noah Vonleh being on the active list for the first time in the last two games, and responded with his best game as a Trail Blazers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.
“I liked his defense on Harden, he finished around the basket, he got rebounds, he ran the floor well,” said Stotts of Harkless. “He did a little bit of everything in a kind of understated way.”
Meyers Leonard went 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu shot just under 50 percent to finish with 11 points and five rebounds and Ed Davis grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes. Gerald Henderson went just 3-of-10 from the field but made up for it by going 7-of-10 from the line to finish with 13 points.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 34 points, and Dwight Howard, who added 28 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers have more than a week off before hosting the Golden State Warriors on February 19.
“We’re playing well and hopefully when we get back we pick up where we left off,” said Stotts, “but everybody could use a break.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.