The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 42-19 on the season and 24-8 at home with a 102-78 wire-to-wire victory against the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd of 20,043 at the Moda Center.
“A really good bounce back win for us, especially going out on the road,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “After the Laker game and a disappointment with how we played, it was a good defensive effort. We shared the ball. Just an all-around good game for us in a lot of ways.”
After getting off to one of their worst starts in recent memory Monday night in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Trail Blazers looked determined to make sure the issue wouldn’t repeat itself on Wednesday.
“We were playing against a similar team [to the Lakers],” said Wesley Matthews. “They shoot threes, they run, they get up in transition. They have a lot of guys who can shoot at a high clip. If they get hot, if you give any team confidence in this league, anything can happen. We just saw that against the Lakers. We wanted to correct ourselves on what we did the other night and we were able to do that.”
Portland held Atlanta to just 23 percent shooting in the first quarter one on side of the ball while shooting 46 percent on the other. The Trail Blazers also won the first quarter rebounding battle 15-10, all of which helped the home team take a 29-19 lead into the second quarter.
Things only got worse for the Hawks in the second half. Playing without All-Star power forward Paul Milsap (knee), Atlanta struggled to find consistent scoring, following up a five field goals in the first quarter with just six in the second.
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers shot an impressive 7 of 15 from the three-point line and continued to stretch their rebounding advantage thanks in part to Nicolas Batum, who pulled down 13 rebound in the first half (the Hawks as a team only had 19). By time the intermission arrived, Portland had a 56-38 victory despite LaMarcus Aldridge going 0 of 6 in the first half.
“My timing is just off,” said Aldridge, who finished the night 1 for 13 from the field. “Since coming back, I haven’t felt like my timing has been great. I was really trying to find it in my minutes that I was out there and they were double-teaming some and were trying to dig a lot, so I was trying to force the issue on my rhythm, but I definitely didn’t find it tonight. I’ll find it tomorrow at practice.”
Even with Aldridge struggling, the Trail Blazers would come out early in the third quarter to put the Hawks away for good. Portland would lead by as many as 24 in the third and 29 in the fourth, allowing for Stotts to keep all of his starters under 30 minutes while still coasting to a comfortable victory.
“There was a lot to like,” said Stotts. “We rebounded the ball well, we took away transition. When we switched their pick and rolls I thought LA in particular and our big guys did a good job of containing Teague in his penetration. Our rim protection, when he did penetrate, Robin [Lopez] or LA or Meyers [Leonard] was there.”
With the game well in hand, the only suspense in the second half was whether Kyle Korver’s streak of 127 consecutive games with a made three-pointer would come to an end. But with the game all but decided, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer opted to keep Korver on the bench rather than chase what is already an NBA record.
“He’s a competitive guy,” said Budenholzer of Korver. “He’s going to want to be ready to play our next game. It’s a heck of a streak. We all feel fortunate to be part of it. He’s an amazing competitor, an amazing shooter and we’ll all move on.”
The Hawks shot just 4 of 27 as a team from three, with Korver missing all five of his attempts while being hounded defensively by Matthews.
“Just make it uncomfortable for him,” said Matthews of his approach to guarding Korver. “He likes space. I had the pleasure to be on the other side when he was on my team in Utah and I saw what happened when he got space. Kyle can light it up any given night and I was trying to make sure it wasn’t tonight.”
Batum went as far as calling Matthews Korver’s “boyfriend” for the night, in that wherever Korver went, Matthews went, too.
“It was just a bad game all around for us,” said Korver. “I’m a little bummed for sure, but it was good while it lasted. I think someday we’ll look back on it and be proud, but obviously it was just a tough game all around for us and that was part of it.”
While one noteworthy streak came to an end, Batum’s run of double-digit rebounding games continued unabated with the forward setting a new career-high with 18 boards.
“Like I’ve been saying the last two games, just try to crash the boards a little more than I used to,” said Batum, who has pulled down 49 rebounds in his last three games. “I try help the big inside because he does a good job protecting the rim. Sometimes Robin tries to block the shot so I have to rotate and get a rebound.”
With his career-high, Batum becomes the fifth Trail Blazers since 1985 and the seventh player in the NBA this year to put up three straight games of at least 15 rebounds.
Next up, the Trail Blazers begin a five-game road trip in Dallas versus the Mavericks.
“It’s going to be a really tough road trip for us,” said Aldridge, “but if we go out and take care of business and keep playing defense like we did tonight, anything is possible.”
Tipoff is scheduled 5:30 PM
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.