The Portland Trail Blazers started a back-to-back road trip Monday night with a 110-108 loss to the Pelicans at New Orleans Arena.
Damian Lillard tied the game at 108-108 on a 27-foot three-pointer with 10 seconds to play. But on the ensuing possession, Pelicans’ guard Tyreke Evans hit a 14-foot fadeaway jumper with 1.2 seconds remaining in regulation to give New Orleans the lead.
Portland would have one last look, with Nicolas Batum finding LaMarcus Aldridge on the baseline, but Anthony Davis, who blocked two of Aldridge’s shots on the night, forced Aldridge into a tough shot that went off the top of the backboard as time expired.
“Had a couple of options,” said Aldridge explain the last play. “Looked at Wes on the back screen. I actually thought Wes was open for a second so I kind of stood there and I guess both of the guys went with Wes then I was open. (Batum) threw it to me. (Davis) is athletic so I tired to pump fake him at first to see if I could get him off the ground. He really didn’t jump, so I just shot it.”
The Trail Blazers have now lost consecutive games for the first time this season.
While the game wasn’t ultimately decided until the final seconds of regulation, the Trail Blazers put themselves in a tough position to win the game in the first half by giving up 40 points in the paint.
“We started out too slow,” said Aldridge of Portland’s first half defense. “We started out letting them be very comfortable in the pick and roll. We were letting the guards get to the basket a little bit too much. We turned it on in the second half but we definitely can’t do that anymore. We’ve got to come out and play with the intensity we had in the third and the fourth (quarters) in the first half.”
The Trail Blazers did a better job of limiting penetration in the second half, but were still never able to take the lead, though they did tie the game multiple times in the fourth quarter.
“I liked the way we defended in the second half even though the numbers don’t show it,” said Stotts. “Thought New Orleans made a lot of midrange jump shots. We did a much better job with points in the paint and limiting transition, second chance points, all those things in the second half.”
Even though they were better in the third and fourth quarters, Portland still allowed an opponent to score over 100 points for the ninth-consecutive game.
“We just can’t rely on our offense,” said Wesley Matthews, who finished with 18 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 38 minutes. “Your offense isn’t going to come with you every night. We have to rely on the fact that we can get stops, we’re able to get stops, and let that fuel our offense. We can’t go in (thinking) we’re going to outscore this team, we’re going to outshoot this team. We have to go in (thinking) that this team is going to be a hell of a night for them trying to score on us.”
Aldridge passed Jim Paxson for fifth on the all-time franchise list in points with 10,027. Aldridge is now behind only Clyde Drexler (18,040), Terry Porter (11,330), Cliff Robinson (10,405) and Jerome Kersey (10,067) on the franchise scoring ledger. Aldridge finished with 28 points on 13 of 24 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 39 minutes while battling Davis on the defensive end for much of the night.
“He’s competitive, I’m competitive,” said Aldridge of the matchup with Davis, who finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. “I definitely wasn’t trying to let him stop me and I don’t think he wanted me to stop him or to score on him, so we definitely battled. I think when you have two good power forwards in one game, you’re always going to battle.”
Lillard played a game-high 41 minutes and finished with 29 points on 10 of 18 shooting. Unfortunately his performance was nullified by the play of Pelicans guards Jrue Holiday (31 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds) and Tyreke Evans (20 points, five rebounds and four assists). Evans in particular was especially effective in the first half, scoring 14 of his 20 points on six of seven shots before the halftime intermission.
“We knew coming in that (Evans) wanted to get into the paint,” said Lillard. “That’s another thing, just knowing personnel and knowing what we’ve got to take away from them. Knowing that he wanted to get to his right hand and get to the rim, we should have did a better job of taking that away. Early on we let him get his confidence up and we finally fixed it a little bit in the second half. By that time, he’s believing. He knocked down a jumper to win the game, so we’ve just got to do a better job.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers fly to Oklahoma City to take on the Western Conference leading Thunder on New Year’s Eve while trying to avoid third third-consecutive loss.
“We’ve got 24 wins, we’ve lost seven times,” said Matthews. “We just dropped two in a row, yes, but by no means is this writing anything off. We’re human, but at the same time, we’re not excepting it. All that 24 and seven is great, but we’re pissed off. We were pissed off coming into this game, we’re pissed off about Miami, we’re pissed off now. The beautiful part is we have no one to be mad at but ourselves. Look in the mirror and get ready to bring it tomorrow.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 5 PM.
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.
Prior to Wednesday night’s game versus the Rockets at the Moda Center, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard discussed his decision to rejoin the pool of players eligible to be selected for the 2016 Men’s National Team, which will compete at the Olympic Games this summer in Rio De Janerio. Lillard had taken his named out of consideration for Team USA after participating in the run up to the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, but has since decided to continue his involvement.
Can you explain the process of reaching out to Jerry Colangelo? What made you do it?
Damian Lillard: “After one of our home games I saw Sean Ford, who is pretty heavily involved in USA Basketball and we spoke. He just said that they wanted me to be a part of it still. I expressed to them what my frustration was and why I chose to remove myself from it and they respected that. I knew that down the line I still wanted to be a part of it and I think it was just the fact that we got to speak about it face-to-face. I also had a chance to speak to Jerry Colangelo. I also told him how I felt about my last time with him and why I was frustrated. He said what he had to say and I think we just came to a point where we both felt like it would be good for me to be a part of it. It was something that I actually wanted to do but I had my reasons why I chose to not be a part of it this past summer and here we are.”
How does it feel to be back on the list?
Damian Lillard: “It feels good. Obviously that’s something that not a lot of people get the opportunity to be a part of. I’m thankful that I’ll have an opportunity to in the future.”
What was Jerry Colangelo’s message to you during your conversation?
Damian Lillard: “We basically just talked about how I’ve spent time with them. It’s not like it’s just out of the blue where I’m just all of the sudden back in the pool. I’ve been there for the past two years, I was with the team up until they left for the World Championships. That was pretty much it. He didn’t say I was wrong for feeling how I felt; he just said that he would like for me to be a part of it and I said I would like to be a part of it as well. He said what he had to say, I said what I had to say, we came to the conclusion it would be good for me to be back in the pool.”
Do you feel like, moving forward, you’re going to get a legitimate opportunity to make the team from here on out?
Damian Lillard: “Yeah, I mean, I believe so. For us to be able to have that conversation lets me know that I’ll probably get a better opportunity.”
Do you know what the next step in the process is? Tryouts?
Damian Lillard: “I’m not sure. At this point, it probably comes down to them just making the decision on who it’s going to be. I don’t know if that’s based on the type of season that people have, who’s healthy, I’m not sure. Just being a part of that pool gives me a chance, so we’ll see.”
Are you looking forward to being in that environment again?
Damian Lillard: “My past experience, like I said, the first two summers that I did it, it was fun to be begin with. But like I said, when it got to the point where I wasn’t getting the opportunity and I felt that way, I was a little bit down on it. But going into it I won’t have that on my mind and on my heart. I’ll go into it with good intentions and I’ll go into it with the right things on my mind. Like I said, I’m just happy that I have an opportunity going forward.”
Does it feel good to have a resolution with the process, with those bad feelings?
Damian Lillard: “It does feel good because I’m not a negative person. I’m not going to go out of my way to remove myself from something unless I feel really strongly about it. For me to be able to talk it out with him, for us to be able to get on the same page, it does feel good to get to that point.”