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.
There’s no better time to ponder the future of an NBA team than the period of the offseason before the draft and free agency. There are nothing but possibilities. Every free agent is a potential target who could change the direction of a franchise, every draft pick a presumptive superstar in the making who could eventually lead your team to glory.
Of course, the Trail Blazers don’t have a draft pick this year and attracting big-name free agents to Portland has always been a challenge, but when you’re the third-youngest team in the NBA, the future isn’t primarily defined by potential additions. And that’s especially true for a team coming off a 44-win season and their second playoff series victory in the last 16 years. While signing a all-star caliber free agent or obtaining a pick in the 2016 Draft would certainly help going forward, Portland’s fortunes are dependent on variables such as Allen Crabbe stepping into a bigger role, Al-Farouq Aminu building on a career season, CJ McCollum making the jump from very good to great and Damian Lillard becoming to bona fide Top 10 player in the league.
So while it never hurts to be optimistic about the opportunity for adding new talent, the Trail Blazers already have a strong footing going forward after rebuilding their roster just under a year ago during the 2015 offseason. That’s probably the main reason Portland jumped 10 spots to No. 8 in ESPN’s most recent Future Power Rankings. Here’s what ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton had to say about the ranking…
While we were relatively optimistic about the Trail Blazers in September, they’ve still tied for the largest jump since then. Portland moved back into the top 10 after not only defying expectations by making the playoffs but winning a series (albeit aided by the Clippers’ injuries) and competing with the Warriors in the second round.
Now, the Blazers have the opportunity to clear max space while retaining their young core, led by the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. That’s possible because GM Neil Olshey locked up young free agents Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis to contracts that look like enormous bargains.
To threaten the West’s upper crust, Portland still must hold off younger teams rising out of the lottery. But a strong management team of Olshey and newly extended coach of the year runner-up Terry Stotts gives reason to believe in the Blazers.
Portland’s best rankings come in management (5th) and players (9th) while their worst score comes in money (19th), which is somewhat ironic considering one of the wealthiest people in the world owns the team, though this ranking is surely more reflective of their salary cap situation than an unwillingness to spend.
The Northwest Division does well in the future rankings, with the Utah Jazz just ahead of the Trail Blazers at No. 7 and the Minnesota Timberwolves just behind at No. 9.
With Portland’s playoff run now over, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard now has some free time on his hands to pursue his off-court interests. He’s already hit up Oak’s Park for some late-night rollerskating, attended a Portland Thorns game at Providence Park and welcomed his old buddy Tim Frazier back to town. And today, we know he’s back in the studio making music.
In a re-launch of the “Music Monday” feature that he started last offseason on his Soundcloud page, Lillard, or to be most specific, “Dame DOLLA,” has posted a new track entitled “Talk To Em” featuring V.I.P and Bozzle (who I think are Lillard’s cousins)…
One of Dame’s verses…
They glorifying goofballs, I’m salty as Utah
When you real they uncomfortable, plotting for you to fall
Man I’m changing up the game, forget about the politics
I stick my neck out for my loved ones, I’m like an ostrich
A lot of love around me you haters keep doing opposite
I’m really incompetent to taking many compliments
That sounds about right. Previous “Music Monday” releases from last year include “Soldier In The Game,” “Full Stomach,” “Why?” “Free Bands” and “The Villains.” Then there’s non-Music Monday releases such as “I Wish I Could Tell You,” “Heatwave,” and “They Sleep,” which, like “Talk To Em” was produced by Jahlil Beats, who also produced, among other things, the Rick Ross/Meek Mill hit “Ima Boss” and that Bobby Shmurda song whose name I can’t put on this blog. And of course, there’s “Bigger Than Us,” the video for which currently has roughly 750,000 views on YouTube.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.