The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 41-18 on the season and 23-7 at home with a 102-96 victory versus the Denver Nuggets Saturday night at the Moda Center. The win was Portland’s fifth-straight and secured a season-series sweep versus Denver for the first time since the 1998-99 season.
“That was a solid win for us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things. I felt like we were in control of the game for the most part.”
The victory helped the Trail Blazers keep pace in the Western Conference standings where they currently sit third, three games back from Oklahoma City for the top spot and just a game and a half behind the Spurs for second.
The Trail Blazers were lead by Robin Lopez, who finished with a game-high 18 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes. It was the first time this season Lopez has led the Trail Blazers in scoring. Saturday night’s game was also the first time Trail Blazers game this season in which no player scored on either team scored as least 20 points.
Nicolas Batum flirted for much of the night with a triple-double before coming up short with nine points, six assists and a career-high 16 rebounds.
“Just tried to go get it,” said Batum of his performance on the boards. “Especially after what happened last game (versus the Nuggets) when they got 27 offensive rebounds. So I tried to, as a guard, play big inside.”
The entirety of Portland’s roster, which out-rebounded Denver 43-30 Saturday might, seemed to put an extra emphasis on rebounding after being beaten 64-41 on the boards in their 100-95 victory in Denver on Feb. 25.
“After the game in Denver, that got our attention,” said Stotts. “It was a focus. For us to get 43 defensive rebounds and for them to get 10 offensive, it was a pretty impressive rebounding night.”
The Trail Blazers got closer to once again having a completely healthy roster Saturday night, with both LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard returning to game action for the first time in over two weeks.
Aldridge played for the first time since the All-Star break after being sidelined with a left groin strain and resumed his role as Portland’s starting power forward. Playing for the first time since Portland’s 122-117 loss
to the Clippers in Los Angeles on Feb, 12, Aldridge turned in a 16-point, seven-rebound, three-assist performance in 30 minutes.
“My timing was a little off but it felt good to be back out there playing with the guys,” said Aldridge. “I felt good, a little tired, but for the most part my body felt good and my conditioning felt good.”
With the Trail Blazers riding a four-game winning streak without Aldridge, some wondered if it would take time for the team to re-acclimate to playing alongside their three-time All-Star. That turn out not be the case, with Aldridge finishing the game +13.
“It seemed pretty seamless,” said Stotts of Aldridge’s returning to the starting lineup. “I thought it looked good. We kept his minutes at 30 and I don’t know what, going forward, the plan is.”
And for his part, Aldridge looked pain-free and in shape despite not seeing game action in 16 days. Aldridge did play fewer minutes than usual as a precaution, which luckily wasn’t an issue with Portland leading the game for all but four minutes in the first quarter.
Saturday night’s game also saw the return of Meyers Leonard, who has been out the last five games after suffering a left ankle sprain in the team’s first practice after the All-Star break.
“I thought he played well,” said Stotts. “For the time that he’s missed, and he was not playing a lot at the time (he was injured) anyway. I thought he played a good game. He was physical inside. He got some fouls that kind of ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I thought, for his first game back he played well.”
Leonard, who had been showing incremental improvement before the injury, looked good in his return to the court. He finished numerous dunks in transition and rebounded well against an undersized Nuggets front court to finish with eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
“I felt pretty good out there,” said Leonard. “Went for a ball fake early on JJ (Hickson) then let him get a deep catch on me, but other than that, I felt pretty good. I had a couple defensive plays where I had the verticality, had a couple finishes in transition, missed a jumper I would have liked to make and then the reverse layup, I was not to happy with myself on missing. But it’s part of the game. I’m pretty rusty. As far as actual game play, I hadn’t played really much up until the Clipper game and then came back from All-Star break, got hurt. So it’s been a while, just have to take advantage of my minutes.”
it is unknown how long Thomas Robinson (sprained left patella tendon) will be out and Joel Freeland (right MCL sprain) isn’t expected to return for at least a month, so Leonard has a good shot at playing consistent, extended minutes as his fellow big men rehab.
“They just want me to play as hard as I can,” said Leonard of what he’s being told by his coaches. “That’s one thing I can always control. Everybody from the coaches through the players know that I can make jumpshots and finish around the rim and everything like that, but just have to continue to work on my defense as well. That’s a big part of what I want to become. It’s going to take time. It’s not easy. That’s my main focus is playing as hard as I can and continuing to try to be the best defender I can be.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the Lakers at the Moda Center on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
Neither Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard nor Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love were selected to participate in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game taking place Sunday night in Toronto. But instead of spending their time sulking, the point guard who plays in Portland and the power forward who grew up just down the road in Lake Oswego, aka The Brothers Hooper, hit the studio to collaborate on the new “Droppin’ Dimes” track for State Farm…
It’s not nearly as serious as Lillard’s “Bigger Than Us” video, but every discography needs some good party tracks.
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.”