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.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”