The Portland Trail Blazers won yet another Northwest Division contest at the Moda Center with a 115-104 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday night. With the victory, the Trail Blazers matched their win total from last season with three months to go in the regular season.
While the matchup was billed as a showdown between the NBA’s two best power forwards, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love, it was Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum who provided the highlights early.
Batum, who the Timberwolves tried to acquire via restricted free agency two summers ago, scored Portland’s first five points and finished the first quarter with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists. He would finish the night with 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 35 minutes.
“I liked the way Nic came out,” said Stotts. “He was aggressive in transition, took the ball to the basket. But whoever it is, I think that kind of sparks confidence with our team.”
The Timberwolves would counter with Kevin Martin, who almost matched Batum with 10 points in the first quarter. He would stay hot for the duration of the contest, finishing the game as Minnesota’s leading scorer with 30 points on 11 of 22 shooting.
Wesley Matthews would pick up where Batum left off, scoring 10 points in the second quarter to help the Trail Blazers take a 65-57 going into halftime
That lead would evaporate quickly after the intermission with the Timberwolves starting the second half on a 14-5 run to tie the game at 71-71 with 7:23 to play in the quarter. But Portland would answer back, outscoring Minnesota 16-10 from that point to take a six-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Portland would start the fourth quarter with another run by outscoring Minnesota 18-7 to open up a 105-88 lead with 5:31 to play in regulation. And the Timberwolves would once again respond with a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 10 with three minutes to play. But the Timberwolves were unable to string together baskets consistently late in the game and the Trail Blazers would hit just enough free throws to come away with a 11-point victory.
Aldridge would finish as Portland’s high scorer with 21 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes the game after putting up a career-high 44 points against the Nuggets on Thursday. His counterpart, who was voted in as a starter for the 2014 Western Conference All-Star roster, finished with 15 points on just four of 12 shooting.
“I thought we were very attentive to how (Love) gets his baskets, as far as they run screens for him,” said Stotts. “LaMarcus did a very good job on him in the post, kept him from getting easy baskets. For him to only have one offensive rebound takes a lot of work because he’s always around. If you do a good job on his post-ups and take away offensive rebounds, that leaves perimeter shooting and I thought we did a good job of not giving him necessarily clean looks.”
While Aldridge described the matchup between himself and Love as a “let down,” the performance from Portland’s bench was anything but, scoring 32 points combined while extending Portland’s lead in the second quarter.
“Our reserves were very good in both halves and made a difference in both halves, the energy, just a little bit of everything,” said Stotts. “Mo (Williams) did a nice job of running the team, C.J. (McCollum) took advantage of his opportunities, Thomas (Robinson) brought energy, Joel (Freeland) battled like he always does, so those guys really made a difference for us.”
Mo Williams led the second unit with 16 points and a team-high six assists in 25 minutes. The Trail Blazers are now 16-2 when Williams scores in double figures.
Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland did the grunt work for the bench unit, combining for 12 rebounds.
“We’ve got to be consistent with it and come in every game and try to give these guys a lift when they need it or be somewhat neutral when those guys have it going,” said Williams. “Tonight was a night where I thought we won the battle of the bench. We want to be consistent and try to win the battle more nights than some.”
While all but one of the starters finished with a negative +/-, ever player in the bench ended on the positive side, led by Williams (+20), Robinson (+19) and C.J. McCollum (+19), who finished with six points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 15 minutes.
“He’s going to have some really, really good nights,” said Williams of his rookie backcourt partner. “Like tonight, he got it going. We went to him and he’s going to have those situations where he’s going to have to knock down the open shot. I thought he did a real good job. Defensively, he had a couple good deflections on his man. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s going to be a really good player in this league. He’s only going to get better.”
Robin Lopez would finish with his 17th double-double of the season with 15 points, 10 rebounds while also handing out three assists. He scored most of his points in the paint, where Portland outscored Minnesota 60-46, which is their second-highest paint total this season.
Matthews would turn in an 18-point, six-rebound, two-assist performance in 34 minutes and Damian Lillard would struggle shooting the field but still managed to net 14 points and five assists in 33 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers fly to the Bay Area to take on the Golden State Warriors tomorrow at Oracle Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 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.”