LOS ANGELES — The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 49-27 on the season and 22-18 on the road with a 124-112 victory versus the Los Angeles Lakers in front of 18,110 at Staples Center Tuesday night.
“Probably more than anything else I liked our defense in the third quarter,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We got our hands on a lot of balls, we were very active. They made a lot of shots in the first half, a lot of jump shots but I thought our activity defensively was really important, got us playing in transition a little bit.”
With the victory, Portland remains two games ahead of of Golden State for fifth and are just one and a half games behind Houston for fourth in the Western Conference standings. The Trail Blazers have now had six winning streaks of at least four games or more this season for the first time since the 1999-2000 campaign.
The game was close for the first two quarters, with Portland holding a 29-27 lead after the first 12 minutes of play despite shooting 35 percent from the field. The Trail Blazers improved 10 percentage points from the field in the second quarter, but Lakers guard Nick Young shot even better. The freewheeling guard out of USC who goes by the nickname “Swaggy P” went 7 of 8 from the field for 18 points while playing all 12 minutes in the second.
“I just got in the zone,” said Young, who finished with 40 of L.A.’s 112 points. “I got out there and played my hardest and we still keep fighting.”
But while the Lakers were forced to rely on Young to do most of their scoring, the Trail Blazers had both Aldridge and Damian Lillard to carry the load. Portland’s All-Star duo combined to score 23 points on 7 of 12 shooting while going a perfect 9 of 9 from the free throw line to largely negate Young’s performance and take a 63-61 lead into the intermission.
“It was a two-point game at halftime because (Young) got it going,” said Stotts. “He kept them in the game.”
Portland would take control in the third quarter by holding the Lakers to 28 percent shooting and Young to six points.
“Second half I thought we guarded better,” said Aldridge. “We tried to take away tendencies, we tried to give up less easy shots. I felt like Nick Young had a lot of easy shots in the first half. He’s a good scorer so he’s going to score, but I think we did a better job of making his shots harder.”
Along with doing a better job defensively, the fluid ball movement that has been integral in Portland’s success recently but was missing in the first half Tuesday night returned in the third quarter.
“At halftime I brought it up again about just moving the ball,” said Aldridge. “I felt like guys thought they had great one-on-one game but I was like, with this team, if you move the ball we’ll go from having a really good shot to a really great shot. So I thought guys listened to that and I thought guys made great reads in the second half.”
That ball movement would continue in the fourth quarter, with the Trail Blazers going on a 19-6 run midway through the final quarter to take a 23-point lead, their largest of the night. Portland would score just once in the final three minutes, but had more than enough of a margin to coast to a 12-point victory.
“In the first half they made a lot of midrange shots,” said Stotts. “They didn’t have a lot of points in the paint, they made a lot of their midrange and I think that kind of came back to us in the second half.”
“I knew it was a big game for us,” said Lillard. “Coming in, some said it could be a trap game with a team not in the playoff race. We knew coming in that they were a dangerous team, since they came to our place and shocked us, so I just wanted to come out aggressive, and do whatever it took to help the team a win. A lot of guys put their best foot forward, and we were able to do it.”
Lillard also added eight assists, three steals, two rebounds and a monster dunk in the nationally-televised game on TNT.
“I came off the pick-and-roll and I seen Pau (Gasol) standing straight up,” said Lillard of the dunk. “I exploded around him and I saw him get off balance a little bit and then I just rose up. I knew that he would be trying to play catchup and he had already blocked one of my shots because I had kind of like tried to lay it up, so I just wanted to go punch one. Just go try to finish strong and I was able to get through there.”
With Tuesday night’s performance, Lillard joins Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James as the NBA’s only players with at least 1,600 points and 400 assists this year.
Aldridge shot 12 of 20 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free throw line to finish with 31 points while pulling down 15 rebounds and handing out 6 assists in 33 minutes. He’s the first Trail Blazer since Clyde Drexler in 1990 to have Trail Blazer with at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists in a single game.
“You try to get a little bit low to take the contact and then as soon as he hits you he turns the other way and shoots it way high and fades away,” said Lakers center Chris Kaman of guarding Aldridge. “It’s just hard to get to. He is an exceptional shooter. Just one of those players that are unique and have a special gift that not a lot of players have.”
With their performances Tuesday night, Aldridge and Lillard are n0w the first Trail Blazers teammates since Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells in 2002 to score at least 30 points in the same game.
“LA was great on the block and Damian made shots — he was aggressive going to the basket,” said Stotts. “But I thought it was a lot of the other things. Defensively, Damian was very active throughout the whole game, got his hands on a lot of balls, got us out in transition. LaMarcus, he and Robin together were very good defensively in protecting the paint. The other thing Damian did on LA’s postups, he was setting some screens, occupying people and I thought that allowed for good spacing for LA’s postups.”
Robin Lopez, playing on his 25ht birthday, got yet another double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes. Nicolas Batum finished with 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes. Wesley Matthews struggled through a 4 of 12 night shooting to finish with 10 points, though he also added six assists and four rebounds.
Next up, the Trail Blazers get two days off before hosting the Suns at the Moda Center in a game with significant playoffs implications. 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.”