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.
PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers saw both a seven-game homestand and a five-game winning streak come to an end with a 110-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 Thursday night at the Moda Center. What’s more, the win was Toronto’s first in Portland since the 2006-2007 season, ending Portland’s seven-game home winning streak versus the NBA’s lone Canadian squad.
“Toronto is a good team, I think that’s pretty obvious,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They’re a very good team and there’s a reason why they’re the second-best team or have the second-best record in the East. I thought we were close — obviously the first quarter getting behind (14) — but they shot the ball extremely well.”
With the loss, the Trail Blazers fall short of getting back to .500 for the first time since the second week of November. Portland is now 24-26 overall and 15-11 at home this season. The win moves the Raptors to 34-16 and is their 13th victory in their last 14 games.
While it wasn’t a wire-to-wire victory for the road team, the Trail Blazers’ lone lead came after less than a minute had elapsed in the first quarter. The Raptors would take a 14-point lead by the end of the quarter.
“Our first quarter defense wasn’t even close to being good enough, especially against a playoff team, a really good team like them” said Damian Lillard. “They shot the ball really well and we made a few mistakes that allowed them to get themselves going and start believing. You have to take your hat off to them, they;re a really good team and they brought a real challenge to us. Hopefully the next time we play them we’ll come out and have a better start.”
In a trend that would continue for the majority of the night, every time the Trail Blazers would succeed in cutting into the Raptors’ lead, Toronto, usually led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, were always able answer with a few timely baskets or defensive play to keep Portland at bay. Portland had a chance to cut Toronto’s lead to three with 35 seconds to play after a Lillard steal, but CJ McCollum couldn’t get the midrange shot on the ensuing fastbreak to fall.
“It’s a shot I hit nine out of 10, easily,” said McCollum. “Left it a little short. Can’t happen. End of the game, that’s a big possession, open shot, open look. I hit that then it’s a three-point game, 36 second left, don’t need to foul, we can play it out. It’s a good learning experience.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored just six points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first half before finishing with 27 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. His first three-pointer, which didn’t come until the fourth quarter, made him just the third player in NBA history to make at least 125 three-pointers in each of his first four season. Lillard also added 11 assists for his 12th double-double of the season.
McCollum went 8-of-18 from the field and 4-of-6 from three to finish with 21 points, six rebounds and two assists. Allen Crabbe scored 17 points off the bench and Gerald Henderson added 10 to round out Portland’s double-digit scorers. Henderson’s ninth point Thursday night gave him 6,000 points for his career.
Portland forward Maurice Harkless started Thursday’s game in place of Noah Vonleh, who sat out with a sprained left ankle, and finished with two points, two points, two blocks and a steal in 16 minutes.
Toronto’s starting backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan combined for 59 points on 21-of-44 shooting. Jonas Valanciunas put up a double-double of 14 points, 11 rebounds. Portland native Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph each scored 12 points off the bench.
Next up, the Trail Blazers hit the road for the first time in nearly three weeks to take on the Rockets in Houston. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 pm.
The NBA announced the participants Saturday night events at the 2016 All-Star Weekend in Toronto on TNT Thursday night, with Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum being one of the eight players selected to compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
Here’s what McCollum had to say about being selected to participate in the Skills Challenge, his chances of winning the event, not being “cool,” the addition of power forwards and centers and what else he’ll be up to in Toronto…
Your thoughts on being invited to participate in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. You had said you wanted to compete in at least one of the events at All-Star, sounds like someone was listening.
CJ McCollum: “I would have liked to be in the Three-Point Contest too, but I’m definitely thankful for the opportunity to participate in the Skills Challenge. I look forward to trying to bring home another winning trophy like Dame did.”
When did you find out you were selected?
CJ McCollum: “A couple of weeks ago.”
Damian won it twice, I assume he’ll probably give you some pointers. But that’s got to be some pressure too considering he’s going to rib you if you won’t win it.
CJ McCollum: “Nah, no pressure. This is all in good fun, it’s a competitive environment, the juices will be flowing. I’ll definitely get some pointers from him, get a little bit of practice in next week.”
What do you feel like you bring to the Skills Challenge that will put you in a good position to win it?
CJ McCollum: “I’m gonna go hard and try to win. I ain’t going to be cool like a lot of those other guys. Hopefully they continue to try to be cool; I’ll go hard. Get in and out of cuts, try to make crisp passes, knock down the shot and keep it moving.”
You mentioned practice. You going to wait until you get in Toronto or put in some time before that?
CJ McCollum: “I’ll probably practice here next week, get a couple runs in.”
What do you think about the field? They’re letting bigs in this year.
CJ McCollum: “Yeah, I see we got a lot of big men in there. They’re shooting threes now days, they’re becoming more well-rounded. Glad to see them competing in this as well and hopefully a guard brings home the championship, not a big.”
I think a lot of people are picking last year’s winner, Patrick Beverley, or Isaiah Thomas as the favorites. How do you like your chances?
CJ McCollum: “I like my chances. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good chance at winning. Obviously it’s about getting the pass in there, making sure you make the jumpshot and everything else should be easy.”
A lot of guys who come up playing basketball participate in three-point or dunk contests, but have you ever done anything similar to the Skills Challenge?
CJ McCollum: “No, I’ve done three-point competitions before, but never a skills setting like this.”
You mentioned you were planning on going to All-Star Weekend even if you weren’t selected to compete in an event, so what else do you have scheduled for Toronto?
CJ McCollum: “I’ll be at the Players Association meeting on Friday. I have a couple of events with my sponsors, I think I’ll have something with Mountain Dew, a couple NBA Cares events and then I also sit on a panel. And I think I might do a segment for Inside Stuff while I’m there, maybe a community service event as well. But I don’t have my full schedule yet.”
After a practice last week in Tualatin, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, who has been vocal about his desire to be involved at the 2016 All-Star Weekend in Toronto in one way or another, was asked to make the case for why he should be a participant in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, an All-Star Saturday event featuring an obstacle course that tests dribbling, passing and shooting. McCollum’s response?
“Why should I be in the Skills?” said the 6-3 guard in his third season out of Lehigh. “You’re looking at a guy who plays two positions, for starters. Can pass, can shoot, can score. Should I say anymore?”
Apparently not, as it was announced Thursday at the top of TNT’s weekly edition of “Inside The NBA” that McCollum has been selected along with Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Golden State’s Draymond Green, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, L.A.’s Jordan Clarkson and Houston’s Patrick Beverley to compete at the 2016 Taco Bell Skills Challenge. From the team’s press release…
Through 50 games this season, McCollum ranks second on the team in both scoring (20.9 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg). He is shooting a team-high 39.1% from beyond the three-point line.
McCollum recorded 35 points (14-28 FG), 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals against Sacramento on Dec. 27, making him the first NBA player to log at least 35 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals in a game since Kevin Garnett on Dec. 10, 2004.
Playing in his third NBA season, McCollum is ranked eighth in the NBA with 116 three-point field goals. He’s also scored 20 or more points on 23 different occasions in 2015-16.
McCollum joins his running buddy Damian Lillard as the only Trail Blazers to ever participate in the Skills Challenge, which was added to the All-Star Weekend festivities in 2003. Lillard won the Skills Challenge in 2013 as a part of his successful quest to compete in all five All-Star Weekend events and then defended his title in 2014 along with Utah guard Trey Burke as a part of the short-lived attempt at making the Skills Challenge a team event, so you can be sure Dame is going to have some pointers for CJ. And Lillard will probably never let McCollum hear the end of it if he doesn’t win, so there’s some extra motivation there as well.
The Taco Bell Skills Challenge is scheduled to take place Saturday, February 13 at 5:30 pm Pacific.