Lillard, Trail Blazers stay hot, with big win over Houston

Lillard, Trail Blazers stay hot, with big win over Houston

The NBA’s best team in March was in Portland, and on Thursday the red-hot Trail Blazers capped a sizzling month with an impressive 117-107 victory over the Houston Rockets that left the Moda Center buzzing.

Damian Lillard had 31 points and 11 assists and the Blazers won their fifth straight to complete March with an NBA-best 13-3 record.

The Blazers closed the game on a 10-2 run in which Houston’s MVP-candidate James Harden repeatedly came up empty.

Harden, who entered as the NBA’s second leading scorer at 29.3 points, scored 30, but he had only three in the fourth quarter while going 1-for-4 from the field and committing two turnovers.

Portland (37-38) moved 1.5 games ahead of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot with seven games remaining. Houston (51-24) has locked up the third seed in the Western Conference.

Jusuf Nurkic continued his resurgence in Portland, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and he scored two late buckets to help seal the game.

But more than anything, the Blazers got huge nights from their role players, none bigger than Maurice Harkless, who had 17 points, six rebounds and three blocks while guarding Harden for much of the game. Harkless made a key play on Harden late in the fourth with the Blazers clinging to a 103-101 lead, poking the ball away for a steal, then later finishing the possession with a driving dunk to put Portland up 105-101 with 3:37 left.

Allen Crabbe also added 17 points, and his strip of Harden, which he took the length of the court for a dunk, gave the Blazers a 113-105 lead with 1:12 and sent the Moda Center into perhaps its loudest decibel of the season.

"We are the sum of our parts,'' Coach Terry Stotts said. "When we get contributions up and down (and) we're not relying on Dame and CJ, it just makes us a better team.''

Lillard scored 11 in the first quarter and 12 in the third and broke the Blazers franchise record for points in the month of March (465), eclipsing Clyde Drexler in 1989 (439 points).

The Blazers led 65-56 at halftime as they rode the play of Lillard and Nurkic and got sizeable contributions from their role players. Lillard had another strong opening quarter, hitting his first three 3-pointers en route to 11 points, but he was complemented by Harkless, who also scored 11 while also being tasked with the defensive assignment on Harden.

The Blazers took advantage of Harden on the bench to start the second quarter, extending a 32-31 lead to 54-42 before Harden returned with 6:21 left. The Blazers’ spurt was led by Allen Crabbe and Al-Farouq Aminu, with Crabbe hitting three 3-pointers and Aminu scoring eight.

Next up: Phoenix at Blazers, 7 p.m. Saturday (CSN)

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Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

I'm not big on moral victories. As I said last night on Talkin' Ball, this is big-boy basketball and winning on the scoreboard is the only thing that matters.

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But that's not to say we didn't learn some positive things from Saturday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, which finished off an 0-4 homestand for the Trail Blazers. What did we learn? Here's what I saw:

  • Meyers Leonard in the starting lineup worked. I don't care what you think, the guy can flat-out make shots. And this team needs more players who can do that. He probably should have seen fourth-quarter playing time but...
  • Coach Terry Stotts was busy trying to match up with the Rockets' fourth-quarter small lineup. However the problem with Portland's small lineup is that it usually contains more defenders than scorers. And the unfortunate part of that Saturday night was, even though it may have been the team's best defensive group, it was totally incapable of getting defensive stops. In fact, I can't remember a time when I've seen a team stack layup on layup down the stretch of a game the way Houston did to the Trail Blazers. Chris Paul and James Harden not only got to the basket whenever they wanted, they did so with their strong hand -- Harden from the left side and Paul from the right. So...
  • It wouldn't have hurt to have had some help in the basket area to at least harass those layups a bit. I'm not sure why that's so difficult for Portland to do when I see other teams doing it to the Portland guards quite frequently. And the real bottom line to all of that was ...
  • If you aren't getting stops while using your best defenders in that small lineup, forget about it! Face it, the Rockets can be impossible to guard. So...
  • Why not just go with your best offensive players, regardless of size or defensive ability? Make them worry about guarding YOU. Houston hit 15 for 18 from the field in the fourth quarter and murdered Portland from the foul line. Why not just put your best offensive players on the court and try to score with them? Because....
  • YOU WEREN'T ABLE TO STOP THEM AT ALL WITH THAT SMALL LINEUP SO SCRAP IT AND GET SOME SHOOTERS OUT THERE!
  • I may be obsessed with this -- well, I AM obsessed with this -- but I don't like it when the opposing team dictates Portland's lineups. Play the ones who got you the lead instead of the ones who are in the process of blowing a 14-point lead inside one quarter.
  • Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot their way out of slumps, which was a good sign moving forward.
  • Zach Collins did a terrific job during his time on the floor. He's not afraid to shoot an open shot and he's got a real instinct for blocking shots. I'd sneak him onto the floor as often as possible in the upcoming games to try to kickstart his development by getting him more comfortable. This team is in serious need of rim protection and he might be just the guy to provide it.
  • I don't envy Stotts with the lineup and rotation decisions he has to make on a nightly basis. He almost has too many versions of the same players and he is probably never quite sure what he's going to get from some of them on a night-to-night basis.
  • That said, I'd make sure to not only get Pat Connaughton on the floor every game, I'd make sure he got his shots. He's alert on defense and opportunistic on offense. And he is becoming a reliable scorer if he is allowed to be.
  • Ed Davis may be having one of his best seasons but he's going to struggle getting playing time because, all things being equal, some of the younger players are going to need developmental time and they are going to get it. I see Davis as a valuable trade piece at the deadline -- a big help to a contender looking for a rebounder off the bench.
  • Please, somebody in the league office, take a look at the way Harden is officiated. He often mixes in an extra little hop during his Euro-step and he deserves no extra benefits. And when he misses a shot, it's not always because he was fouled. Thank you.

40 in the 4th for 4th loss

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40 in the 4th for 4th loss

The Trail Blazers were looking pretty at the end of the third quarter holding a 14 point lead. Then the fourth quarter happened and the Rockets posted 40 points in the quarter alone to come away with the victory. The loss is the Trail Blazers fourth in a row at home. Damian Lillard tied a team record with nine made three pointers, but also came away with an ankle injury as he hobbled through the fourth quarter. 

Box Score: Houston 124, Portland 117

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How to stream Rockets vs Blazers

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USA Today

How to stream Rockets vs Blazers

If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.

The Portland Trail Blazers (13-11) are looking to snap a three-game losing streak after falling to the Washing Wizards last Tuesday. However, it will be no easy task as the Blazers play host to the Western Conference leading Houston Rockets (19-4) on Saturday night.

To make matters worse the Blazers will be without starting center Jusuf Nurkic, after he suffered a right-ankle sprain late in the loss to the Wizards. A timetable for his return to the court it currently unknown. Starting small forward Maurice Harkless, who also left the Wizards game with an injury, is listed as questionable.

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The Rockets are riding an eight-game winning streak, having not dropped a game since a 129-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors back on November 14. As is usual, the Rockets are led by shooting guard James Harden. “The Beard” leads the NBA in points per game at 31.6, and his 9.4 assists are second (among those who qualify) only to Russell Westbrook.

The Rockets made a big splash this off-season when they acquired former Clippers point guard Chris Paul. Many experts wondered if the two ball dominant guards could co-exist. The answer has bee an emphatic “yes.”

Paul has played just nine games this season, averaging 13.1 points and 10.1 assists per game. Paul injured his knee in the season opening victory over the Golden State Warriors on October 17, and didn’t return to the lineup until November 16.

However, proving that the Paul-Harden combo works just fine, the Rockets are 9-0 in when Paul is in the lineup.  

Can the Blazers give Paul the first blemish is his Rockets records, or will the Rockets hand the Blazers their fourth consecutive loss?

You can catch our pregame coverage of the Blazers and Rockets contest with Rip City Live at 6:00pm on Saturday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams get you set for all of the action.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our live streaming pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

 

Trail Blazers will be without Jusuf Nurkic against Houston

Trail Blazers will be without Jusuf Nurkic against Houston

Trail Blazers starting center Jusuf Nurkic will miss Saturday’s game against Houston because of a sprained right ankle suffered in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s loss against Washington.

Nurkic, who is averaging 15.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in 28 minutes a game, rolled his ankle after taking a shot with 6:28 left in the fourth quarter. He did not practice on Thursday and Friday, although he was seen walking off the court Friday without a limp.

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Coach Terry Stotts did not say who would start at center against the Western Conference leading Rockets (19-4) and starting center Clint Capela, who is averaging 13.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while shooting 66.1 percent from the field.

Candidates to start for the Blazers are Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, rookie Zach Collins and Noah Vonleh.

In other injury news, forward Maurice Harkless, who regained his starting spot Tuesday against Washington, is listed as questionable for Houston because of a bruised left quadriceps suffered in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game.

Five ways the Trail Blazers can break out of their slump

Five ways the Trail Blazers can break out of their slump

It’s no secret these days that the Trail Blazers are reeling.

They have lost three in a row, all at home, and all while trailing by 19 or more points.

Making matters worse, starters Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle) and Maurice Harkless (left quad bruise) did not practice Thursday, making the next game – Saturday at home against the Western Conference-leading Houston Rockets – appear even more ominous.

So what do the Blazers (13-11) have to do to turn it around?

Here are five things that would help their cause:

1. CJ MCCOLLUM BREAKS OUT OF SHOOTING SLUMP

The Blazers’ silky shooting guard is in the midst of one of his worst shooting skids of his five-year career, despite his insistence that his shot feels good and his satisfaction with getting the shots he wants.

McCollum has four consecutive games in which he hasn’t made at least half of his shots, only the fifth time that has happened in his career. During the four-game skid he is shooting 34.2 percent (25-of-73), which includes just five of 20 from three-point range.

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The 34.2 percent shooting is the third worst slump he has endured in his career, behind a five-game slump in December of 2015 when he made only 29 percent (27-of-93) and a six-game slump in January of 2016 when he made 33.3 percent (39-of-117). That six game skid matches a spell in November and December of 2016 of his most consecutive games without making 50 percent or better of his shots.

One of the more confident players on the team, McCollum said he won’t change anything, except maybe try to get to the free throw line more.

“I’ve had some good looks,’’ McCollum saud. “I just have to continue to be aggressive.’’

2. TAKE BETTER CARE OF THE BALL

Two of the Blazers’ losses this homestand were defined by sloppy play that resulted in 19 turnovers. Against Milwaukee, it led to 29 points for the Bucks, while Washington cashed the mistakes into 23 points.

It’s not just the amount, it’s the type of turnovers – mindless passes directly to the defender. Dribbling the ball off the foot out of bounds. Passes into the stands.

After the Blazers’ practice on Thursday, Damian Lillard pointed to ball security as the number one priority moving forward.

“Having quality possessions and also valuing the ball,’’ Lillard said. “I think when we defend so hard and work so hard on the defensive end and come down on offense and don’t execute well and turn the ball over … that takes the life out of the team, takes the life out of the game … we have to be much better about it.’’

3. PLAY WITH SOME ENERGY

Speaking of life … the Blazers have shown little to none on this homestand. Lillard said it was fair to say the Blazers have been “flat.”

McCollum said it isn’t that the team is not showing effort, it’s that they aren’t executing, giving the appearance of a flat performance.

So how do the Blazers show some life, or "swagger" as Lillard called it after last game?

For one, says he will lead by example.

“I’m going to look to myself first,’’ Lillard said. “I’m going to hold myself accountable and I’m going to go out there and be the energy to start it off and get guys to vibe from that. Feel that, and want to get on the same page. I think everybody wants to win, everybody on the team are real team players so I think if the train goes that way, that’s what everybody is going jump on and do.’’

4. GET HEALTHY

Nurkic rolled his right ankle with about 6:30 left in Tuesday’s loss to Washington and although X-rays were negative, he was unable to practice Thursday. McCollum said he only saw Nurkic on the training table and on the exercise bike.

Harkless, meanwhile, bruised his quad in a first-quarter collision with Otto Porter and did not return for the second half. After the game, Harkless was optimistic he would be able to play by Saturday.

Nurkic, obviously, is a big part of the Blazers’ improved defense while Harkless was just put back in the starting lineup on Tuesday before suffering his injury. Harkless first made his name in Portland two seasons ago when he defended Houston’s James Harden well during a February game in Houston. It earned him a look in the starting lineup that he never relinquished until last month.

5. GET OUT AND RUN

The Blazers are in the bottom third of the league in offense, and are dead last in the NBA in fast break points, but several players Thursday said they welcome the matchup against the Rockets because it will likely mean a fast-paced game with increased possessions and open-court play.

“It’s more possessions, so kind of ride a wave, get a high-scoring total … an opportunity to somewhat get buckets,’’ Turner said. “That’s the focal point everybody is focusing on – why we haven’t been getting scoring at a high level – so maybe trick the message.’’

The Rockets, behind MVP candidate James Harden – who is leading the league in scoring and assists – are the league’s second highest scoring team, and have the best record in the West, which both McCollum and Lillard said is just the type of opponent the Blazers need.

“Why not?’’ McCollum asked with a smile.

“It’s perfect,’’ Lillard said. “Our next two games are against the best two teams in the West. Losing three straight games, what better situation than to have a chance to take a shot at the two best teams. To me, it’s the perfect situation to put something together.’’

Trail Blazers transfer Wade Baldwin IV to NBA G League’s Texas Legends

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Trail Blazers transfer Wade Baldwin IV to NBA G League’s Texas Legends

PORTLAND, Ore. (December 6, 2017) – The Portland Trail Blazers have transferred guard Wade Baldwin IV to the Texas Legends of the NBA G League, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. 

A two-way roster player signed on Oct. 19, Baldwin IV underwent successful surgery to repair an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his right thumb on Oct. 25.

Baldwin IV averaged 3.2 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 12.3 minutes in 33 games (one start) during his rookie 2016-17 season with the Memphis Grizzlies.

The 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft out of Vanderbilt, Baldwin IV (6-4, 200) posted averages of 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.33 steals and 28.2 minutes in 33 games (22 starts) with the NBA G League’s Iowa Energy last season.

Damian Lillard: Trail Blazers need a lot of things, but not a team meeting

Damian Lillard: Trail Blazers need a lot of things, but not a team meeting

The Trail Blazers need to do a lot of things to fix this hemorrhaging homestand, but team captain Damian Lillard says that list does not include having a team meeting.

“The team meetings and all that stuff, I think is overrated,’’ Lillard said Tuesday after a 106-92 loss to Washington, the Blazers’ third straight no-show at home. “When you really have issues – that guy is mad at that guy – or somebody is not buying in, or you can’t get guys to compete, that’s when you have to bring everybody in and say “What’s the problem?’

“But right now we don’t have that. We just aren’t playing great offensively and we are putting pressure on the defense and when we don’t defend well, games get away from us.’’

After returning from a 4-1 trip, the Blazers have been flat and lifeless at home, falling behind by 24 to Milwaukee, 19 to Anthony-Davis-less New Orleans and 23 to a Washington team playing without John Wall.

There were a smattering of boos Tuesday when the team went to halftime down 51-37, and Moda Center fans left in droves with 4:45 left and the Wizards leading 97-76.

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Lillard on Tuesday said the team’s issues are not chemistry related, and last month he came to the defense of coach Terry Stotts, saying the coaching staff doesn’t miss free throws or make turnovers – that the performances ultimately come back to the players.

The good news is the Blazers (13-11) have three days off before their next game. The bad news is the top two teams in the Western Conference await – Saturday at home against Houston (18-4) and Monday at Golden State (19-6).

Lillard said he believes one reason the team doesn’t need a team meeting is because this group – both coaches and players -- has been open and honest with each other during film sessions. Those critiques, Lillard said, have included singling out stars Lillard and CJ McCollum.

“I think this year in film sessions we’ve done a much better job of addressing each other, and addressing issues that we’ve had,’’ Lillard said.

The issues are beginning to mount.

The offensive rhythm has been paralyzed by sloppy passing and one-on-one play and now ranks 22nd out of 30 NBA teams. McCollum is in a four-game shooting slump, Lillard is shooting 33 percent from three-point range, and Jusuf Nurkic leads the team with 73 turnovers. Throw in woeful shooting from Evan Turner (38.6 percent from the field and 8-of-41 on three-pointers) and a ghost season from Maurice Harkless, and you have enough gunk to gum up any machine.

Meanwhile, the defense, once the beacon of light to distract from the struggling offense, has a 111.5 rating in this homestand, which ranks 22nd for that time frame. Some of the defensive woes have been a result of mindless open-court turnovers that result in easy fast break points, and some of it has been the inability to stop stars like Washington’s Bradley Beal (51 points), New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins (38 points) and Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe (25 points).

On top of it all, the Blazers are getting beat for 50/50 balls on an almost nightly basis, and are generally playing an uninspiring brand of basketball that is beginning to test the patience of a fan base that has watched Portland go 7-7 at home.

Lillard, for one, can feel the fan’s angst.

“I mean, they are waiting for something. The fans, they are waiting for that 15-3 run,’’ he said, reciting former Moda Center moments where the crowd is bursting with anticipation for a big shot or urging the defense for a stop. “We haven’t been able to get those moments rolling. And that’s what we need.’’

Beal sets scoring record and hands Blazers their third home loss in a row

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Beal sets scoring record and hands Blazers their third home loss in a row

Bradley Beal set a visiting team scoring record against the Blazers Tuesday night as he dropped 51 points on them at Moda Center. It is the most points scored by any visiting player playing against the Blazers including games at the Memorial Coliseum and Moda Center/Rose Garden. 

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Box Score: Washington 106, Portland 92

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NBCS Northwest launches two new Trail Blazer shows

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NBCS Northwest launches two new Trail Blazer shows

As the NBA regular season heats up, NBC Sports Northwest launches two new shows this December to super serve Portland Trail Blazers fans. Trail Blazers Outsiders, a new multi-platform and fan-interactive show, begins on NBC Sports Northwest’s Facebook page, while Trail Blazers Raw, a fresh Trail Blazers post-game show, tips off on NBC Sports Northwest.

Trail Blazers Outsiders begins this Wednesday, December 6 at 7 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Northwest’s Facebook page. The 30-minute live show will provide a fresh fan take on the game with insightful analysis and interactive discussion among fellow diehard Blazers fans. Viewers are encouraged to join in the live Facebook conversation on non-game weekdays at 7 p.m. PT.

Trail Blazers Outsiders will be hosted by three local fans who are passionate about the Trail Blazers and the Portland community. The hosts consist of a trio of: Joe Simons, a die-hard Blazers fan who spent his formative years in Portland and served as the radio voice of University of Idaho basketball for two seasons; Shain Brenden, a comedian, writer, and Trail Blazer fanatic who loves talking Blazer basketball, but his true aspiration is to one day become a 'celebration move' consultant for high-profile NBA players; and Dan Marang, a long-time writer and podcaster for SB Nation’s Blazers Edge.

Trail Blazers Raw, NBC Sports Northwest’s new 30-minute recap show, allows fans to experience once again the game’s highs and lows in a condensed 30-minute show. It will include a fast-paced recap and added analysis of the game’s key moments, and interviews with players and coaches from the locker room. Trail Blazers Raw begins Monday, December 11 at 11:30 p.m. PT and will follow Trail Blazers games. 

For the first time this season, NBC Sports Regional Networks introduced NBC Sports Gold’s “Blazers Pass,” which allows any fans residing in Blazers territory to purchase 15 games during the 2017-18 NBA season for $34.99. The package tips off its first game on Monday, December 11 when the Blazers face the Golden State Warriors. NBC Sports Northwest will continue to present its traditional TV offering and streaming via “TV Everywhere” of Blazers games, with a record 77 games this season, including the 15 games also available via “Blazers Pass.” Pass subscribers will also receive a complimentary gift package, and will be entered into a monthly drawing for a chance to win a pair of tickets for a courtside experience to a home game. Fans can also enter, at no cost, for a chance to win a courtside experience; find out how to enter at http://www.nbcsports.com/blazerspass .

NBC Sports Gold - NBC Sports Digital’s direct-to-consumer live streaming product – is available on Apple iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast and online at NBCSportsGold.com. NBC Sports Gold is powered by Playmaker Media, NBC Sports Digital’s technology service which provides end-to-end support for companies in need of best-in-class live streaming and VOD solutions.