Breathe, Rip city. Breathe! Blazers fans had to hold their breath in the final seconds, but in the end the Blazers were able to leave Charlotte with win. The Blazers missed some clutch free throws to leave to the door open for the Hornets, but it wasn’t enough room for the Hornets to get through. It took a lot of effort, and little bit of luck, but the Blazers have now won three in a row. Next stop, Minnesota.
If the Trail Blazers are going to turn their season around, it is going to have to come in little steps.
Perhaps the first step was taken Tuesday when Portland beat Charlotte 115-98 to record its first winning month since going 2-1 in October.
Behind a hot start from Damian Lillard and a boost off the bench from Allen Crabbe, the Blazers won for the fourth time in five games and put the finishing touches on an 8-7 record in January.
Coach Terry Stotts, however, when asked if he puts any stock in a winning month replied: "Nope.''
Lillard had 27 points and Crabbe 21 points as the Blazers (22-28) kept pace with Denver (22-25) in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Blazers moved within a game of the Nuggets (who were trailing at the Lakers), but are playing arguably their best basketball of the season, which has been spurred by the insertion of Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh into the starting lineup. The Blazers are 4-2 with the new lineup and have won three of the first four games in this five-game homestand.
Charlotte (23-26) lost its fifth consecutive game despite a solid game from former Blazers wing Nicolas Batum (18 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and 22 points from Kemba Walker. Portland avenged a 107-85 loss in Charlotte on Jan. 18 and won its ninth consecutive home game over the Hornets.
Portland broke away from a 56-50 halftime lead after Charlotte played dreadfully coming out of halftime. The Hornets began the half making only three of 15 shots, and coupled with three turnovers, found themselves trailing by 15 midway through the third. All told, the Hornets were outscored 30-18 in the third and trailed 86-68 heading into the fourth.
"I liked the way we played,'' Stotts said. "I thought in the first half we should have had a larger lead than we did.''
The Blazers had their halftime lead after Lillard had a big first quarter (14 points) and Crabbe a prolific second quarter (14 of his 16). Portland had leads as large as 14, but frittered it away with some shaky passing that opened the door for Charlotte to get hot behind Kemba Walker.
Portland started 0-for-8 and 1-for-11, but remarkably still had a 6-4 lead after Lillard and McCollum hit three’s and Charlotte kept taking shots early in the shot clock.
Mason Plumlee had seven points and 11 rebounds and had snapped his string of five straight double-doubles. Al-Farouq Aminu added 10 rebounds and Vonleh also added 10 rebounds.
Next up: Dallas at Blazers, 7:30 p.m. Friday (KGW/ESPN)
If it looks like the Trail Blazers are playing better basketball recently, it might be because the team has a better feeling about coming to work.
The Blazers (21-28) are still on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff seeds, but they have won three of four and have been decidedly more competitive of late, as evidenced by their 113-111 loss to Golden State on Sunday. With 33 games remaining, they are 1.5 games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“It just feels better to go out there and play knowing we are figuring out the right things to go, and the right way to play,’’ Damian Lillard said.
On Tuesday, the Blazers will play host to Charlotte (23-25) with a chance to record their first winning month of the season since going 2-1 in October. Charlotte, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, beat the Blazers 107-85 on Jan. 18.
“I think we are trending in the right direction,’’ Lillard said. “We are playing better than the last time we played them. But we have to continue that.’’
The biggest change since the first meeting with Charlotte has been the Blazers’ starting lineup. The game after the Charlotte loss, coach Terry Stotts shuffled his starting lineup, inserting Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh in place of Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu.
That new lineup has gone 3-2, with Turner becoming a key figure both offensively and defensively. Defensively, Turner has accepted some of the top defensive assignments, whether it be Boston point guard Isaiah Thomas, Memphis point guard Mike Conley or Golden State forward Kevin Durant.
Offensively, he has alleviated the pressure on Lillard and CJ McCollum to create every possession and has been a catalyst in some of the Blazers’ positive runs. All told, in five games as a starter, Turner is averaging 10.6 points and 5.2 assists with only seven turnovers.
“I just do what coach asks,’’ Turner said. “Get in where you fit in. We have two featured guards who are the face of the franchise. You have to be smart enough to know where you fit in. I know it’s hard to score and defend in this league, so I try to complement them as best as I can.’’
Since beating the Blazers, the Hornets are 2-4 and have lost four in a row with losses to Washington, Golden State, the Knicks and Sacramento. This is the first of a three-game trip for the Hornets.
Inside the Blazers, the concern is more with themselves than their opponent. Stotts said he likes the Blazers’ defensive approach recently, which included what he called an “alert and active” defense against Golden State.
“We just have to keep it up and come out and compete and be prepared for the next game,’’ Turner said.
That task might be easier now that things appear closer to falling into place.
"I think we know within ourselves that we're improving and we're playing much better based on the last week and how we've played,'' Lillard said.
Note: Ed Davis was ruled out for Tuesday's game because of a sore left wrist. He on the court after Monday's practice but it was unclear what he did as Stotts said "what you see now" in response to Davis' participation. Davis was standing in the key after doing some light drills against a practice dummy. Tuesday will be his fifth straight game missed with the wrist injury.
Next up: Charlotte at Blazers, 7 p.m. Tuesday (CSN).
CHARLOTTE -- A team video session the day before that turned into somewhat of a team meeting had little effect in turning around the Trail Blazers on Wednesday, as the Charlotte Hornets ended their five-game losing streak by coasting past the Blazers 107-85 at the Spectrum Center.
Eventually, the Trail Blazers will have to become a team that does its talking on the court, but as of Wednesday they remain a team that gets along, talks among themselves and say the right things publicly, only to go on the court and play like a disjointed and unmotivated group.
The Blazers (18-26) fell a season-low eight games below .500 and if the season ended today they would be out of the Western Conference playoffs after beginning the seaosn with a goal of making it to the conference finals.
Charlotte (21-21) didn't play particularly well, but they started the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run to extend their lead to 88-72 and they never looked back.
Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists and CJ McCollum had 18 points, but both shot 7-of-18 from the field, which set the tone for a night when Portland would shoot 35.1 percent from the field.
Longtime Blazers wing Nicolas Batum, who was traded to Charlotte for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh in 2015, finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Kemba Walker added 23 points and center Roy Hibbert came off the bench and added 16 points and six rebounds.
Unlike their previous two games, the Blazers weren't buried early. They had fallen behind 18-1 to Orlando and 10-0 to Washington, and were behind 7-2 in Charlotte before McCollum ignited an 11-0 run with a three-pointer and a driving layin. The Blazers eventually settled for a 26-23 lead after the first quarter, thanks to some shaky play from the Hornets, who had four turnovers and made just 8-of-22 shots (36.4 percent).
Charlotte took a 54-46 hafltime lead and quickly pushed it to 10 and played the majority of the half ahead by double figures.
Next up: Blazers at Philadelphia, 4 p.m. Friday (CSN).