Houston Rockets

Win or lose, one of the great Trail Blazer finishes ever

Win or lose, one of the great Trail Blazer finishes ever

I can't remember enjoying a Trail Blazer loss as much as I did the one last night at Houston. By now, you know that Portland's reserves came off the bench with 3:57 to play and went on a 17-0 run to tie the game with six seconds to go.

Yes, they lost on Chris Paul's layup inside the final  second but it was an amazing game, just the same. A few things that must be pointed out about that game:

  • Almost all of the Trail Blazers who played in this game were effective -- other than the starting guards. CJ McCollum and Shabazz Napier combined to go 9-34 from the field. The rest of the team went 30-51.
  • The very end of Portland's bench was spectacular on defense and offense over the final 3:57. I think it spoke to what we saw in a couple of bad Portland losses recently -- late in the season and late in late-season games, reserves often have a lot more energy than starters. I believe the Trail Blazers' recent woes from three-point range have a lot to do with fatigue. Bench players' energy is a difference maker against tired teams. Fresh legs matter.
  • I'm so sick of James Harden getting over on NBA referees. The officials watch video of every call they make and I'm at a loss to figure out why they haven't learned Harden's tricks. He continues to draw foul calls when either barely touched or touched not at all. He flagrantly travels with frequency. It's an ongoing NBA joke that needs to end.
  • Neil Olshey may have made his greatest find ever in Wade Baldwin. Defensive players aren't easy to find these days, particularly in the backcourt and Baldwin's toughness and lack of fear are impressive. I'm also continually surprised by his ability to make shots. I also enjoyed how he got under Harden's skin.
  • The Trail Blazers threw a few random double teams at the Rockets, which I enjoyed immensely.
  • Pat Connaughton getting up off the deck after a brutal fall and contributing was not unexpected. He's one tough guy.
  • I love that Jake Layman made a clutch shot. He works hard to stay ready and just doesn't get many chances.
  • Should McCollum have gotten the last shot of the game after the bench brought the team all the way back? I wasn't surprised by it. It's what coaches normally do and he's usually the team's most reliable shooter. But he wasn't Thursday night.
  • A great effort by some unsung players -- and who doesn't identify with that?

 

Blazers lose, but Baldwin and the reserves put on a show

Blazers lose, but Baldwin and the reserves put on a show

The Blazers trailed most of this game. That was until the bench decided they wanted to make it a game. With about four minutes remaining in the game it looked like Stotts was waving the white flag when he emptied his bench, including an appearance by Georgios Papagiannis, and was ready to call it a night. Portland trailed by 17. Then suddenly, they didn’t.

The reserves went on an amazing 17-0 run that came out of nowhere, and a Pat Connaughton layup tied it up with six seconds remaining. The Rockets had one last shot, and Chris Paul hit a go-ahead bucket with .8 seconds remaining. McCollum would get a shot off before time expired, but his game winner would hit right rim and bounce out. It was a epic comeback that fell just short, but it was a heck of a game in those final four minutes.

Plus Portland gets some good injury news, watch the update from Jason Quick in the video above. 

Final Score: Rockets  96 – Blazers 94

Bad news in Dallas: Damian Lillard injures ankle, leaves arena on cart

Bad news in Dallas: Damian Lillard injures ankle, leaves arena on cart

DALLAS – A bad loss Tuesday for the Trail Blazers might be a costly one, too.

Star point guard Damian Lillard rolled his left ankle in the fourth quarter and later had to be carted from the locker room to the team bus following the Blazers’ 115-109 loss to the lowly Mavericks at American Airlines Center.

With about five minutes left in Tuesday’s game, Lillard jumped to make a pass in the lane and landed on the foot of Dallas center Sal Mejri. His ankle rolled with all his weight on it. He played the final five minutes of the game with a slight hobble, but he said once the game ended, more pain and swelling rushed to the ankle.

The Blazers have four regular season games remaining before the playoffs begin April 14. Portland plays at Houston on Thursday, and Lillard said he will wait and see how the ankle responds.

“I think I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but I’m going to be smart about it,’’ Lillard said. “It’s the end of the season, we are going into the playoffs, so I have to be smart that one thing doesn’t turn into another.’’

Earlier this season, Lillard badly rolled his right ankle when he stepped on Chandler Parsons Nov. 20 game at Memphis. He didn’t miss a game.

This injury made it difficult for him to dress, particularly when he had to push his left leg through his jeans.

“It’s sore, man,’’ Lillard said. “I was just in a vulnerable position … it’s painful. I was able to finish the game, but it was worse when the game was over. (I’m) dealing with a lot more pain and swelling.’’

Portland (48-30) has already clinched a playoff spot, and is in third place in the Western Conference, with a three-game cushion in the loss column over San Antonio and Utah.

The Blazers are 5-3 in games Lillard has missed this season. If he is unable to play in Houston on Thursday, Shabazz Napier will likely start with CJ McCollum and Wade Baldwin IV handling the backup duties. As a starter this season, Napier is averaging 15.8 points, 4.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds. 

Rockets, you want to fight? Do it out there where we can watch

Rockets, you want to fight? Do it out there where we can watch

I love it when NBA teams actually show animosity between each other during a game. There's too much hugging and chatting between opponents for me these days.

So when the Clippers and Rockets showed some genuine hate toward each other yesterday during their game, I enjoyed it. But when I heard that Chris Paul led a trio of teammates into the threshold of the Los Angeles locker room after the game, I was astounded. Paul, after all, is the president of the NBA players' union. And he's pulling this thuggery on Martin Luther King Day?

It's been no secret that Paul and the Clippers' Blake Griffin did not get along during Paul's tenure in Los Angeles. And I've always heard that Paul is often not the best of teammates. And on the other side, Los Angeles' Austin Rivers has been seen as a player who is only there because his father, Doc, is the coach of the team. The perception is that the son takes advantage of the situation by being critical of his teammates under the protection of his father. Not in uniform for the game, the younger Rivers was apparently yapping from the bench throughout the contest.

This from Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

The incident was a reminder of something about Paul that bothered all of his teammates. Paul was never so much a team leader as a team instigator. He was tough to play with, and tougher to play with when you didn’t play his way. He was Kobe Bryant without the ability to finish. For all his greatness, he was the guy who would lose the game, then look for a back door to pick a fight.

I would expect the NBA to hit the Rockets with a very big fine. An excursion into the opponents' locker room after a game could be a very dangerous move -- although I would still say the number of NBA players ready to get into an actual fight is very small.

The whole thing reminds me of a time when my long-departed friend, local wrestling promoter Don Owen, was telling me about a couple of his workers squaring off in the locker room after a match. After all the scripted entertainment, these guys were ready to go at it for real.

Owen was ready, too. "I told them it would be fine to settle it that way but to hold on for a couple of minutes. Let me go out and announce a rematch and we'll put it in the ring where it belongs."

I feel the same way about these guys. If somebody really wants a piece of another player, do it out there on the big stage where everyone can see it.

 

Lillard's return can’t down the Rockets

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Lillard's return can’t down the Rockets

The Blazers fell victim to the dreaded second night of a back-to-back, and their tired legs couldn’t keep up with the Houston Rockets. The bright side was that Damain Lillard finally returned to the lineup, but it just wasn’t enough to beat the Harden-less Rockets. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon were unstoppable, combining for  67 points on the night. And in his return Lillard showed no signs of rust, scoring a team-high 29 points. Now it’s on to New Orleans to see if they can get back in the win column.

Final Score: Rockets 121 – Blazers 112

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.’’

Can we please just forget all about that Melo/Ryan Anderson deal? It's dead

Can we please just forget all about that Melo/Ryan Anderson deal? It's dead

OK, enough is enough. Social media not only breaks stories but it perpetuates them. Ad nauseam.

Such is the case with that three-team-trade rumor that would have sent Carmelo Anthony to Houston and Ryan Anderson to Portland, among other things. It's still a topic of conversation on Twitter and elsewhere even though it's very clear that the whole thing is dead.

I've said this from the beginning -- I don't think Portland was interested in adding Anderson to its roster and I'm real certain the Trail Blazers didn't want any part of his nasty contract. And then when it became known that Portland wanted Anthony and wasn't interested in helping Houston get better, that should have ended the discussion.

Read this one more time -- the Trail Blazers are NOT interested in helping the Rockets get better. It would make sense that Neil Olshey has no interest in being the guy who helped the Rockets get to the Western Conference finals. And I don't think that's something he's going to change his mind about.

I still think Portland will make some sort of deal prior to training camp. Seems to me that moving the decision date on Pat Connaughton's contract option was a signal that there is still an opportunity for something to happen. The Trail Blazers still have a chance to use Connaughton in a deal, perhaps, or pick up his option and keep him after roster space is cleared by some other trade.

But until something else happens, can we just put the whole Houston/Ryan Anderson thing to rest?

It's over.