Memphis Grizzlies

Damian Lillard exits early (but eventually returns) after apparent right ankle injury

Damian Lillard exits early (but eventually returns) after apparent right ankle injury

UPDATE: Lillard returned to the floor and started the second half for the Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers star guard Damian Lillard had to head to the locker room early after rolling his right ankle late in the first half against the Grizzlies. Lillard was driving for a layup and appeared to step on the foot of Grizzlies small forward Chandler Parsons, rolling his right ankle and falling to the floor. 

After subbing out of the game Lillard tried to loosen the ankle back up while on the bench, but eventually left to be treated in the team’s locker room.

During halftime the Trail Blazers announced Lillard is PROBABLE to return with a right ankle sprain

Be sure to follow up on Twitter @nbcsnorthwest for all the latest updates.

Conley, perhaps Evans, out for Grizzlies tonight vs. Trail Blazers

Conley, perhaps Evans, out for Grizzlies tonight vs. Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers open a five-game road trip this evening in Memphis and it's a journey that should tell us a lot about where this Portland team is at this point of the season. Following the game against the Grizzlies, the Blazers travel to Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Washington and New York.

Two wins on this trip are a must and three would have to be considered a good trip.

And Memphis just may be a very good place to open this journey. The Grizzlies will be without point guard Mike Conley (Achilles injury). That takes 17.1 points per game out of the lineup and his team is 0-3 without him this season. Even more critical, guard Tyreke Evans is listed as questionable. Evans is the leading scorer off the bench in the NBA at 17.7  points pet game and made big shots against the Blazers in the 98-97 Memphis win over Portland in Moda Center in early November. Evans tallied 21 in that game. He is nursing a sore right shoulder.

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

The Blazers must also keep an eye on former Oregon Duck Dillon Brooks, a rookie who made key plays at both ends of the court in the earlier win at Portland. Brooks was a draft-day steal by Memphis with the No. 45 pick.

And don't forget, this is an early game in our time zone. Coverage begins tonight on NBC Sports Northwest at 4 o'clock with Rip City Live.

Former Oregon star Dillon Brooks showing NBA he is 'real deal'

Former Oregon star Dillon Brooks showing NBA he is 'real deal'

I don’t know about anybody else, but I left Tuesday’s Memphis-Portland game really impressed with Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks.

The former Oregon star not only started, he was a key player in Memphis’ 98-97 win over the Trail Blazers, making a steal that he converted into an and-one layin with 39.4 seconds left.

Then on the game’s final play, his defense made CJ McCollum hesitate in the corner after the Blazers guard had chased down a potential game-winner that missed. McCollum’s hesitation caused the clock to run out and preserved the Grizzlies win.

“He makes plays in crunch moments,’’ Memphis coach David Fizdale said. “That was something we noticed, our front office guys noticed when they watched the film on him. He always rose to the occasion in crunch moments. That’s something we really liked about him. He finds a way to help you win when everything is on the line.’’

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

I’m not sure even the most die-hard Ducks fans who watched Brooks win the Pac-12 Player of the Year award thought Brooks would be making this kind of impact, this quickly.

In fact, it sounds like the more Memphis tours the NBA, the more eyes Brooks is opening.

“He looks like been playing in league for a while,’’ Memphis star Mike Conley said. “Each game he earns more respect, not just from us, but around the league. That’s all people come up and talk to us about – ‘that Dillon Brooks kid, he’s the real deal’ -  and we love that. He plays with chip on shoulder and he’s not afraid of the moment.’’

Because of injuries, Brooks on Thursday started his third game, and it looks like he could stick in that role, in large part because he defended well within the Grizzlies’ active and aggressive system.

It’s why Fizdale had no hesitation putting Brooks on McCollum for the final shot.

“I feel good with him on anybody,’’ Fizdale said. “We’re developing him to be a starter. He has to go through mistakes, getting the respect of officials – all of that stuff. But we can’t hide him from those guys.’’

The question many around the league might be asking is where was Brooks hiding on draft night? He was drafted with the 45th pick overall by Houston, then traded to Memphis. On opening night, he scored 19 points against New Orleans, the highest scoring NBA debut by a Canadian, surpassing Rick Fox’s 13 points in 1991, and the highest-scoring debut by a Memphis player since Rudy Gay had 21 points in 2006.

“Man, somebody made a mistake not drafting him,’’ Grizzlies star Mike Conley said on opening night.

For the season, Brooks is averaging 8.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 29.7 minutes a game after he finished with seven points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks on Tuesday. He played 38 minutes, the most of any player on Memphis.

“Before I came here I didn’t like playing defense,’’ Brooks said. “But now, I love playing defense. It keeps me on the floor. I get to challenge the best players in the NBA.’’

Today's Blazers' links:

Three final thoughts on Tuesday's loss to the Grizzlies. 

Fan heckles Damian Lillard.

Trail Blazers.com looks at where the Blazers stack up in power rankings.

Blazers' fourth-quarter weapon: Damian Lillard and free-throw shooting

Blazers' fourth-quarter weapon: Damian Lillard and free-throw shooting

In a loaded Western Conference that figures to be filled with knock-down, drag-it-out struggles on a regular basis, the Trail Blazers know they have this going for them:

Damian Lillard and his excellence at the free throw line.

Lillard has made 43 consecutive free throws dating back to the second quarter of the Blazers’ Oct. 30 game against Toronto and is shooting 92.3 percent for the season.

“My dad always made me shoot the ball,’’ Lillard explained about his free throw success. “He wouldn’t let me lower the hoop at home. He made me keep it up and learn how to shoot the ball.’’

This is the fourth streak of at least 40 consecutive free throws in Lillard’s career. He made 54 in a row in March of 2016, falling three short of Damon Stoudamire’s franchise record, and twice had streaks of 48, last accomplished in March of 2017.

The NBA record for consecutive free throws is 97, set over the course of two seasons (1992-1993 and 1993-1994) by Minnesota guard Micheal Williams.

“I don’t pay attention to how many I made in a row,’’ Lillard said. “I just know when I’m shooting it well.’’

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

As the Blazers can attest, free-throw shooting figures to be a huge factor in the loaded West this season as close games figure to increase.  The Blazers have already had a buzzer beating loss against the Clippers, an overtime loss at Utah, a buzzer-beating victory against the Lakers and a nail-biting 103-99 win Sunday against Oklahoma City. The Blazers also lost in Milwaukee in the final 11 seconds.

A factor in the loss against the Clippers was a missed free throw by CJ McCollum – the best free-throw shooter in the NBA last season -- with 5.1 seconds left. Meanwhile, the Blazers helped close out the Thunder by making 7-of-8 in the fourth quarter.

With McCollum, who shot 91.2 percent last season, and Lillard, the Blazers are second in the NBA (behind Utah) in free throws this season at 81.8 percent. The Blazers also attempt the third most per game (21.6) and rank 10th in clutch free throw shooting (82.4 percent), which is measured in the last five minutes.

 “It’s not only Damian,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “I’ve been on teams where you have 5 good free-throw shooters out there and you know that down the stretch you can count on them to make their free throws. It’s a real advantage to have those kind of guys at the end of the game.’’

One of those teams was the 2010 Dallas Mavericks, when Stotts was an assistant. That team included Dirk Nowitizki, who made 82 in a row that season, the third longest streak in NBA history. Jose Calderon has the second longest streak, making 87 in a tow with Toronto in the 2008-2009 season.

Interestingly, Lillard says his free-throw streaks often go both ways. Last season, after he made 48 in a row, he lost his touch and went  18-for-28 (64.3 percent) over his next five games.

“In my career typically, I have long streaks where I make a bunch of free throws in a row, and when I miss, I have a five-game streak where I’m just missing,’’ Lillard said last March. “Then, I start another streak. But I shoot free throws all the time, so it’s not like it’s something I’m concerned about.’’

Tonight, the Blazers (6-4) play host to Memphis (6-4) in what figures to be another tough, grind-it-out game. If it is decided at the line, chances are Lillard will have something to do with it. He is 25-of-28 at the line in the fourth quarter this season, which includes 15 in a row. And as a team, the Blazers this season are 63-of-76 in the fourth quarter (82.9 percent).

Today's Blazers' links:

How to watch tonight's Blazers-Grizzlies game.

My Inside the Blazers podcast, with guest Maurice Harkless.

Kurt Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune writes that Lillard will become the best NBA player from Utah school.

The Beale Street Bears blog debates whether former Oregon wing Dillon Brooks will remain in Memphis rotation.

Trail Blazers move into summer league championship game

Trail Blazers move into summer league championship game

LAS VEGAS --  The Portland Trail Blazer summer-league team will play for the tournament championship Monday night at 7 o'clock in Thomas & Mack Center.

And how unlikely is that?

The Portland entry opened pool play by losing two of its first three games and lost Pat Connaughton and Zach Collins to injury. Yet the team has rallied around Jake Layman, Caleb Swanigan and three free agents and found a new lease on life.

VIDEO: Coach Moran proud to be apart of this team

Sunday night the Blazers knocked off previously undefeated Memphis, recovering from a 19-point, second-quarter deficit.

The Trail Blazers trailed almost from the opening tip and faced a 23-15 deficit after the first quarter, as the Grizzlies shot 47.4 percent from the field while Portland made just 6 of 15 shots. But the summer version of the Trail Blazers is a gritty bunch and they didn't quit.

Portland narrowed the lead to three points early in the third quarter and then finally took a 54-53 lead with 5:50 to play in the third period. The Blazers led by as many as four in the quarter but were down 63-61 heading into the final quarter.

VIDEO: Blazer players excited to play for Championship

Swanigan had his double-double by then with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The Trail Blazers grabbed the lead back in the final quarter and led by eight with three minutes left and coasted home.

Free agent big man Jarnell Stokes continued his solid play, standing tall with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Guards Nick Johnson and RJ Hunter continued their solid play.

VIDEO: Stokes - Swanigan is my best friend

Chandler Parsons starts Twitter war with Blazers

Chandler Parsons starts Twitter war with Blazers

Well, that escalated quickly. Following the Blazers 112-109 win over his Grizzlies, Memphis forward Chandler Parsons took the time to jump on Twitter and take a shot at the Trail Blazers. It didn’t sit kindly with a certain Portland star.

It all started with a innocent, yet funny tweet from the Trail Blazers. A simple gif of Chandler Parsons air balling a three, with the words “To be fair, the NBA 3-point line is really, really far away from the basket.”

Even the greatest NBA player has the occasional air ball. It happens. What doesn’t always happen is what followed on Twitter after the game. Parson caught wind of the Blazers tweet, and took a shot. Unlike his air ball, this one hit its target.

Boom. The shot heard round the world, and heard very loudly in the ear of one CJ McCollum. The Blazers’ star guard wasted little time firing back at Parsons, and ended the argument rather quickly.

Mic. Dropped.

For those who don’t remember, just last summer the Blazers reportedly offered Parsons a 4-year max deal, which Parsons turned down in favor of signing with the Memphis Grizzlies. Parson’s has dealt with injuries all season long, and has appeared in just 19 games for the Grizzlies.

Well, we thought the mic was dropped. Despite all his injuries, Parsons' thumbs seem to working just fine. Just when you thought it was over Parsons sent the ball right back into McCollum’s court.

This is where the fun started, as some other Blazers decided to chime in.

Needless to say, fans blew up the Twitter world:

Too bad this was the final meeting of the year between these two teams. Here's to hoping they meet in the playoffs. 

Damian Lillard comes up big late, leads Blazers over Memphis

Damian Lillard comes up big late, leads Blazers over Memphis

The Trail Blazers have their first three-game winning streak in almost two months thanks to a big fourth quarter from Damian Lillard and a wild and wacky finish.

Lillard scored 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, and in the final 10 seconds the Blazers survived a turnover at halfcourt and giving up a key offensive rebound to hold off Memphis 112-109 at Moda Center.

It was the third straight win for the Blazers (21-27), tying their season-long streak, and they did it with a big exhale after Memphis had a couple of golden opportunities to apply a dagger.

The first came after Vince Carter missed a driving layin with about 12 seconds left and the Grizzlies trailing 112-109, despite coach David Fizdale signaling for a timeout from the sideline. As the Blazers brought the ball back upcourt, Lillard lost the ball while trying to pass, and Tony Allen scooped up the loose ball and was fouled while trying to score.

But Allen missed both free throws with 7.5 seconds left, and even though Marc Gasol rebounded, Mike Conley missed a three in the final seconds, preserving Portland’s second in the three-game season series with Memphis.

Gasol led Memphis (27-21) with 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists while Conley didn’t shoot well (5-for-16) but finished with 10 assists and 17 points.

Lillard’s big fourth quarter included a span where he scored 13 consecutive points – which included 3-pointers on three straight possessions –  that gave the Blazers a 106-101 lead with 3:45 left.

The win improved the Blazers’ record over teams with winning records to 7-16 and moved them within a half-game of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Memphis was within 85-84 entering the fourth quarter after the Blazers didn’t score the final 2:07 of the quarter and the Grizzlies got a three pointer from Andrew Harrison, a three-point play from Harrison and a running layin from Conley.

The Blazers led 62-56 at halftime, but had to be kicking themselves after leading by as many as 18 in the second quarter. Crabbe provided much of the firepower that built the lead, hitting 5-of-7 shots in the second and scoring 14 points and Memphis was able to get back in it behind the play of 40-year-old reserve Vince Carter, who came off the bench to score 11 in the second.

Mason Plumlee recorded his team-leading 12th double-double for the Blazers with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Notes: Ed Davis (left wrist) missed his third straight game and fourth in past five games and Maurice Harkless (left calf) sat out his second straight game.

Next up: Golden State at Blazers, 6 p.m. Sunday (KGW).

 

Could that be the low point for the Trail Blazers this season?

Could that be the low point for the Trail Blazers this season?

I can't remember a more disappointing and, at the same time, surprising performance by the Trail Blazers this season. That 88-86 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies was grizzly, all right. Grim.

Let's start with the fact that Memphis was without Mike Conley, Vince Carter, James Ennis, Chandler Parsons and Brandan Wright. The Grizzlies were basically Marc Gasol and Tony Allen against the world. The Trail Blazers dominated the Grizzlies nearly the whole game but could never put them away.

The Portland lead was 77-64 with 7:13 to play in this very slow-paced game and 79-68 wth 5:11 left. But Gasol got wide open for a three-point field goal and Troy Daniels drilled one that was officially called a 30-footer with 1:35 to play that gave Memphis a one-point lead. Then Toney Douglas, signed off his couch at home Dec. 5, hammered home a jumper and two free throws for another one-point lead. After Mason Plumlee tied the game for the final time with a free-throw, Douglas hit two more foul shots to win it for the Grizzlies.

You can talk about the foul call on Damian Lillard that sent Douglas to the line, but in a game like this it's absurd to bring the officiating into the conversation. Officials had nothing to do with the outcome of this contest. With the game on the line, Portland made just four of 19 shots in the fourth quarter, 21.1 percent. For the game, the Trail Blazers shot just 30.5 percent from the field -- their worst in a decade! -- and only 25 percent from three-point range.

This game was a total mess, as ugly as you'll ever see the NBA get. If you want to look at individual Portland shooting totals you can find the official league box score here -- but be ready to cover your eyes. Yes, Memphis shot poorly, too. But mostly that was players who normally wouldn't be on the floor at key times of an NBA game. Gasol was the one player Portland needed to defend and that never got done.

The Trail Blazers missed plenty of shots in the paint and too many from three-point range. I had a thought at one point about the team's three-point shooting that I should pass along, too.

Perhaps the reason that players shoot better from three in Portland than in other places is that they get open ones with the Trail Blazers that they didn't get elsewhere. The system is tried and true for three-point shooters. And, too, players are encouraged to shoot them here like they were nowhere else. Over and over, we've heard about Coach Terry Stotts chastising his players for passing up open shots -- not for gunning them up. Certainly, showing confidence in players is a key part of getting them to play their best.

But. BUT. When a player is going through a tough time making threes -- and isn't really a great three-point shooter in the first place -- I think it's important to have that shooter be a little more judicious with his shots. And I'm talking about Al-Farouq Aminu.

He's shooting 20.5 percent from three-point range and most of the time, he's not even close. Sure,  I know all about shooters shooting their way out of slumps. I'm just not sure he's much of a shooter in the first place, in spite of his relative success last season. And at least for now, in the midst of tight games, I think he should be restrained a bit.

But that's just a nitpick right now. While the defense seems to be better, the offense now has gotten inconsistent.

There's a positive sign after that game at Memphis, though: There is nowhere to go but up.