Trail Blazers finish regular season with loss to New Orleans, turn focus to Sunday's Game 1

Trail Blazers finish regular season with loss to New Orleans, turn focus to Sunday's Game 1

This time, there was no dramatic finish for the Trail Blazers.

The Blazers finished the regular season with a 103-100 loss to New Orleans after it couldn't recreate the late-game magic from its last game. One game after Noah Vonleh beat the Spurs with a last-second layin, the Blazers twice had a chance to go ahead in the final minute but Meyers Leonard he missed a hook shot with 37 seconds then lost the ball out of bounds with 10.6 seconds left and Portland trailing 101-100.

The loss ended an eight-game home winning streak for Portland, which finished 41-41 and as the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers will play at Golden State in Game 1 on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on ABC. The first playoff home game with be April 22 at 7:30 p.m. for Game 3.

With several key players resting -- including Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum -- the Blazers had as much as an 11-point lead behind the shooting of Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton. The loss prevented a winning season but didn't put a damper on the Blazers' strong close to the season, which included an 18-6 run through March and April.  

The Blazers started Napier, rookie Jake Layman, Evan Turner, Noah Vonleh and Meyers Leonard as coach Terry Stotts elected to rest starters  Lillard and McCollum as well as key reserves Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe. New Orleans (34-48) played without stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins and finished the season on a six-game losing streak.

Napier, who started and scored a career-high 32 in Monday's win over San Antonio, finished with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting while Connaughton added a career-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting as well as a career-high seven assists. Layman, in his first career start, added 10 points and Vonleh had 12 points and a career high 19 rebounds for his fifth career double-double. 

Maurice Harkless, who vowed not to take a three-pointer in order to secure a $500,000 bonus, finished with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting - all two-point attempts -- in 22 minutes. 

The Blazers now turn their attention to Golden State in a best-of-seven series in the first-round of the NBA playoffs. Game 1 is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Golden State. 

On Wednesday, the teams were tied at 53 at halftime before Portland pushed to an 85-78 lead behind Napier, Layman and rookie Tim Quarterman. New Orleans however went on a 15-0 run to take a 99-93 lead in the fourth.

Notes: Allen Crabbe, who has missed the last three games with a sore left foot said he will "for sure" be ready for Sunday's Game 1 at Golden State. "I'm not in as much pain in the mornings, so that's a good sign,'' Crabbe said before Wednesday's game. 

Up next: Blazers at Golden State, Game 1 best-of-seven series, Sunday 12:30 p.m. (ABC).  Full Schedule Here

Podcast: Special edition which includes Terry Stotts' entire time on Talkin' Ball from tonight

Trail Blazers: An exhilarating 48 minutes that ALSO defines a season

Trail Blazers: An exhilarating 48 minutes that ALSO defines a season

What happened Wednesday night in San Antonio was downright miraculous. A team that was completely embarrassed by hapless New Orleans Tuesday rose up to defeat powerful San Antonio on its home court.

Go figure.

The Trail Blazers' playoff push: You can't count them out, but you can't count them in, either.

There were a lot of things I liked about Wednesday's game, but here are the things I liked the most:

  • Focus. The Trail Blazers paid attention throughout. They were alert and aggressive. It was a complete turnaround from the previous night.
  • Passing. Yes, they found open teammates and got them the ball with a minimum of mistakes.
  • Shooting. Against a team that's usually one of the best in the league at defending the three-point shot, they hit 40.9 percent.
  • Free-throw shooting. It's been spotty of late but against the Spurs, Portland won the game at the foul line, hitting 25 of 28.
  • Spreading the ball around. It was almost as if something was said in the halftime locker room but after intermission, the Trail Blazer guards seemed more intent than ever at hitting the roll man -- usually Jusuf Nurkic -- on the pick-and-roll. And it made a very big difference.
  • Nurkic. He may have struggled inside the final minute but there's no question that age 22 he continues to show a skill level that Portland hasn't seen at center in a very long time.
  • Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. A combined 62 points that included a 17-for-17 night at the foul line and a lot of clutch shots and sharp passes. A sparkling performance.
  • Al-Farouq Aminu. Some outstanding defense, outside and inside.
  • Noah Vonleh. He made every shot he took and didn't have a turnover. You couldn't ask for much more.

There were other things, I'm sure. This was a big-time recovery for a team that looked down and out the previous night. And if there's ever a win that should be a catapult for more consistent performance it's this one.

BUT.

I wouldn't count on it. You just can't seem to expect much of anything but inconsistency. The overwhelming picture of this season is going to be of a very big roller-coaster ride.

 

Trail Blazers: An excruciating 48 minutes that defined a season

Trail Blazers: An excruciating 48 minutes that defined a season

After sitting through the Trail Blazers' 100-77 debacle of a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night, I noticed how tired I had gotten. Watching that mess just exhausted me.

It was a bewildering performance by Portland, a team that had suddenly appeared to have found itself in a five-wins-in-six-games streak. But the Blazers ran head-on into a wall against the Pelicans -- a wall of inconsistency borne out of a seeming lack of attention to detail.

You can't do big things without doing the little things and so many times this season the Blazers have failed to do all the little things that make their team work. This is a team with a very delicate balance between pretty good and pretty mediocre and the latter is winning the battle a good deal of the time.

When you don't play consistent defense, your offense better be pretty solid night after night. When you don't have a frontcourt that provides any measure of consistent scoring, you end up relying too much on your backcourt to carry the load. When you don't have a reliable No. 3 scorer it's difficult to get the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers to give the ball up to people they don't trust.

And the real problem with that long chain of things that have to go right is that everything is reliant on little things like ball movement and player movement. Screen setting. Not only seeing teammates when they are open but finding them with sharp passes, not looping, lackadaisical ones. Focus is needed. Attention to detail. Focus.

Seriously, when you turn the ball over two or three times in a row, the next possession should bring more careful passes and smarter decisions -- not yet another careless turnover.

And some nights -- too many nights -- focus just hasn't been there. I don't understand that because last season this team was sharp and attentive. This year there are way too many lapses in judgment and focus. And I think the disappointment has led to some sort of deep mass frustration and disappointment. There are good people on this team  -- they care a lot about their team -- and they are dealing with a lot of frustration. And it's mounting up.

Tuesday night's loss was a joke, not necessarily because of the outcome but because of the process. Portland was never in this game, right from the start. For a team fighting for a playoff berth it seems to desperately want, this was a trainwreck. And we've seen this so many other times this season -- just when it appeared the team had found an answer for its problems.

It wasn't so much that New Orleans hit Portland with a great game, it was that the Trail Blazers were so off kilter they never had a chance. Yes, the Pels shot 47.5 percent from the field -- but at this point of the season we're accustomed to opponents shooting near 50 percent. The Blazers make up for that by shooting well themselves, making more threes than their opponent, rebounding well and holding turnovers down.

Lately, though, the turnovers are coming in large bunches and, Tuesday, the shooting was way, way off. Portland made just 30.3 percent of its shots and hit only 11 of its 32 threes. When you shoot that poorly, there's usually a reason and it's that you aren't getting good shots.

The Blazers didn't move the ball well, didn't move their bodies enough, didn't set enough effective screens and didn't find open teammates often enough to shoot well. At times they made the Pelican defense look like the best defense in the league. Which it isn't.

By the third quarter, the Trail Blazers were standing around trying to figure out what to do next, seemingly befuddled about how to score. I can't remember the last time I've seen this group so baffled on offense. If Damian Lillard hadn't just taken things into his own hands in this game, Portland might not have reached 60 points.

But let's face it, this is the way the season has gone. This is what it's all been about and it's probably too late to salvage anything from it. The 2016-17 season is going to be a write-off, I'm afraid. We are just going to have to consider it a lost season and move on.

And hope that the malaise that periodically engulfs this team can be left behind, too.

 

Trail Blazers don't show up in New Orleans in blowout loss

Trail Blazers don't show up in New Orleans in blowout loss

NEW ORLEANS – It was the fourth quarter, and the body language of Damian Lillard told the story for the Trail Blazers on Tuesday: Arms crossed, legs outstretched, eyes staring off in space.

Blowout losses, like the 100-77 beatdown New Orleans applied on the Blazers on Tuesday, can do that even to the best of leaders.

“Disappointed,’’ Lillard said thinking back to that moment. “I remember when I put my legs out, I thought ‘Maybe I should sit up so people don’t look at it’ but it was just how I felt at the moment … that we let it get away.’’

The Blazers’ late-season playoff push was derailed  with a no-show performance in New Orleans that was so poor that coach Terry Stotts sat his key players for the final 9:39 of the fourth quarter in order to rest them for Wednesday’s game at San Antonio.

The Blazers entered the game having won five of six and feeling like they were playing their best basketball of the season. But they turned in one of their worst performances of the season as only Lillard (29 points) and Shabazz Napier (10 points) finished in double figures.

The Blazers shot a season-low 30.3 percent for the game and scored a season-low 77 points. They also committed 16 turnovers.

The loss drops Portland (29-37) to 2.5 games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot with 16 games remaining. New Orleans (27-40) moved to within five games of Denver.

With owner Paul Allen in attendance, the Blazers played one of their worst games of the season.

Allen Crabbe went 1-for-8, including 1-for-6 from three-point range. Jusuf Nurkic went 1-for-8 with four turnovers. Al-Farouq Aminu didn’t score. Maurice Harkless didn’t grab a rebound. And CJ McCollum went just 4-of-12 and didn’t make any of his three three-point attempts.

“We just didn’t make shots tonight, that’s pretty much it,” Crabbe said. “It just wasn’t our night.’’

Portland made one run in the second half, cutting a 20-point lead to 60-49 after Lillard scored 11 in a row, but after a timeout, New Orleans scored the next eight to essentially put the game away.

New Orleans took a 50-36 halftime lead, even though Pelicans’ star Anthony Davis left with about five minutes left in the second quarter to have his left ankle examined. His absence didn’t matter as Portland struggled with its shot (33 percent in first half) and with controlling the ball (nine turnovers). The 36 points was the second fewest first half points this season.

Davis came back to start the second half and finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds in 29 minutes on 5-of-15 shooting. DeMarcus Cousins finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, but he shot only 9-of-22 from the field and 4-of-10 from the free throw line.

New Orleans improved to 4-6 since Cousins was acquired in a trade with Sacramento.

The defining stretch of the first half came when Portland went scoreless from 6:20 in the second quarter until 1:55 when Lillard made a driving layin. That ended a 12-0 Pelicans run that extended a 31-28 lead to 43-28.

The Blazers shot 20 percent in the first quarter (4-of-20) and had both of their starting forwards – Maurice Harkless and Noah Vonleh – forced to the bench with two fouls. 

Up next: Blazers at San Antonio, 7 p.m. Wednesday (KGW/ESPN)

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