Al-Farouq Aminu

Game 3 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. OKC Thunder: How and Where to Watch & Stream the game

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Game 3 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. OKC Thunder: How and Where to Watch & Stream the game

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As the series shifts to Oklahoma City for Game 3 and 4, the Trail Blazers take a 2-0 series lead with them.  Portland has not led a playoff series 2-0 since the First Round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs. In the Blazers’ 114-94 victory over the Thunder on Tuesday night, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 62 points, while Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless continued to make it tough for Paul George to get clean looks. George scored 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting.  

Lillard knows there is still a lot of work to be done.

"I know how quickly things can change," said Lillard. "I know that a series doesn’t start until you win a game on the road. I also know how capable their team is. So we’ve just got to maintain our focus, stay sharp in the things we’ve been sharp in, and understand how well we played in the first game and the second game is not going to be good enough in the third game, especially on their home floor.”

History is on the Blazers side though. When the Blazers have a 2-0 series lead, the team is a perfect 14-0 in the playoffs.


GAME DETAILS

Where to Watch: NBC Sports Northwest

Where to Watch on the go: Stream the game live on the new MyTeams App

Tip-Off Time: 6:30 p.m. 

Point spread: Oklahoma City -7.5

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (4:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the postgame show). 

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio

 

INJURY UPDATES

For the Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) is out for Tuesday's Game 3 vs. OKC.

For the Thunder, Andre Roberson (left patellar) and Hamidou Diallo (right elbow) are out.
 


QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: OKC has the Thunder but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are raining threes

Jamie Hudson: Trail Blazers head to OKC, where Damian Lillard's tap of the wrist all began

Mike Richman: Damian Lillard's defense at the center of the Blazers 2-0 series lead

VIDEO: Lillard Time: Dame, Blazers return to where it all began

VIDEO: Blazers know they face a long road despite 2-0 advantage



Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is the app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Kanter is picking and the Trail Blazers are rolling to another win

Kanter is picking and the Trail Blazers are rolling to another win

ATLANTA – The indoctrination of Enes Kanter into the Portland Trail Blazers’ system continued Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks and it went very well.

First, the Trail Blazers thumped the Hawks 118-98 for their sixth straight win. Second, Kanter, again starting in place of injured Jusuf Nurkic, had perhaps his most-complete game yet for the Trail Blazers.

The former backup center scored 14 points on 7-11 from the field, had eight rebounds and a blocked shot in two seconds shy of 25 minutes on the court.

And he looked comfortable in the pick-and-roll with Damian Lillard, something we hadn’t seen a lot of prior to this game.

In fact, hadn’t seen a lot of it in Kanter’s career. He’s been a post-up, low-block player through most of his time in the league, but when you put him with Lillard, there’s instant chemistry.

“When you have Dame – they said Nurk and Dame was the best pick-and-roll in the league, so Coach told me, ‘Hey, we have the best guy so just go set a pick and he’s going to make the shot.’

“So my thing is, from Day One they were telling me to go set a good pick for Dame and that’s my focus every game. He’s going to score the ball and make everyone else better.

“This is the first time I’m actually running this much pick-and-rolls. But when you have a guy like Dame, I mean he’s just making everyone around him better. The game becomes so easy and everyone is comfortable out there.”

Lillard, of course, carried his usual heavy load with CJ McCollum home recovering from his knee injury and Nurkic out with a broken leg.

Lillard made 13-of-25 shots, including 4-10 from three-point range, had seven assists, a blocked shot, only two turnovers and 36 points in 32:04.

And he was taking on Trae Young, the latest of the young point guards to try to take Lillard on and prove something.

Young held his own in the first quarter, getting an 18-18 draw with Portland’s All-NBA point guard. But for the game he was only 1-8 from three-point range and needed 25 shots to score 26 points.

Portland Coach Terry Stotts liked his team’s defense.

“From a defensive standpoint, Atlanta had been on a roll, scoring 120 or something since the All-Star break,” he said. “So to hold them under 100 says a lot for our defense.

“First quarter, we probably didn’t defend as well as we needed to but after that it was pretty good. Damian was terrific again -- scoring, passing. Enes did a nice job in the lane, offensively and defensively. So, anyway, against a team that’s been playing pretty well lately it was a good win. They just beat Utah and Philadelphia and I think that speaks enough (about how good Atlanta is).”

Stotts continued his tinkering with lineups and ran out a group in the first half that included no centers at all.

“I mean Chief (Aminu) is long,” Stotts said, “He’s not a typical center but I think it’s something we have to look at, Whether it’s having Chief and Mo (Harkless), or Rodney (Hood) or Jake (Layman), Even (Turner) – we’ve got good length on the wings, so I don’t know how much we’ll do that but it’s something we have to look at and see how it goes.”

Stotts talked about the pick-and-rolls with Kanter.

“Our first five pick-and-rolls with Enes were scores,” he said. “Whether it was him or Dame, he set good screens, he’s rolling. The way the game started, him and Dame in pick-and-rolls worked pretty well.”

Porltand got balanced scoring, with 17 from Al-Farouq Aminu, 12 from Seth Curry and nine from Zach Collins.

The Trail Blazers get no rest on Saturday. They meet the Pistons in Detroit on the second of back-to-back games before finishing the four-game trip at Minnesota against the Timberwolves Monday night.

Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard overwhelm Pistons down the stretch

Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard overwhelm Pistons down the stretch

The Detroit Pistons had won seven of their last 10 games and brought their “A-Game” to Moda Center Saturday night.

But the Trail Blazers countered with an “A-plus Game” and finished off the Pistons with a flourish in the final two minutes to win 117-112.

Damian Lillard led the Portland parade, as usual, with his passing and his shooting. He finished with 28 points – hitting 9-16 from the floor, including 6-10 from three-point territory – to go with nine assists and six rebounds.

And down the stretch he was dictating the game, chapter and verse. But make no mistake, he had a lot of help on this night – the Trail Blazers got winning performances from just about everyone who played.

Portland trailed 109-103 with four and a half minutes to play but held the Pistons scoreless for the next four minutes.

Lillard hit Maurice Harkless knifing through the lane for a layup. He found Jusuf Nurkic for another layup and the game was tied with 1:58 to go.

Then, with the score tied, Nurkic made a terrific block on an Andre Drummond layup. Seth Curry found Lillard in the front court and Lillard nailed a 28-foot jumper to push his team into the lead, was fouled, and made the free throw.

It was downhill from there. Harkless passed to Nurkic for a dunk and then Al-Farouq Aminu jumped on a missed Lillard shot and banked in a basket with 4.1 seconds to go that provided the final margin.

It was a terrific outing for the Trail Blazers, who shot .544 from the field, .423 from three and outrebounded the bruising Pistons 42-29.

“A gutty and gritty win,” Terry Stotts said. “Basically we held them scoreless the last four and a half minutes. We made a lot of good defensive plays, big shots.”

You can find contributions everywhere:

  • Harkless had 10 points, four assists and some big defensive plays.
  • Aminu had a season-high 22 points, a lot of hustle plays and a solid defensive job on Blake Griffin.
  • Nurkic had 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
  • Enes Kanter mixed it up inside with Drummond and came away with 10 points and seven rebounds.
  • Zach Collins had his usual quota of energy plays, as well as 4-6 from the field, four boards, a block and nine points.
  • Seth Curry was 5-9, had 16 points and five rebounds.

It was quite a night for the home team, whose interior passing was a thing of beauty.

“When guys draw double-teams or guys just drive and somebody steps up, we’ve done a good job of finding the open man,” Harkless said.

Lillard probably had four or five “hockey assists,” where his pass led to the pass that resulted in the score. And that’s indicative of how well the Trail Blazers moved the ball around.

“Those are the plays you have to make in order to take advantage of what they were trying to do,” Lillard said. “I’m not always going to be the guy getting the assist when they’re out so high on me. Can the guy I pass the ball out to, make the next play? We had guys doing that.

“That’s what I mean when I say we’re making the right plays. The ball is going where it’s supposed to go. When it does that, you take advantage of what the other team is trying to do. Tonight we did a great job of that.

“We’ve been playing the style of play we want to play,” Lillard said. “And we can sustain that.”

Pistons Coach Dwane Casey, who has done an outstanding job with his team, loaded up against Lillard.

"You're not going to stop everything," he said. "They're one of the top offensive teams in the league. And we made a decision that we were going to try to keep the ball as much as possible out of Lillard's hands. And again, you take away one thing, you're going to open up something else."

The Blazers play host to the Brooklyn Nets Monday night before heading out on a four-game trip to Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Minnesota.

Right now for the Trail Blazers, if you play well, you play more

Right now for the Trail Blazers, if you play well, you play more

Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts has found himself in an interesting situation after CJ McCollum’s recent knee injury has left the player on the sidelines for an as-yet-undetermined time.

Suddenly Stotts has those 34.1 minutes per game that McCollum has been playing, at his disposal. And he has several players worthy of playing them.

He has decisions to make. And those decisions are based on a wide variety of factors that are made more difficult because the Trail Blazer coach has a lot of options, many players capable of quality minutes. There is a lot to consider.

“I like guys having a run out there,” Stotts said Tuesday after his team’s practice. “I want to keep Dame’s minutes under control, who plays well with who else, some of it is matchup driven by the other team. It just depends.

“I don’t know if it’s difficult, I guess I have to take into account more things, probably.

“I do that twofold. One, if a guy is playing well -- and if the unit is playing well. Like I said (after Monday’s game), Zach played 15 straight minutes in the first half because he was doing well and that unit was doing well.

“I kept him in. Same thing with Chief in the third quarter. Chief got on a roll so he played the entire third quarter, and the team was doing well. When things aren’t going well, then decisions have to be made.”

And that would be why Collins played 15 first-half minutes but only seven in the second half.

“If Chief hadn’t played so well in the third quarter I was prepared to go back to Zach,” Stotts said. “But that wouldn’t have been fair to Chief.”

Damian Lillard, the team’s captain, thinks along the same lines as his coach. And probably the way most players would like the situation to be played out:

“I’m sure it’s tough,” Lillard said. “But if I were the coach, I would just play whoever is having the better game. That’s who would be out there. Next game might be a different guy, but that’s fair. That’s the way I’d do it.”

Stotts likes to stay with a player through the end of a quarter if he and the team are playing well. Does that mean he believes in what’s become a controversial topic – the “hot hand” theory, in which people believe players who have made a couple of shots in a row are more likely to make their next shot?

“It’s always a tough thing when a certain player has it going – whether it’s Dame or CJ or anyone – you let them play the quarter,” Stotts said. “You can’t take them out when they are on a roll.

“It’s easy to say leave him in now, but it does have consequences down the road -- rotation of other players, extending of his minutes.

“I believe in confidence. When guys are in a groove and confident of their shot I believe in that. But I always know it’s going to come to an end.

“A lot times when a guy is on a roll I’ll keep him in there until he misses a shot.

“To me, a hot hand sounds like poker. That’s more luck and superstition. But when guys are feeling good, biorhythms are good, shots tend to go in more.”

Trail Blazers pass first test without CJ McCollum... Is there reason to rush him back?

Trail Blazers pass first test without CJ McCollum... Is there reason to rush him back?

Energy plays.

Collective play.

Staying ready to shoot.

These are all key components to the Trail Blazers 106-98 victory over the Pacers and Portland’s first game without starting shooting guard CJ McCollum.

Just as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talked about in his pregame interview, it was a collective group who found themselves getting extra minutes with McCollum out.

Jake Layman got the starting nod in place of McCollum, but then Rodney Hood started the second half.  Hood, Layman and Seth Curry, are all expected to get more minutes with McCollum sidelined.

Also, as expected, Damian Lillard carried the load as he notched his ninth double-double of the season by the end of the third quarter. Lillard finished with 30 points and 15 assists, which is a new season-high in assists and just one shy form tying his career-high.

With 15 assists on the night it shows how the game plan is to play as a team in McCollum’s absence. Lillard discussed how it’s not about playing hero ball during this stretch without his running mate.

“I think having a guy that’s such a huge part of our team go down and not be out there, it’s not gonna be just me going out there trying to be the hero. It’s going to have to be done by committee,” Lillard told Blazers sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam immediately after the game.

“Against a very good team, we had a lot of guys step up. It was really encouraging and that’s how we’re going to have to play,” Lillard added.

ENERGY PLAYS AND CHASE DOWN BLOCKS

Zach Collins also saw the floor more, which proves Coach Stotts is going to fill McCollum’s minutes in a variety of ways. 

Collins made sure to make the most of the opportunity early and Coach Stotts was quick to recognize him postgame.

“Collins came in and made a lot of energy plays. I thought we scored more off of our energy than anything else,” Stotts said.

Even though this is just Collins’ second year in the league, he showed his wisdom in the locker room.

“[CJ] brings so much to our team... We just gotta come together and pick up the slack. Without him on the floor -- that’s a lot of buckets that we have to come up with and obviously, Dame has a lot on his shoulders and now that teams have to focus a lot more on him without CJ, we’ve got to help him out a little bit, just come together” Collins said.

Collins also noted that he always wants to “make energy plays that gets the crowd in to it,” and that’s exactly what he did midway through the second quarter with a chase down block on Tyreke Evans.

So, what goes through Collins’ mind when he’s going up for a chase down block like that?

“Move as fast as I can,” Collins said with a big smile.

“I need to get a little faster, but just try to get there as quickly as I can and try to time it right,” Collins said.

BE READY TO CATCH AND SHOOT

Al-Farouq Aminu picked up some of the scoring slack. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from three in the third quarter as he ignited the Blazers’ offense in the second half.

For Chief, it’s all about making sure he is ready to catch and release.

“Obviously Dame did a good job distributing, making sure everybody got involved… We just gotta continue to be ready to shoot,” Aminu said.

“I think what we did tonight was impressive, to be honest, I’m proud of everybody from top to bottom, the way we were able to step up without CJ and get a quality win,” Aminu added.

Aminu finished 4-for-5 from long distance and 5-for-8 from the field to score 16 points.

It’s all about that Blazer ball movement though.

“We just gotta play the same way and make sure we’re continuing to distribute the ball,” Aminu said.

NO NEED TO RUSH CJ BACK

Before Monday’s game both McCollum and Coach Stotts did not give any type of timetable on McCollum’s return.

Lillard knows one thing though—

He doesn’t want McCollum to hurry back before he’s ready.

Lillard has had this conversation with McCollum about taking his time to get the proper rehab.

“I don’t want [CJ] to have to rush it,” Lillard said. “And, when he does come back, I want him to be himself and be healthy... In my mind we’re going to finish the regular season without him... We’d rather have him healthy and strong for the playoffs.”

Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu bring that spark that nobody talks about

Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu bring that spark that nobody talks about

PHILADELPHIA – Role players on professional teams rarely get the recognition they deserve, but so far on this Trail Blazers’ seven-game road trip, that’s who is getting a lot of props from Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and the Blazers’ star players.

Portland’s starting forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless, who usually go under the radar, were front and center when talking about why the Blazers have started out 2-0 on this East Coast swing.

Aminu finished with the second-highest plus/minus on the team with a +23 only second to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum’s +24 in Saturday’s game. Harkless finished with the third best, a +22, as the Blazers put on an offensive clinic against the 76ers, beating Philadelphia 130-115.

 “Their presence is always felt,” Lillard said, even though to media and fans the tandem might go unnoticed at times.

Playing as a team is what this Blazers squad has always been about, but now with the new additions of Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood along with some much needed-rest from the All-Star break, this Blazers’ team looks like the sky is the limit.

In Saturday’s win, seven players scored in double figures.

“Aside from the new guys and Nurk playing the way he has played these first two games, I think [Aminu and Harkless] have really been a spark for us -- rebounding, defensively, you know, communication, just the activity of both of them out there together is a lot to deal with for opposing teams,” Lillard said.

“I thought Moe Harkless had an outstanding game. He was able to score when he had his opportunities, he made big help (defense) decisions,” Stotts said postgame.

Harkless finished with 13 points, five rebounds, and three steals in Saturday’s win. Aminu added 15 points, six rebounds, two assists, and one steal.

Coach Stotts was pleased with both of his starting forwards and that confidence in both Harkless and Aminu has never wavered.

“I like what they’re doing at both ends. Offensively, they’re playing well. Moe had matchups that he looked for, and we looked for, he was aggressive, finished around the basket. Defensively both of them have always been are, and have always been, like I’ve said for the three years, they complement each other at the defensive end with their switching and their length,” Stotts said.

In Thursday’s win over the Nets, Aminu had a +34, while Harkless recorded a +32 to earn the best plus-minus of the team. That goes to show just how much of a positive impact the duo is making after the All-Star break.

The tandem was getting it done on both ends of the court, as they often do, especially early on.

“[Aminu] showed his versatility. He can guard 1 through 5. He can switch out on centers. He can switch out on guards… That’s the type of versatility from all those guys we need for the rest of the season,” McCollum said.
As for Harkless, it looks as though he is back to his old self.

“I’m just trying to build off the last game, just come out with the same type of mentality, same type of aggressiveness… Just doing things that I can do every night, taking advantage of mismatches, aggressive on the boards, and playing defense,” Harkless said.

Harkless has now scored in double-digits in three straight games.

The 25-year-old small forward has played in just 38 games this season while dealing with a lingering knee issue.

Harkless’ running mate is happy to see his knee feeling so good.

“For me, to see him just being healthy is really nice. I feel like sometimes we forget stuff like that… Injury has kind of held him back a little bit. To see him hitting his groove is nice,” Aminu said. 

It was obvious in the locker room after Saturday’s game that Harkless was feeling good again after the jokes he was making.

“Jake [Layman] got everybody going. We were just being aggressive attacking the rim… We’ve got guys like Jake who has a whole lot of bounce, so he got me excited. I went in there a couple of times trying to make something too,” Harkless said with big a smile.

Saturday’s victory improves Portland’s road record to 11-15 and it proves that this Blazers’ team has players who understand their role and their teammates are always quick to recognized their efforts.

Saturday equaled a team win for the Blazers.

Trail Blazers search for playing rotation in loss to Thunder

Trail Blazers search for playing rotation in loss to Thunder

So who plays? And when?

As the Trail Blazers dropped a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 120-111 decision to the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday, that would be a reasonable question.

Portland needs to find a playing rotation and maybe even a new starting lineup. Coach Terry Stotts used 11 players in meaningful minutes and seemed to be throwing lineups at the wall to see what was going to stick.

The Blazers’ starting guards – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum -- took 42 of the team’s 87 shots and if they continue to deal in that volume, the other shooters are going to have to be steady and accurate.

On this night, Jake Layman played 28 minutes off the bench and scored 17 points off seven shots and had a career-high four blocked shots. He’s looking more and more like a starter but Stotts just doesn’t seem willing to make that move.

He sticks with Al-Farouq Aminu for his defense but often gets little offense from him. But lately whatever he gets from Aminu is more than he’s getting from the other starting forward, Maurice Harkless.

“I liked the way we competed in the second half,” Stotts said. “I wanted to keep Chief out there with Paul George.”

For the record, George recorded a downright next-level triple-double, getting 47 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Good thing they had a quality defender on him, right? The guy might have gone for a hundred.

Harkless played 20 minutes and scored three points, Aminu played 33 and scored 13.

Aminu said. “It’s our job. We have to adapt.”

Meanwhile, Seth Curry – who has played and shot well this season – saw only five minutes of duty, Meyers Leonard played eight, Zach Collins played 10, Evan Turner 13 and Rodney Hood 16.

That’s reminiscent of an elementary-school team where you want to make sure everybody gets to play so that none of the parents gets mad.

“Right now, everybody is just trying to adjust,” Turner said of the playing rotation. “Using more guys and a deeper bench, we all have to sacrifice.”

The only rotation player added to the mix at the trade deadline was Hood, who can play three positions. But his appearance has seemingly thrown a monkey wrench into a rotation that was already unpredictable.

“I’m sure it’s difficult for some guys,” Lillard said, when asked about the rotation of the rotation. “Being in there with some guys for shorter stretches than you’re used to. But that’s part of being a professional. You’ve got to adjust on the fly and that’s kind of where we are.”

Meanwhile, the Blazers’ starting lineup struggled against the Thunder. McCollum went 5-20 from the field and Lillard was 9-22. Jusuf Nurkic scored nine on 2-7 shooting and the starters combined for 11 turnovers.

Yes, there seemed to be some hangover from the loss Sunday night at Dallas but there isn’t much excuse for that from NBA players.

This suddenly appears to be an unsettled team right now. There are roles to be defined and players found to fill them.

Certainly there are plenty of candidates on hand. And we saw them all Monday night.

The enigma that is Paul George: Trail Blazers struggle to contain "the MVP"

The enigma that is Paul George: Trail Blazers struggle to contain "the MVP"

OKLAHOMA CITY – MVP chants filled the air at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Monday night with Thunder fans expressing their love to All-Star forward Paul George.

George and company jumped out to an early lead on the Trail Blazers and really never looked back as they cruised to a 120-111 victory over Portland.

The MVP chatter carried over into the Blazers locker room.

“It was unreal. I know everybody is going crazy for Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and [LeBron] James, but everybody I probably went up against, and no disrespect for the other two because they’re unbelievable, but Paul is the best we’ve probably went up against all year,” Evan Turner said postgame.

In the win, George tied his season-high with 47 points. He also had 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his third triple-double of his nine-year career.

Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard led the way for Portland with 31 points. Lillard also led the way in the locker room on the praise of PG13’s level of play this season.

“He’s on a different level. I mean, after watching him over the last 10 games or so, I catch a lot of their games, and then seeing him tonight, man, that dude is… He is MVP,” Lillard said.

“If they keep this up, he is MVP,” Lillard added.

In those last 10 games that Lillard has kept an eye on, George is averaging 35.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and a very impressive 2.4 steals.

According to the Thunder, George and Russell Westbrook became the first two teammates in OKC history on Monday night to record a triple-double in the same game.

Westbrook scored 21 points, to go along with 14 rebounds and 11 assists as he became the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double in 10 straight games.

It’s no secret that the Thunder duo is tough to guard and Blazers head coach Terry Stotts says his team knew the difficult task at hand.

“They were playing well… Obviously, Paul George is playing at an extremely high-level… They’re playing the best basketball of the season for them. We knew it would be a tough game,” Stotts said.

For the Blazers to have to guard George for the second time in the past three weeks, after he finished with 37 points in a 123-114 win over the Blazers on January 22nd, it’s clear to Portland, this is unlike any Paul George they’ve ever faced.  

“He’s in a great groove. He’s playing great. They’re on a roll," Turner said. “I’ve never performed at MVP level. I’ve seen a few, but he’s at MVP level in my personal opinion.”

ET had a hard time coming up with more ways to describe George’s recent tear.

“He’s at a completely different level. It’s hard to even explain,” Turner said.  

Al-Farouq Aminu was tasked with that one-on-one coverage for most of the night. Aminu felt George, “had a big game tonight. The way that he was able to play within the offense and be efficient with his shooting, it makes it really tough.”

George had 18 points in the 4th quarter on 6-of-10 shooting, including going 3-for-6 from three in the final period.

Of course, people are going to talk about George’s offense and rightfully so, but George also gets it done on the other side of the ball.

“On defense they get steals that help them get easy buckets, so when you get a couple of easy ones to go down it just makes it easier, and easier to step into that shot,” Aminu said. 

The Thunder now lead the season-series against the Blazers 3-0 and some would say OKC would be a terrible matchup for the Portland in the postseason.

But not everyone would say that.

Not, Lillard.

“If we were to play any of these [top half of the Western Conference], teams in the playoffs I don’t think because of our struggles against them in the regular season, I don’t think when you get into that type of matchup, you say -- ‘oh we couldn’t do it in the regular season, so we can’t beat them’… In the regular season you want to show that you can beat those teams, win those games, but I wouldn’t say we are concerned about it. We’ve just gotta be better, it’s as simple as that,” Lillard said.

The Blazers’ floor general knows the playoffs are a totally different beast. Plus, Portland still has 26 regular season games remaining to improve, as Lillard says, and luckily only one more regular season against the MVP candidate and the Thunder.

Trail Blazers active in NBA marketplace, but ...

Trail Blazers active in NBA marketplace, but ...

As the trade deadline nears, NBA sources indicate Portland Trail Blazes’ president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has been active. The team is being talked about as one that’s busy in the marketplace, looking to make something happen.

But obviously, that doesn’t mean anything is going to happen prior to the deadline.

Olshey keeps the doors closed, the windows covered and the phone calls private. The Portland front office is among the most buttoned down in the league. Any “rumors” of deals involving the Trail Blazers most likely didn’t come from the team – and probably aren’t true. In fact, recent speculation concerning trades for Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin were totally absurd.

But a few conclusions can be drawn from the team’s history and current situation as the deadline nears:

  • If you’re looking for a major deal from this team, you’d be wise to look for it next season, when the team will have approximately $37 million in expiring contracts to offer.
  • Sources say the Trail Blazers have shown a willingness to include a first-round draft choice, along with a player, in a deal, but you would assume it would be only for a player they perceive to be good enough to help make that pick more unattractive, due to his play down the stretch. And remember, there are only 30 regular-season games remaining,
  • I would hope there is a reluctance to give up a first-round pick for a player with an expiring contract. Taking a player with other options into signing a new deal after just 30 games here would not be easy.
  • Just because Paul George chose to stay in Oklahoma City after a one-year sampling with the Thunder, doesn’t mean that’s a trend in the league. Giving up a big piece of the future for such a player is a major gamble.
  • Al-Farouq Aminu is an attractive expiring-contract trade piece but is highly valued by the organization. I would not expect him to be dealt unless it’s a very big trade.
  • There are still a lot of teams in the hunt for playoff spots that may not be willing at this point to make deals involving their unattractive contracts. It’s too soon for some of them to start dismantling their roster.
  • Yes, the Blazers are slightly above the luxury-tax threshold but they have never seemed to be worried about it. Don’t expect a trade totally predicated on getting them under the line.
  • Anthony Davis? Well, if he doesn’t want to be in New Orleans – a solid team that swept the Trail Blazers in the playoffs last season and where he’s eligible for a super-max deal -- why would he want to be in Portland? And it would take a lot of assets to get him for what’s left of this season and next.
  • Just because you don’t hear that the team is working on something, it doesn’t mean there isn’t something going on. As I said, this is a closed-up operation.
  • Just because you don’t know the team’s plan, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

A different breed: How the Trail Blazers held James Harden to 'only' 38 points

A different breed: How the Trail Blazers held James Harden to 'only' 38 points

It’s very rare in basketball that you can talk about playing terrific defense against a player who scored 38 points.

But James Harden is a different breed. The Houston guard is being hailed among the great offensive players in NBA history (not by me, by the way) and the Trail Blazers held him to 38, shutting down his streak of five consecutive 40-point games. And it helped the Trail Blazers post a 110-101 win over the Rockets in Moda Center. The victory gave Portland the season series over Houston for the first season since 2014-15.

And seriously, holding a player to 38 points when he’s getting 35 shots, including 17 three-point shots and seven free throws, is an achievement.

Credit Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu for the defensive job.

Turner, who had Harden most of the time, said he, “Had to be aggressive and limit what (Harden) liked to do. He’s been on a hell of a run and obviously he’s the head of the snake so I just tried to pick him up and wear him down, tire him down and not get any cheap fouls.

“I wanted to contest his shots and not get any cheap fouls contesting his shots.

“I don’t know how to say it. It doesn’t make any damn sense – I get to the line 20 times in a month and he might go to the line 20 times in two hours.

“His feel for the game is unreal. You just have to play cat and mouse with him.”

Harden needed 35 shots to get his 38 points.

“I’d take that,” Turner said. “Chief, wouldn’t you take that? 13 for 35 and 38 points?”

Aminu (“Chief”) assured Turner he’t take it, too.

“You have to be locked in every play because the ball is in his hands so much,” Aminu said,. “It’s fun, though. He’s going to go at you one-on-one and in the pick and roll. You get to test yourself, defensively, to see where you stack up.”

Harden is one of the great tricksters in the game – goading defenders into reaching in on his shot, getting them to foul him on his jumper and tricking the referees into putting him on the foul line, whether he deserves it or not.

“He’s able to trick the refs sometimes,” Aminu said. “That’s part of the game. You’ve got to tip your hat to him. I thought we did a great job on him tonight. I tip my hat to ET and myself and really everybody.”

Reminded that Harden needed 35 shots to get his points, Aminu nodded his head.

“I feel like sometimes that gets overlooked,” he said. “This was a great defensive game against Harden and it should be commended as such.”

Asked if he ever got 35 shots in a game, Aminu thought about it for a few seconds and said that, yes, he did once.

“In a summer game,” he said. “Not the (NBA) summer league but a summer pro-am league.”

Coach Terry Stotts shook his head, smiled, and said, “Well, we held him under 40 so I guess that’s a win.”

But seriously, though…

“I thought Evan and Chief and other people obviously were switched on (Harden) – I thought they didn’t fall for many tricks. They were locked in, they didn’t reach, they contested.

"Obviously, he got it going in the third quarter but we didn’t get rattled. I thought they both took a lot of pride in the challenge that they had.”

Harden said, “We gave away offensive rebounds and we didn’t get on transition enough. And give them credit, they’re a good team, especially at home.”

The Trail Blazers got 25 points from Jusuf Nurkic, 24 from CJ McCollum and 17 from Damian Lillard. And they took care of a lot of the little things you need to beat good teams. Portland had a 54-44 edge in points in the paint, 21-7 advantage in second-chance points and a 14-7 margin in fast-break points. The Blazers also owned a seven-rebound edge on the offensive boards.

Harden, by the way, should have had his 40-point game. He missed a driving layup with 4.9 seconds to that would have done it.