Blake Griffin

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.

 

Damian Lillard says Blazers defense needs to make own adjustments

Damian Lillard says Blazers defense needs to make own adjustments

In the aftermath of Thursday’s loss to the Clippers, during which the Trail Blazers had no answer for Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard made an important and potentially crucial observation.

When situations like Thursday arise – when Griffin repeatedly backed down Blazers defenders for easy baskets down the stretch of a close game – Lillard said it is on the players to deviate from the game plan and call their own double team.

He didn’t say it out of disrespect to coach Terry Stotts or his staff, and he didn’t say it in criticism of the Blazers’ game plan against the Clippers, which didn’t call for double teams.

He said it as a basketball player who knows that the best teams are ones that trust, play freely, and feed off instinct.

“We have to give each other more help,’’ Lillard said. “If a guy (Griffin) that strong and that athletic has 10 dribbles, he is going to score. I think that’s when as players, we have to take control of the situation and come together and say, ‘All right, if he does that again then you go (double) and I will have your back. And then we have to be ready to help.'’’

Griffin in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s game had three post ups in which he methodically backed down his defender and scored easily inside. First, he did it to Evan Turner to tie the game at 91. Three possessions later he backed down Maurice Harkless, hitting a tough hook to increase the Clippers lead to 97-94. And later, he backed down Al-Farouq Aminu and scored off his miss, after which he flexed both arms as the Clippers led 99-96.

It wasn’t until the next possession, when the Blazers sent Harkless to double team Griffin, that the Clippers turned it over.

Lillard said in future scenarios, the Blazers shouldn’t have to wait for double-team instruction from the bench.

“We have to take responsibility – not by going against coaches – but we have to have a feel for what’s going on,’’ Lillard said. “We have to be able to trust each other. We are playing with each other out there.’’

Stotts after the game said he didn’t double team because it would have required leaving either DeAndre Jordan, who is lethal at finishing lob passes, or one of the Clippers’ shooters, such as Danilo Gallinari, or Austin Rivers.

But Lillard said much like the best teams on offense are the ones who can improvise and play off feel, the Blazers on defense  need to be able to adjust on the fly, and that can only come from the players.

“That’s the next step. We have to take responsibility,’’ Lillard said. “We see a guy who is getting backed under the basket … it’s a bucket. So if we go help, and they score, it’s a bucket either way. But you’ve made them work harder for it if we’ve made that decision.’’

This can be filed under the maturation of Lillard, who has taken more pride in his defense this season, and therefore feels more comfortable asserting leadership on that end. To be clear, Lillard was not questioning Stotts’ strategy, but merely saying sometimes as players, they have to make adjustments on the fly.

Like a dummy, I forgot on Friday to ask Stotts how he would feel about Lillard and the Blazers deviating from the game plan at certain times. But knowing Stotts during his six seasons in Portland, he has long been a proponent of giving players freedom. He frequently says the players have the best feel for the game, and he always invites input.

It’s hard to say when the Blazers will next be tested with this kind of scenario, where a forward is too much to handle and requires doubles -- perhaps Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder on Nov. 5. But Lillard cautioned  it takes a connected team and players who trust one another to pull off a spontaneous defensive adjustment.

If they are able to show they can make those adjustments, he says it will only help Stotts continue to give them that freedom.

“Now, when Coach says ‘What was that?’ … and it worked, now it gives him more trust for what’s going on.’’

Today's Blazers' links:

NBC Sports Northwest has you covered for tonight's game versus Phoenix. Here's how to tune in and stay up to date.

The Blazers have video of Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells appearing on TV with Kevin Garnett.

Bright Side of the Sun has a preview for tonight's game against Phoenix.

Mike Richman of The Oregonian talks about the return of beloved Blazers' assistant Jay Triano, who is now Suns head coach.

The Blazers' Casey Holdahl writes about CJ McCollum, who doesn't believe in bad luck.

There was plenty of blame to go around for Portland's loss to Clippers

There was plenty of blame to go around for Portland's loss to Clippers

The Blazers took a real bad loss Thursday night at Moda. Losing by a point anytime is tough to take but leading by two at home and losing on a buzzer-beating three-pointer is even more difficult.

There are so many things you could point to that would have made a difference in the outcome. Among them:

  • The Trail Blazers made only 15 of their 40 shots IN THE PAINT! There was some real intimidation by the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan at work there. He played 38:18 and didn't get called for a single foul. You may want to blame that on referees, but really -- Portland just didn't challenge him enough. You must make shot blockers block shots. They will foul and they will get themselves out of position -- and I don't care how skilled they are. You cannot allow them to make you miss just by standing there. Yes, Jordan had three blocks. So what? The Blazers 25 shots in the paint and he got only three of them? That 15 for 40 is an embarrassment.
  • The Clippers did a solid job on the Blazers' starting guards, making their life miserable with overplays, deflections and just taking them out of their comfort zone, especially in the first half.
  • The Trail Blazer bench, which had been playing at a high level, went 4 for 20 from the field. When you lose by a point, it's pretty easy to look back and say just one more basket by the bench guys and you would have won the game.
  • There are nights when the Blazers are just too small. Sure, a lot of teams look small when they play against Jordan and Blake Griffin, but this is a problem Portland will eventually deal with. At some point, Noah Vonleh will be back and take a turn at defending Griffin. And at some point, either Zach Collins will be ready to take a shot at keeping Jordan off the boards or Meyers Leonard will somehow regain the confidence of his coaches enough to body up Jordan. There were times Thursday that Jordan was blocked off by Ed Davis or Jusuf Nurkic or somebody else and merely snatched an offensive rebound right over their head.
  • Patrick Beverley may have had his best game ever against the Trail Blazers. He had FIVE offensive rebounds, which shouldn't happen. And his defense is relentless.
  • CJ McCollum missed two free throws inside the final five minutes of the game. He owned it after the game, which is to his credit. He knows a shooter of his stature -- a man who led the league in foul shooting last season -- just cannot miss in late-game situations. It shouldn't happen and I like that he took responsibility for it.
  • Damian Lillard's shooting still isn't what he'd like it to be. But who is worried about that? It will come, as it always does
  • Nurkic isn't playing at the level he did last season in those magical 20 games after his trade to Portland. He doesn't seem as aggressive on offense and is not finishing around the basket. One would assume that will improve. For this team to reach a higher level, he's going to have to find a higher level.
  • The Trail Blazers fouled too often last season and that problem is cropping up again this year. Twenty-six fouls is too many and being minus-14 in free-throw attempts to your opponent is a big hole to dig.
  • It's very early in the season and too soon to draw any major conclusions. But at the same time, it's never too early to fret over losing home games you should have won.

Blazers' Lillard: 'Somebody is going to be in trouble' when shot falls

Blazers' Lillard: 'Somebody is going to be in trouble' when shot falls

It hasn’t been a great shooting start to the season for Damian Lillard, but the Trail Blazers star delivered an ominous prediction about his shot Thursday night.

After a 7-for-19 night against the Clippers, which dipped his field goal percentage to 37.9, Lillard said the ball has felt good leaving his hands during the first five games of the season, which tells him it’s only a matter of time before his shots start falling.

“I don’t know when, but when it does, somebody going to be in trouble,’’ Lillard said. “But I’m honestly not worried about it.’’

The same could be said about Lillard’s temperature on the Blazers after Thursday’s heartbreaking 104-103 loss to the Clippers.

As Lillard reached for the locker room door Thursday to go into the Portland night, he was far from troubled.

It has taken two Most Valuable Player-like performances – a 44-point whirlwind from Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee and Thursday’s game-winning three at the buzzer by Griffin – to beat the Blazers, and each time it took a dramatic play to do so.

And in each loss, the Blazers have stubbed their toe with uncharacteristic plays. On Thursday, CJ McCollum missed two free throws in the final three minutes, including one with 5.9 seconds left. This from the player who made 91.2 percent last season to led the NBA.

And in Milwaukee, both McCollum and Lillard – reliable and steady ball handlers – coughed up the ball in the final minute, McCollum’s turnover a curious no-call after being frisked by Antetokounmpo.

Throw in some bizarre shooting – is it possible to miss more close-range shots than the Blazers these first five games? – and it was easy to understand why Lillard left so confidently.

“I mean, I feel good,’’ Lillard said about the Blazers’ play as he reached for the door.

Lillard has been around long enough to know that sometimes in the NBA, it’s not so much about wins and losses as much as it is about how you are playing. Play the right way, and eventually, the wins will come.

And right now, the Blazers are playing the right way.

For perspective, look back to last season. The season’s fifth game was at Phoenix, where the Blazers lost 118-115. It was after that game that Maurice Harkless stood before the team and gave a speech about the need to play better defense.

At that time, the Blazers were 2-3, and as Lillard walked to the team bus, he noted they could have been 1-4 or 0-5. The defense was terrible, the second unit was lost and every night, the Blazers were giving up huge double-digit runs.

Those problems turned out to be major and would trouble the Blazers for the majority of the season.

We have watched enough of this core to know that what is plaguing the Blazers now – bad shooting and quirky mishaps – should merely a blip, a passing slump.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to keep an eye on.

Jusuf Nurkic looked better Thursday, but he once again was plagued by foul trouble and silly turnovers. He also summoned Jesse Ellis, the team’s director of player health and performance, to his locker after the game to complain of stiffness and pain in his lower back.

Nurkic finished 6-of-12 from the field and had eight rebounds and three turnovers and played some solid interior defense. He is now shooting 39.3 percent from the field and has a whopping 19 turnovers. After his 20-game cameo last season, when he could seemingly do no wrong, everything – the refs, close-range shots, passes -- seems like a struggle for Nurkic.

“I’m trying to help and make good decisions,’’ Nurkic said.

Also, the late-game execution, has to get sharper. After turnovers by Lillard then McCollum in the final 31 seconds in Milwaukee, Lillard had another crucial miscue Thursday with 1:46 left and the Blazers trailing by one. Pushing ahead to lead a 2-on-1 break with Harkless in front of him, Lillard tried to lead Harkless but his pass was intercepted by Patrick Beverley.

Two games don’t make a trend, but in a season that figures to have an abundance of close games in the loaded Western Conference, ball security is going to be magnified. 

Today's Blazers' links:

NBC Sports Northwest has the full highlights from the loss to the Clippers. 

NBC Sports Northwest's Jaime Hudson has the morning minute.

The LA Times recaps the win, with some interesting quotes from the Clippers.

The Oregonian's Joe Freeman reports that Meyers Leonard had an MRI on his ankle.

The Blazers' Casey Holdahl has a recap and sound from the locker room after the loss.

Some thoughts on Z-Bo as a King, the Clippers' investments and Mason Plumlee's logo

Some thoughts on Z-Bo as a King, the Clippers' investments and Mason Plumlee's logo

A lot going on in the NBA since the draft, with trades and free agency. Some thoughts about what we've seen lately:

  • Zach Randolph signed a two-year, $24 million deal to join Sacramento. All over the internet I've read people hailing this as a great move for the Kings, bringing that "veteran presence" to the Kings' young squad. Well, maybe. The Memphis Z-Bo was, by all accounts, a community contributor and a team leader -- a beloved player in that town. But we've seen the other side of him in Portland and when you talk about a player on the downside of his career signing with a team for the money, rather than for a chance at a championship, I'm not sure if you can depend on Randolph to be a leader or an example of how an NBA player should handle himself. But who knows? I do know they don't want the Portland Z-Bo in Sacramento.
  • When you win, you can often retain your players at a lower cost, quite obviously. I've never been able to convince many people that a big part of playing in the NBA is the day-to-day culture and atmosphere on a team. Yes, championships are the thing -- but it's just as important to be able to get through the marathon 82-game season with a minimal amount of drama and sadness. The Warriors have a great culture where players are unselfish and play hard. And they win almost every game they play. If you think that's not important, try to picture yourself on a team that loses more games than it wins and features selfish players who don't want to share the ball. I wouldn't want to spend time in a situation like that. Golden State got Shaun Livingston back at $8 million a year, Andre Iguodala at $16 million a season and Kevin Durant at two years for a total of $53 million -- about $9 million a year under what he could have gotten with a max deal. Durant declined a player option and become a free agent to allow the Warriors to retain Iguodala and Livingston.
  • Blake Griffin got $173 million over five years to stay with the Clippers. I've always liked Griffin and wondered what he'd be like away from the Clips, but I don't think I'd ever give him that kind of money. He's missed 79 games over the last three seasons and I've always felt that when players start to break down, they can go downhill in a hurry.
  • Paul Millsap got a three-year, $90 million deal with the Nuggets. Millsap is a steady player who grinds every night. But should a guy who has averaged 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over 11 seasons in the league make 30 million bucks a year?
  • Maybe so, if Danilo Gallinari is going to get $65 million over three seasons from the Clippers. He's a very good shooter when he plays -- but this is another guy who spends a lot of time on the bench in street clothes. He's averaged about 50 games a season over his last seven years in the league.
  • Mason Plumlee has still not signed a contract but the Nuggets have reportedly extended him a qualifying offer of $4.9 million. This is a good guy, good teammate and I hope he finds a team that appreciates his unique skillset. And to while away the time until he signs a deal, Plumlee has been active on his website at masonplumlee.com -- where you can buy your Mason Plumlee logo T-shirt.

Yes, the Blazers made a Paul George run and I'm happy they didn't get him

Yes, the Blazers made a Paul George run and I'm happy they didn't get him

As I sit back and watch another free-agent frenzy unfold in the NBA, I wish I could tell you where this is all going.

It seems to me there's a pretty good chance that in just a few seasons, nearly every team in the league that matters is going to be capped out. If there's money available under the cap, teams spend like a lottery's instant millionaires. It appeared the Trail Blazers dished out some pretty spendy deals last summer, but -- just as Neil Olshey said -- those deals look commonplace or even cheap compared to what's going on this year.

Yes, Allen Crabbe is going to be making about $18.5 million a season for the next three seasons. Maurice Harkless a little over $10 million for each of the next three, Evan Turner about $18 million a season and Meyers Leonard a little over $10 million per year.

Well, if you haven't noticed, Taj Gibson is going to be getting about $14 million a year over the next two years, Serge Ibaka about $21 million per season over the next three, Amir Johnson has a one-year deal for $11 million, Joe Ingles is going to earn $13 million a year over the next four, J.J. Redick has a one-year deal for $23 million and how about Jrue Holiday getting $25 million a year for the next five seasons?

And yes, Portland tied up Damian Lillard at an average of about $28 million a year over the next four seasons and CJ McCollum for a little more than $25 million a season over the next four years. Those deals are already looking like a bargain.

Paul Millsap just signed for three years at $90 million with Denver. Good player, but wow. Blake Griffin is going to get $173 million over the next five (probably injury-riddled) seasons with the Clippers. Kyle Lowry is going to be getting a total of $100 million over the next three seasons and Steph Curry is reported to be getting $201 million over the next five years.

Whew!

The NBA has become Escalation Station as far as salaries are concerned. It has always been that way, too. I can recall back in the 1980s when I was covering the team for The Oregonian, a young player actually called me when he signed his second contract, so excited he just couldn't keep the dollar figure a secret. "I'm getting two million over four years," he said. "I'm a millionaire."

About a year later, after inflation did its usual thing, that deal didn't look very sweet after all.

"I'm playing for chump change," he told me. "I'm getting screwed."

True story.

And as the numbers go up, the ability to shed salaries and clear cap space becomes more important. The Trail Blazers have work to do in that area but remember, when you do that, you usually lose players with some degree of talent -- which has an impact on team performance.

"Cap Space" doesn't look any better running up and down the court than "Cash Considerations."

Everyone was excited for Portland to go all-in on the Paul George Sweepstakes -- which it did. Olshey's offer of all three first-round picks in the recent draft PLUS a player of Indiana's choosing outside the Big Three was probably the real deal, although I did hear that it could have ended up with the Pacers choosing two players rather than one.

That would clear cap space when George departed a year from now. I know a lot of fans would have been overjoyed with a George deal -- a lot of them seemed ecstatic at the prospect of a season of futility chasing Golden State at the cost of long-range goals. For me, I'm fine with the two draft picks. I think there's a real chance at least one of them will pop. At some point, salaries will be dumped and that will mean their talent will go out the door with them.

As I said, I can only guess where this is going -- in Portland or the rest of the league. But I'm more convinced than ever that the great baseball general manager Bill Veeck was so prescient when he said many decades ago, "It isn't the high price of stars that is expensive, it's the high price of mediocrity."

Another painful loss for the Blazers, this time after playing well in LA

Another painful loss for the Blazers, this time after playing well in LA

LOS ANGELES -- Four straight games. Four straight losses. Four different ways of heartache. 

In a biting conclusion to a painful five-game trip, the Trail Blazers on Monday played valiantly, but couldn't close the deal during a 121-120 loss to the LA Clippers at the Staples Center. 

The play-well-but-lose conclusion to the trip came after a third-quarter collapse in Milwaukee, a last-second loss in Memphis and blowing a 20-point lead in Indiana. The season-high four-game losing streak comes with the Blazers leading every game at halftime.

The turning point in Monday's loss to the Clippers came with 4:14 left in the fourth, when the Clippers had a four-point possession that turned a 107-105 deficit into a 109-105 lead. A technical on Blazers coach Terry Stotts came after he lost his cool when CJ McCollum was called for fouling JJ Redick during a three-pointer.

The game was delayed in the final seconds when Evan Turner and DeAndre Jordan exchanged words and a series of hand slaps with 11.5 seconds left, leading to the ejection of both players. Jordan had just fouled Damian Lillard on a layin attempt, and as Turner went to help up Lillard, he brushed the shoulder of Jordan, who immediately turned and placed his finger in Turner's face. Turner slapped it away, and Jordan did it again, prompting Turner to again slap it away.  

The Blazers (12-14) got 25 points from CJ McCollum while Mason Plumlee recorded 18 points, seven rebounds, six asssists, five blocks and drew a charge. Lillard finished with 24 points and eight assists. 

The Clippers (18-7) tried to throw the game away when Wesley Johnson threw an inbounds pass to no one with 11.5 seconds left, and after Blake Griffin dove to save the ball, he slid out of bounds with 9.5 seconds left, awarding Portland the ball, down three. LA chose to foul McCollum with 7.9 seconds left and the Blazers guard made both free throws, drawing Portland within 118-117. 

But McCollum fouled JJ Redick before the ball was inbounded, awarding Redick a free throw, then after the Clippers inbounded, McCollum again fouled Redick with 6.5 seconds left and the 90.9 percent foul shooter made both. The foul before the inbound proved costly as Lillard raced downcourt and nailed a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left, drawing Portland within 121-120. 

The Clippers had one inbound deflected out of bounds and when they inbounded again, the clock ran out, hanging Portland with a 1-4 trip that started with a victory in Chicago.

The Clippers led 89-86 heading into the fourth after Johnson hit a tie-breaking three-pointer with 25.9 seconds left, capping a 33-point third quarter for LA. The Blazers fought back and went on a 10-0 run in the fourth to take a 101-96 lead with 7:20 left after Lillard hit him with a long pass that Crabbe converted for a layin. 

The Blazers took a 60-56 halftime lead on the heels of a 10-0 run late in the quarter that was fueled by its defense. The Blazers had stops on eight of the Clippers' final 10 possessions, which included two blocks by Mason Plumlee and the forcing of a 24-second shot clock violation. 

It was the seventh consecutive game the Blazers led at halftime, and the fourth consecutive loss when holding the halftime lead after starting the season 10-0 when leading after two quarters. It was a markedly better start than the last time the Blazers were in Staples versus this team. The Clippers on Nov. 9 took a 50-18 lead a nd led 61-32 at halftime en route to a 111-80 victory.

The Blazers were bolstered by the return of Al-Farouq Aminu, who not only returned from a back injury, but started for the first time since injuring his left calf on Nov. 8. He airballed his first shot, but then made his next four, including two three-pointers and was the primary defender of Griffin. Aminu finished with 10 points and four rebounds in 23 minutes. 

Turner had 15 poitns, six assists and four rebounds before being ejected and Crabbe added 13 points.

Griffin led the Clippers with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists and Chris Paul had 21 points and 14 assists. 

 

Next up: Oklahoma City at Blazers, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (CSN/ESPN)

The Clippers gave the Trail Blazers a lesson Thursday night

The Clippers gave the Trail Blazers a lesson Thursday night

It was a fun game Thursday night in Moda Center. The LA Clippers are a unique team, capable of playing at a high level -- and aggravating at a high level, too. It's a shame that this game was their only appearance in Portland all season because Blazer-Clipper games always seem to have an edge to them.

The Clippers were too much for the Trail Blazers this time. I'm not saying Portland can't play at the Clippers' level, we know that's possible. But there isn't a big margin for error -- particularly when the Blazers lose their composure in the face of the usual flopping, whining and posturing by the Clips. But underneath all the histrionics, there are lessons to be learned from that game.

Yes, the Blazers can give LA a battle and even win sometimes. But it's going to take a lot better performance by Portland. For one thing, it's going to require much more consistent shooting, particularly from long range, to come out on top against the more talented and more physical teams in the league. The Trail Blazers open games with a small lineup and often get smaller as the game goes along. That comes with a price.

It's fine against run-of-the-mill teams but when you play against size and muscle, you better make three-point field goals because if it becomes a game of two-pointers the size and strength become much more of a factor. The Trail Blazers were 4-for-18 from three-point range in this game and that's just not going to cut it against the premier teams, which also happen to be among the most physical teams.

And I'm not necessarily talking about height, I'm talking about bulk, too. Mason Plumlee (255 pounds) and Al-Farouq Aminu (220) aren't necessarily short compared to Blake Griffin (251) and DeAndre Jordan (listed at 265 but come on, he's a grand piano heavier than Plumlee) -- but they're in a much different weight class.

Portland can play a bigger, more physical lineup but chose not to do it. Meyers Leonard -- whose outside shooting and physical defense on Jordan might have made a difference -- did not play. He's been beaten out, apparently, by Noah Vonleh for that rotation spot up front, at least temporarily. The Trail Blazer bench was annihilated by the LA reserves 45-20 and that was unexpected. But Portland's only three-point shooter off the bench, Allen Crabbe, missed his only two attempts from that distance. The Blazer reserves went 0-for-4 from long range and were outhustled.

Portland depth should be a a plus most nights but the lack of offense off the bench was a glaring weakness against LA. So was defense.

The Clippers manhandled Portland for much of the game -- which is what you'd expect, given their size advantage. You can say the officials had an off-night but the truism in basketball at every level is that the aggressive teams will get the calls. And the Trail Blazers' aggression usually comes from their ball movement and in-your-face three-point shooting, not from pushing people around. Again, when that shooting is not there, it's going to be an uphill battle.

For right now, the ball movement isn't as crisp as it's been in the past and Evan Turner, expected to be a key reserve, has not yet found his way in the Trail Blazer motion offense. In fact, at this point, he seems a bit mechanical, still a little tight with his new team and unable to relax and just play his game. But it's early and he'll probably figure it all out soon.

The Clippers can be so frustrating to play against and I'm pretty sure they get under the skin of every team they play. Coach Doc Rivers NEVER stops working the officials and I cannot understand how he gets away with the constant yapping at them, especially during timeouts when he directly approaches them. I've always thought that the opposing coach must match his level of discourse with the referees or there is the danger of Doc's team getting more calls than yours. Yes, it's nice to play Mr. Nice Guy with the refs and think that it will help, but I seldom see that approach work.

Squeaky wheels get greased.

The Trail Blazers need to keep their cool better the next time around against the Clips -- or against any other team they play. Flagrant fouls and technicals do no good. Retaliators always get caught and those who strike the first blow usually get away with it. And oh yes, better three-point shooting is a must.

Lessons learned, one would think.

 

 

 

This time, with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, the Clippers beat Portland

This time, with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, the Clippers beat Portland

It was intense, emotional and hotly contested, and in the end, it was a measure of revenge for the LA Clippers. 

Behind Blake Griffin's 27 points and 13 rebounds and another masterful court performance from Chris Paul (27 points, 5 assists), the Clippers beat the Blazers 114-106 on Thursday in a rematch of last season's first round playoff series. The two Clippers stars were injured and missed the final two games of the playoff series last season, when Portland won four straight to clinch the series in six games. 

The game featured two technicals and two flagrant fouls and was tied heading into the fourth quarter before the Clippers pulled away with a 14-1 run midway through the quarter that extended a 90-89 lead to 104-90.

Damian Lillard had 29 points and 10 rebounds, and Maurice Harkless had 23 points and eight rebounds, the most points he's had since joining Portland last season.

The game was tied at 82 headed into the fourth quarter after the Blazers outscored the Clippers 33-24 in the third, thanks in part to a 10-0 start to the second half that was ignited by blocks from Mason Plumlee and Al-Farouq Aminu. But the Clippers countered by scoring the first six points of the fourth, then took control when Portland was called for flagrant fouls on Plumlee and CJ McCollum. 

Plumlee finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists and McCollum had 16 points. Meanwhile, new acquistion Evan Turner struggled with his shot (2-for-8) and had two unforced turnovers and was never a factor in the game. He is 3-for-15 on the season.

In a spirited first half, the Clippers built leads as large as 12 before settling for a 58-49 lead, thanks to the play of their two biggest stars - Paul and Griffin. The guard and forward played a two-man game for much of the half, with Griffin mixing jumpers and rebound dunks to the tune of 16 points and six rebounds while Paul had 12 points and three assists.

Lillard was sharp early, scoring 10 of Portland's first 24 points as the Blazers opened a 24-19 lead. But when he left with 1:39 left in the first quarter and Portland up 27-21, the offense went into hibernation and the Clippers went on a 16-0 run to take a 37-27 lead.

A big factor in the first half was foul trouble for the Blazers. Forward Al-Farouq Aminu, one of the Blazers' best defenders who was assigned to guard Blake Griffin, picked up two fouls and had to leave the game with 8:44 left in the first quarter. When he returned in the second quarter, he lasted only 2:37 before picking up his third foul.  Harkless and reserve center Ed Davis also picked up three fouls and had to go to the bench early. 

Next up: Blazers at Denver, 6 p.m. Saturday (CSN)