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

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

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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.

Blazers may have won Game 1, but they say there’s plenty to clean up for Game 2

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Blazers may have won Game 1, but they say there’s plenty to clean up for Game 2

The Trail Blazers ended a 10-game playoff-losing streak following a 104-99 victory over the Thunder on Sunday in Game 1.

Portland led by as many as 19 points, while Oklahoma City’s largest lead all game was one.

Yet, despite CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard’s hot start and the dominance of Enes Kanter, especially down the stretch, the feeling after Blazer practice on Monday was there is plenty that needs to change in Game 2.

But the Blazers’ mentality won’t change.

“We can’t get caught up in, ‘oh we won a game’… Series change quick. We can’t forget that. I think that bad taste of, I guess, failure in the postseason, doesn’t go away with one win… We’re going to come out with that business attitude and our focus is going to remain the same,” Lillard said after practice.

Portland came out hot in the first quarter, scoring 39 points and shooting 60 percent from the field. Moe Harkless’ first-quarter defense on Paul George did not go unnoticed. Lillard and Blazers head coach Terry Stotts knew Harklees’ two quick blocks and aggressiveness on defense really helped set the tone for the night.

Portland is ready to execute better in a few areas on Tuesday night for Game 2 though.

Zach Collins, who got into foul trouble on Sunday, was frustrated with his own play with unnecessary fouls, but he also knows as a team they can crack down on certain miscues.

“I definitely think we can play a lot better… We made a lot of, I don’t want to say like careless mistakes, but definitely correctable mistakes and I think if anything we are just more confident going in because we won and we’re up 1-0 in the series and we know how much better we can play,” Collins said.

Cutting down the turnovers

In the Blazers’ 104-99 win Sunday, Portland finished the game committing 18 turnovers to the Thunder’s 16.

Lillard believes heading into Game 2 turnovers are the biggest focus.

“I think number one is taking care of the ball,” he said. “We had, I think, 19 turnovers. That’s a lot more than what we had over the second half of the season. We’ve been taking really good care of the ball. It’s even more important against a team that loves to be out in transition.”

“They love deflecting passes, getting transition threes, and attacking the rim, drawing fouls, and stuff like that and the more we turn the ball over, the more we’re making it a fun game for them, allowing them to play their style,” Lillard said.

Lillard also took onus following a night where he committed six turnovers in Game 1.

“I turned the ball over a lot… As much as I had the ball in my hands, I gotta try to be much better about playing into their hands and not allowing them to dictate the game in that way and kind of force me into doing things that they want me to do,” Lillard said.

Coach Stotts differentiates turnovers. He doesn’t believe all turnovers are created equal.

“The turnovers are, to me, it’s either decision making or execution. If you don’t catch the ball or if you throw a bad pass, we just have to do that better. To me, the decision making of turnovers those are the ones that are concerning – whether it was a right decision to make that pass or split a double team or whatever it is, those are the ones that we have to clean up,” Stotts said.

This season Portland averaged 13.9 turnovers per game, the 13th most in the league.

Limiting the Thunder’s 3-point shots

OKC helped the Blazers out by not hitting open shots in Game 1. Paul George, who scored 26 points, made just 8-of-24, including 4-of-15 from three. He was a main topic of conversation after Blazers’ practice Monday.  

“A lot of stuff that we could’ve done better. Things that they could’ve taken advantage of, they tried to, but didn’t, like allowing Paul George to get some open looks from three that he didn’t make, Lillard said.

“We still gave up too much in transition, gave up too many second chance points, gave up too many threes. So, I think we can be better defensively given that they still only scored 99 points, I think we can still be better,” Stotts said.

Coach Stotts also discussed the many ways his team can defend the three better for the rest of the series.

“Closing their space, having good close outs. Some of it was on offensive rebounds they kicked out for some threes, transition threes,” Stotts said.

While, Harkless’ focus is determining who can sag off their man to help make sure George can’t get a good look.

“With George, we just got to make sure that we know where he is at all times and then do the same with the other shooters. You know, not help as much off of Paul and find guys who we can help off of,” Harkless said.

The Trail Blazers made 11-of-25 threes, the Thunder made just 5-of-33 on Sunday night.

PG13 is and will be the focus on defense.

“If we’re gonna lose somebody it can't be him,” Lillard said.

Exposing smaller wings down low

Whether it was Rodney Hood or Evan Turner there were many times the Blazers were able to take advantage of a smaller defenders and Portland knows this must continue. 

“I think it’s important for us to look for mismatch opportunities when a smaller wing gets crossed up on Enes or a small guard ends up switched on Rodney or Evan or Moe or something like that. We’ve gotta make sure we are looking for those opportunities because they’re big wings and all three of those guys are good post players when they have a mismatch, so that’s definitely something that we should be looking to take advantage of when it presents itself,” Lillard said.

Of course the Blazers aren’t the only ones looking to make adjustments heading in to Game 2. The Blazers are trying to stay ahead of what they think OKC might change.

“You try and anticipate what they might do. I had one of our assistants view the film as if they were Oklahoma City and what they might possible do,” Stotts said.

“Generally it’s the team that loses that tends to make more adjustments than the team that wins,” Stotts added.

Let the adjustments begin.

Playoff Mode Harkless: Athletic, Healthy and Confident

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Playoff Mode Harkless: Athletic, Healthy and Confident

LOS ANGELES – The Trail Blazers bench unloaded in an uproar of cheers and excitement after Blazers starting small forward Maurice Harkless swished home a game-winning three-pointer to beat the Lakers, 104-101 on Tuesday night.

Harkless finished with a season-high 26 points and the Blazers finished with the feeling of securing homecourt in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has said the goal this week was to make sure his team locked down the fourth seed and the last possession at Staples Center on Tuesday did just that (and there's still a chance at the three seed).

“Moe Harkless had a tremendous game, made big plays at the offensive end, arguably one of his best games of the season, really active, worked the baseline well… Seth Curry’s steal at the end put ourselves in a position to win the game,” Stotts said.

It was all smiles in the Blazers locker room postgame.

“Obviously it’s a great feeling in the locker room right now after that and to get homecourt, to confirm it,” Harkless said.

Harkless scored the Blazers final 12 points of the game including not only knocking down the game winning three, but also hitting clutch free throws down the stretch.

“He put himself in good positions. I think his teammates did a good job of finding him,” Stotts said.   

The Blazers were tied at 101 with 18.2 seconds remaining when Seth Curry stole the ball from Alex Caruso.

“We knew we had to get a stop right there. Caruso had it going a little bit, so I just had to sit down and guard him. I knew he was going right a lot throughout the night, just playing a game within the game,” Curry said.

The Blazers then called for a full timeout.

Lillard explained how he surveyed what the defense was giving him when they came back out on the court after the timeout.

“Pretty much this whole season, end of quarters, end of games, whenever it’s a chance for us to go hit a last shot, teams don’t let me go no more, they just run two guys at the ball… My first look, I was looking at CJ… I hit CJ and Moe just popped out to the corner,” Lillard said.

“We thought Dame was gonna get the shot, they sent the double, he was able to find CJ, my guy rotated, CJ dropped it off to me in the corner, I knew I had to shoot it. I just shot the ball with confidence,” Harkless added.

Rising up with confidence was what it took to beat the scrappy young Lakers squad.

McCollum, who said his knee felt good after his second game back, thought that Harkless was the key to a victory on Tuesday.

“He hit a big shot for us, he sealed the game for us. He made a lot of great plays that made the difference,” McCollum said.

“He’s getting in playoff mode and it just shows the work he’s put in over the course of his career, being able to hit jumpers, score in the paint, make free throws, defend, block some shots, he did a little bit of everything tonight and that was all the difference,” McCollum added. 

Lillard feels that coming up big this season is nothing new for Harkless.

“He’s had a lot of moments were he came up big for us and usually it was in the form of a block or a big rebound, or a big offensive rebound and then he dunks -- it’s always like that,” Lillard said.

What’s the difference in Harkless’ play on Tuesday?

“I was just taking my time, locking in for every possession, every shot, it’s winning time, man,” Harkless said.

But the real biggest difference might just be that he is now completely healthy.

“I’m feeling really good. I’m able to move well and not really feel restricted or anything,” Harkles said.

“I’m feeling athletic again,” Harkless said with a big smile.

A healthy Moe heading into the postseason is just what the Blazers need and it’s just what is making Harkless happy right now.

“It’s been a long process, so I’m happy to be playing, and that I’m feeling well at this point in the season,” Harkless said.

So now the big question is -- do the Blazers rest their key players or chase a higher seed on Wednesday night vs. the Kings?

So do the Trail Blazers now rest their key players or chase a higher seed?

So do the Trail Blazers now rest their key players or chase a higher seed?

So now what?

With the homecourt advantage and the No. 4 seed in the West wrapped up Tuesday night in Los Angeles, do the Trail Blazers rest their regulars Wednesday night in Moda Center vs. the Sacramento Kings, or do they chase the No. 3 seed?

The best chance of getting the higher seed would probably require playing the starters, rather than giving them an obligatory game off at the end of the season. For a few of the Trail Blazers, I’d advocate a night off.

But the No. 3 seed could possibly mean a first-round matchup vs. San Antonio, depending on results of other games Wednesday night. Certainly the Spurs would appear to be a more advantageous opponent for Portland than Utah, which would be the opposition if the Blazers settle for the fourth seed. But there are no guarantees which team would be there.

And of course it’s always possible Coach Terry Stotts could put together a lineup Wednesday night without some of his key players that would still beat the Kings.

Stotts would not tip his hand Tuesday night about his plans.

“I’m not talking about that tonight,” he said.

It’s almost become customary in the NBA these days to sit premier players in these sorts of situations. In fact, some players see it as something of a status symbol. But most of them would never publicly ask for the rest game.

Who would I rest?

I’d start with Damian Lillard, who has looked tired since the recent four-game trip that concluded with the game at Minnesota, and CJ McCollum, who probably shouldn’t be playing back-to-back games coming off his knee injury. Seth Curry has become an important scorer and has had some aches and pains lately – I think I’d rest him, too.

And honestly, any other player who wants a day off, I’d be easy to convince. You can talk about homecourt and seeding all you want, but the health of your players always has to come first. And taking a tired team into the playoffs is a recipe for disaster, homecourt or not.

I’d want them rested and ready. As you might expect, the players had no interest in taking a side Tuesday.

“Our focus has been to get homecourt,” Lillard said. “And tonight we did that. We’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.”

The Blazer win over the Lakers was accomplished thanks to Maurice Harkless’s three-point shot at the buzzer. It was the only three-pointer Portland’s starting forwards hit in seven attempts.

Harkless was asked about the possible courses of action Wednesday night.

“We’ve all thought about it. But we’re not fixated on it. We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Harkless said. “Coach has a couple of decisions to make and so we’ll just do whatever he feels comfortable doing.”

Shootaround Notebook: McCollum expecting 30 minutes vs. young Lakers

Shootaround Notebook: McCollum expecting 30 minutes vs. young Lakers

LOS ANGELES -- The Trail Blazers are getting set for Game 81 tonight as Portland concludes the regular season with a back-to-back that starts with matchup in LA vs. the Lakers and ends on Wednesday hosting the Sacramento Kings.

With no playoff chances of their own, the Lakers have been playing spoilers lately. Los Angeles defeated the Utah Jazz 113-109 on Sunday night and they also beat the Clippers last Friday. 

With Sunday’s win over the Nuggets, the Trail Blazers remain in fourth in the Western Conference standings. Portland needs one win or a Utah loss in the final two games of the season to secure homecourt advantage in the first round.

After Tuesday morning’s shootaround it’s clear the Blazers are dialed in on locking up homecourt and Damian Lillard is leading the way with that no rest until homecourt is locked up mentality. Plus, both CJ McCollum and Maurice Harkless gave updates on their overall healthy.

McCollum is feeling “good”

CJ McCollum (left knee) returned to action on Sunday night after a 10-game absence, helping the Blazers defeat the Nuggets.

He was limited to 25 minutes for the game. McCollum started out strong, hitting three of his first five shots. He scored all nine of his points in the first quarter.

Tuesday morning, he said his knee felt “good” after the game, adding, “I had a day and a half almost to just rehab, stretch, try and get loose for today.”

McCollum also mentioned that playing “24 minutes and some change” was a strategic method to make sure he wouldn’t have any ill effects and it worked.

The Trail Blazers starting shooting guard does expect to play more minutes in LA tonight.

“I’ll probably play a few more minutes, closer to 30 minutes… We’ll see how the game goes, how the flow of the game goes,” McCollum said.    

Blazers are dialed in on homecourt advantage

Portland can clinch homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win against the Lakers on Tuesday or if the Jazz lose to the Nuggets on Tuesday.

But, the Blazers are just worried about themselves and not about matchups. It’s solely about starting off the playoffs in Portland.

“We’d like to take advantage of tonight… As long as I get to sleep in my bed I don’t really care who will play,” McCollum said.

“We’ve got come out here and play how we’ve been playing and secure that homecourt and then hopefully tomorrow get some rest,” Lillard added.

Lillard also isn’t concerned about matchups at this point, when thinking about his team trying to reach the three seed.

“I just want to make sure that we get homecourt,” Lillard said. “I think we’ve worked too hard this season to just let up and let that slip away, so number one is to just lock down homecourt, and then after that we good. It doesn’t really matter after that. I’m not looking at it, saying ‘oh let’s try and get third’ because at that point, you’re just getting third, just to say you can get third.”

But, are the Blazers thinking about trying to finish in the third spot out West so they can avoid the Warriors in the second round?

No, they are not at all thinking that way.

“The dangerous thing about that is -- it’s the Western Conference, so you’re not guaranteed you’re going to see the second round and the first round now is as dangerous or as hard as it’s ever been… There’s a lot of balance, so I don’t think we should be worried about it. We’ve just got to take care of right now,” Lillard said.

Harkless Update

Portland did not list small forward Maurice Harkless on Tuesday’s injury report despite Harkless leaving the Denver game with left hip tightness and not returning.

Harkless is coming off his best stretch of the season while averaging 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in March.

After shootaround, he said his hip “feels good” and he is “good to go.”

“It just got a little tight. I felt good afterwards, I probably could’ve went back in the game, but we had it under control… I feel good. I’m good to go,” Harkless said.

Playing against hungry young players can be “dangerous”

The Trail Blazers will be up facing a Los Angeles team that has shut down most of its top guys for the season.

Here is the quick lowdown on the Lakers Injury Report:

LeBron James (groin) and Kyle Kuzma (foot), the top two scorers for the Lakers, have each missed the last five games. Brandon Ingram (arm) has been out since March 2, and starting point guard Lonzo Ball (ankle) has been sidelined since the middle of January.

With the Lakers main players out that has made way for Alex Caruso, Jemerrio Jones and Johnathan Williams. Caruso is averaging 19.4 points and seven assists in the past five games.

Portland knows this a team that they can’t overlook.

“They play hard,” McCollum said. “They’re out here trying to prove their worthy of being out here, they’re trying to earn a name for themselves, and potentially a contract for the next season. I respect it… Just got match their intensity…. In terms of tempo it’ll probably be similar to the Denver game, they get out and run.”

McCollum isn’t the only one respecting what these young Laker players are out here doing.

Lillard says playing a team like this is “dangerous.”

“It’s dangerous because not only, some people say they’re G-League guys or whatever, but they’re up here for a reason. They’re paid just like we get paid, believing in themselves, just like we believe in ourselves… Once you put an NBA jersey on, you’re a NBA player and we’re going to respect them that way,” Lillard said.   

“It’s still gonna be a team that’s gonna make us earn it,” Harkless added.

The Trail Blazers and Lakers tip-off at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Northwest and on the My Teams App.

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What went wrong in Denver?

What went wrong in Denver?

DENVER – Friday night’s game in the Mile High City was a physical game to say the least.

The Trail Blazers and Nuggets were back-and-forth for nearly the entire 48 minutes with 10 different lead-changes, while the game was tied 11 different times. But, in the end Denver had the final word.

The Nuggets take the season series, 3-0, after Friday’s 119-110 win.

“Those are three good games that we’ve played against them, they’ve come out on top… I thought their offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter really hurt us… We we’re making a nice little run and [their offensive rebounding] gave them some life,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame.

As a team, the Nuggets finished with 12 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points.  In the last six minutes of the game, Denver came up with half of their offensive boards.  

For the Blazers, Enes Kanter, who everyone knows is an offensive rebounding machine, had five on his own, and he had a team-high 24 points.

Yet, Kanter knows that not being able to play a complete game was the Blazers downfall. 

“I think the first three quarters we played pretty good… I think the last quarter they got it going a little bit… I think we just need to learn how to finish a fourth quarter,” Katner said.  

Portland had their chances with Denver not making shots late in the game and the Blazers knew that by giving up those rebounds that gave the Nuggets the momentum they needed to secure the win.

Maurice Harkless said the Nuggets’ offensive rebounding “absolutely” was a difference maker in the game.

With 2:52 remaining in the game, Nuggets small forward Torrey Craig made a put-back that Harkless thought was a big momentum swing.

“It was a big one—Craig got one… Plays like that hurt us the whole second half,” Harkless said.

That put-back by Craig gave the Nuggets a five-point lead.

It wasn’t just the rebounding down the stretch that the Blazers had trouble with against Denver.

As a team, Portland shot 48.8% for the game, however, its leader Damian Lillard finished the game 12 points under his season average.

Lillard went 3-of-14 from the field and did not make any of his six attempts from three.
He managed to get to the free throw line, but not as much as you would have expected in such a physical game. The Blazers All-Star point guard finished with 14 points.

After the game, Lillard explained what the Nuggets’ defense was giving him and why he thought his shots were falling short.

“Not enough legs sometimes, not enough arc on it. But it’s when you’re getting a lot of attention and you don’t come out making shots it gets more difficult. I got a few that I felt like I should’ve made and then a lot of them were shots that you’ve just got to go make. Just tough shots sometimes because they weren’t trapping or nothing like that, but they just had bodies there. You know, they were loaded up,” Lillard said.

The Nuggets could be “loaded up” on Lillard with the lack of shooters on the court around him on Friday. Portland was not only without CJ McCollum (left knee), but Seth Curry (left tibia soreness) was a late scratch as well.

“I was in position where the right play was to pass the ball,” Lillard said. “Guys were open and then it gets to the point where you’re like, I don’t want to make them have me out here passing and not taking any shots.”

Lillard scored just three points in the fourth quarter, all-coming from the free throw line.

His three field goals made tied a season-low.

The Blazers and Nuggets will square off one more time on Sunday in Portland. With the home crowd behind them, Lillard is ready to control their own destiny.

“This would’ve been a great win to have looking at what our goal is... to lock down homecourt. But it’s one game. We’re still in a position where we control our own destiny. I think that’s the beauty of it. Two of the next three at home, and all games that we’re more than capable of winning. We just can’t let this one linger because it was a good effort by us and we got to handle our business the rest of the season,” Lillard said.

Shootaround Notebook: What a difference a year makes for Harkless, playoff-like feeling vs. Nuggets, & more

Shootaround Notebook: What a difference a year makes for Harkless, playoff-like feeling vs. Nuggets, & more

Tonight marks the third of four meetings between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers this season. The teams will play twice over the next three days with the Nuggets making a stop in Portland on Sunday.

This has been a very competitive series with the first games being decided by three points or less. Denver holds a 2-0 series lead.

There’s a lot on the line in regards to seeding in the Western Conference. Portland is looking to secure homecourt advantage, but after Trail Blazers shootaround this morning, it’s apparent that Portland is playing loose, confident, and ready to execute their game plan.

After shootaround, Seth Curry and Maurice Harkless gave insight into tonight’s matchup in Denver, as well as updates on their health and more.

Giving credit where credit is due

Portland is coming off a 116-89 home win over Memphis Wednesday night, which was the Blazers’ 11th victory in the last 13 games. Portland is now 16-5 since All-Star break. After injuries to Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum plagued the Blazers over the last two weeks, this team has rallied together.

Working together as a collective effort is exactly what Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has been preaching in recent weeks.

“That’s his message -- In any night it could be, anybody or all of us playing well and contributing to a win. We know we’ve got to do this together. We know we are our best when we do, do it together, so we’ve got to keep that same mindset,” Harkless said.

Curry echoed the same sentiments.

“His leadership and Dame’s leadership… has been great. Nobody has made excuses. We haven’t talked about the injuries too much. Obviously, we’re thinking about Nurk and his injury, but he hasn’t let us use it as a crutch,” Curry said.

A healthy Harkless -- physically and mentally

Last week was the one-year mark since Harkless began having trouble with his left knee. The Blazers forward underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in late March 2018.

Harkless smiled today when talking to reporters about how different he is feeling physically and mentally at this point in the season compared to last season.

“Last year, it was kind of a low-point because I had just had surgery, so it kind of sucked knowing that I wasn’t going to be out here and play to the best of my ability,” Harkless said. “This year, I’m feeling good, so it’s pretty much just getting ready for the postseason now. It’s definitely a different mindset.”

Curry added to the injury report for Friday’s game

With McCollum out, Curry has stepped up in a big way to help the Blazers get buckets when they need them. Curry attributes his recent play to getting back to good health and knowing his role.

“I think I’ve been consistent as of late,” he said. “I think we are playing well… I’ve figured out my role towards the end of the season, and what they want from me on a nightly basis, and I’ve gotten healthier and stronger as the season has gone along and that has allowed me to play better.”

Despite, Curry feeling healthier than he has in the last couple of seasons, he is now dealing with soreness to his left tibia.

Friday afternoon, the Blazers added Curry (left tibia soreness) to the Injury Report, listing him as questionable for tonight’s game.

Treating this weekend like a playoff series

Blazers fans are eager for tonight’s 7:30 p.m. tip-off and so are the players.

“We’re kind of viewing it as like a mini-type of playoff series. We’ve just got to go out here and use these two games and try to prepare…. It’s probably going to be a playoff-like atmosphere in here and when we get back home,” Harkless said.

Curry knows the Blazers must put together a complete game in order to defeat the second-seeded Nuggets.

“They have a deep team… A lot of people, they contribute. Their system is free flowing and you’ve got to keep that pace for 48-minutes to be able to beat them,” Curry said. 

Why are the Blazers playing so loose right now?

According to Harkless and Curry, Portland is coming out every night and not “overthinking” things, while also having “a lot of fun," on the court.

Those two factors have played a big role to the team’s recent success and you should expect the Blazers to continue to play like this tonight against the Nuggets.

“We’re in a good space,” Harkless said. “We’re kind of all just playing, you know? We’re playing off each other. We’re making reads, we’re not really overthinking it and that’s when you play your best basketball.”

“I think everybody has figured out their roles on the team so far. Everybody’s playing with a lot of confidence. I feel like everybody on the team is playing well. Nobody is really in a rut right now… We’re having a lot of fun out there. We’re winning games – that’s a good feeling to have heading into the playoffs,” Curry added.

With the Blazers bigs putting on a dunk show after shootaround today, this video shows just how loose and how much fun this team is having right now:

 

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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.

Confidence is high with Al-Farouq Aminu's ball handling... and it's showing

Confidence is high with Al-Farouq Aminu's ball handling... and it's showing

The seconds are ticking off the clock.

It’s a three-point game.

Damian Lillard’s tough floater gets blocked.

Al-Farouq Aminu snags the offensive rebound and puts in a 9-foot bank shot.

Four seconds remaining on the clock when the Pistons call a timeout.

It was a crazy finish on Saturday night in Portland. It’s Aminu who seals the deal in a Trail Blazers gritty win over the Pistons by a final score of 117-112.

“I knew the shot clock was low, so I just wanted to get it off the glass. I didn’t want to rush it. Sometimes when you’re in that predicament you rush it because you’re thinking you’re going against the clock and I figured, let me at least make it and see if it was late or not,” Aminu said with a smile.  

Portland continues to play without CJ McCollum (left knee) and continues to rack up wins from a collective effort with role players continuing to step up.

Saturday night was Aminu’s night.  

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame he was pleased with Chief’s “heads up playmaking,” which is a perfect way to describe that last Trail Blazers possession.

Aminu finished with a season-high 22 points and has now reached double figured for the second time in the last three games. His previous high was 20 points, which he had reached twice this season.

Is there a variable to Aminu’s game that people aren’t talking about when it comes to him getting more buckets?

How about his ball handling skills?

Coach Stotts has no doubt that this is one aspect of Chief’s game that has changed this year.

“I think it’s pretty obvious -- his ball handling has really improved this year. He’s made some nice drives throughout the season. He put a lot of time into it. He’s making some nice moves, whether it’s in transition or in the half court. I think he’s being aggressive when he has a chance,” Stotts said.

As Lillard shouldered the scoring load once again, leading the Blazers with 28 points and nine assists, he couldn’t agree more with his coach when it comes to Aminu’s improved dribbling.

“A lot better,” Lillard said of the difference he has seen of Aminu’s ball handling from this year to years past. “Sometimes when he catches it and they close the gap where he can’t get a shot off, he’s putting it on the floor and making plays to the rim. You know, sometimes in transition, he’s bringing the ball up and we’re getting a quality possession out of it, so it’s not like guys gotta chase the ball down and try to go get the ball or when he doesn’t have a shot, we’ve got to rush to get the ball,” Lillard added.   

Lillard also believes the mental part of Aminu’s game has helped too.

“When your mind is in the right place and you’re doing all these things, doing whatever you can for the team-- good things happen and he was on the good side of things, just because he was in it. He was in it mentally and it worked out. He was huge for us. He pretty much made all the big plays for us,” Lillard added.

Having your coach and teammates confident in you is always a helpful, but Aminu also trusts himself to it bring the ball up the court or drive hard to the rack.   

“It’s a thing that when you’re in the game and you notice that you’re not losing the ball… Obviously, you’re going to go to it more. The confidence comes from doing it… Just glad that it’s working,” Aminu said.

Being able to score a season-high after exerting so much energy on the defensive end with the difficult task of defending Blake Griffin also was noted postgame.

Maurice Harkless, who scored in double digits for the fourth straight game with 10 points, gave props to Aminu and how valuable he was on both ends of the floor. 

“He made a lot of big shots, especially down the stretch. He played really good defense on Blake and when we got switches he played good defense on the guards too, so he was huge for us. That last rebound and putback was big time too. It kind of sealed the game,” Harkless said.

Aminu had his good luck charm in the front row too. Maybe having your wife sit baseline can help boost the confidence as well.

Is 'Playoff Moe' Harkless just a myth?

Is 'Playoff Moe' Harkless just a myth?

People have been asking us here at NBC Sports Northwest lately about whether Maurice Harkless is really just a playoff and end of regular-season player, and what that means to the Portland Trail Blazers. The idea of "Playoff Moe" has been floated, whether it be on social media or in comments in the Blazers Outsiders Facebook chat.

This concept, at its core, has taken shape as Blazers fans have started to notice that Harkless starts slow every year but gains momentum, somehow becoming one of the most valuable guys when springtime starts to bloom.

So the question is whether Harkless demonstrates a different impact on this Blazers team as the season goes on, or if it's just our perception tied to a team itself that likes to start slow and finish strong.

Taking a look at Harkless' splits from the past four years shows that there is something to be said about him gaining steam later in the year. His plus-minus ramping up through January over the past four seasons is demonstrably different from his plus-minus starting in February and running through the end of the regular season.

When the playoffs come Harkless also clamps down on his shooting, all but eliminating his mid-range jumpers and adding additional attempts from beyond the 3-point line. Coupled with his ability to rebound and become a slasher on the offensive side of the ball, Harkless is one of Portland's most important players in the postseason. That's without mentioning that he often guards the other team's best player.

But what does that mean about Portland expecting Harkless to perform in the playoffs? I think there is some legitimate concern from fans that they won't be able to rely on Moe thanks to his injury history and his up and down play.

Guys like Al-Farouq Aminu actually have much better advanced statistics when it comes to their impact in the playoffs for the Trail Blazers over the past three seasons. Harkless has seemingly dealt with his knee injury all season, and it's the same one that kept him from play more than 60 minutes in total last postseason against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The strength of this Blazers team is now its depth. We saw that with Evan Turner out this year that addition of Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter have helped Portland become a deeper and more resilient team against opponents with stronger rotations. Harkless has really just been a kind of cherry on top thus far.

But the playoffs this season could be incredibly difficult for the Blazers if they want to get out of the first round. The way the seeding is shaping up, Portland is going to need every single player on their roster to perform at their best. 

Harkless has come through in the playoffs for the advanced statistics position, that is unless he's had to go up against the Golden State Warriors. For that reason, I’d say it’s probably safe to trust that Harkless will be a contributor, and perhaps even more so as teams cannot zero in on him since Portland has more depth these days.

Some fans might have some reticence about Harkless’ up and down performance, but history says that he should continue his rise up as the Blazers look to the postseason. For now, I think “Playoff Moe” is not a myth. 

Now he just needs to continue his hot play.