Blazers clinch playoff berth

Blazers clinch playoff berth

The Blazers clinched a playoff berth on Sunday night, and they didn’t even have to lift a finger.

Portland needed to beat the Grizzlies, or have a loss by either the Nuggets or the Timberwolves to clinch a spot. They got the help the needed when Minnesota was blown out by the Utah Jazz, 121-97.

There is still plenty of work for the Blazers despite the good news. Portland sits just 2.5 games ahead of the fourth seed San Antonio Spurs, and just four games ahead of seventh seed Minnesota.

With the playoffs locked in, all that is left for Portland to do is lock down home court advantage. The Blazers have five games left on the schedule after tonight: A four game road trip that sees them take on Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Denver before wrapping up the season at home on April 11 against the Utah Jazz. 

 

Minnesota hands Portland its third loss in a row

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Minnesota hands Portland its third loss in a row

The Blazers hit the road on last Tuesday and picked up an impressive win over the Thunder. It looked like the Blazers may have been readt to turn the corner and grab some big wins on the road. That was not the case. The Blazers dropped their third game in a row on Sunday, a 120-103 blowout to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Portland led 33-31 after the first quarter, but it quickly fell apart. The Blazers scored just 10 points in the second quarter, at one point going more than seven minutes without a bucket. In that same time the T’Wolves went on a 14-0 run and blew the doors open. The Blazers never recovered.

Final Score: Timberwolves 120 – Blazers 103

Next up: The Blazers return home to play the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Coverage begins at 5pm on NBC Sports Northwest and on the NBC Sports App

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Blazers get just five free throws for an entire game -- how crazy is that?

Blazers get just five free throws for an entire game -- how crazy is that?

I would assume the frustration bucket is nearly full today for the Trail Blazers and their fans.

Last night in Minneapolis there were some very strange happenings.

You don't hear much about referees in this space. I leave them alone because they have a tough job and are too often used as a crutch for poor performances by teams or players. But sometimes, stuff simply must be discussed. Especially when strange things happen.

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The Trail Blazers shot only five free throws against the Timberwolves, who shot 21. Five? Damian Lillard gets more than that by himself on an average night. Worse than that, Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to take 35 shots, a good many of them surrounded by some heavy traffic. Yet they combined to take just one free throw and that was from Lillard. That is absurd. The Blazers got only two free throws in the second half while getting 34 points in the paint. They shot zero foul shots in the fourth quarter. That's just silly. And you don't see it often in the NBA, where officials are usually very careful not to look like "homers."

There was another play of concern, too:

Trailing by a point with 8.6 seconds to go, the Timberwolves got a rebound and called a timeout. Not before taking a dribble -- at least that's what it seemed. That's a big deal because if you dribble, you aren't allowed to advance the ball into front court after a timeout. And that was the original call. But then I heard something about one of the officials hearing someone yell for a timeout PRIOR to the bounce of the ball. Bingo -- the Wolves got the ball in front court, which was important at that point.

Stuff like that just doesn't look right. Bad optics.

I do not believe the officiating crew of Scott Foster, Leroy Richardson and Ben Taylor had a very good night. Lillard shoots 93 percent from the foul line and averages nearly seven attempts a game. McCollum shoots 88 percent and averages three attempts per game. You don't think it made a difference that they couldn't get to the line more than one time Monday night? And I'm sorry, I've been watching them play since they came into the league and know how often they get bumped or hammered on the way to the basket.

And look, there were plenty of reasons for the Trail Blazers to lose that game after blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. For one thing, Evan Turner's technical foul with 6:17 to go in a game lost by a single point was a big deal. And Al-Farouq Aminu's wild foul on Jimmy Butler with the game in the balance and two and a half seconds to play was a real doozy. I'm not sure what his plan was but he left his feet way too early, landed on top of Butler and that made it a very easy call to send Butler to the foul line for the winning points. Man, just stay solid, straight up and make him hit that shot.

I'm not blaming the officials for the Portland loss. Four straight turnovers in the middle of the fourth quarter had something to do with that.

But on a strange night in chilly Minnesota, the Trail Blazers deserved much better from the guys with the whistles. And it's only fair that they get their share of criticism for a loss that shouldn't have happened.

Blazers left howling at the moon

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Blazers left howling at the moon

The Blazers played one of their best games on this road trip, but a late fourth quarter push by Minnesota left the Trail Blazers just one point short of a 4-1 road trip. The Timberwolves outscored the Blazers 32-22 in the fourth quarter, and Jimmy Butler hit two free throws with two seconds left in the game to give Minnesota the 108-107 lead. A late heave by Damian Lillard was just a little too strong, and the Blazer left Target Center in defeat. The defeat snaps a three-game winning streak, and ends the Blazers road trip with a 3-2 record.

Final Score: Timberwolves 108 – Blazers 107

Next Up: The Blazers play host to the Spurs on Wednesday. Coverage begins at 6:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest, and on the NBC Sports App.

The night Allen Crabbe may have saved the playoffs for the Trail Blazers

The night Allen Crabbe may have saved the playoffs for the Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers seemed overmatched from the start of their game Thursday night against Minnesota. The Timberwolves led 12-2 and 20-9 to open the game and you had to wonder how Portland could get off so poorly in such an important game. Minnesota would stretch the lead to 15 with 9:39 to go in the third quarter and this game looked lost.

But in the fourth quarter, Portland's defense became more aggressive and a friendly officiating crew allowed it to get away with some roughthouse tactics at that end of the floor. The Timberwolves suddenly couldn't score and forgot their best option on offense -- getting the ball to Karl-Anthony Towns at the low post against the little Portland guys who were trying in vain to defend him.

But that wouldn't have mattered much -- the Trail Blazers probably still would have lost this game -- if Allen Crabbe hadn't suddenly gone nuts on the Timberwolves from three-point range.

Crabbe scored 10 points in 48 seconds early in the fourth quarter. Up to that point, Portland's offense was flat-out broken and had disintegrated into a lot of one-on-one stuff that proved largely ineffective. Damian Lillard had another troubling shooting night (7-21 from the field, including 1-9 from three-point range to go with four turnovers) and there was little ball movement or player movement.

A loss in this game, I believe, would have signaled the end of Portland's late-season dash for a playoff spot -- obliterated by Jusuf Nurkic's leg fracture. And make no mistake, Nurkic -- and really not a lot else -- was the reason for the Trail Blazers' sudden late-season turnaround. He made his teammates better to a shocking degree and the evidence, before he arrived and after his injury -- is clear.

But Allen Crabbe rode to the rescue with those three-point shots Thursday night in Moda Center. He won them that game just about single-handedly. And I believe that was probably enough to get Portland the eighth seed in the West. The magic number is down to 2 and even if the Blazers can't win another game, it's highly possible Denver has a couple more losses coming its way.

The good news is that now we really know how important Nurkic is. What a find he was. What a future he brings. How much better he makes this team. And we also know that without him, this team doesn't appear to be very good.

Crabbe gets cooking, rescuing Blazers in comeback victory over Minnesota

Crabbe gets cooking, rescuing Blazers in comeback victory over Minnesota

In the span of 48 seconds on Thursday, the Trail Blazers playoff hopes went from bleak to promising, all thanks to Allen Crabbe.

In probably his greatest moment as a pro, Crabbe scored 10 points in a 48-second span turning an 87-82 deficit into a 92-89 lead, pushing the Blazers to a 105-98 win and onto the brink of clinching the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Crabbe scored 25 points and hit eight three pointers – three of them coming in the decisive 48 second span, including one while being fouled by Tyus Jones that resulted in a free throw.

"I love seeing a shooter get on a roll like that,'' Coach Terry Stotts said.

The win increased Portland’s lead over Denver to 1.5 games with three games remaining. Denver plays at home Friday against New Orleans. Any combination of Portland wins or Denver losses that equals two will earn Portland the final playoff spot.

Damian Lillard added 22 points, nine rbeounds and eight assists and CJ McCollum had 18 points and five assists.

Portland trailed by as many as 15 in the third quarter and 87-80 entering the fourth quarter, but Minnesota missed its first 13 shots of the fourth and 19 of its first 20 shots. When it was all said and done, Minnesota scored 11 fourth quarter points and went 3-for-23 from the field in the fourth. The fourth-quarter meltdown included the abandoning of Karl-Anthony Towns, whose inside play was dominant through the first three quarters. Towns had 22 points and 12 rebounds entering the fourth, but attempted only two shots, one of them a rebound put-back with 16 seconds left.  Towns finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds.

Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 36 points, went 1-for-8 in the fourth, and Ricky Rubio, who started 6-of-7, missed eight of his final nine shots.

"We struggled most of the night, but the fourth qaurter was terrific,'' Stotts said. "There was a lot of great defensive play, and obviously A.C.'s shooting was terrific.''

The Blazers erased a 15-point deficit in the third quarter, making their push after Towns headed to the bench after picking up his fourth foul. After Towns left, Portland went on a 12-2 run to draw even at 72 with 6:05. But that’s when Towns returned and the Blazers and Minnesota regained its footing, taking an 87-80 lead into the fourth.

Minnesota led 61-53 at halftime after leading by as many as 14 in the first quarter and 12 in the second quarter. Wiggins was dominant, particularly with post ups against McCollum, Lillard and Crabbe. Wiggins made 9-of-12 shots in the half and had 21 points.

Crabbe prevented the Timberwolves from running away in the first half, hitting his first three 3-point attempts.

Minnesota jumped to a 12-2 start and eventually took a 34-20 lead after the first quarter. They rode post ups by Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins early, then the outside shooting of Rubio late in the quarter. Meanwhile, Portland shot just 32 percent, with Lillard missing his first six shots before scoring on a driving layin with 32 seconds left.

Al-Farouq Aminu, who started for the second straight game in the Blazers’ small-ball lineup without injured center Jusuf Nurkic, had 15 points and seven rebounds and Noah Vonleh added nine points and seven rebounds.

Next up: Utah at Blazers, 7 p.m. Saturday (KGW).

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Trail Blazers' six-game winning streak snapped after they can't stop Towns inside

Trail Blazers' six-game winning streak snapped after they can't stop Towns inside

MINNEAPOLIS – A Trail Blazers team with a limited amount of bigs might have a big problem heading down the stretch of their season.

The Blazers on Monday were exposed inside by Minnesota star Karl-Anthony Towns, whose 34 points and 12 rebounds carried the Timberwolves to a 110-109  win over Portland at the Target Center.

Damian Lillard, who had 25 points, missed a 16-footer at the buzzer that could have won the game.

It was the second game for the Blazers without center Jusuf Nurkic, who won’t return for the rest of the season because of a fracture in his right leg, and his absence was felt as the Timberwolves continually went inside to the 7-foot Towns, who scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, including eight of the team’s final 11 points.

Portland has one healthy center left on its roster– 7-foot-1 Meyers Leonard – and the Blazers started him, but he played only 12 minutes and finished with zero points and two rebounds.

With Leonard ineffective, coach Terry Stotts turned to Noah Vonleh and Al-Farouq Aminu to play center, with Aminu having the most success, twice blocking Towns down low. But down the stretch, Towns posted Aminu and scored repeatedly from close range. He went 15-of-25 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.

The bad news is the Blazers’ final five games all feature formidable big men, with two games remaining against Utah’s Rudy Gobert, another against Towns, and finishing games against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs and New Orleans and Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

For all of Towns’ dominance, Aminu nearly stole the show. He finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 35 minutes off the bench and he had three blocks, the last coming on a driving Ricky Rubio layin with about eight seconds left. Minnesota corralled the block, and Andrew Wiggins had to attempt a long three-pointer to beat the shot clock. It was off, and the Blazers called timeout with 4.9 seconds left, setting up Lillard’s clean look at the basket that was off.

Portland (38-39) had its six-game winning streak snapped and now leads Denver by 1.5 games left for the eighth and final playoff spot with five games remaining.

Minnesota (31-45) had lost nine of its previous 10. Wiggins had 29 points, and Rubio finished with 11 points, 16 assists and seven rebounds.

The Blazers held leads as large as 12 points, and in the first half made their push with Aminu at center. Portland closed the half on a 24-9 run to take a 57-49 lead.

Aminu hit three 3-pointers in the second and blocked one of Towns’ shots inside, helping hold the star big man to two points in the second quarter.

The Blazers got 17 points from Maurice Harkless and 12 points each from Noah Vonleh and Allen Crabbe. CJ McCollum, who against Minnesota this season had averaged 37.5 points on 71 percent shooting, finished with 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting, which included 0-for-3 from three-point range.

The game was a makeup from the March 6 postponement, when condensation caused the court to be too slipper to play.

Next up: Blazers at Utah, 6 p.m. Tuesday (CSN)

 

 

Blazers start final back-to-back with a trip to Minnesota

Blazers start final back-to-back with a trip to Minnesota

The magic number: Four. All the Portland Trail Blazers (38-38) need to do is win four of their final six games and they will clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Portland heads into tonight’s matchup with the Timberwolves (30-45) with a two game lead on the ninth place Denver Nuggets (36-40). Portland won the season series against the Nuggets, meaning Denver needs to finish a full game ahead of the Blazers in order to secure a playoff spot. At this point, the eight seed feels like a near lock for the Blazers.

Portland has come out victorious in its past six games, including a lopsided 130-117 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday. The Blazers controlled the game from the jump, at one point leading the Suns 50-25. Phoenix clawed back and made it a single digit game, but the Blazers quickly answered and stretched it back out to double digits. The final score was a lot closer than the game ever was.

It was a very impressive win for the Blazers. Portland had six players in double figures, led by Damian Lillard with 31. Noah Vonleh chipped in a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Evan Turner scored 18 off of the bench. It was a big test for the Blazers, playing their first game without star center Jusuf Nurkić, and needless to say they passed their first hurdle.

The next test comes in the form of the Karl-Anthony Town led Timberwolves. Minnesota is just 3-7 in its last 10 games, and is coming off of a 117-123 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Saturday. Despite the losing record, this test will be a little harder for Portland. With no Nurkić and a hobbled Meyers Leonard the Blazers may have a hard time guarding Towns. In the two previous games these two have played, both wins for the Blazers, Towns has averaged 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. However, both of those contests came against a Blazers team that was largely healthy. It will be interesting to see how the Blazers choose to defend  the Timberwolves attack without their true starting center.

On the bright side the Blazers are 2-0 on the season against Minnesota, last matching up just over a week ago – A 112-110 win for the Blazers. Can the Blazers make it 3-0?

Let’s just hope there isn’t condensation on the court in Minnesota this time around.

We will help set the stage for Saturday’s game with an all-new Rip City Live starting at 3:00pm only on CSN.   

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out The Scoop Pregame Show streaming live on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:00pm at Facebook.com/CSNNW.

Quick Links:

As Trail Blazers' only remaining center, Meyers Leonard presented with 'huge' opportunity 

Video: Quick: Leonard's dinner with Nurkić

Video:  Lillard: Staying poised despite distractions

Video: Stotts: Life without Nurkić

Game Details:

Where:  Target Center, Minneapolis MN

Television: CSN, 4:00pm

CSN Programming:  Rip City Live (3:00pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming: Watch an authenticated stream of the game at CSNNW.com/BlazersStream or on the NBC Sports App! Plus the Scoop Pregame Show streams at 3:00pm at Facebook.com/CSNNW. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/CSNNW

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

 

CJ McCollum feasts on Minnesota again, leading Blazers to another win

CJ McCollum feasts on Minnesota again, leading Blazers to another win

The best news for the Trail Blazers as they head down the stretch of their playoff chase?

CJ McCollum will have two more meetings against Minnesota.

McCollum on Saturday had another dominant performance against Minnesota, as he followed up a 43-point performance in January with a 32-point performance to lead the Trail Blazers to a 112-100 victory.

Of the Blazers’ remaining 10 games, two are against the Timberwolves, a team this season which McCollum has made 27-of-38 field goal attempts and is averaging 37.5 points. On Saturday, he made 11-of-13 shots, which came on the heels of his career-high 43-point night on Jan. 1 in Minneapolis, when Portland came back from a 14-point deficit to win.

On Saturday, McCollum scored his 32 points in 29 minutes, leading with 7:13 in the fourth quarter and the Blazers ahead 105-81.

"Very impressive,'' coach Terry Stotts said.  "He really had it going and he scored in a variety of ways – getting to rim, jump shots  ... he had an outstanding game.''

McCollum wasn’t the only one with the hot hand. Portland shot a season-best 62.5 percent and was so comfortably ahead that Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic didn’t have to play in the fourth quarter.

The win moved Portland (34-38) to within one game of Denver (35-37) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference as both teams are streaking toward the finish line. Portland is 10-3 in March and 11-5 since the All-Star Break. Denver has won seven of 10 and next plays Sunday at home against New Orleans before heading to Portland for a Tuesday matchup with the Blazers.

Minnesota (28-44) has lost six in a row and seven of the last eight to fall out of the playoff race. They were coming off an overtime loss the night before in Los Angeles to the Lakers, during which they lost a 15-point lead, the 19th time they lost a game this season after leading by double-figures, the most in the NBA.

About the only bad news for the Blazers was Lillard having his consecutive games streak of 25-points or more snapped at eight, the third longest in franchise history. Lillard scored 21 on 8-of-13 shooting and added eight assists and six rebounds in 29 minutes.

The Blazers were in control by halftime, 60-46, thanks to a strong close. The Timberwolves trailed by 12 in the second quarter, but got within 44-41 before the Blazers went on a 12-1 run that was keyed by three-points from McCollum and Lillard and back-to-back fast break finishes from Al-Farouq Aminu. Jusuf Nurkic put the finishing touches on the half by rebounding his own miss and scoring with 2.2 seconds left.

The Blazers, who have had trouble protecting big leads at times this season, went for the jugular in the third, when they finished the quarter by scoring on seven of their final eight possessions to take a comfortable 94-74 lead heading into the fourth.

"I thought this was one of better games as far as building lead and holding lead,'' Stotts said, noting he was able to keep all his starters under 30 minutes. "It's good to have those.''

Minnesota would get as close as 99-81, but Portland closed the deal behind reserves Allen Crabbe (10 points) and Evan Turner (eight points) to improve to 19-15 at the Moda Center.

Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota with 20 points, Karl-Anthony Towns added 16 and Ricky Rubio had 16 points and four assists. Nurkic had 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists for Portland, which is 11-6 since he joined the team.

Next up: Blazers at Lakers, 6:30 p.m. Sunday (KGW)

Trail Blazers game postponed in Minnesota because of court conditions

Trail Blazers game postponed in Minnesota because of court conditions

MINNEAPOLIS – About 90 minutes before Monday’s Trail Blazers-Minnesota game at Target Center, Damian Lillard stopped his workout and made an ominous observation.

“No way we can play on this court,’’ the Blazers guard said.

The Target Center court, which has ice under it from a Friday performance of Disney on Ice, was experiencing condensation because of abnormal humidity in the Minneapolis area, which caused slippery areas on the court.

About 90 minutes later, the NBA postponed the Blazers-Timberwolves game because of the slippery conditions. A makeup date will be announced at a later date.

“There was too much risk,’’ Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It was the right decision.’’

The Trail Blazers players were adamant the court was not safe after going through pregame warmups.

Lillard said he could do the moonwalk dance move. Meyers Leonard called the court “slicker than snot” and Moe Harkless just shook his head in disbelief as he tried to gain traction with his sneaker.

Eventually, players from both teams stopped warming up and retreated to the benches or locker rooms because of the fear of injury.

Three arena officials mopped the floor for more than 90 minutes in an effort to soak up the condensation and later the arena temperature was lowered to counter the 69 percent humidity in the area.

All the efforts were to no avail.

“It ain’t in condition to play, man,’’ Lillard told CSNNW about 30 minutes before the game. “As much as we want to play and want to get out here for the fans and do our jobs, we gotta feel safe and we gotta be comfortbale. But it’s real slippery … like there’s water on the court.’’

Earlier in the day the Blazers followed the Timberwolves with an 11 a.m. shootaround at the arena. Neither team experienced slippery conditions during their morning workout, but it was apparent conditions had changed by the time players started arriving on the court around 5 p.m.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts was on the court for much of the early pregame workouts and was informed by players of the dangerous conditions. He said he took the postponement with mixed emotions.

“Obviously when you make the trip you are ready to play, but I’m glad the decision was made, because player safety, safety for the officials, anybody out on the court running around … you just don’t want to put yourself in a position where injury is possible,’’ Stotts said.

“I just know they didn’t feel very confident going out there and playing 100 percent, worried about their movement,’’ Stotts said. “ I just think mentally it would have been challenging.’’

It is an important game in the Western Conference playoff picture, with Portland (26-35) entering the night in ninth place, 1.5 games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot. Minnesota (25-37) is three games out of the final playoff spot.

There is no word on when a makeup date will be announced, but both teams have an open date on Sunday, April 2.

The Blazers next game is Tuesday at Oklahoma City.