Trevor Ariza

Instant Analysis: Trail Blazers apparently can take the Heat

Instant Analysis: Trail Blazers apparently can take the Heat

Sunday was a battle between two injury-riddled teams.

Portland was without Anfernee Simons (concussion) and Nassir Little (left ankle sprain) for Sunday's game and then lost Mario Hezonja to a left ankle sprain early in the second quarter. He did not return to action.

The Trail Blazers did, however, get starting center Hassan Whiteside back from a one game absence due to a left leg contusion. 

As for the Heat, Miami was without Jimmy Butler (right shoulder strain), Tyler Herro (right ankle soreness), Meyers Leonard (left ankle sprain) and Kyle Alexander (right knee hyperextension & PCL sprain).

Portland started out the game shooting 6-of-8 from the field, but whenever it looked as though the Blazers were going to take command of the game, the Heat would charge back. Portland’s biggest lead in the first half was 11 points. Yet at halftime, Portland held just a three-point lead. 

After such high-scoring first and third quarters for the Blazers, Portland had a tough time scoring in the final period, but were able to get just enough stops in crunch time.

FINAL BOX SCORE: TRAIL BLAZERS 115, HEAT 109 

Here are three quick takeaways from the win from our NBC Sports team at the game:

Mike Richman, Reporter

The Blazers did it with balance against the Heat on Sunday night. Six guys scored in double figures, and while Damian Lillard (31 points) was excellent but he didn't have to carry the entire load. Trevor Ariza (21 points) was hot early, Gary Trent Jr. (22 points) made some timely shots late and Hassan Whiteside owned the glass (16 rebounds). Blazers are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and are playing their best basketball of the season heading into the All-Star break.

Jamie Hudson, Reporter

Damian Lillard and Trevor Ariza had a strong two-man game going, especially early on, with Lillard finding Ariza cutting to the hoop on a number of occasions. Ariza was getting the job done on both ends all night. With Portland forced to go deep into its bench, the Blazers still shot the ball well and continued to get production from Gary Trent Jr. The Blazers ball movement was also on full display in the third quarter. Wing players on both teams found a lot of success from behind the arc, which really helped the Heat stay in the game with their timely threes.  

Chris Burkhardt, Producer

What more can be said about Gary Trent Jr.? He has been on an absolute tear in recent weeks, and had another huge impact on Sunday. The second year guard scored 22 points and was once again all over the place on defense. Trent is a self proclaimed “dog” on the court, and that’s just the type of mentality the Blazers need if they hope to get back in the playoff race.

Up Next: The Trail Blazers will play in a road back-to-back starting with a game in New Orleans on Tuesday night. The Blazers and Pelicans will tip-off at 5:00pm.

Be sure to check back throughout the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!

Instant Analysis: Emotions run high for Blazers and Jazz

Instant Analysis: Emotions run high for Blazers and Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY – The intensity level for Friday’s game may have been at an all-time high for both the Trail Blazers and the Jazz.

Fans needed to buckle up for this one!

The Trail Blazers frontcourt depth was even more depleted entering Friday's game. Portland was without starting center Hassan Whiteside (left lower leg contusion) and backup forward Nassir Little (left ankle sprain).

Going with a small-ball lineup was no easy task against Rudy Gobert and the Jazz lengthy perimeter players like Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic.

Despite the lack of height, the Blazers started out the game 23-14 behind Damian Lillard’s logo three-pointers.

It was apparent in the second quarter that these are two very competitive teams who tend to get under each other’s skin. A total of seven technical fouls were handed out in the second quarter alone, which included one three in the key violation.

But, even after losing one of their starters to an ejection, the Blazers still held a 72-58 lead at halftime.

Throughout the game it felt like a fight could break out at any moment.

After being outscored 30-17 in the third quarter, Portland held a one point lead heading into the final period.

The game came down to the wire with Utah's crowd fired up from start to finish. There was a questionable no-call as well when Lillard when up for a lay-in in the final seconds and there was no goal-tending called.

The Blazers gave it all that they had with just seven players for most of the game on the second night of a back-to-back, but it was the Jazz who came away with the win. 

FINAL BOX SCORE: JAZZ 117, TRAIL BLAZERS 114

Here are three quick takeaways from Friday’s loss:

1.  Biggie with the starting nod

With no Hassan Whiteside, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts went with 6’9” big man Caleb Swanigan at the five spot. Friday’s game was Swangian’s fourth start over his three-year career. Swangian held his own against Rudy Gobert, especially on the glass. Biggie finished with four points and 11 rebounds. Plus, he took a crucial charge in crunch time. 

2. Blazers depth went from bad to worse

Portland has been dealing with a number of injuries since the third game of the season when the Blazers lost Zach Collins to a left shoulder injury. Friday night, Portland lost Anfernee Simons to a hard fall. Simons did not return to the game after suffering a concussion.  

The second-year player went up for a jumper from the free throw line in the final seconds of the first quarter, but then ultimately fell hard on his back, with his head whipping back and connecting with the court.

The Blazers were not only without Simons for the rest of the game, but then starting forward Trevor Ariza took out his frustrations after arguing a no-foul call.  Ariza was ejected at the 10:05 mark of the second quarter after getting up in the official's face.

3.  Emotions on full display 

The technical fouls just kept coming in the second quarter while both teams showed their frustration and emotions. 

Here’s the full list of techs that happened in the second quarter:

Trevor Ariza technical foul (1st technical foul)       

Trevor Ariza technical foul (2nd technical foul)  

Double technical foul: Carmelo Anthony and Royce O'Neale

Double technical foul: Donovan Mitchell and Gary Trent Jr. –handed out at the end of the first half

Jazz fans seemed to fuel the fire with their loud cheers, boos, and sporadic chants of ‘ref, you suck.’

Entering Friday's game, the Jazz had lost just five games at home all season. 

Up Next: The Trail Blazers host the Miami Heat Sunday night. Catch all the action between the Blazers and Heat at 6:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams App.

Check back throughout tonight and tomorrow for more articles and videos from the player!

WATCH Trevor Ariza goes after official, gets ejected vs. Utah Jazz

WATCH Trevor Ariza goes after official, gets ejected vs. Utah Jazz

Things are getting heated in snowy Salt Lake City.

The Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz are engaged in a fight for playoff positioning, and tempers are boiling over.

That became all too evident in the second quarter when Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza was ejected for arguing a no-call after he drove to the basket. 

Ariza went up for a jump shot with 10:05 left in the second quarter and appeared to be fouled. 

Referee JB DeRosa was right near the play but didn't blow the whistle. 

Infuriated by the no-call, Ariza turned around and yelled at DeRosa earning a technical foul in the process. But that wasn't enough. 

Ariza made a beeline for DeRosa, got right in the referee's face, and continued to voice his displeasure. 

The result was a second technical and an automatic ejection for the Blazers starting small forward. 

The Trail Blazers were forced to play another man down.

Prior to tipoff against the Jazz, the Blazers announced that starting center Hassan Whiteside would not be able to play due to a lower leg contusion. He joined Nassir Little, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Rodney Hood on the inactive list. 

In the closing seconds of the first quarter, backup guard Anfernee Simons left the game after appearing to hit his head on the court. He was helped to the locker room, and would not return.  

Portland started the game with nine players and by the end of the first half, had seven. 

The Trail Blazers lead 72-58 at halftime. 

The growth of Damian Lillard: From passing out of double teams to not passing on his family

The growth of Damian Lillard: From passing out of double teams to not passing on his family

Let’s take a little time to reflect.

Trail Blazers fans have been treated to absolute greatness while witnessing Damian Lillard’s current tear over the last couple of weeks.

Lillard has been putting a MVP-like numbers with ease and with no inclination of slowing down anytime soon.

The back-to-back winner of the Western Conference Player of the Week knew his team would begin to turn things around, because to put it simply -- they have been able to stick together.  

“I think things are just coming back in our favor,” Lillard said after Monday’s practice. “We had a lot of reasons and a lot of things come up that could’ve caused us to go our separate ways, put our heads down and pretty much fold, and we haven’t. And, I think still showing up to work, staying together, still having a good time in that process, is just coming back to us now.”

Portland is riding a four-game winning streak in which Lillard has averaging 48.8 points, 10.2 assists and 7.2 during that span.

It’s not just his scoring that has been impressive, which is crazy to think about. 

Lillard is averaging a double-double despite team’s putting even more emphasis on blitzing him. Teams are even throwing two defenders at him right as he crosses half court -- Blazers fans aren’t the only ones who know about the magic of Logo Lillard and his insanely deep threes.

It’s apparent that despite having so much defensive attention put on him, Lillard has been able to find his teammates with such ease recently.

But just because he makes it look effortless at times, don’t be fooled by that. 

It’s not easy at all. I think it’s just accepting it, and being aggressive against it. I think usually when you see two people come at you, or a team defending you aggressively, you’re kind of like on your heels and you’re trying to find a way out… When it’s coming at me, I start attacking. I put pressure on it to where they’ve got to actually stop me. If I see that I can get around one guy, I’m going to attack them and make the rest of the defense have to react and it’s going to expose who the open man is. Then it makes it easier to make that play, or get the ball out and sometimes I might be able to turn the corner and get around ‘em, and the other guys might be hugging somebody and I might be able to get to the rim, so I’ve just been trying to be as aggressive as they are with the ball trying to stop me. -- Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has been reiterating this very thing: Lillard’s passes have been a big part of Portland’s success. 

“I’ve said this multiple times, his passes when they give him more attention -- he’s been making good passes, and the guys have been taking advantage of it and making good reads after he passes it,” Stotts said.

Over his eight year career, Lillard has proved time and time again that he can carry his team into the playoffs. His mentality of never back down while always believing that his team has a chance in a game or has a chance to make the playoffs, has shined bright throughout the years.

Lillard has also said in the past he wants to go down as the best Trail Blazer in franchise history.

This current stretch he is on not only is helping him get closer to achieve that daunting feat, but at the moment, it’s truly showing that great players are never satisfied with their game.

Lillard explained Monday that he has grown as a player even from last year to this year.

“I have felt this locked in and I just think I’m better player than I was the last time that I was maybe this sharp, but it’s part of growth and the process, and how your career unfolds, I guess,” Lillard said. 

Greatness is unfolding right now.

It’s special.

And for the Trail Blazers team captain, he believes his growth as a player has been in big part to how he approaches his life away from the court.

I’ve been here mentally before and as far as preparation, I probably stepped that stuff up another level, because I’ve learned, I got another year under my belt. Mentors and people just kind of throwing things out there to me that I could use to improve. And, I just think I’ve come back this year a better player. So, it looks different when it’s happening this time.  – Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard

Taking his mind off basketball and spending more time with his family is what Lillard has pointed to as a key to his recent play.

Lillard discussed how he has been able to create a true on and off court balance this season.

“Obviously, this is a game that we love to play, but it’s a game, and there was a day before we played in this league, and there’s going to come a day where we don’t play in this league again. And, our family is always gonna be there,” Lillard said.  

Lillard continued, “When you come back to basketball, you’re able to function better and do things with a clearer mind and you just feel better about it.”

Coach Stotts used the phrase, ‘good control’ when discussing how Lillard has been able to elevate his play to a status that not only has Rip City chanting MVP, but CJ McCollum dancing to those Lillard MVP chants.

“He’s always been a confident player, but he looks like he has not only confidence, but a good control of what’s going on, on the court. And, he’s in a shooting groove, which kind of opens up things for not only him, but for other people,” Stotts said.

Those other teammates, who have benefited most from Lillard’s passing include: Hassan Whiteside, Trevor Ariza, and Nassir Little

Hello, lob city vs. the Jazz!

In true Lillard fashion, he gave credit to his teammates after Monday’s practice, giving props to the young guys improving, like Caleb Swanigan, Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons, and Little.  

“I think Trevor, and Biggie, and GT stepping up, Ant, Nas -- all those guys are improving in the middle of the season, learning on the job and I think all of those things, just coming together and we just hitting our stride, playing much better basketball,” Lillard said. 

Coach Stotts couldn’t agree more with his point guard.

“Obviously bringing Trevor in, Trevor has been part of this run as well, and Gary Trent’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s shooting the ball well. Caleb in his spot minutes has brought a lot of energy… I think… Nassir has come in, made some shots and given us good energy. Last game he got a couple of lob-dunks. I think they’ve kind of picked their spots to play well, and they mesh well with whatever starters are out there,” Stotts said.

Whether it’s a lob, a kick out to the three-point line, an attack the rim and then dish down low to a teammate, or any other type of pass Lillard can muster up, he’s been able to get the job done even with teams’ blitzing him.

So, what’s next?

Will teams throw three guys at him?

They might have to.

One thing doesn’t seem to be in question anymore: Lillard has turned a corner on being able to turn the corner and find the open man.

And, his teammates are delivering.

That, my friends, is something that was not happening against the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018 playoffs.

That has been some serious growth from Lillard. 

The night the world honored Kobe: One nobody could prepare for, but everyone could cherish

The night the world honored Kobe: One nobody could prepare for, but everyone could cherish

LOS ANGELES -- Wearing a #24 Kobe Bryant jersey, a young fan stood outside Staples Center next to one of the signs where fans were given a chance to write messages to the late Kobe Bryant. 

With a black sharpie in his hand and tears streaming down his face, he stood there.   

He couldn’t have been more than eight years old.

Through his tears, he yelled back towards his mom, “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write!”

In this heart wrenching moment, hours before tip-off of Friday night’s Lakers and Blazers game, it reminds us all how sometimes there are truly no words to describe what someone is going through. 

This young Kobe fan couldn’t have been old enough to see very many of Kobe’s final games in the NBA. Yet, clearly, Bryant had a huge impact on him. 

He wasn’t the only one who struggled to prepare for Friday.

The Lakers organization honored Kobe 30 minutes before tip-off and as the Blazers said, it was ‘phenomenal,’ and ‘great.’

But, it also meant Portland had to put its emotions behind them and go out and compete.

And that they did.

The Blazers beat the best team in the NBA, defeating the Lakers 127-119, behind another out of this world performance from Damian Lillard.

The entire day, though, felt out of this world.

Kobe’s tribute night will forever be a night that players, fans, coaches, and everyone in between will never forget.

It’s tough from an emotional standpoint, but he’s worthy, more than worthy. That type of love, that type of respect, and that type of honor that was given to him in the first game since it happened. It was only right. Compared to what his family has to deal with it, his closest friends have to do, us having to honor him in that way and then play a game is a small thing. -- Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard   

Lillard’s running mate CJ McCollum added 19 points and six rebounds in the win.

Despite how difficult it was, McCollum knew that they had to still do their job.

They had to be dialed in, to truly honor Kobe.

“It was very tough, very tough to go out there and play after that ceremony, but you’ve got to do your job, and make sure you don’t do a disservice to Kobe and his family and we honor him by going and playing hard, and I think we did that,” McCollum said.

“No, there’s no way to prepare for this. You just enjoy the moment, take some time to reflect, and then try to go play,” McCollum said.  

While, Lillard dubbed the tribute as Kobe being worthy of such an honor, McCollum said the ceremony was appropriate for a man that has done so much, and not just in the basketball community.

It was great, it was phenomenal, like LeBron says -- it was a celebration of a great person, a great man who has done a lot to change not only the basketball world, but the world in general. I thought it was appropriate for him and his family and all the ones that were lost -- Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum

Let's also discuss:  “Kobe... to Shaq!!”

That is a phrase that people have imprinted in the brains, especially in Rip City.

But, for Hassan Whiteside, there was a day when he pretended that he was Shaquille O’Neal and his teammate was Kobe.

That was just one memory that ran through Whiteside's mind during Friday’s tribute.

“I was trying to hold back tears,” Whiteside said.  “Just growing up with a Kobe poster, watching him play through all the years with Shaq. My teammate [was] Kobe, I [was] Shaq, just growing up.”

Whiteside continued, “It’s unreal. Some people you think is invincible, he’s definitely one of them. The world lost a superhero for sure.”

During Portland’s three game winning streak, Trevor Ariza has been a big contributor.

He spoke for the first time about Kobe since the fatal helicopter crash.  

It was very tough, very, very hard. We spent a lot of time together. We talked a lot, even after we weren’t teammates. He was a like a brother to me, just like a big brother… I don’t know what else to say. – Trail Blazers veteran Trevor Ariza

As Ariza tried to hold back tears in the locker room, next to him stood Anfernee Simons.

Simons was looking at the night through a different lens.

It was definitely a sad day, but it’s also a day we celebrate his legacy and his life. You’ve just got to look at it that way, and just go out there and play for him, go out there and compete, play hard, that’s the only thing he would want.  -- Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons said postgame

Those are some very wise words from the young man.

Emotions did, however, spill over into the game.

Or, at least there was some real frustration shown midway through the third quarter when Lillard was charged with a technical foul after arguing with the officials on what he believed should’ve been a foul called.

But, Blazers fans knew what that meant.

Lillard gets mad.

Lillard gets going.

The All-Star point guard scored 23 points and was 6-of-7 from three in the third quarter to bring his third quarter total to 42 points. He added three rebounds and three assists in the quarter. 

There’s a simple way of describing Lillard’s third quarter performance – just ask Anfernee Simons:

“Going bananas. When he gets in that mode there’s not much you can do.”

Lillard went bananas, alright. He finished with 48 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds.

“He’s been killing. He’s locked in, he’s efficient. He’s playing at an elite level,” McCollum said.

Simons added, “He’s been playing unbelievable, just doing it all. He just goes out there and doing what he does. It’s been fun watching him play like that.”

Lillard with the Mamba Mentality is the most fitting way to end the Kobe Day.

But, just because the big night is over, obviously, it doesn’t mean LA and the rest of the world won’t continue to honor the late Kobe Bryant.

Like Whiteside said, there could really be an infinite number of tributes for the legend that wore both #8 and #24.  

“They did a great job with the tribute, and they did the most they could in the time frame they could. We could do a lifelong tributes for Kobe,” Whiteside said.

As for that young Kobe fan, he will have a lifetime to think of his message to his idol, but right now there are still no words.  Just memories.

It was Kobe Bryant's night, but it wasn't a Laker who played like Kobe

It was Kobe Bryant's night, but it wasn't a Laker who played like Kobe

LOS ANGELES -- They showed up in the Staples Center, or watched on national television, to honor Kobe Bryant. The game Friday night was almost secondary. In fact, it was all about Kobe Bryant.

Except to the Portland Trail Blazers, who marched into downtown LA and stole a 127-119 win over the Lakers.

Suddenly hot Portland won its third straight game and fourth in its last five:

And once again, it was Damian Lillard doing the heavy lifting.

Lillard was already off to a big start in this game but in the third quarter, he felt he was fouled -- but nothing was called. He went ballistic on referee Matt Boland, He said later he wanted a technical foul but Boland waited for the Lakers to get off a three-point shot (which missed) before assessing it.

That really irritated Lillard.

“He waited and gave them a chance to score,” Lillard said. “You call it when it happens or you don’t call it at all.”

But that pushed Lillard’s hot button and he went on one of those rampages we’ve seen very often recently.

He threw down a ferocious dunk, knocked down a 30-foot pullup jumper, a 27-footer for a three, a free throw, fed Hassan Whiteside for a dunk, hit a 29-foot three, tipped in a miss, before finally missing a 20-footer.

But then he knocked down another three from 31 feet and fed Caleb Swanigan for a layup.

In the third quarter, he made six of his seven shots from distance, eight of 11 overall, scored 23 points and had three assists.

It was the very definition of taking over a game.

He finished the night with 48 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, sinking 17 of 30 shots. In the same game as LeBron James, he was the best player on the floor.

James scored 22 while Anthony Davis carried Los Angeles with 37 points.

But one of the key Portland players all night scored only two points. And that was Trevor Ariza, who had five steals, three assists, no turnovers and solid defense on James in 39:04.

“Scoring isn’t the only way to impact a game,” Ariza said. “We have unbelievable scorers on this team. For me, I learned early that in order to help your team win, you have to do other things. For me tonight, I had a huge matchup. I had to focus as much as I can and lock in as much as possible.”

Ariza’s contributions have not gone unnoticed by his teammates.

“Huge impact,” Lillard said. “At both ends of the floor. The understanding, the experience, defense, the activity, the veteran energy in the locker room has just been great.”

Whiteside, who missed just one of his 14 shots, had 12 rebounds, five blocks and scored 30 points, even added a fallaway, Kobe-esque jumper from the baseline with 52.3 seconds left to put the game away. And he mentioned Ariza immediately.

“Adding Trevor increased our defense, exponentially,” Whiteside said.

And this was a difficult night for Ariza, who won a championship with Bryant for the Lakers and was very close to him. Post-game Friday was the first time he has talked with the media about that relationship.

And all the pre-game festivities made it a difficult night.

“It was very tough,” Ariza said. “Very, very, very hard. We spent a lot of time together. Talked a lot, even after we weren’t teammates. And he was like a brother to me. Just like a big brother.”

The Blazers came into this game as 12-point underdogs and this was a game that seemed the Lakers’ destiny to win. The best tribute to Bryant, one of the game’s great winners, would have been a win over a team that brought a 21-27 record into the game, right? But Portland just didn’t let that happen.

And with all due respect, if anyone played like Kobe Bryant Friday night, he wasn’t wearing a Laker uniform.

He was that man on the other side named Damian Lillard.

With Ariza on board and Lillard on fire, the Blazers are playing their best basketball

With Ariza on board and Lillard on fire, the Blazers are playing their best basketball

There was a cautious optimism in the air on Wednesday at the Moda Center.

Damian Lillard continued his recent torrid pace and notched his first career triple-double, Trevor Ariza continued to his well-rounded contributions as a steadying presence in the starting lineup and the Trail Blazers dispatched the visiting Houston Rockets.

But after a rocky season derailed by injuries and littered with troubling losses, no one was truly ready to say this team is turning a corner.

“One game at a time,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said, mixing in a cliche with his own predictable brand of hyper-caution. “You know, look back (at the end of the season) and see where the corners are.”

However even Stotts would admit that the Blazers are playing better than earlier in the season, recognizing that his point guard is in the best scoring rhythm of his career and that the recent trade for Ariza has provided real help on the wing.

The Blazers have won three of their last four games, and for the first time all season have won consecutive games against teams with winning records. It’s not a surprise that the team wasn’t ready to say they’ve turned a corner or finally solved all their issues.

They've been burned by optimism before. But it’s also not a stretch to say that they have played their best basketball over the last week with Lillard playing at the highest level he’s ever reached and Ariza stabilizing an imbalanced roster. 

“We’re finding it,” Carmelo Anthony said. “I think we’re playing good basketball right now. I think Dame has it locked it in. He’s playing at a very high, high level right now and guys are just doing what they’re supposed to do. If that’s us playing our best basketball, then so be it.”

Over the last four games, Lillard is putting up video game numbers: 48.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists on 54 percent shooting from the floor and 56 percent from three-point range. He capped that with his first career triple-double 36 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in Wednesday's victory over Houston.

He’s been as lethal as he’s ever been as tries to push the Blazers back into the playoff picture. But even the Blazers point guard and resident relentless optimist admitted that he had thought the team was turning a corner earlier this season before they slipped back into a losing streak.

“I think the last time we had a good stretch of games that we won it was against all teams that weren’t in the playoffs,” Lillard said. “I was encouraged by it because I thought the style that we were playing could stand up against good teams but we just weren’t able to execute those things against good teams.”

Lillard was referencing a four-game winning streak in December when the Blazers beat Phoenix, Golden State, Orlando and Minnesota only to turn around lose five in a row and slip right back down in the standings. The difference in this stretch of games is not just that Lillard has transformed into a supernova, but that Ariza’s addition helps this roster make sense. His size, smarts and shooting on the perimeter are all obvious upgrades that team has been missing since Rodney Hood went down with a season-ending injury in early December.

“A lot of times you need that connective tissue to make things come together,” Anthony said. “Trevor was that. He’s been that his whole career. He’s that now, and a guy like that it’s easy for him to come and fit in anywhere because what he brings to the game you can’t teach. He just has it, and he’s had it since I’ve known him in high school. He’s still doing the same thing.”

In three games, Ariza is averaging 16.3 points per game and shooting 59 percent from the floor. He been tasked with the most difficult defensive assignments as the primary defender on MVP candidates Luka Doncic and James Harden, and while he hasn’t been otherworldly, he’s been solid enough to help in a spot where the Blazers desperately need it.

There are stiff tests on the horizon for the Blazers with games coming against the Lakers, Jazz and Nuggets, which is part of why no one in the Portland locker room sounded particularly triumphant about the team playing better. Their improvement is more necessity than luxury. But maybe when they team looks back and assesses where the corners were this season, they’ll see this stretch as a turning point.

“These last few games we’ve been consistent,” Lillard said. “And the way that we’re playing this is probably our best stretch of the year and it’s coming at the right time.”

"It's about time!" Damian Lillard grabs elusive 10th rebound for triple-double

"It's about time!" Damian Lillard grabs elusive 10th rebound for triple-double

“One more rebound, one more rebound!”

That chant was heard echoing from Trail Blazers fans in the 300 levels at Moda Center at the 2:48 mark of the fourth quarter Wednesday night.

Blazers fans were encouraging their All-Star point guard to complete something he had yet to accomplish: A triple-double.

He had yet to do until Wednesday night. 

Following the Blazers 125-112 victory over the Rockets, Carmelo Anthony strolled past Damian Lillard’s locker with a big smile on his face postgame while yelling, "DAME!!"

Portland not only handled Houston, but both Lillard and Anthony reached personal milestones.

Lillard notched his first career triple-double, while Anthony climbed to No. 16 on the all-time scoring list.    

That is not a typo.

Wednesday marked Lillard’s first triple-double in 594 games played.

He finished with 36 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds.

Fans and new teammates alike both shared their confusion that Lillard had never reached this milestone before.

Lillard felt the same.

It’s about time. It took eight years.

I think it’s been plenty of times where I could have just kind of hunted it – I’ve been two rebounds or one assist away, but it’s just something about I never wanted to go out there and just chase it. Just growing up, my dad would just always be on my case about playing the game the right way and letting it play out how it’s supposed to play out. So that’s kind of been my approach with the triple doubles and tonight, I was close but a lot of times where I was like—‘alright, tonight I can’t walk off the court stuck at nine with all this time. – Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard

The Blazers team captain snagged his ninth rebound with 4:38 remaining in the game.

But, it wasn’t until there was just 57.3 seconds left on the clock, when Lillard missed a tip shot to snag and offensive rebound to record that elusive 10th board.

And then the standing ovation occurred. 

That tip-in attempt had his teammates smiling after the game, though.

“I told him please go get the rebound, go get it,” Melo said with a big grin. “This time, tell me to get out of the way.”

CJ McCollum joked, “I didn’t even know. I was wondering why he jumped so high for that rebound.”

And, just like that it happened.

“Everybody was like, ‘Get one rebound, get one rebound.’ Lillard said. “So I was like, ‘Imma crash the offensive glass, get in position to defensive rebound’ and the last shot came off and I just jumped first and I got my hand on it and I tried to tip it in, boom.”

Boom, indeed.

Lillard has been within reach of this impressive feat 10 times in his career. He was either two rebounds or one assist shy of grasping that almighty accomplishment.

At the end of the third quarter Wednesday night, the triple-double watch started.

Lillard had 30 points, eight assists, and 7 rebounds through three quarters.

Wednesday’s achievement meant more to Lillard because it came in a win against a good team.

Not because it was against Russell Westbrook.

But man, isn’t that extremely storybook for Lillard to notch his first triple-double against Westbrook?

Yeah, it totally is; there’s no denying that.

“I was just playing the game. I was just making the plays that I saw, making the right passes and guys made shots,” Lillard said.

So what about it coming against Westbrook? Is there anything extra to it because of that?

 “I mean, not really,” Lillard said with an inexpressive face. “It was my first career triple double, it didn’t really matter who it was against. I’m just happy that it came in a win like you said, and just that it was a performance where it was needed. It wasn’t like we just came out here and blew a team out and I just benefited from it by just getting a stat line. I think it was a kind of team effort where it was a real game and it led to a win too.”

Lillard also set a new franchise record scoring 30+ points for the sixth straight game.

Plus, he really surprised his new teammates.

Trevor Ariza, who is already fitting in nicely after playing in just three games with the Blazers, was in disbelief that Lillard hadn’t recorded a triple-double before Wednesday night.

But, he was definitely happy for his new point guard.

“Yeah, I looked up and saw that he needed one rebound and it was exciting. I didn’t know it was his first one, I just thought it was another one he was going to rack up. It’s great, we had two historical nights, Melo moved up (on the scoring list), Dame got his first triple double, it’s exciting,” Ariza said.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts mentioned how he is still surprised that this was Lillard’s first triple-double as well.  

“I’m happy for him,” Stotts said. “He’s been playing great, I’m glad they gave him that last tip as a rebound. To be honest, I’m surprised he hasn’t had one before now. He plays an all-around game, but to get your first triple-double, on national TV against a really good team, it’s pretty cool.”

Not only is it storybook that this happened on a night against Westbrook, but it comes on the heels of Lillard earning Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging over 52 points per game.

“He’s been locked in, playing at an elite level, this is his best basketball he’s played in his career. We needed every basket, every assist, and every rebound,” McCollum said.

The Lillard takeover continues. 

Trevor Ariza, Trail Blazer bench combine with Lillard to throttle Houston

Trevor Ariza, Trail Blazer bench combine with Lillard to throttle Houston

Certainly it was Damian Lillard’s night. The red-hot Portland guard posted his first career triple-double topped by 36 points, but there was much more to the Trail Blazer story Wednesday night.

The oft-maligned Portland bench, led by Gary Trent and Nassir Little, chipped in 13 points in a 41-24 Trail Blazer blitz in the second quarter that turned the game around after an agonizing first five and a half minutes.

The Blazers needed more than two minutes to score their first points of the game and five and a half minutes to make their second field goal, but things got a whole lot better in that second period.

Trent, getting regular minutes in the rotation recently, went 2-2 from three-point range, had two assists and two steals in the quarter -- finishing a plus-16 in that period. Little was also plus-16 and made his only shot.

Lillard had nine in that quarter and Trevor Ariza got six, along with a team-best plus-17 for the quarter.

Ariza’s presence in the starting lineup has made a world of difference for Portland, with not only his added size but his basketball intelligence.

“Somebody like Trevor, who knows the game, you don’t have to tell him multiple times what to do,” said Carmelo Anthony, who moved into 17th place (passing Kevin Garnett) on the all-time NBA scoring list at the 9:14 mark of the second quarter. “He just knows how to play the game.

“He knows how to play off people. For the younger guys, seeing that stuff really helps. You can’t teach it. He just knows.”

Ariza, who made nine of his 13 shots, half of his six threes, and chased James Harden all over the court most of the game, finished with 21 points and more alert plays at both ends of the court than you could count.

He credited his teammates for his ease with fitting into the team’s suddenly very solid starting lineup.

“The players,” he said. “These guys have a very high IQ and are very talented and all I have to do is catch the ball and shoot it, or get the ball and put it in the basket, or rebound and make simple plays.”

Hassan Whiteside also played a big role in this one, as Coach Terry Stotts stayed with his big man even when Houston went to smaller lineups.

“I thought Dame did a nice job of finding him and he was able to finish around the basket,” Stotts said. “Those were some big plays that he made -- the finishes and the ‘and-ones.’ He did a nice job with that.”

Whiteside had 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots and a team-high plus-18. And it appeared Harden wanted no part of him at the basket.

“Yeah, that’s my job,” Whiteside said. “I feel like I’m the best at doing it. Just protecting that paint.”

Whiteside pointed to Ariza as a difference-maker.

“He’s the ultimate three-and-D guy,” Whiteside said. “He’s out there playing amazing defense -- doing a great job.”

And suddenly, Lillard is getting enough help to make this team competitive.

Harden finished with 18 points, going 5-18 from the field and 2-8 from long range.

The Trail Blazers meet the Lakers in Staples Center Friday night -- a game that probably no team in the league wanted to play. It's the Lakers' first home game since Kobe Bryant's death.

Back in starting role, Trevor Ariza is hungry to win

Back in starting role, Trevor Ariza is hungry to win

It’s a new beginning for forward Trevor Ariza and it showed Thursday night.

Ariza got the starting nod in his Trail Blazers debut with Portland hosting the Dallas Mavericks.

In his debut, Ariza got right to work, scoring a season-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting.

Following the game, he gave credit to being back in the starting role after coming off the bench in Sacramento.

“That’s what I’ve been used to,” Ariza said. “So, when I’m back in my natural habitat I just try to play the right way and hopefully things work out.”

But, even with his season-high to go along with seven rebounds, two assists, and two steals on the night, Aria was not pleased because his new team didn’t get the win as Dallas rolled to a 133-125 victory.  

“I’m more of a ‘I like to win guy’ rather than how I play. So, it means nothing, because we didn’t win,” Ariza said.

It didn’t take long for Ariza to get a shot that he liked from deep.

Yet, after missing his first three, Ariza hit his next four. The 34-year-old notched 15 points through the first two quarters. 
Ariza’s first attempt came at the 9:24 mark of the first quarter, but his 25-foot three-point jumper was long and clanked off the back iron. 

Ariza was the Blazers second leading scorer on the night.  

And even if he himself wasn’t going to say he was happy with his debut performance, his teammates and coaches were.

“I thought he was terrific. Obviously in the offense, he can make shots, I thought he gave great effort, he had a tough assignment, but I thought he is a welcomed addition. I think it’s pretty obvious he knows how to play and he’s going to help us,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame.

While Damian Lillard, who once again put the team on his back finishing with 47 points, spoke highly of Ariza fitting in nicely.  

I thought he played really well. He was flying around, he was active, he made shots, he was aggressive on the offensive end as well. For his first game, I thought he had a pretty good performance. – Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard on Trevor Ariza’s debut 

Ariza admitted he had a tough time with the offensive sets, but getting used to the vocabulary of the Blazers plays will take time.

“I felt pretty normal once I got on the court. I was a little confused about what we were doing, but once Coach Stotts talked to me, he told me -- go out and play, my teammates told me -- go out and play, so that’s what I was trying to do,” Ariza said.

“I’m trying to get use to hearing new calls for the same plays everybody else runs. I probably know about five plays right now,” Ariza added.

He may only know a handful of plays at the moment, but Ariza believes in this group despite Portland falling to 19-27 on the season.

“I think this is a talented group that is injured. That’s probably why they brought me in. They have a lot of injuries, but they’re pretty resilient. They’ve been fighting every game, playing hard every night, so hopefully playing hard -- and winning, we’ll figure it out,” Ariza said.

One thing is certain: Ariza and Lillard have mutual respect for one another.

The newest Trail Blazers had nothing but praise for his point guard.

When you’re playing against him it’s like ‘this little dude is hitting everything.’ Playing with him, since it’s my first time getting a chance to be teammates with him on the court it’s like, ‘damn, he’s really hitting everything.’ That’s what he does. When you need a bucket, you’ve got a bunch of them around here.” – Trevor Ariza on Damian Lillard  

Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the losing effort, gave props to his fellow veteran.

“Anytime you get traded to a new team, a new situation, you rely on your skill, your talent, but also, in his case -- his experience, just playing basketball. Playing against Portland for so long, just trying to find his way, his experience got him through. And the way that he played, he played hard and that’s his game, that’s who he is,” Melo said.

Now, hopefully Ariza can turn "liking to win" into actually winning with the Trail Blazers, which is exactly what this team needs.