Prior to the NBA hitting pause on the season due to COVID-19 concerns, the Portland Trailblazers’ season looked poised for an early ending. They were 9th in the West when play was halted, 3.5 games behind the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Portland fans didn’t expect these trying times, not after the team made it to last year’s Western Conference Finals. But the season has been a disaster, and the Blazers can use this respite to do some early soul-searching. The Negatives When the Blazers break down their season, they can start by looking at the following: Injuries The Blazers have been ravaged by injuries. Fox Sports lists all the injured Blazers who missed games this season, including Jusuf Nurkić, Zach Collins, CJ McCollum, Hassan Whiteside Rodney Hood, and Damian Lillard, whom we ranked as the second best point guard in the NBA. These injuries have prevented Coach Stotts from rolling out a full-strength lineup. Worse, Lillard missed 5 games in February, just as the team were starting to find a rhythm. Horrible Start The Blazers’ 8-12 start was a bad omen, and the team couldn’t quite reverse their fortunes thereafter. That bad start was, in part, due to injuries to Collins and Nurkić, which left the Blazers with a thin frontcourt to begin the season. Had Portland weathered that early season storm, chances are they’d be closer to the postseason today. A Regressing Offense and Leaky Defense Portland, in recent years, have had an elite offense, thanks to the dynamic scoring of Lillard and McCollum, and Coach Stotts’ beautiful motion offense. But that vaunted offense has regressed this season, from 114.7 last year to 113.6 this year. This development has been exacerbated by the Blazers’ still leaky defense (115.2 points per game surrendered, 26th in the NBA). Before, the team’s prolific offense could compensate for their less-than-stout defense. That isn’t happening anymore, so the Blazers are now losing more often. Not All Negative Things aren’t all bad for the Blazers. There are actually reasons to be optimistic moving forward: Dame Is Game Lillard is the Blazers’ unquestioned leader, and he is getting better. He was chosen for his 5th All-Star Game, with LeBron James drafting him to Team LeBron. Bwin notes that LeBron’s team were heavy on experience, which indicates James’ preference for vets like Lillard. Dame was among this season’s best All-Star Game veterans, along with James, Chris Paul, and James Harden. Unfortunately, Lillard missed last February’s game of stars after suffering a groin injury days before the showcase (resulting to Portland going 1-4 in that stretch). But Lillard has proven himself to be a franchise player, and the Blazers are in good hands. So Melo Another encouraging sign has been the strong play of Carmelo Anthony, himself a many-time All-Star. Melo has rewarded Portland’s faith in him, giving the team a reliable third option behind Lillard and McCollum. Importantly, he is working hard on the other end. He is no longer as big a liability on defense as he was when he played in Oklahoma City and Houston. With a full training camp, Melo might be even better next season. Decisions, Decisions The Blazers will have to make some hard choices this offseason. Mainly, they’ll have to decide whether they’ll ride out their lethal but undersized Lillard-McCollum backcourt or break it up (by trading McCollum, most likely). They’ll have to choose between Whiteside and Nurkić, too, as it would be near-impossible to keep both given the salary cap restrictions. All told, the Blazers are in good position to bounce back next season. They are too good of a team not to figure things out, especially with a full training camp. Just give these Blazers time. They’ll blaze a trail back to the postseason. Credit: Ethan Farrell
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers (now 29-37, 9th in West) hosted the Phoenix Suns (26-39, 13th West) at the Moda Center in Portland Tuesday night. The Trail Blazers came in cold, losing five out of their last seven games. This includes losses in winnable games against the Hawks, Suns, and Kings in an eight day span. The Suns, while out of playoff contention, picked up a pair of big wins against the Blazers and Bucks prior to tonight’s game. They scored 127 and 140, respectively, in each of those games. Starting Lineups Portland, coached by Terry Stotts: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Trevor Ariza, Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Whiteside Phoenix, coached by Monty Williams: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Aron Baynes, Dario Saric Full Recap First Quarter The game started off with some crisp offensive play on both ends. Dario Saric was finding his rhythm, with 7 points in the first five and a half minutes. After the first timeout, Lillard really got the offense flowing for Portland. Melo, and Ariza were firing cleanly off of Dame’s dimes, and Monty Williams spared another timeout in little time. Portland should have built a significant lead late in the first, but kept giving up basic mistakes. This included allowing an Aron Baynes tip-in off an inbound pass with 0.1 seconds on the shot clock. Still, the Blazers took a 36-28 lead into the second quarter. Second Quarter The Blazers kept looking to pull away, but Rubio’s shooting kept the lead within single digits. Booker’s stepback and-one cut the lead to three before he went to the line again on the next possession. A few minutes later and he was giving Phoenix the lead on a free throw line-jumper. Melo went scoreless in the second after scorching the nets for 12 points in the first. Ariza and CJ both had 11 at the half A back-and-forth quarter ended with Portland in front by one, 54-53. Third Quarter The Suns started the second half with a quick flurry of scoring, but the Blazers bested them 71-66 with seven left in the third. Hassan Whiteside received a technical foul for flexing after a tough putback. Meh. The highlights of a classic win were in the making: Dame ended a Suns 7-0 run with a signature stepback three, Mario Hezonja hit an impressive falling three, and there was tough defense on display. Portland also showed some exceptional (and encouraging) ball movement in the third, rewarding themselves with an 82-78 advantage. It was clear Phoenix wouldn’t go away quietly, though. Fourth Quarter Hezonja scored on Rubio in the Euro post to start the quarter for the Blazers, and Whiteside followed it up with a bizarre and-one attempt that ignited the home crowd. My youth basketball coach would have applauded the AGGRESSIVE REBOUNDING on display in the fourth quarter. I think he would have likened my game to Mario Hezonja’s, too, especially with the banked three. Logo Lillard re-emerged halfway through the final quarter, but Booker and the Suns pestered on. It took another Ariza corner three to boost Portland to a 106-94 lead with 5 minutes remaining. Trevor Ariza really stepped up, too. His corner threes were invaluable to getting Dame space in the middle of the floor on offense. With the Blazers up 15 and 2 minutes to go, Lillard ended the game in a way only he can. If you have this one on your DVR, it’s worth a watch. The players were having fun in a mostly-competitive win. Fun! Basketball! Yeah! 121-105 Portland! Final Thoughts First off, this looked like a wonderful game to attend. I heard tickets were cheap, too, so I would have been thrilled to adorn a seat in the 300s tonight. Phoenix looks like a team that could make some noise in the West next season. They have almost all their key players returning and will hopefully get a full season of Deandre Ayton. The Blazers got a boost from Orlando tonight, who defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in Tennessee by a score of 120-115. Here’s a live look at the NBA standings: Clearly, though, there is much more work to be done if Portland want to make the playoffs. Hot take of the night: there were long stretches of this game in which the Blazers looked like playoff contenders. If only stretches were complete games.
- Portland Trail BlazersPostgame reports
Last night in Phoenix the Portland Trail Blazers did not attempt to guard the three point line and it led to a career high from Aron Baynes in points (37) and three pointers made (9). It was one of the worst defensive efforts from the Blazers in a season full of bad defensive efforts. The Blazers have had a hard time guarding the three point line this year and there have been multiple practices dedicated to the team closing out and rotating toward open shooters. Hell, during practice the Blazers are the team they want to work this out against. Granted, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard can’t really guard themselves, but the rotations and fundamentals are going to be the same. Teams are playing the Blazers like chumps on the three point line this year. Hassan Whiteside is doing a great job of playing the paint this year, he leads the league in blocks and has the second most 20 rebounds games on the year. If the Blazers are playing a team with a stretch five (like Baynes) then he becomes a huge defensively liability (like the other four guys on the court). Whiteside does not like to leave the painted area. I get it, if I was 7’1″ and the best shot blocker in the league it’s what I’d do. I’d hang back and wait for dudes to come and try that soft stuff on me. But his hesitance to close out prevents the Blazers from covering those stretch players and messes up the switches. It’s not like Jusuf Nurkic can do this either. He’s not fleet foot enough, but he will challenge up high. Fast forward to tonight against the Sacramento Kings and you look at a guy like Bogdan Bogdanovic and he’s a guy who isn’t going to move around a whole lot and you don’t have to chase him. He’s going to find his spots and take his shots from where he is comfortable (which is everywhere) so Lillard or McCollum need to stay up on him. Tonight, they didn’t. He had six three pointers through three quarters and Buddy Hield made six more in Bogi’s stead. Harrison Barnes also had five threes. If it wasn’t for Mario Hezonja and Gary Trent Jr. there would be three guys on the Kings who made more threes than the entire Blazers team. The most fight the Blazers showed all night was when Cj tried to fight Alex Len for some reason. The Blazers are now 4.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot and a game behind the Sacramento Kings. Tuesday night the Phoenix Suns return to Portland for the final time this year. Maybe Baynes will go for 50.
The Blazers are back on the road for the final 19 games of the season and tonight they got good news as Jusuf Nurkic will be returning to the lineup against the Rockets next weekend. The Phoenix Suns have been a bit of a thorn in the Blazers’ side this year. The coward, Kelly Oubre Jr., will not be in the lineup tonight to get his comeuppance for the trash that he pulled in Portland a couple months ago. The Suns got off to a hot start with Aron Baynes and Devin Booker hit threes to open the game and the Blazers are not even attempting to guard the three point line to start this game. This all the while the Blazers made only a couple more shots than Baynes made threes in the first. Hell, the Blazers scored three less points than Baynes did in the whole quarter. Carmelo Anthony was ice cold, Damian Lillard had some really bad misses. The only real source of light in the quarter came from CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside. As we enter the 2nd period the Suns are knocking down more threes, the Blazers are missing layups, and the Suns are quickly up to a 23 point lead in the quarter. The Blazers look flat. There are no defensive rotations, no movement on the offensive end and looking like they were thinking about the Sacramento Kings tomorrow night for some reason. I mean, who thinks about the Sacramento Kings? Whiteside then blocked three shots, Phoenix went cold, Melo knocked down a three and two mid-range jumps, CJ hits a three, Suns continue to struggle and Blazers knock down more shots and soon it’s a 20-0! The Blazers have cut the lead down to three and a big portion of that was Whiteside commanding the paint. He had four blocks in the quarter, got some big rebounds, and led the Blazers to some nice outlets. The Suns recovered and closed the quarter on a 9-4 run to take an eight point lead going into halftime. A much better quarter from the Blazers. They didn’t close strong, but they at least made this a manageable game heading into the second half. The Suns then open the third on a 23-8 run and open the lead back to 25 points. Anything the Blazers learned in the second quarter went away at halftime. They came back out flat, let the Suns shoot wide open threes, get rebounds, and basically do anything they want. Gary Trent Jr. brought some life into the Blazers after Carmelo Anthony hurt his hand in the middle of the quarter. He forced two jump balls and had two big steals that led to some big baskets. The Blazers ended the third on a 17-5 run all thanks to Trent. The Blazers only trailed by 13 at the end of the third. It could have been less if they didn’t let Ricky Rubio have a wide open shot at the end of the fourth. Baynes hits a three to open the fourth and Jevon Carter hits another to push the lead back to 19. Blazers have been sloppy to start the fourth. They had a great chance to make a big run and cut the lead further, but have fallen right off the map again. They just can’t keep any momentum going more than a few minutes at a time. Damian Lillard then led the Blazers on an 18-5 run to cut the Suns lead down to 10, but more threes by Aron Baynes led to the Suns icing this game down the stretch. CJ had 25 points and some piss poor defense, Lillard had 24, and Whiteside had 23 points, 20 rebounds, and five blocks. The Blazers hop on a flight to take on the Sacramento Kings tomorrow night in Portland.
- Portland Trail BlazersPostgame reports
The Portland Trail Blazers finally get Damian Lillard back in the lineup. Lillard had missed the last six games with a groin injury. I know Dame is a competitor, but it might have been best if they had let him sit out for the rest of the year. The playoffs are in sight, but they are way out on the horizon. CJ McCollum did a good job running point in Dame’s absence, but he’s no Damian Lillard and I’m starting to think he’s probably best if he’s not on the team after this season. I think Gary Trent Jr. is the answer at the two-guard going forward. The scoring isn’t there (yet), but the defensive effort is. The first quarter started off quickly. Carmelo Anthony had a quick 10 points and Trevor Ariza was aggressive getting seven points. The Blazers offense flows so much better with Damian Lillard out there. The problem is that the Blazers are god awful on switches and closeouts on the three. Outside the injuries, this is the biggest reason that the Blazers are below .500 this season. They are one of the worst teams at guarding the three pointer in the league and there has been an effort from Terry Stotts to fix this. There have been multiple practices to adjust this. The Blazers play the type of offense that would allow for a lot of this to be practiced day in and day out. And yet… they are god awful at this. The offense has not been awful tonight. The Blazers put up 37 points in the first quarter and take a seven point lead into the second. This is the best I’ve seen Melo start a game since late November. McCollum also had a good quarter and Ariza filled up the passing lanes and had two steals while deflecting a couple other balls. Hassan Whiteside also had three blocks. The lead would have been much bigger if they defended the three at all or rebounded. The Blazers bench and CJ start the second quarter and the lead begins to start shrinking. Caleb Swanigan did take a charge and Anfernee Simons did knock down a couple bigs shots, including a three, but the lack of quality depth for the Blazers has been such a huge letdown for the team. Stotts calls in Lillard to try and get things on the right track again, but the Wizards get a three from Bradley Beal and Troy Brown to cut the Blazers lead down to four. Beal has not had a guy on him all game. He’s going to have another 50 point game tonight. He can’t miss a shot so far tonight. The Blazers put up 72 points in the first half and it was a quiet 72. I kept looking at the score and thought it was wrong the entire half. It felt like they were losing most of the half and I don’t know why. Four of the five starters have scored in double figures, Carmelo has 20 and looks like his 2008 version. I had to step out for most of the third quarter as a rogue, dead black widow “attacked” my wife and that led to some broken light bulbs and a trip to the store. It looks like the Blazers played some defense or the Wizards couldn’t make a shot in the third quarter. The Wizards start off the fourth quarter on a 14-4 run and cut the Blazers lead down 104-93 with a touch over seven and a half minutes left to play. Isaac Bonga and Davis Bertans had a couple of big shots. The bench once again not being able to do anything to help the starters get some rest or put the game away. The Blazers bench has 11 of the Blazers 108 points through 3.5 quarters. This is the third reason behind injuries and poor three point defense that the Blazers are below .500 this season. Carmelo Anthony hit a three to push the lead back up to 19 points with four and a half left and that proved to be the dagger. Carmelo had 25, Whiteside had 24 points, 16 boards, and 4 blocks, Dame and CJ each had 22, and Trevor Ariza had 15 points and three steals. The Blazers head back on the road for a quick trip to Phoenix on Friday before they return home on Saturday.
The Portland Trail Blazers visited the Orlando Magic tonight as they end their road trip through the South. Two nights ago I had the displeasure of witnessing Portland’s mediocrity firsthand in Atlanta. Quick recap: State Farm Arena is incredibly awesome and I would highly recommend going to a game there, even if the Hawks suck. Tonight’s matchup pits two teams with surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, depending on how optimistic you were at the start of the season) similar records. Orlando put together a quick three-game winning streak before falling to the Spurs by one point on Saturday, while the Blazers enter tonight 1-4 since the All-Star break and 7-point underdogs. Portland played maybe their last game without Damian Lillard, who will reportedly return on Wednesday to face the Washington Wizards. Lineups Portland, coached by Terry Stotts: CJ McCollum, Gary Trent Jr., Trevor Ariza, Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Whiteside Orlando, coached by Steve Clifford: Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, James Ennis III, Gary Clark, Nikola Vucevic Game Recap First Quarter The Blazers jumped out to a 7-0 lead before Nikola Vucevic scored 8 straight points in 3 possessions. CJ McCollum completed a 4-point play with 5:50 left in the 1st to make the score 16-15 Orlando. He chalked up another 3 on the next possession and finished the opening quarter 4-5 from behind the arc and with 17 points. Portland went on a 13-0 run to take a 33-24 lead with 1:09 left in the first. They finished with a 35-28 lead at its end. Second Quarter Jefferson High graduate Terrence Ross took over mid-second quarter with 11 points, but a 9-2 Blazers run kept an 8-point cushion at the 5:42 break. Both teams battled back and forth, but Portland’s offense was soaring. The Blazers finished with 69 points on 55% shooting in the first half. More importantly, Portland had an 11-point lead to take with them into the half. Third Quarter Trevor Ariza collided with Vucevic and spent a few seconds on the ground. Vucevic held his shoulder in pain, but both stayed in the game. Other highlights in the third quarter included an impressive mustache sighting from a traveling Blazers fan, some crafty scoring from Melo with an up-and-under move, and a soft technical foul on Whiteside after a strong one-handed put-back. Orlando ever-so-slowly chipped away at Portland’s lead, cutting it to 2 points before CJ’s smooth crossover 3. The Blazers were still winning, but self-inflicted errors and Ross kept the Magic within striking distance. CJ was called for a charge during a Eurostep, and was about to pick up a tech for arguing before Mario Hezonja stepped in and snagged one of his own. Portland took a 92-88 lead going into the final quarter, one expected to be blown based on recent form. Fourth Quarter Gary Trent came out hot to start the fourth, with 5 points in 2 possessions. Portland passed the 100-point mark with over 9 minutes to go. Moments later, Mo Bamba’s aggressive putback dunk registered a push from Hezonja. A double technical was called, but Mario was consipicuously not removed from the game. Apparently the tech was changed to CJ, even though it was originally given to Mario. Trent extended Portland’s lead to 103-94 with 8 minutes left and hit another big shot to make the lead 13 with just under 6 to go. His continued improvement has offered some much-needed good news for Portland this season. But the unquestioned story of the night was CJ. He did it in every way—41 points, 14-24 FGs, 6-12 3pt, 7-7 FTs, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Final score: 130-107 Final Thoughts We finally saw a decent defensive performance from the Blazers tonight, although the Magic don’t exactly shoot the lights out. Even so, it was a shorthanded win on the road against a playoff team, and it will hopefully give the Blazers some confidence with an extremely important week coming up. Next up: 7pm PT Wednesday against the Wizards in the Moda Center.
- GeneralNBAPortland Trail BlazersPostgame reports
The Portland Trail Blazers (26-34, 9th in West) fell to the Indiana Pacers (35-24, 6th in East) on Thursday night in Indianapolis.