Tonight Brad Stevens leads the Boston Celtics and their fourth-best record in the NBA into Portland to take on the most injured team in the history of the world. You don’t believe me? You should believe me. I know. Don’t bother to look it up. Kemba Walker is out for the Celtics tonight and so is Damian Lillard. If the Blazers lose tonight I’ll be three for three on my predictions so far for the rest of the season. I expected Dame to be back by now, but it’s the Blazers in 2020. Portland start the game off with dunks by Trevor Ariza and Gary Trent Jr. CJ McCollum knocks down a three and the Blazers are up a quick 7-0. A three by Carmelo Anthony keeps the Blazers up 7, 10-3 after Jaylen Brown knocks one down. I’m really liking how the Blazers are playing to start the first five minutes of the game. Lots of good cuts for easy baskets and some good high picks to open up threes. Anthony is also doing a solid job defending Jayson Tatum to start the game. Take that for what you will on Carmelo playing defense to start the game. Especially, on Boston’s best player. The Blazers then put Ariza on Tatum, a few minutes later the Celtics have a lead, and the Blazers have five quick turnovers. This has been a problem all season for this team. They can’t get out of their own way sometimes. Even when they were healthier they’d have a series of turnovers and just kill their hot shooting. It’s been maddening to watch this season. Marcus Smart has hit his last three threes and Boston is starting to pull away. It took 11 minutes for a free throw to be shot in this game. The Celtics shot 7-11 from three and somehow only lead by four points, 28-24, after the first quarter. The energy for the Blazers was there in the first quarter. So were the turnovers. Stotts also let some starters play long minutes. Hassan Whiteside played the entire first quarter, CJ and Trevor played 11 minutes. The Blazers bench has been dreadful this season, but they’ve had mostly G-League guys coming off it this year. The Celtics bench is scoring the Blazers bench to start the second quarter. Without CJ the Celtics ran their lead up to ten behind their hot three-point shooting tonight. It’s one of those nights where the Blazers aren’t doing themselves any favors in closeouts. Lots of open threes. CJ and Melo continue to be hot from three and that’s one of the few reasons the Blazers are not down by 20 at this point. Boston also has nine turnovers so far at this point and the Blazers have been able to run off those and get some easy baskets. The Blazers are slow on rotations and going under screens and letting the Celtics get wide open three-point attempts. Portland was able to get the lead down to three points, but two Jaylen Brown threes and a dunk by Tatum get the Celtics back up to ten points. Blazers are competing, but they don’t have the horses to run with the Celtics. Somehow despite the hot shooting by the Celtics the Blazers are only down 56-48 at the half. Three-point shooting and turnovers have been the story of the first half tonight. There have been a combined 19 turnovers and 17 threes. Blazers have kept things close with fast-break points off turnovers, but they can’t let this turn into a track meet. We open the third quarter in the middle of a three-point shootout. Tatum knocked down a couple, Trent hit one, Hassan Whiteside hit one and we’re off and running here in the quarter. They are also attacking the basket. Marcus Smart is driving through the Blazers defense, he screens both the ballhandler’s man and Whiteside, then Daniel Theis flashes to the hoop for an easy dunk. There are points when Theis will force Whiteside out of bounds. It’s very streetball of him. It’s a solid move. The Celtics have pushed the lead to 17. The Blazers bench has once again done pretty much nothing. Anfernee Simons has five points off the bench. Boston’s bench has only has ten points, but again this has been a story for the entire year. There is zero production from the bench and it puts such a burden on the starters to be perfect. Jayson Tatum starts out the fourth quarter showing off how much of a leap he has made this year. He has a step-back three, a pull up three, a spot-up three and a fall-away three. He helps push the Celtics lead up to 19 and that might be about it. CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside will not let the Blazers go away quietly. They nickel and dime the lead down to 11. Marcus Smart then connected with a three to push the lead back up to 14 and the Blazers had a hard time getting much closer than that. Tatum hit his eighth three of the night (a career high) to push the lead back to 17 and that was the dagger of the evening. CJ had 28, Whiteside with 18, Ariza with 17, Melo with 14, and Simons had 9 off the bench. The Blazers head off on the road to take on the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night at 5:00 PM.
In the third week of XFL action, we saw the Seattle Dragons take on the Dallas Renegades, at Century Link Field. The Renegades, backed by a strong second half, were able to beat out the Dragons 24-12 in the end. There were glimpses of solid offensive play by the Dragons today in the passing game. However, they showed us why they are not a top tier offense yet in the league. The defense, led by captain Steven Johnson, played well in Saturday’s loss. Unfortunately, multiple three and outs made it so the defense could not recover in between possessions; this caused the defense to have to be out on the field longer, making them more vulnerable for defensive breakdowns. These components were the contributing factors to why the Dragons were not able to come out on top. To start the game, the offense came out firing on all cylinders. Between the balanced offensive approach and constant motioning of players coach Jim Zorn has implemented, the Renegades were scrambling to slow down the Dragons offense. Quarterback Brandon Silvers looked to have settled in after a rocky start in last week’s game against the Vipers. In the post-game press conference, Silvers contributed his success this week to be able to “Practice again, some of the plays last week were the first time I ran the plays. So, I was more comfortable out there today.” Silvers was able to throw a 21-yard touchdown to WR Austin Proehl to kick off the game. This fast start is what the Dragons wanted, and it carried into the second quarter when Silvers was able to find RB Kenneth Farrow on a 19-yard touchdown pass to put the Dragons up 12-6. However, this would be the end of the offensive scoring for the Dragons on the day. Silvers finished the day 21-34, with 204 yards passing and two touchdowns. The running game was strong again in today’s game. The dynamic trio in Gardner, Williams, and Farrow was able to rush for 84-yards combined. Tack on the 15-yards that Silvers picked up on the ground, the rushing attack finished with 99-total yards. The Renegades were able to hold the Dragons scoreless in the second half. In the post-game press conference, Coach Bob Stoops talked about how his players were able to execute better in crucial situations. “If the guys are not executing all of it well, just stick to some things that they are comfortable with and that they execute well, and we did more of that in the second half.” He noted that as far as second-half adjustments go, he does not believe in them. Instead, he simplified what they were running on defense and let his players go out on the field and make plays. The changes to the defensive play-calling helped hold the Dragons to just 95-yards of offense in the entire second half. When it comes to the Dragons defense, they are a unit that has come together in the past three weeks. The undisputed captain of that defense is linebacker Steven Johnson. Not only is he the XFL leader in tackles, but he was also the key component on both of the Dragons’ interceptions on the day. On the first INT, Johnson was able to get a hand on the quarterback, Landry Jones’s pass. The ball was tipped into the air and caught by safety, Godwin Igwebuike. The second pick was a rushed pass, caused by Johnson as well. Channing Stribling was able to “high point” the football and come down with the second INT of the day. The downfall for the defense was that they were stranded out on the field for most of the second half. As I mentioned, the offense had multiple three and outs causing the defense to become fatigued—setting them up to have multiple defensive breakdowns. Coach Zorn added by saying, “We called our defense well. What we are going to do when we see the video is to find somebody losing contain.” Dallas was able to gash the Dragons on multiple occasions because of the perimeter defender losing contain. Former NFL quarterback, Landry Jones, was also able to establish a rhythm in the second half. After two interceptions in the first half, he settled in and was able to bring the Renegades back from behind. With the help of establishing the running game, Seattle had to step up and play the run, which gives a veteran quarterback like Jones clearer throwing lanes because of the vacated areas opened up by blitzing linebackers. Jones finished the day, 30-41 with 274-yards passing and three touchdowns. Looking forward to the future, I believe we will see a better Dragons team. Again, all of the factors that contributed to the loss are things that can be coached up and refined. The biggest thing is that even in a loss, there are significant signs of improvement. Every week this team has grown, and it is only a matter of time before they put it all together. Next week, the Dragons travel to St. Louis to take on the Battlehawks who are coming off a 29-9 win against the New York Guardians.
The All-Star break is over! Hooray! I don’t care if this makes me a misanthrope: I absolutely hate the All-Star break. It’s a popularity contest and unless a Blazer is in one of the events, I’m not gonna watch it. If something cool happens, I’ll see it later on Twitter. It also always falls on my birthday weekend, so I always have other stuff going on. Thank you for attending my TED talk. The Blazers are BACK, baby! This is the time of year where Terry Stotts turns up the heat. We’re without Dame for a bit, and we still won’t have Nurk for a while, and Rodney’s still done for the year, and Zach is out, and we’re six games under .500 but…….Basketball! Entering tonight, the Blazers are 25-31, good for 9th in the Western Conference and 3.5 games back from the Memphis Grizzlies, who beat the Blazers before the break but lost a close one to Sacramento last night. The Spurs are a game back of us and the Pelicans half a game back of them, so this one’s really important. The Blazers have a much easier schedule the rest of the way, though, especially when compared to Memphis. The Pelicans are the ones we have to really worry about, though, as Kevin pointed out in his prescient article earlier this week. FiveThirtyEight.com agrees, giving the Pels a 63% chance to make the playoffs, with the Blazers at 22%, Grizz at 9%, and Spurs at 4%. Injury Report Portland: Damian Lillard, Rodney Hood, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Mario Hezonja are all out. New Orleans: Darius Miller and Kenrich Williams are out. Starting Lineups Portland: CJ McCollum, Gary Trent Jr., Trevor Ariza, Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Whiteside New Orleans: Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Derrick Favors First Quarter Well, the Jazz just lost at home to the Spurs, so the importance of this one has just been amplified. ESPN’s broadcast began with one shot of Portland and about 25 mentions of some dude named Zion. He’s had a great 10-game start, and you can tell the national media is begging for another big game. Off the tip, Holiday controlled and gave the ball to Zion, who gave it right back for an easy open three. Yuck. Zion will be guarded by Whiteside, and Williamson bodied him for a hefty lay-up on the third possession. Both teams combined to start 7-for-9 from the field. With a whole lot of Duke production on the court, Gary Trent was the one who hit a smooth three and followed it with a high-arcing floater. Neat. Melo started checking Zion, and that started working. Then Whiteside was back on him out of the timeout. Go figure. Zion still finished the quarter 4/4 with 10 points. I hate playing the Pelicans. They play so fast (T-3rd in pace). Zion got his dunk and Ariza committed an inbounds violation by flicking the ball to CJ with his foot. Still only a single-digit deficit, though. Portland ended the quarter with Trent, Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan on the court. They didn’t play exceptionally well or poorly, I just felt like that was a noteworthy moment in time. Pels 40, Blazers 35. Second Quarter Less than a minute into the quarter, referee Mitchell Irvin orchestrated what Mike Breen called “One of the worst drink spills in NBA history.” Once it was cleaned up, Whiteside rattled the rim between two defenders. I love Ant’s energy and I want him to succeed but the accuracy just isn’t there yet. Portland stayed within around 10 for a while, but it was clear that even that wasn’t sustainable. New Orleans were attacking clinically and relentlessly. After the Pelicans’ second rebound in a row off one of their own missed free throws, Zion put them up 15. This game feels an awful lot like the last one. The scoreboard says Portland’s still in it, but Whiteside’s 4 fouls and Dame’s strained groin say otherwise. If I have to hear this Cricket commercial one more time I think I’m gonna lose it. This quarter has gone on way too long. Pels 73, Zers 63. How it’s that close is beyond me. Here’s a much clearer explanation for my displeasure with this game: Third Quarter The Lonzo-to-Zion connection is one we might be seeing in countless highlight posts and nightmares down the stretch this season. There’s that run I was hoping for…nice little 7-0 burst led by Melo brings us within 5! You know what? Josh Hart is a good shooter. So is Redick. Holiday and Ball are good facilitators. Why isn’t this team better? Yeah, they were missing Zion for a while, but they should still be winning a little more than this. Stotts angrily called timeout at the 2:47 mark—the Blazers were on the verge of a run, but the Pelicans turned it on from deep. As I type this, they are 55.4% from the field and 65% (13/20) from behind the arc. That actually gives me a strange sense of hope, because I don’t feel like they can keep that up for the rest of the game…right? Welp, the Blazers just fumbled the ball out of bounds for absolutely no reason and let Nicolo Melli score 4 points in the paint. The deficit is 16. Aaaaaaaaaand Hart just hit a buzzer-beater to end the quarter. Make it 19 points. 102-83. Fourth Quarter Stotts calling a timeout less than 2 minutes into the quarter tells you everything you need to know. Whiteside lost a jump ball to Holiday but the Blazers still got the crowd back into it with a couple hustle plays. Then Whiteside had two blocks in two seconds, but Holiday still scored. The Blazers have resorted to leaving guys wide open on the perimeter. The deficit was 12 with just under 6 minutes left when CJ hit a wild shot from the corner…and, of course, Holiday hit an equally absurd one of his own from the wing. The rest of the game slowly churned itself out, relying on tidbits from Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson for entertainment. The final score was Blazers 115, Pelicans 128. Takeaways This was a soul-suckingly bad defensive showing. One hundred twenty-eight is a large number. I don’t even want to look at the box score. It’s gonna make me sick. The Blazers had a lot of excuses to lose this one. That doesn’t mean they needed to lose it, though. If they miss the playoffs, point to these All-Star bookends to see why. I told you I hated the All-Star jazz.
As we kicked off the second week of XFL action, we saw the Seattle Dragons take on the Tampa Bay Vipers. It was a hard-fought game between the two teams, but in the end the Seattle Dragons came out on top 17-9. Seattle was able to win the game this weekend because of a couple key components. The first being their defense, they came out fast in front of a crowd boasting 29,172 fans for the home opener. Special teams were also huge for the Dragons in this game, they were able to capitalize on punt and kick returns starting multiple drives in great field position. Lastly, the offense was able to capitalize on big plays in the second half which in the end was the reason the Dragons were able to pull ahead and notch their first victory of the season. When the Dragons took the field on offense, I was interested in seeing the changes that they were going to make between this week and last week. The Dragons made sure to establish the running game, running the ball thirty times this game, while only throwing the ball eighteen times. This is what I expect to see more of as the season moves forward, unlike last week when the Dragons threw over forty times. Coach Zorn used a three headed monster this week in, Farrow, Williams, and Gardner. They all had ten carries each, while rushing for 117 yards combined. Brandon Silvers started the day out on a rough note. He was missing key throws in the first half that were causing promising Dragon’s drives to stall out. At the post-game press conference Silvers said, “Quarterback is the hardest position to play. It’s not easy going out there. You just got to fight through it. I didn’t play good at all in the first half and I knew it, didn’t hit throws I usually make. That first big ball added a lot to my confidence.” I know that a lot of people wanted to see B.J. Daniels come in the game after Silvers threw his second pick six of the year, but just hearing this guy talk, his confidence is never deterred by a bad play, or even by the crowd chanting the back-ups name as he ran off the field. This to me shows the maturity that he has and from what Coach Zorn said, Silvers is still QB1 moving forward. He was able to bounce back and have a better second half which is encouraging but I’m hoping to see a big performance next week by Silvers. If not, I would not be surprised to see B.J. Daniels get some playing time in the weeks to come. Former Navy QB Keenan Reynolds had himself a breakout performance this week, hauling in three catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came in the second half on the first drive. The Vipers had been playing man coverage for most of the game and it was just a matter of time before the Dragons were going to be able to gash them for a big play. Reynolds ran a post and just out-ran his defender. I personally saw Silvers miss this throw a couple times in the first half but he was able to hit Reynolds in stride for the big 68-yard touchdown. The Dragons defense really stepped up this week. As I wrote in my article last week, I thought the defensive backs were the Dragons weakest link. However, this week between the defensive line being able to create a great pass rush, and guys sticking with their receivers in man coverage they only gave up 151 yards passing and kept Vipers back up QB Cornelius to a QB rating of 44.4. The Vipers tried to get some offense going by bringing in back up Quinton Flowers. Flowers, a dual-threat QB, gave the Dragons some struggles when he first came in the game. However, he was not able to get anything going with his arm so head coach Marc Trestman decided to switch back to Cornelius for the rest of the game. Defensive end, Marcell Fraizer, had a pick six in the game. The Vipers were pinned inside their own five, when Quinton Flowers dropped back to throw a screen pass. Before you knew it, Frazier had the ball in his hands for a Dragons touchdown. Another stand-out on defense would be DB, Steve Williams, he was able to record two sacks in this game which is not something you see every day from the defensive back position. Overall, very happy with the defensive performance the Dragons had in this game. They say there are three parts to football, offense, defense, and special teams. In this week’s game we cannot overlook the last one and that’s special teams. I really think this is where the Dragons were able to separate themselves in the game. On kickoff return, Seattle was able to get themselves in great field position. Being able to start a drive at the forty on multiple occasions is a huge advantage when playing in a close game like this. While punting the ball, the Dragons were able to down it on the Vipers one-yard line, eventually setting up Fraizers pick six. Finally, while the Vipers were attempting a field goal, they muffed the snap and the Dragons field goal block unit was able to tackle the hold for the turnover on downs, shifting the momentum Seattle’s way. In conclusion, the Dragons were able to win this game because they beat the Vipers in each facet of the game. Between explosive plays on offense, key defensive stops, and incredible special teams play they were able to secure their first ever home victory in front of a crowd that was bigger than any other teams in the league. Check back next week for when the Dragons take on the Dallas Renegades, at CenturyLink field.
- Portland Trail BlazersPostgame reports
After the debacle last night the Blazers are in Memphis tonight to take on Ja Morant and the Grizzlies. The Blazers gave up a career-high 31 to Zion Williamson and played one of the worst transition defense games I have ever seen. Things do not improve tonight with Morant running the offense. He’s already one of the best ball handlers in the game and is going to pick apart the defense tonight. This is the Blazers’ last game before the All-Star break and they really need this right now. The Blazers are four games behind the Grizzlies in the loss column, so they need to get a win tonight in Memphis to set the stage for the final 26 games. They play Memphis twice more the rest of the way. Morant is killing Damian Lillard on the dribble early. Dame has no idea what to do. Halfway through the first quarter, there have been at least seven times that Morant has blown by Dame off the dribble. He’s getting to any spot on the court that he wants. He’s getting points in the paint and finding three-point shooters. Carmelo Anthony is being aggressive and trying to shoot himself out of the slump. He’s 1-7 with turnovers in the first six minutes and that’s about all you really need to know on how he’s doing in his effort tonight. Being aggressive and actually doing some good is Trevor Ariza, he has two steals and a timely three. The Blazers are taking advantage of the Grizzlies youth and forcing some turnovers and they have jumped out on a 9-0 to take an 18-11. It forces Taylor Jenkins to take a timeout. With the starters not having to play the fourth quarter last night, they look spry so far in this game. They did last night too until the wheels came off in the second quarter. Jaren Jackson Jr. and De’Anthony Melton respond out of the timeout with corner threes to get the Grizzlies back within one point. The Blazers did a horrible job closing out after drives by Tyus Jones. Jones then gives a lob to Brandon Clarke for a 10-0 run of their own and they get the lead back, 21-18. Clarke is out of Gonzaga and has the fifth-best field goal percentage in the league this year. I was a big fan of his at Gonzaga and thought he was a steal for the Grizzlies late in the draft. He’s out there blocking shots and getting points in the paint. The Blazers bench was outscored by the Memphis bench 15-5. The Blazers are down four heading into the second quarter, 31-27. Blazers start out the second quarter by not covering the corners after a Morant drive and Gorgui Dieng hits the Grizzlies 90th corner three of the game. Morant and well any Grizzly, in general, is able to get into the paint at will and either find a wide-open teammate for a basket or they get an easy layup/dunk. CJ McCollum hits a three to prove that he’s still collecting a paycheck. The dude scores the quietest 21.3 points in a game this season. He has 13 points tonight and I have no idea how he got there. Hassan Whiteside is also in the middle of having the worst game of his Blazer career at the moment. He’s been a total non-factor and getting clowned out there. This team is gassed and it’s really starting to show. It feels like Dillon Brooks should have ten points and ten assists so far in this game, but he doesn’t. He’s playing incredibly well for the Grizzlies. Jonas Valanciunus is also having a nice night for the Grizz. He’s beating down Whiteside on both sides of the court right now. Anfernee Simons has four threes in the game and has helped the Blazers close to within four points at the half. The Blazers were down by as many as 14. I thought the Blazers were on their way to another blowout loss to a young and upcoming team. But they are showing some heart tonight. They only have to play 24 more minutes and they get a well deserved week off. I don’t get why we can’t get a good game from Simons and Trent at the same time. If they could both produce at the same time and give Dame a little more rest I think the team will be in much better shape on the stretch run. I have to wonder how close Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are to coming back. They’ve been in practice lately, so things have to be getting close. The Blazers start the third with Trevor Ariza on Morant. Morant has abused both Lillard and CJ, so why not give someone else ago. It doesn’t matter who is on him, Morant is just killing the Blazers tonight. He has it all working and his dribbling ability is on video game levels. It’s scary to think that this dude is about five years from his prime and he’s going to get better and better for the next decade. Once again the Blazers come out cold to start the third quarter. When the Blazers lose they have a terrible third quarter and they have seven points through the first six minutes of the third. Things do not look good for them tonight in Memphis. The game has a weird feel to it tonight. The Grizzlies are by far outplaying the Blazers in every aspect of the game and it feels like they should be up 20 plus points, but someone the Blazers are only down nine halfway through the third. Blazers are only shooting 40% tonight and are down ten at the end of the third, 92-82. We start the fourth quarter just plodding along on defense once again. Brandon Clarke is doing whatever he wants in the paint, he’s got 22 points in the paint tonight. Did I mention he was a steal in the draft? With the Blazers down 14, Damian Lillard drove to the basket got blocked Jonas blocked his shot and he immediately grabbed his groin. First thought was that he took a knee to the man region, but on replay, there was no contact with the area and he landed funny. Dame walked back to the lockerroom gingerly. CJ had 23 points, Simons had 22 off the bench, Melo was 1-15 from the floor, Whiteside had 16, 11 and two techs, Ariza had 12. The final was 111-104. Next up is the All-Star break.
The Portland Trail Blazers are on the road for their final two games before All-Star festivities start up this weekend. They are in New Orleans tonight to take on Zion Williamson and tomorrow night in Memphis to take on Ja Morant. The Blazers are battling both teams for the final playoff spot in the West. Jrue Holiday is also on the Pelicans and he’s been a notorious Blazer killer over the years. Portland is opening up by attacking the Pelicans inside with Hassan Whiteside. He has scored on both Derrick Favors and Williamson early, add a Trevor Ariza three and the Blazers are off and running quickly in the first few minutes of the first quarter. Carmelo Anthony hits a couple of mid-range jumpers and his shot might be coming back around. He’s been pretty cold the last few games. It’s good to see him get flowing in the offense early, that’s a good sign for the rest of the game. Whiteside is on pace to get a double-double here in the first period. He’s eating Williamson and Favors like a King Cake after a hard night on Bourbon Street. It looks like an intentional move to get Whiteside the ball early to take some pressure off both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the perimeter. Out of nowhere, the Blazers go on a 17-0 as soon as Gary Trent Jr. checks into the game. Dame only has three points so far, but he does have four assists, CJ hit a couple of threes, a few more points by Anthony. And you win the cash prize for the night if you guessed that Wenyen Gabriel would be the first Blazer to score off the bench. Anfernee Simons is out of the concussion protocol and into the game tonight. He picks up a foul against J.J. Redick. He’s showing some good hustle out there tonight. He’s in passing lanes and making great passes on the offensive end. Caleb Swanigan is everywhere too. He’s getting big tip outs, rebounds, he’s making excellent switches and closeouts. The amount of contact Lillard takes on drives is really starting to get to him. He’s getting beat up like Shaquille O’Neal in his prime on the way to the basket and the refs are swallowing the whistle. There is no reason that Damian Lillard shouldn’t be going to the line more than he does. Lillard draws more fouls shots on jumpers than he does from contact in the paint. That’s not how it works. Despite that, the Blazers are up nine, 36-27 at the end of the first period. That was once again another strong first quarter by the Blazers. Zion Williamson is the only member of the Pelicans that is doing much of anything in the second quarter. He has ten points in the first five minutes of the period, but the Blazers are using a combo of Carmelo Anthony, CJ McCollum, and Hassan Whiteside to keep the lead above ten points for the Blazers. Whiteside is in the middle of four Pelicans, including Zion, and somehow getting the ball. With the Blazers doing so well with their bench in it allowed Dame to get about seven and a half minutes of game time rest before he checked into the game. He might have gotten more rest had the Pels not going on a 7-0 run. The Blazers bench is not outscoring the Pelicans bench, but it feels like they are outplaying them. And at the end of the second turned into a track meet. Lillard had four points, CJ with a three and the Pelicans were knocking down threes and have cut the Blazers down to two at the half, 65-63. The Blazers’ defense fell apart at the end of the half. They had zero answers for Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday. I missed why Holiday started the third quarter shooting a technical foul shot. The Pelicans are out and running hard to start the third. Zion Williamson is doing things only he can do, Josh Hart knocks down a three and Terry Stotts is forced to call a timeout in the first four and a half minutes of the quarter. The Pelicans picked up right where they left off in the second quarter. The Blazers are on their heels defensively and over-rotating. That is if they can even get into a defensive set. The Pelicans have eight fast-break points already in the quarter. Damian Lillard does not have a three tonight. He has really been close. They have been hard bricks. He’s been attacking the basket more and getting more points in the paint tonight, but he’s not getting the calls that he should be getting. Zion Williamson is abusing the entire Blazers’ front line in the quarter. He’s sealing off Hassan Whiteside, Trevor Ariza, and Carmelo Anthony and getting easy dunks. He’s got 20 points in the last 10 minutes he’s been on the court. This is the first time I’ve really had a chance to watch him this season, I’ve seen highlights and the dude is just a highlight. He’s as advertised. And the wheels are coming off. Favors and Holiday both hit Dame in the head on a drive, of course there wasn’t a call. This leads to Lonzo Ball running over CJ and then Redick hitting a three. Pels push the lead up to up over 20 and outscore the Blazers 41-21 in the third and trail by 18 heading into the fourth quarter. I wish I wasn’t sick so I could drink some wine. The fourth quarter was played by the Blazers’ backups. Moses Brown and Jaylen Hoard got some extended minutes after being called up from the G-League earlier in the day. Lillard and CJ each had 20 points, Anthony had 18, Whiteside had 17 and 14. The Blazers take on the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow at 5 PM.
On Friday night the Blazers had a game potentially stolen from them against the Utah Jazz. I say potentially because we don’t know what the Jazz would have done with the final nine seconds in the game or what would have happened in overtime. We should have had the opportunity to find out. It was leaked that Damian Lillard and Terry Stotts would not be fined for talking out against the officials. I’d like to think my text to the commissioner of the league helped that, but I doubt it did. Tonight the Blazers are back home and facing the Miami Heat without Jimmy Butler and former Blazer Meyers Leonard. Andre Iguodala will be suiting up for the Heat tonight in his first game since the NBA Finals last June. Trevor Ariza gets the Blazers out to a quick 8-3 lead. He’s attacking Duncan Robinson at will. Robinson is not a great defender, he’s strength is shooting the three. Carmelo Anthony gets switched on to Robinson and he bangs him down for an easy basket. Robinson has given up 12 of Miami’s first 14 points to the Blazers. Damian Lillard hits a three on an ankle-breaking move on Derrick Jones Jr. and gets a three-point play to give the Blazers a seven-point lead. Duncan Robinson and Jones knock down a few threes and the lead is cut down to three just like. Miami shoots the most threes of any team in the East and they shoot the highest percentage of anyone in the NBA. You would not think that from an Erik Spoelstra led team. Spoelstra is one of the better coaches in the game, so it is to be expected that he would evolve with the players he has. Sadly, through the first eight minutes, we haven’t seen a lot of Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside banging on each other in the paint. Adebayo made Whiteside expendable and that’s how we ended up with Hassan in Portland. As soon as I type that Whiteside drops a baseline jumper right in Bam’s eye. Kelly Olynyk, for the most part, has drawn most of Whiteside’s attention on both sides of the court. Jones shows why he is in the dunk contest this year as he gets a lob from Goran Dragic and dunks all over Wenyen Gabriel. That was so disrespectful in a good way. The Blazers played one of their best offensive first quarters all season and lead 38-36. Their defense got picked apart by the Heat’s ability to knock down three-pointers from all over. They were 7-15 from three, while Portland was 5-9. Ariza did have 15 points and is making up for getting kicked out of the game against Utah. Gary Trent Jr. has three fouls early, but he’s still playing the best defense on the perimeter for the Blazers. he had some big steals on Friday against the Jazz. He punked Donovan Mitchell on a couple of those steals Friday night and Mitchell was not happy about it. Trent has a couple of nice buckets tonight. I really do think he’s passed Anfernee Simons. His confidence is through the roof right now. He’s going to be trouble on so many levels come playoff time. A Jae Crowder three gives the Heat their first lead of the night. I think Crowder is the bigger get from the trade with Memphis. He’s such a white shark out there on the court (I refuse to use pitbull because every pit I know is the sweetest dog in the world) and going to be a great stopper. Pair him with Butler and if Iggy is half the defender he was in the past Miami is going to be tough to beat in the Eastern Conference Playoffs in a couple of months. Kendrick Nunn is another undrafted guy by the Heat. It seems like half their team is undrafted. Just shows you how good of a coach Spoelstra is. The game is close and the Heat are shooting pretty well, but the Blazers are playing really good defense for the most part. Hassan Whiteside has three blocks so far in the first half, Trevor Ariza has three steals and Gary Trent Jr. has two. Their rotations have been solid and have contested a lot of the Heat threes. They have allowed some open shots, but less than they normally do. Gary Trent Jr. is just feeling it. He’s got another three and is the Blazers’ best bench player. He has 13 points off the bench and Ariza has 19 to give the Blazers a 63-60 lead at the half. The Blazers did this without too much for either Dame and CJ. I would like to see Melo light it up in the second half as well. Damian Lillard hits Carmelo Anthony in the corner for a three. That’s Dame’s fifth assist of the night. Dame is seeing the court better than he ever has in his career. He’s seeing through paper thing creases and getting the ball into places he’s not supposed to for assists. Then his three-point shooting is the just unstoppable right now. He’s got a quick five also in the third period. I have to think Duncan Robinson is a better defender than he’s showing tonight. I don’t care how well he shoots the three, the amount of points he gives up on the defensive end does not make up for that in any way. The Blazers are attacking and killing him at will on the offensive end. Dame and CJ have back to back baskets to push the lead up to nine and forcing the Heat to call a timeout. The timeout does not slow down Dame at all and he drills another 30 footer. Blazers are up 86-73. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think Wenyen Gabriel will eventually be a decent role player in this league. You can tell the game is going so fast for him right now. He’s trying to keep up mentally, but pushing himself too much and it’s causing him to make mistakes. When the game slows down for him he will be fine. He’s a good cheap big the Blazers can keep and coach up for a long time. Dragic kicks out on a three attempt and trips Lillard. Lillard knocks down two free throws and we end the third quarter with the Blazers up 93-83. Not a great start for the Blazers at the beginning of the fourth. Andre Iguodala forces two turnovers on CJ McCollum and they lead to a Chris Silva dunk and another three by Duncan Robinson. The Blazers’ lead is cut in half in less than a minute. CJ has been off tonight. He’s not aggressive and he looks tired. Only one more game and he can have a week off. Blazers are deciding to attack both Iggy and Jae Crowder to start the fourth. Duncan Robinson is on Trevor Ariza and they are not forcing switches on him. Ariza has not scored yet in the second half and I think a quick ISO in the post on Robinson could get him going again. I’m not sure why they are going after Crowder in the past with Carmelo Anthony. Crowder is the wrong guy to ISO. This attacking of Crowder leads to an offensive foul on Anthony. It’s been way too much ISO in the fourth quarter and this has allowed the Miami Heat to get right back into it. Blazers are only up two after a three from Goran Dragic. The Blazers do answer back with a three by Gary Trent Jr. He’s 4-6 from three tonight and shooting 70% from the floor overall. Dame then follows it up with a runner and he’s fouled by Iggy. Blazers go up 105-97 with just under five minutes remaining. The last couple of possessions have had a lot of ball movement and the Blazers got an open three and a good runner from Dame. Terry Stotts is letting Gary Trent Jr. close tonight instead of Melo and this has been a great decision. Trent has played killer defense and his shooting is only matched by Dame at this point. He deserves to start closing out more games. Damian Lillard drives by Jae Crowder and converts a layup with 25 seconds left to put Portland up 113-108. Crowder shoved him and hit him in the face and no call. Lillard has been getting done dirty by the refs all season long. The dude would be getting 50 a night if he was getting fouls called like he was James Harden. Miami had four looks at a three to cut the lead to two, but Hassan Whiteside finally gets the rebound for Portland and seals the game and another double-double for the big man on the season. Damian Lillard had 33, Gary Trent Jr with 22 off the bench, Trevor Ariza had 21, Whiteside with 11 points, 17 boards, and four blocks, Carmelo Anthony had 15, and CJ McCollum at 13. Trent was the only Blazer to score off the bench. He also had four steals. The Blazers travel to New Orleans on Tuesday night to take on Zion Williamson and the Pelicans.