Blazers (yawn) win again
Sometimes it matters more how the other guys play than how you do.
The Trail Blazers put together a 38-point second quarter, but other than that, there was nothing special about their 105-96 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night at Moda Center.
Jusuf Nurkic collected 21 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, and Damian Lillard totaled 17 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, but as a whole, it was nothing to write home about.
After shooting .552 in the first half and mounting a 64-49 halftime edge, the Blazers shot .312 in the second half. They led 87-66 after three quarters, yet stumbled around enough that coach Terry Stotts had to leave the starters in until the closing minute.
Did that bother him?
"Yes," he said afterward, evidently not willing to expound on the matter.
In his first game as a papa, Lillard made only 5 of 16 shots from the field — 1 of 9 in the second half — and was 2 for 10 overall from 3-point range.
Backcourt mate CJ McCollum was off, too, scoring 13 points on 6-for-15 shooting, including 1 for 4 on 3-point attempts.
Portland was 8 for 30 (.267) from beyond the arc, continuing a trend over the last eight games in which the Blazers have shot 3's at a .270 clip and have been 31 percent or lower six times.
Is Lillard concerned about it?
"No, I'm not, because we're getting a lot of good looks," said the All-Star point guard, whose streak of 19 straight games with 20 or more points was snapped. "We're not knocking them down like we have been (through most of the season), but the good thing is we're still moving the ball, guys are making shots when they need to, making timely shots, and we're winning games.
"We're still playing good offense while not making a lot of shots. We know at some point it's going to come back. As long as we can get it done the way we are right now, hopefully in the playoffs or even in these next couple games, the ball will start going in."
The Blazers were aided by the ineffectiveness on both ends by the Clippers (41-35), who are tied for ninth with Denver in the NBA Western Conference. The Clippers, two games back of Utah and New Orleans, are on the outside of the playoffs looking in heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
"Offensively as much as defense, we were horrible," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "We never got to the (offensive) formula we talked about — drive and kick and attack. We were passive most of the night. Why? I wish I knew. Portland has a confidence against us, and you can see it on the floor."
The Clippers closed the Blazers' 21-point lead after three quarters to nine in the fourth, "but that was fool's gold," Rivers said. "That was Portland saying, 'OK, we have a 20-point lead.' It was nothing."
The Blazers went to town when Rivers took center DeAndre Jordan out after the first quarter, with Portland ahead 26-23. Suddenly, it was a dunk-a-thon at the Clippers' end with Nurkic, rookie Zach Collins and Ed Davis all recipients of Lillard feeds for slam-bolas.
"Our defense was horrendous in the first half," Rivers said. "But our offense was worse tonight. I just thought Portland was the better team. They were better-coached. Their players played better. They played harder, and that's disappointing."
There were some positives on Portland's end, of course.
The Blazers (47-29) moved closer to clinching third place in the Western Conference playoff race and homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. With six regular-season games left, Portland's magic number is four — a combined four Blazer wins and losses by No. 4 San Antonio — to wrap up the third seed.
"We're looking to lock that up," Lillard said.
Portland matched its season high with 30 assists — a statistic in which the Blazers are by far last in the NBA this season.
"We were not even shooting the ball that well particularly from (3-point range)," Stotts said. "I liked the 3's we got for the most part. Our passing has really picked up in the last month or two. Sometimes the assists are an indication of that, sometimes not."
They were in the case of Lillard, who seems to have a nice chemistry with Nurkic — or at least, a propensity to getting the ball to him when he is open at the rim.
"Damian was terrific with his passing," Stotts said. "He found 'Nurk.' (The Clippers) kept trapping him (off the pick-and-roll), and he found Nurk almost every time. 'Dame' is responsible for getting Nurk some shots."
"We understand each other with the games we have," Nurkic said. "Every possession, we already know what we're going to do and how we're going to play.
"Through the game, the defenses (converge) on him, and that gives me and Ed and Zach an advantage on the roll. Take over, pass, finish. Makes it easier for us."
Collins continues to solidify a spot in the rotation, a situation that seemed unlikely at the start of the season. The 7-footer from Gonzaga scored a season-high 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, also contributing four assists and two rebounds in 21 minutes. Collins was 6 for 6 from the field in the first half and made his first seven shots before missing.
"He has been aggressive," McCollum said. "He has continued to figure out how to get his shots to somehow to impact the game. I'm happy for him. He works extremely hard. He pays attention and continues to get better."
The Blazers have won 16 of their last 19 games. Win three of the final six in the regular season and reach the 50-win plateau, an achievement few expected from the local quintet. Win four of the six and and the third seed is theirs.
The fun stuff continues. Is there no end in sight?
NOTES: Portland's next action is Sunday at home against Memphis. ... Davis suffered an ankle injury in the second half and departed. Blazer officials were awaiting results of an MRI. ... Nurkic has averaged more than three blocks a game over the past seven games, getting four in four of the games. "He has been really conscious of being a presence in the paint," Stotts said. "Some of it is our pick-and-roll defense, but he's going after shots, he's in good position. It just seems like it's kind of clicking for him as far as understanding where he is, where his man is, where the ball is." ... Over that same span, the 7-foot Bosnian has hit 54 of 87 (.621) shots from the field. ... On one play, Nurkic faked a handoff on a pick-and-roll to Lillard and swept past Jordan for a dunk, a play that looked like a quarterback on a naked bootleg. Nurkic said Al-Farouq "Chief" Aminu suggested the deke before the game. "It was a 'Chief Keeper,'" Nurkic said. "They were aggressive on 'Dame,' so I tried to take advantage of that." ... Reserve guard Pat Connaughton is in a shooting slump. Over his last eight games, Connaughton has hit 6 of 34 shots (.176) from the field, including 4 for 21 (.182) from 3-point territory. ... The Blazers have scored at least 100 games in 19 straight games, the club's first such streak since 1990. ... Portland is 19-3 in its last 22 outings at Moda Center.
It was an unforgettable Thursday for Lillard, who saw the birth of his first child, Damian Jr., in the morning, then in the evening learned that his half-brother, Jahrell Lillard, 20, had been shot in an incident at Clackamas Town Center. "Highs and lows," Damian said. "That was one of the highest moments of my life, holding my son and having that experience. Then having to deal with a tragedy in the middle of it is unfortunate. But (Jahrel) is doing fine. Things could be a lot worse." Lillard's girlfriend, Kay'la Hanson, went through 20 hours of labor before Damian Jr., who was induced, was born. Damian had flown home via private jet from New Orleans after the Blazers beat the Pelicans on Tuesday night. "It was a long labor, but it was a great experience," Lillard said. "There's a certain level of worry any time you have a child born, and also for my girlfriend. He was born healthy, and she got through it healthy as well. It's a lot off my shoulders." ... Asked for the feeling after the baby was born, Damian said, "I don't think there's really any way to describe it. It's a different level of excitement. It was my son, looking into my eyes." Jahrell Lillard, meanwhile, was in stable condition at a local hospital.
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