Blazers give themselves no shot
Merry Christmas, Trail Blazers fans. Ho ho ho!
More like, bah, humbug.
At least that's what it felt like Monday night at Moda Center, with the New Orleans Pelicans spitting soot on the suit of Santa Claus with a 102-94 victory over the Blazers.
It ended a four-game win streak for Portland (14-17), and it represented the second win since Nov. 21 for the Pelicans (8-23), who had lost 14 of their previous 15 contests.
It didn't take much critical analysis to determine why the Blazers lost. New Orleans sank 15 of 35 shots from 3-point range (.429). Portland made 4 of its 29 shots from distance (.138) — matching the worst percentage with that many attempts in franchise history. That's a 33-point spread from the 3-point line.
"The 3-point shooting was the difference," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "(The Pelicans) shot extremely well and we didn't."
Damian Lillard had the worst 3-point shooting game of his eight-year NBA career, missing all 10 attempts from beyond the arc. The Blazers' captain and four-time All-Star made 6 of 11 2-point shots and finished with 18 points and seven assists.
CJ McCollum finished 2 for 10 on 3-point tries. The rest of the Blazers combined to make 2 of 9.
"We did a really good job of getting out and challenging 3's," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said.
More than that, it was just a lot of misfiring by the home team.
"We just didn't shoot well," Lillard said. "We got some pretty good looks. The ball just didn't go in.
"It's not the first time or the last time. It was no crazy feeling. It was like, 'Damn, we're missing a lot of shots.'"
It was Portland's third game in four nights, all at home. Hassan Whiteside thought fatigue was a factor.
"Guys' legs were a little tired," said the 7-foot center, who had 11 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. "Guys who always make shots weren't making them tonight. I missed like two bunnies I normally make. Just one of them nights."
Carmelo Anthony, who returned to action after missing Saturday's win over Minnesota with a knee contusion, had an excellent game with 23 points and nine rebounds in 37 minutes. He didn't have enough help at the offensive end, particularly from the Blazers' backcourt guns.
"You don't expect 'Dame' and CJ to shoot like they did tonight," Stotts said. "We had good looks. We didn't force very many. We just didn't make them."
The Blazers were hoping to give themselves a victory against one of the NBA's weakest teams. Instead, they wound up with a lump of coal in their stocking as they gifted the Pelicans another win in the season series (the Blazers lost 115-104 in New Orleans on Nov. 19).
Portland's performance conjured vision not of sugar plums but of early-season losses to Golden State, Sacramento and New Orleans. The Blazers thought they were beyond that. They're not.
The Blazers remained in the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA Western Conference, a game ahead of No. 9 San Antonio (12-17). But they could have swept the four-game homestand and run their winning streak to five games. Now Portland must sweep the remaining three games — at Utah on Thursday, followed by home dates with the L.A. Lakers on Saturday and Phoenix on Monday — to get to .500 by New Year's.
"We had a chance to run this homestand and have a streak going into Christmas, so it's disappointing," Stotts said. "I don't fault the effort. If we can hold a team to 102 points and 41 percent shooting, we feel pretty good about our chances."
Considering the Blazers came into the game allowing opponents to score an average of 113.4 points on .438 shooting, the percentages were with the local quintet. Not, however, when the stars are shooting blanks.
"It would have been great to get (five straight wins), but it's a league with a lot of talent," Lillard said. "You can get beat on any given night.
"I thought we competed hard tonight. We were in it. But when you don't shoot the ball well, you have to make it up in other areas. When you make four 3's and the other team makes 15, it's going to be hard to win."
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