CJ McCollum

Blazers beat Warriors 125-108 for 9th straight victory


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The key to the Portland Trail Blazers’ nine-game winning streak starts behind the scenes.

“I think we’ve done a great job of being sharp in practices and when we go in the film room, we’ve been taking our game seriously – not that we haven’t all season, but I think lately it’s just a different level of focus. It’s more intense,” Damian Lillard said.

The ninth win came on Friday night with a 125-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors. CJ McCollum scored 30 points and Lillard added 28.

The Warriors had won seven in a row but didn’t have Stephen Curry, Jordan Bell and Andre Iguodala, who were all out with injuries. Kevin Durant led Golden State with 40 points.

Portland has its longest winning streak since also winning nine straight in 2014. The Blazers’ streak started when they beat Golden State 123-117 at the Moda Center on Feb. 14, the last game before the All-Star break.

The streak has propelled Portland into third place in the Western Conference, 11 1/2 games back of the Warriors, who are a half-game back of the first-place Houston Rockets.

“What streak?” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We’re just playing games, we’re just trying to get wins.”

McCollum hit a 3-pointer to give the Blazers a 101-93 lead with 7:20 left. He added another 3 before Durant got one. Klay Thompson made a layup but Lillard answered with another 3 to make it 107-98.

Another 3-pointer by Lillard extended Portland’s lead to 115-103 with 2:40 to go and the Warriors could not catch up. There were seven Blazers in double figures.

“We fought hard. I really liked our fight and our competitive spirit but we’ve got to be smarter. We just did not play a smart, focused game tonight and it cost us,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

Curry rolled his right ankle in the first quarter of the Warriors’ 110-107 victory at home over San Antonio on Thursday night.

He missed 11 games in December with the sprained right ankle and injured it again last Friday at Atlanta. He did not travel to Portland and Quinn Cook started in his place.

Bell, who sprained his right ankle Tuesday against Brooklyn, will be out through the weekend and re-evaluated Tuesday. Iguodala was out with a left wrist sprain for the second straight game.

Portland saw the return of Maurice Harkless, who missed three games with a left knee injury.

Portland led 33-27 at the end of the first quarter, after Draymond Green‘s dunk didn’t quite make it by the buzzer.

Portland went on an 8-0 run to push the lead to 41-27, but Golden State got within 52-50 on Kevon Looney‘s follow shot. Portland led 61-52 at the half. Durant led all players with 22 points while Lillard had 15.

Durant’s 3-pointer and a jumper gave Golden State a 77-73 lead with 4:01 left in the third. Portland re-took the lead on Ed Davis‘ tip-in and a trio of free throws from Lillard to make it 87-83 going into the final period.

“They hit shots,” Durant said. “They’ve been making shots on this run they’re on for a while. I thought we did a good job making them take some tough ones, but they made them.”


Security at the Moda Center ejected a fan in a courtside seat who exchanged words with Durant late in the second quarter.

“When you’re sitting courtside you kind of think you’re Teflon – you can say or do whatever – but the ref caught him,” Durant said. “Before I could even get over there the ref said he was throwing him out of the game.”


Are the Portland Trail Blazers destined for mediocrity?


The Portland Trail Blazers stood pat during Thursday’s trade deadline. Well, mostly. The team decided to send project big man Noah Vonleh to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for … hold on, let me look it up. Milovan Rakovic. Or that is to say the team traded for the rights to the Serbian pro, although Blazers GM Neil Olshey says Rakovich won’t ever suit up for the team.

The move allowed the Trail Blazers to move under the luxury tax for this season and avoid their first strike toward the luxury repeater tax which looms large over NBA front offices. Important, but not exciting or the stuff that inspires passion from NBA fanbases.

Despite the hopes of many Blazers fans, Olshey’s role at the deadline was less deal-maker and more comptroller. Portland didn’t add any kind of talent to their roster, even after franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard spoke with team owner Paul Allen to get an assurance the team was looking to contend soon.

So the question is whether the Blazers have a plan to hoist themselves above their competition, or if they’ll simply remain in the middle of the pack out West before their wick burns to the tab?

Olshey himself tried to explain his strategy to NBC Sports Northwest as the team headed into the trade deadline this year. The Blazers GM outlined three main paths they wanted to follow: grab a temporary rental, add a big-time contributor, or cut below the luxury tax line. They weren’t able to do the first two, so they did the next best thing and saved Allen a significant chunk of change by offloading Vonleh.

Olshey lobbied hard for Portland’s decision to tread water, rightfully downplaying the idea that the team needed to make a change to the Lillard – CJ McCollum backcourt. That’s fine, but where Olshey sold the hardest was in the need for patience, telling NBCSNW, “This is Year 3 of what’s supposed to be a three to five year rebuild”.

That last part is a little harder to swallow, mostly because it rewrites the post-LaMarcus Aldridge history of the Blazers. In truth, Portland made the playoffs in spite of a slow start to the 2015-16 season, beat a decimated LA Clippers team in the first round, and greatly exceeded expectations. That shortened Olshey’s teardown around Lillard and McCollum.

The team then signed Evan Turner and inked Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard to new deals. The addition of Jusuf Nurkic at the deadline last year was supposed to be the last major piece to fall into place as the Blazers took around a season-and-a-half on a short rebuild. Even if they planned on spending all of 2018 shoring up their chemistry, Olshey’s supposed five-year plan was tossed out the window after they beat LA in 2016 and was further accelerated by nabbing Nurkic.

But things soured as 2017-18 began. Harkless wasn’t playing much, although he’s improved recently. Leonard is a bench fixture. Nurkic has been wildly uneven, and Turner’s fit with the team is tenuous at best. All that and a heavy cap burden hasn’t left room for improvements as Blazers fans wring their hands and Olshey plays the role of zen master publicly.

Olshey told NBCSNW that you can’t force trades that aren’t there, and that’s true. It’s also harder to get anyone to pick up the phone when the pieces you have aren’t of any interest to your contemporaries, a position Olshey finds himself in now.

So where does Portland go from here, at the bottom of the playoff seedings and with a palpable-if-deniable urgency surrounding the team? Lillard and those around the Blazers downplayed his talk with Allen, but it was a reminder that the clock is ticking for him (Lillard is 27 and turns 28 in July) and this rebuild. Portland needs to get better under a salary crunch and that’s without even considering Nurkic’s contract situation this summer, or the fact that they’re also slated to lose one of their most productive big men in Ed Davis because they just can’t afford him.

Turner’s contract is an albatross and escalates to a whopping $18.6 million during the 2019-20 season. It’s near impossible for Olshey to move him as Turner doesn’t shoot the 3-pointer well, he drives but doesn’t draw that many fouls, and when he does drive it’s often in a weaving, horizontal fashion that allows help defenders to dig down and then recover on Portland’s shooters, hurting the Blazers’ chances to fire away from deep.

The answer is for Olshey to find the kind of trade he’s yet to pull off in Portland: a big one.

The Trail Blazers GM has been efficient, his transaction roster filled with guys like Robin Lopez, Aminu, and Davis. But Portland could very well be headed for long-term mediocrity if Olshey isn’t able to find his way out of Turner’s contract, or come up with a big trade that moves multiple pieces. That could mean biting the bullet and offering up useful players — Aminu or Nurkic come to mind — or parting with more draft picks than they like.

Lillard has remained steadfast in his dedication to the team, but the summer of 2021 is a long way off and when his contract expires who is to say he won’t want to head somewhere else if the Blazers are unable to slip out of their current salary troubles? Remember, you could pose the same question about McCollum, and both guards have mega deals that will only continue to squeeze Portland’s salary space as the years go on.

Right now the Blazers are winning, and their record in 2018 is a far sight better than their 2017 showing. No matter how the season ends, or how much they talk up four straight years of playoff appearances, if the Blazers want to move to the next level it will be up to Olshey to finally pull the trigger and find a deal come June that clarifies the future in Portland.

5 Up, 5 Down: Joel Embiid has been fully processed


5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA as it stands on alternating Monday mornings.

There is lots to be interested in as this young season records its first 20 games. Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t as good as we thought they’d be and the Boston Celtics are … mystifying. But so too have a slate of injuries muddled the middle of the pack in the Western Conference and that’s before we get to any of the fun stuff like demanding trades on social media.

Yes, the 2017-18 NBA season has already been exciting and as we touch base for our first edition of 5 Up, 5 Down it’s time to reflect back on some of the best and worst things that have gone on this season.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

5 Up

Tony Parker is back (and the Spurs are still 3rd)

Tony Parker officially announced that he’s coming back to an NBA floor, which is heartening for San Antonio fans. He’s been out since last year with a quad injury, and the team is still somehow in 3rd place. The West is chocked full of injuries this year, so adding back a player — even a waning one like Parker — will always help.

The Pistons are … good?

It’s never fun to fault runs like the one going on in Detroit because of sample size. We’re now a quarter of the way through the season so it’s time to say it: I think the Pistons are good. Put it this way — if I told you before the season started that Charlotte would be twice as many games back as Detroit to start December, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that the Hornets weren’t even a playoff team in this scenario.

Joel Embiid is fully processed

Everybody loves this cat, and they should given how good he’s been this year coupled with the success of the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s played in 16 out of 18 games and maintained his staggering advanced numbers from last year. If he stays on the court and the Sixers make the playoffs, I assume Sam Hinkie will parachute from the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center during lineups for the first postseason game. Plus, his social media game has only grown stronger.

The NBA supports Colin Kaepernick

At least some folks do. LeBron James has been supportive of the former NFL quarterback turned civil rights activist and charitable donor. So too has Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. We didn’t get anthem protests like we anticipated to start the year in the NBA, but it appears players and coaches still aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

The one and done could finally be on its way out

This rule hurts players and has the appearance of mitigating risk for NBA teams in the draft while propagating an amateur system that doesn’t pay fair value for labor. I’m still not 100% convinced the league’s own risk protection doesn’t also flip some franchises out of top players by forcing them to abstain from the league and pushing them to subsequent drafts. Many one-and-done players don’t pan out in either case, so I’m not sure the rule is having its intended effect anyway. Let’s go already.

5 Down

Kawhi Leonard is still out

It’s always good when your Hall of Fame, seen-it-all-coach says he’s never seen an injury like yours, right? Tony Parker coming back before Leonard feels like some kind of ominous signal that I’m too afraid to broach this early in the year. At least San Antonio fans can clutch their, uh, 19 championship rings for comfort while they wait.

The Blazers keep winning by accident

Washington certainly did their part to stink up the joint on Saturday, but Portland beat both the Nets and Wizards this weekend sort of by mistake. This came despite late game missed FTs, dumb fouls, and slow offensive possessions in the final two minutes. CJ McCollum — good in a panic, apparently — is Portland’s saving grace this year. The Blazers 3-1 record on the road this trip is asking for a regression to the mean. The Blazers offense needs to figure it out.

We need to restart this season and set injuries to OFF

Wrap your star player in bubble wrap and stick him in a downtown penthouse loft filled to the brim with packing peanuts. Even that might not work, he might chafe his skin on the styrofoam and be out 4-6 weeks. Paul Millsap, the aforementioned Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Patrick Beverley, Mike Conley — just about every team has suffered an injury to a key player. The middle of the West is a mess because of it, although the upside might be that March becomes even more interesting than usual as a bunch of .500 teams try to fight their way back with healthy stars.

Derrick Rose might be donezo

This is sad if only from an empathy perspective. Imagine having won the 2011 NBA MVP only to spend the next six years deep in the bowels of a training center with nothing but a bosu ball and a physical therapist named Clint to keep you company (in this scenario I also assume Clint won’t stop talking to you about the benefits of ketosis). That’s basically been Rose’s life after multiple injuries, and him taking time away from the Cavaliers is a major bummer.

Free Jahlil Okafor

The basketball fan in me wants to scream about what the Sixers are waiting for because I’d like to see Greg Monroe Okafor play actual basketball. Of course, Philadelphia is just trying to do their best Bill Belichick impression here and wait out the market to get their top return. It’s hard to imagine how interest on Okafor hasn’t already bottomed out by now, so maybe the whole thing has backfired and the Colangelos are up a creek. They apparently have lowered the asking price, so maybe we get this trade sooner rather than later. In any case, I can’t wait to see Okafor in a Nets uniform. He’s going to look great.

Watch Damian Lillard hit the game-winner over the Lakers (VIDEO)

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It was closer than it should have been in a poor defensive contest, but fans in Portland tonight are humming after a game-winning shot by Damian Lillard with 0.7 seconds left gave the Trail Blazers the win over the Los Angeles Lakers, 113-110.

Portland started by giving up a game-tying 3-pointer to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with 16 seconds left. That shot came on a simple pindown to the near corner with Blazers guard CJ McCollum trailing and failing to close out on LA’s guard.

That made it 110-110 with a quarter minute to go and with only one player that could take the final shot: Lillard.

Via Twitter:

Lillard calmly dribbled up the floor and let time run out as LA’s Brandon Ingram prepared to guard him. Lillard, who was always going to take the step-back 3-pointer, released with just 2.6 seconds left on the clock.

The crowd at the Moda Center went nuts, and the shot gave Portland the 3-point win they so desperately needed.

The Trail Blazers are in trouble, even if they played Thursday’s game without Al-Farouq Aminu due to a right leg injury. They look bad on defense, and can’t afford any injuries. To go along with that, they’ve played discombobulated on offense and Jusuf Nurkic is only just starting to come around on that side of the ball.

The win is a nice feather in their cap, and fans in Oregon will be hoping this is the start of a little run heading into the holidays.

Draymond Green, Bradley Beal avoid suspension for fight, earn fines

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There was an assumption that significant suspensions could be handed out for members of the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards after Draymond Green and Bradley Beal got into an altercation this week. According to the NBA, only Markieff Morris and Carrick Felix will be suspended for a game apiece for their involvement in the scrum and for leaving the bench.

That means Beal and Green will be fined $50,000 and $25,000 respectively. Washington’s Kelly Oubre will also be fined $15,000.

The fight broke out during a rebound attempt underneath the basket on Friday when Beal and Green got tied up together. Beal appeared to be the initializer, and the two mostly just aggressively hugged until the officials separated them.

That didn’t stop several teammates from rushing to their aid, including Oubre, who accidentally punched John Wall in the back of the head. Meanwhile, Morris came off the bench in street clothes and was knee deep underneath the stanchion.

Via Twitter:

This is the second such instance this season of a player losing a game due to leaving the bench. Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was suspended for the first game of the season after leaving the bench during a stoppage of play in a preseason game.

That didn’t make a lot of sense to those around the NBA, and neither did Green’s fine to Warriors coach Steve Kerr. When asked about the $25,000 Green would need to fork over to the league, Kerr had this to say:

So to reiterate: leaving the bench during an altercation is a suspension. Getting into a fight where you are locked up and fall down is just a cash penalty. Student loan money. By my math, it’s something like 5.7 minutes of gameplay for Beal and 3.75 minutes for Green.

Nothing to see here. Go back to your seats.

These teams play again on Wednesday, February 28.