If you're a fan of the NBA, then you've got to say some kind words under your breath for the Los Angeles Clippers because everyone wants to see them playing the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals.
James Harden against Chris Paul? Blake Griffin taking on Kawhi Leonard?
Portland's own Terrence Jones getting to meet Clips owner Steve Balmer after throwing down a dunk?
But, the real joy of that series is going to be fouls. Hack-a-Howard vs. Hack-a-Jordan.
When they are behind in the second half, the Clippers will just foul Dwight Howard on every possession until he proves he can make two free throws in a row. And, the Rockets will do the same with DeAndre Jordan. The basketball world wants to see that.
The Blazers took advantage of that last year in the first game of its first-round playoff series with the Rockets, and it paid off by helping them rally from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to win on the road. They didn't use it to any significant degree the remainder of the playoffs, but that option always existed.
Tuesday, the San Antonio Spurs basically shut down the game for 15 minutes by fouling Jordan on every possession in the third quarter even though the game was tied. They managed to take a slim lead, but then the Clippers rallied and produced an exciting finish ... which the Spurs won 111-107 to take a 3-2 series lead.
What the NBA needs to see from a game to alter the hack-a-bad-free-throw-shooter strategy is a game in which both teams do it at the same time. And, they'll look into changing the rule because of who it bothers most - television viewers.
No one wants to see a parade of free throws. An intentional foul away from the ball should be considered a mild version of a flagrant foul, which results in free throws and the ball back. Foul away when a player has the ball, but at least there's a legit reason for going at him. Simply stopping the game and making it longer goes against the challenge of the day these days - make events shorter. Baseball has done that in requiring batters to keep at least one foot in the batter's box during plate appearances.
It's certainly easy to argue there's no need for a rule change - if Howard and Jordan were better free-throw shooters, then this wouldn't be a problem. But, there's likely to always be a very poor shooter in the league, and it'll always be someone who's a frontline player such as a center. That's an exciting player fans want to see, but not at the free-throw line for being fouled intentionally.
And, the way to bring that front-and-center for the league's managers is to have Houston play the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs.
PORTLAND - Wesley Matthews scored 31 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the slumping San Antonio Spurs 111-95 on Wednesday night for their first victory since the All-Star break.
Six players scored in double figures for Portland, which ended a two-game skid. Damian Lillard had 18 points and Nicolas Batum added 15.
Tim Duncan shot 9 of 12 and scored 20 points to lead San Antonio, which lost its fourth consecutive game. Danny Green had 17 points for the defending NBA champions.
Portland was 13 of 26 from 3-point range, with Matthews hitting a team-high four 3s.
The Blazers led 51-50 at halftime after the first two quarters were decidedly one-sided.
Portland dominated the first quarter, hitting 13 of 22 shots to take a 32-16 lead. Robin Lopez scored four points during a 10-0 run that helped the Blazers take control.
Portland led by as many as 19 early in the second quarter when momentum completely shifted in San Antonio’s direction. The Spurs, who made 13 of 20 shots during the second quarter, put together a 16-2 run late in the period and pulled even at 48 on Aron Baynes’ layup.
Portland re-established itself early in the third quarter, when Lillard scored six points during an 11-0 run that gave the Blazers a 67-54 lead. San Antonio responded with six quick points, but Portland quickly halted the Spurs’ momentum by scoring nine of the next 11 to take a 76-62 lead.
San Antonio, trailing 81-71 after three, threatened the Blazers again when Green and Tony Parker hit 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter. Portland, a loser in five of its previous nine games when leading after three quarters, regained control when Matthews hit two 3s during a 10-0 run.
Down 13 in the fourth quarter, Grizzlies win 98-92
Feb. 22, 2015 / Associated Press
PORTLAND - Marc Gasol felt the Memphis Grizzlies simply did what good teams do when down by double-digits: They come back.
Gasol scored 21 points, and Memphis overcame a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 98-92 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night.
“They got the big lead, but we kept playing, came out scoring well in the fourth and getting stops,” he said. “We kept scratching and clawing and getting closer and closer. Then we ended the game with a lot of stops.”
The Grizzlies, off to the best start in franchise history at 40-14, were coming off a 10-day layoff because of the All-Star break.
LaMarcus Aldridge was a late scratch for the Blazers because of a right thumb sprain. The four-time All-Star was injured during Friday’s loss at Utah, but coach Terry Stotts said it wasn’t serious.
Portland carried a 77-64 lead into the final period, but Kosta Koufos connected on a hook shot and Gasol made a jumper to get Memphis within two at 85-83. Gasol hit another jumper before Tony Allen’s dunk gave Memphis the lead with 4:13 left.
Nicolas Batum’s 3-pointer put Portland ahead 90-89, but Courtney Lee answered for Memphis with a layup and a free throw. Damian Lillard missed a 3-pointer with 43.9 seconds left before Gasol’s jumper helped secure the win for Memphis.
Lee had 19 points for the Grizzlies, who hadn’t played since a 105-89 loss at Oklahoma City back on Feb. 11.
“We scored on 10 of our first 13 possessions in the fourth quarter, and then we got 15 stops on their last 18 possessions,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “That’s how we won the game.”
Lillard had 18 points and seven assists for the Blazers, who were coming off a 92-76 loss at Utah on Friday night. Batum finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
“We let that one get away from us,” Stotts said. “A 13-point lead in the fourth quarter at home, you feel like you’re in a good position to win the game.”
Portland’s two new additions, Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee, joined the team for the first time since they were acquired in a trade with the Nuggets on Thursday at the deadline.
The Blazers sent guard Will Barton, forwards Thomas Robinson and Victor Claver and a conditional 2016 draft pick to Denver. The Nuggets waived Robinson and Claver on Sunday.
Afflalo entered with just over five minutes left in the first quarter and the Grizzlies ahead. He hit a jumper with 4:43 to go and a short time later Batum hit a 3-pointer that gave the Blazers a 17-15 lead.
Memphis made just one of its first nine shots in the second quarter to fall behind 32-21, but the Grizzlies responded with an 11-0 run capped by Mike Conley’s tying layup. Jeff Green’s dunk put Memphis up 36-33.
The teams went into the break tied at 38.
“We had a 13-point lead,” Lillard said. “One turnover led to another. We let them take us out of what we do.”
Last month, Aldridge injured ligaments in his left thumb and decided to undergo surgery, but then reversed himself 48 hours later and decided to play out the rest of the season.
Stotts said Aldridge should be able to play on Wednesday when the Blazers host the Spurs.
“L.A. is obviously the guy we go to when we’re struggling -- the fact that we didn’t have him in the fourth quarter, that’s pretty obvious,” Stotts said.
Portland wins its sixth-straight game, 105-87, over Chicago
Nov. 21, 2014 / Associated Press
PORTLAND - Damian Lillard had 21 points and nine assists to help the Trail Blazers beat the short-handed Chicago Bulls 105-87 on Friday night.
However, Mike Dunleavy’s flagrant foul on Lillard in the third quarter, followed by Taj Gibson’s painful left ankle injury, marred Portland’s sixth straight win.
Lillard was going up for a 3-pointer when Dunleavy barreled into him, knocking him down. Wesley Matthews ran over and pushed Dunleavy, and Aaron Brooks in turn shoved Matthews. LaMarcus Aldridge stepped in to separate the group.
Dunleavy was served with a flagrant foul, while Matthews and Brooks got offsetting technicals. Lillard made all three shots.
Afterward, Lillard called it a cheap play.
“When I was shooting the ball I saw him coming at me and I thought, `He’s not stopping,” Lillard said. “Anything could have happened.”
Dunleavy called it an “awkward moment.”
“I was going to intentionally foul him, but he went up to shoot,” he said. “What was I supposed to do?”
Chicago lost Gibson in the third quarter when he sprained his left ankle. Gibson, who came down on Portland’s Wesley Matthews, clutched his ankle and grimaced in pain before he was helped off the court. The 6-foot-9 forward was averaging 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds coming into the game.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said he didn’t think it was serious, but Gibson left the Moda Center in a boot and on crutches.
“We’ll see where he is tomorrow,” Thibodeau said.
The Bulls were already limited without Derrick Rose, who missed his fourth straight game with a sore left hamstring. Pau Gasol missed his third game with a left calf strain.
They were also missing starting guard Kirk Hinrich, who left Thursday night’s 103-88 loss to the Sacramento Kings with a chest contusion. X-rays were negative, but Thibodeau said before the game that Hinrich was day-to-day.
Rookie Nikola Mirotic came off the bench and had season highs with 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls.
Aldridge added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Blazers, who got Nicolas Batum back after he missed four games with a right knee contusion.
Portland jumped out to an early 25-9 lead after Aldridge’s 3-pointer. Lillard had seven assists in the first quarter alone and finished three short of matching his career high.
The Bulls closed the gap in the second quarter with an 8-0 run that pulled them to 39-35. The rally was short-lived and the Blazers went up 51-39 after a 10-0 run, capped by back-to-back 3-pointers from Lillard.
Portland led 61-42 at the half.
Aldridge passed to Robin Lopez for a dunk to put Portland up 70-45 before the Blazers sat their starters for the final period.
“Obviously Chicago didn’t have three of their main guys, but I liked our demeanor,” coach Terry Stotts said. “I liked our disposition, the way we came out of the gates. Our defense was solid.”
Despite the drama, Lillard thought it was one of the Blazers’ most complete games of the season.
“We started the game really well and then they found their way back in -- and we picked it right back up,” he said.
Portland beats Brookly 97-87 without Aldridge, Batum on court
Nov. 15, 2014 / Associated Press
PORTLAND - Missing their two starting forwards could have been a problem for the Portland Trail Blazers. Instead, it was an opportunity.
Damian Lillard had 28 points and 10 assists to lead the Blazers to a 97-87 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night, despite the absences of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum.
Three-time All-Star Aldridge was out with an upper respiratory illness. Batum missed his third game with a bruised knee. Coach Terry Stotts inserted little-used Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard into their places in the lineup.
Fortified by strong bench play, Portland didn’t miss a beat.
“The contributions of everybody off the bench -- it was definitely a team win.” Stotts said. “It just shows the young guys are getting better.”
Brook Lopez led Brooklyn with 21 points, matching up against twin brother Robin for the first time in two years. Joe Johnson added 20 points and Deron Williams had 19 for the Nets, who were coming off losses to Phoenix and Golden State.
Reserve center Chris Kaman scored 12 for Portland and Leonard had a career-high 12 rebounds.
The Blazers (7-3) have won four straight heading into home games with New Orleans (5-3) Monday, and Chicago (7-3) Friday.
Portland carried a double-digit lead until late in the fourth quarter, when Kevin Garnett made two free throws and Mirza Teletovic scored at the hoop to get Brooklyn within 88-82. However, Wesley Matthews countered with a 3-pointer for Portland and the Nets got no closer.
“At the end of the game we were right there, we got to where we wanted to get,” Brook Lopez said. “We just didn’t finish.”
The Blazers went on an 11-2 run at the end of the first quarter to take a 24-15 lead. Williams scored Brooklyn’s first 10 points of the second, but the Nets failed to close the gap and Portland took a 50-39 lead into the half.
Lillard and Robin Lopez each scored eight points in the third for Portland, with Lillard giving Portland a 66-53 lead with a 3-pointer midway through the quarter.
Portland struggles with shooting and bad breaks in Warriors loss
Nov. 2, 2014
PORTLAND - Warriors guard Klay Thompson was getting pestered by Portland’s Wesley Matthews, so in a split second he scrapped his plans to drive to the hoop and instead just shot on the run.
The shot fell with 8.9 seconds left on the clock, and Thompson finished with 29 points in Golden State’s 95-90 victory over the Trail Blazers on Sunday night.
“If I had a jumper I was going to shoot it and if he was on my hip I was going to try to get to the rim,” Thompson said. “Since he was right there I decided to try a tough floater and it went in.”
It was the Warriors’ third straight win to open the season -- their best start since 1994-95 when they opened 5-0.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Blazers, who dropped to 1-2 to start the season.
Portland hit just seven of 27 3-point shots in the game, and also had a key possession turned into a turnover with 14.5 seconds when officials overturned a call following a scramble and gave the ball to the Warriors to set up Thompson’s shot. Portland had two turnovers thereafter, and will look to end a two-game skid against the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night.
After wrestling for the lead throughout the fourth quarter, Aldridge’s layup and a fadeaway jumper with 2:01 left gave Portland a narrow 90-88 lead.
Andre Iguodala missed the second of a pair of free throws for Golden State with 26.3 seconds to go to keep the Blazers in front. But Thompson nailed the floater to give the Warriors a 91-90 lead with under 10 seconds on the clock.
“We bring him (Thompson) off a little counter-screen on the baseline and Matthews chased him, but this is what Klay has become now. He’s not just a jump shooter. He’s a guy who can get into the paint and use his size and strength to get shots up like that,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
Steph Curry made free throws the rest of the way for the final margin. Curry finished with 21 points for the Warriors.
Thompson scored a career-high 41 points the night before in a 127-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. Thompson combined with Curry to score 72 of Golden State’s points.
Coach Steve Kerr said before Sunday’s game that he was impressed -- but not only with the scoring outburst from the duo known as the Splash Brothers.
“It’s a tandem that’s playing both ends of the floor. That’s exciting,” he said.
Thompson and Curry scored Golden State’s first 16 points against the Blazers, and the Warriors built a 24-14 first-quarter lead after Thompson’s 3-pointer.
Golden State led by as many as 12 points, but Portland closed the gap to 38-27 following Matthews’ 3-pointer and Thomas Robinson’s basket. The Blazers couldn’t pull in front but kept it close and trailed by just 51-48 at the half.
Portland briefly pulled ahead 68-66 late in the third quarter on Will Barton’s 22-foot pull-up jumper and the game was tied at 68 going into the back-and-fourth fourth.
Robin Lopez, who had collected five fouls, hit a short jumper to give Portland an 80-79 lead with 5:49 left. Andrew Bogut’s tip-in and Thompson’s dunk gave the Warriors back an 85-84 lead.
Lopez finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Blazers.
There was talk about Damian Lillard’s slow starts after the first two games of the season. He had totaled just six first-half points and was 2-for-10 from the field.
The All-Star guard’s first-half woes continued against the Warriors, and he was 1-for-8 for five points. Lillard finished with 11 points.
Lillard said he’s struggled for a game or two in his young career, but never for a series.
“I think it’s just one of those stretches you have to go through, and that you can grow from,” Lillard said.
Blazers Coach Terry Stotts was unconcerned.
“Dame just plays the game,” he said. “He’ll get his shots.”
Amid all the hype over college football, Damian and the Blazers return
Oct. 27, 2014 / By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports Journal
Now that Lebron is back in Cleveland, can anyone stop the Cavaliers - especially with Kevin Love on the frontline?
Plenty of teams, as the Chicago Bulls get favorable press across the country as the chief team to challenge, and in many cases, beat Cleveland to the reach the NBA Finals.
Cleveland may have the bigger names from off-season acquisitions, but the Bulls have Derrick Rose back from injury, off-season pick-up Pau Gasol from the Lakers, and coach Tom Thibodeau, who is respected about as much as any NBA coach after Greg Popovich of the Spurs.
So, it's an easy pick to put either Cleveland or Chicago into the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference.
The West? That's the key discussion of Episode 21 of Sportsland, Oregon, 2014. The NBA and college football, which has the Oregon Ducks headed toward their nemesis from the past two seasons - Stanford - this weekend.
The Blazers are a key figure as a wild card in the Western Conference, having two All-Stars on the team in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, who is getting national publicity thanks primarily to Adidas. Lillard has the game to put himself in conversations with Lebron, but he doesn't have the playoff magic. At least until last year. Portland won a first-round playoff series for the first time in more than a decade last year on a series-ending shot by Lillard. Can the team and Lillard match or improve on that this year? And, in a crowded Western Conference where the top eight teams seem fairly consistent, but where they are within that top eight might change weekly.
Defending NBA Champion San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland, Memphis, Dallas, Golden State and Houston.
Chicago and Cleveland in the East. Just about anyone in the West, as long as one of the conference finalists is San Antonio.
HERE'S OUR PRESEASON PICKS:
DEREK WEBER CLIFF PFENNING
Chicago 1. Cleveland
Cleveland 2. Chicago
Brooklyn 3. Toronto
Toronto 4. Miami
Washington 5. Washington
Miami 6. Charlotte
Atlanta 7. Brooklyn
Charlotte 8. Indiana
San Antonio 1. Los Angeles Clippers
LA Clippers 2. San Antonio
Oklahoma City 3. Portland
Memphis 4. Oklahoma City
Houston 5. Dallas
Portland 6. Golden State
Golden State 7. Houston
Dallas 8. Memphis
Derek - Chicago def. Cleveland; San Antonio def. Oklahoma City
Cliff - Cleveland def. Chicago (or Miami if DRose lost for season); Los Angeles Clippers def. Golden State
Derek - San Antonio def. Chicago
Cliff - Los Angeles Clippers def. Cleveland
What's a guy like new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer get for his $2 billion purchase of the Clippers? A few good calls?
It's all in this episode of Sportsland, Oregon, recorded Monday at Blitz Pearl in Northwest Portland.
Portland's familiar line-up earns another preseason victory
Oct. 21, 2014
BOULDER, Colo. - LaMarcus Aldridge scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds in Portland’s 93-75 win over Denver in an exhibition game Tuesday.
Damian Lillard had 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting to go with six assists for the Blazers at the Coors Event Center. Wesley Matthews went 4 for 7 from beyond the arc for 17 points for Portland, which won its third straight game.
While Wilson Chandler had a team-high 13 points and Darrell Arthur added 10 points, the Nuggets shot just 33 percent from the field in their fourth loss in five games.
The Trail Blazers are out to prove last year’s Western Conference semifinals run wasn’t their last. The Trail Blazers grabbed their first lead on a 20-foot Aldridge jumper with 10:06 left in the first quarter and never let it go.
“I think we can be good -- we can be really, really good,” Matthews said. “I think we deserve to be talked (about) as contenders in the West. I really believe that.”
Portland plays host to Oklahoma City, Oct. 29, in the season-opener for both teams.
Portland beats Houston again to take 2-0 series lead
April 23, 2014 / By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports Journal
LaMarcus Aldridge did it again, this time with a deeper supporting cast and a more motivated opponent.
Aldridge scored 43 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 112-105 victory at Houston Wednesday night, giving the Blazers a 2-0 lead in the NBA Playoffs first round series.
Damian Lillard added 18 points, while Mo Williams and Dorell Wright combined for 28 points off the bench to help carry the team past the Rockets, who got 32 points from center Dwight Howard and double-figure points from its other four starters.
Portland, though, outscored the Rockets 30-13 off the bench, and Howard scored only seven points in the second half.
"This is definitely the best I've felt going into a game, and I think this team in general just believes in me so much," Aldridge told media afterward. "They just ride the wave so well. ... I think having 15 guys have your back like that, it's great."
Portland plays host to the Rockets Friday and Sunday, with the best-oif-seven series winner facing either San Antonio or Dallas in the second round.
Should the Blazers beat Houston, they're guaranteed another series in Texas.
Portland, which finished the regular season with nine wins in 10 games, has not won a playoff series since 2000.
The Blazers, after a 122-120 overtime win on Sunday, looked headed for a 1-1 series tie in the first half, when the Rockets pulled to an 8-point lead and twice had 3-point shots rim out off fastbreak opportunities. But, they rebounded and had the game tied at 53-all at halftime. With their lead at one late in the game, they pulled away in a fashion they hadn't shown off during the second half of the regular season.
After two games, only Portland, Washington and Miami hold 2-0 series advantages. Of the 16 first-round games played, the visiting team has won nine - a playoff record.
Let's take a look at the first round of the NBA Playoffs that started Saturday.
East Indiana vs. Atlanta - Indiana. Yes, I know they lost the first game. Miami vs. Charlotte - Miami. Come on. Toranoto vs. Brooklyn - Brooklyn. The Nets are rolling right now. Chicago vs. Washington - Chicago. I picked Washington to make the playoffs, not beat a team made for the playoffs.
West San Antonio vs. Dallas - San Antonio. The Spurs are killing everyone. OKC vs. Memphis - OKC. I have them in the finals. LA Clips vs. Golden State - LA Clips. I don't like them, but I think they are too strong. Hate Griffin. Houston vs. Portland - Portland. Homer pick. Whichever team hits its 3s will win this one.