Trail Blazers

Playoffs now a battle for Blazers

Home game with Phoenix takes on extra meaning
Staff Report

It wasn't so long ago that the Portland Trail Blazers were playing games with the goal of seeding in the Western Conference playoff race.

But, now, with the re-emergence of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Blazers are playing for a playoff spot, having fallen into a three-way tie with Denver and the Clippers for the seventh spot in the West.

The Clippers are one of the hottest teams in the West after beating Houston Monday for its fifth-straight win, and eighth in the past 10 games. The three teams tied for seventh are just 0.5 games behind New Orleans for sixth place, effectively giving the West nine teams battling for eight playoff spots.

Last year, Portland finished in eighth place and lost to top-seeded Golden State in four games in the first round of the playoffs.

Golden State, the defending league champion with the best record in the league, is again the top seed in the West.

Portland (22-21) plays host to Phoenix (16-28) Tuesday night, having beaten the Suns twice this season.

 

 

Blazers get back to winning ways

Portland returns home and ends three-game skid in overtime
March 9, 2016 / Staff report

PORTLAND - Though it took a little longer than they’d hoped, the Trail Blazers found relief at home from their recent road woes.

Damian Lillard had 41 points and 11 assists, and Portland snapped a three-game losing streak with a 116-109 overtime victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

It was Lillard’s 15th straight game with 20-plus points, the second-longest streak in the NBA behind Kevin Durant’s 48. CJ McCollum added 18 points for Portland, which moved into sixth place in the Western Conference.

“Coming off three losses in a row, this was a must-have,” Lillard said. “We had to have this one.”

John Wall had 20 points and 11 assists for the Wizards, who have lost three straight. Ramon Sessions added 21 points off the bench, while Marcin Gortat had 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Wall hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left in regulation to give Washington a 104-102 lead, but McCollum hit a pull-up jumper with 5.4 seconds to go to tie it at 104. The game went to overtime when Gerald Henderson swatted away Gortat’s attempted layup.

“Gerald Henderson made a heck of a play in protecting the rim,” Wall said.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts described the block as “fantastic.”

Lillard hit a 3-pointer that gave the Blazers a 111-106 lead in the extra period. Wall answered with a 3 for the Wizards, but Lillard’s layup with 23.5 seconds left made it 113-109 and Portland hung on for the win.

The Wizards led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but Portland wrestled back to lead 85-81 going into the fourth.

“That was a really important win for us, especially fighting back in the second half after getting down early,” Stotts said. “After losing three in a row and to gut out an overtime win, it was really important for us.”

The Blazers were back home after a six-game road trip that started with three wins but ended with three losses, capped by a 123-103 loss at Detroit on Sunday.

Henderson was key off the bench for Portland, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds, as well as the monster block.

“This was huge,” Lillard said. “Especially with Utah losing. It was a chance to separate ourselves a little bit more. With another tough trip coming up, this was a huge opportunity to protect our home court.”

The Blazers head to Golden State on Friday. The Blazers beat the Warriors 137-105 in Portland last month behind 51 points from Lillard.

Washington was without guard Bradley Beal, who did not travel with the team to Portland because of a sprained pelvis he sustained on Saturday during a disheartening 100-99 loss to Indiana. Beal, who has struggled with injuries this season, is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 17.8 points.

The game was marred by a scuffle between Henderson and Alan Anderson with 1:23 left in the first quarter. The players got into a shoving match and had to be separated by teammates.

Upon review, Anderson was ejected for an elbow to Henderson’s face. Henderson got a personal foul and both got technicals.

Anderson was averaging 9.2 points and 2.6 rebounds after missing the first 55 games of the season following left ankle surgery.

The Wizards went on a 12-point run to open the second half, going up 67-54. Portland answered with a 17-4 run to tie it at 71, capped by Lillard’s 3-pointer.

Blazers bid Kobe adieu

Portland routes Lakers in Bryant's final game in the Rose City
Jan. 23, 2016 / Associated Press

PORTLAND - While Damian Lillard was the star of Portland’s victory over the Lakers, it was Kobe Bryant’s night.

Lillard had 36 points, including five 3-pointers, and the Trail Blazers beat Los Angeles 121-103 on Saturday night for Bryant’s last game in Portland.

“Growing up, I was a Warriors fan but when the playoffs came I was a Lakers fan because we never made the playoffs. I was on Kobe’s back, like, `Let’s go Kobe, let’s go Shaq.” Lillard said. “Now to play against him, and to know him, it’s been a pleasure.”

CJ McCollum added 28 points for the Blazers, who led by as many as 27 points in the first half on the way to their eighth straight victory over the Lakers.

D’Angelo Russell came off the bench with 21 points for the Lakers, who dropped their sixth straight game. But all eyes were on Bryant, a Portland nemesis dating back to the 2000 Western Conference finals, who finished with 10 points.

It was the second of a back-to-back for the Lakers, who fell 108-95 to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night. The game was played on the 10th anniversary of Bryant’s 81-point game against Toronto, which remains the second-highest scoring game in NBA history.

Because of the back-to-back, there was speculation that Bryant would not even play against the Blazers, but he started. It was Bryant’s 62nd career game against Portland.

Bryan finishes 6-26 in Portland, his worst record in any city. But while the Blazers have pestered him during regular season games, most fans remember the 2000 conference finals. Portland was up by 15 points in the fourth quarter of Game 7, but the Lakers -- led by Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal -- came back to win.

Still, there is grudging respect for Bryant, evident in the mixture of cheers and boos when Bryant was announced in pregame introductions, and an occasional “Kobe! Kobe!” chant broke out among the fans.

“There were too many Lakers’ supporters for my taste, but I’m glad they showed Kobe some appreciation,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said, adding with a grin, “maybe a little too much.”

Bryant called the night “a blast.”

“I have so many great memories here. Most of the time I ended up on the losing side of things during the regular season,” he said. “The fans, the playoff battles ... great memories. I just tried to take it all in tonight.”

Bryant said Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio were among his favorite places to play.

Portland pushed its lead to 35-20 in the first half, with Lillard and McCollum combining for 24 points. Gerald Henderson’s 15-foot jumper pushed the lead to 43-24.

The Lakers closed the gap to 53-46 after Lou William’s jumper and free throw. Williams hit a 3-pointer that got the Lakers within 59-52 at the end of the half, but McCollum answered with his own 3 and the Blazers led 62-52 at the break.

Portland extended the lead to 101-76, going on an 18-4 run to close out the fourth quarter. The Lakers closed within 103-88 after Russell’s 3-pointer and free throw and fans chanted “We want Kobe,” but Bryant was already done for the night.

A fan behind the Lakers’ bench held a sign that read “Thank You Kobe.” Bryant embraced both Lillard and McCollum after the game and left the court to a loud ovation.

It was the sixth time Lillard had 30 or more points against the Lakers.

Blazers ready for home cooking

Portland returns from road trip with playoff spot in sight
Jan. 19, 2016

A season-high performance from long range helped the Portland Trail Blazers bounce Monday back from a discouraging loss and refocus on reaching the playoffs for the third straight season.

The starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum helped the Blazers roar back from an embarrassing 25-point loss to Philadelphia for a 108-98 win at Washington on Monday in which they shot a season-best 54.8 percent from long range.

Lillard and McCollum, who both sat out the 76ers game with slight injuries, combined for 41 points and went 8 of 16 on 3s as the Blazers won for the fourth time in five games.

“Winning three (in a row) and then getting beat by a (76ers) team that only had four wins - the ability to come back and lock in and not dwell on what had happened is big for us,” said Meyers Leonard, who scored 18 points.

Next up for the Blazers (19-25), the Southeast Division-leading Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at the Moda Center.

Hawks can create some breathing room atop the Southeast Division with their closest pursuer banged-up and trudging through an exhausting stretch.

The Hawks, however, need to carry the balance they’ve shown in their last few home games out on the road beginning with Wednesday night’s opener of a four-game trip against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Atlanta (25-17) has been jockeying with Miami for the division lead and carries a slim advantage into this matchup with Portland (19-25). The Heat, already saddled with key injuries, are amid a vicious slate in which only two of 16 games come at home.

One of those contests is Jan. 31 against the Hawks, who don’t have it much easier until then with five of their next six away from home.

They’ve lost four of six outside Atlanta to fall to 10-10 on the road, but a pair of home victories this week showed signs of them regaining the balance they used during last season’s 60-win campaign.

After shooting a combined 40.3 percent, including 16 of 55 from 3-point range, in road losses to Charlotte and Milwaukee last week, Atlanta shot the ball well and used its deep rotation in home wins over Brooklyn and Orlando.

The Hawks hit 55.7 percent despite missing 21 of 29 from long range in a 114-86 rout of the Nets on Saturday before having one of their most effective nights from deep with a 9-for-19 effort in Monday’s 98-81 victory over the Magic.

The reserves were key in both wins, providing 53 points, 24 rebounds and 18 assists against Brooklyn, and 47 points, 17 rebounds and 19 assists versus Orlando.

“Our bench has been doing great,” starting forward Paul Millsap said. “When they get in the game, they push the tempo, they get after it on defense, and when you have the whole team contributing, the whole team out there fighting hard, it makes us a tough team.”

The constant stream of fresh legs wreaked havoc on the perimeter, forcing the Nets and Magic to miss 30 of 42 long-range attempts -- a welcome sight for a Hawks team that ranked seventh in the NBA last season with a 34.1 defensive 3-point percentage.

“Their defensive energy is fueling everything else, so hopefully we can continue to get the starters to feed off that, too,” coach Mike Budenholzer said of his reserves. “It’s been good to see that for a few games in a row.”

The perimeter focus needs to remain against the Trail Blazers, who rank third in the league with an average of 10.3 3-pointers and fifth with 28.4 attempts per game. The outside defense was clicking in the first meeting against Portland, which missed 19 of 24 from beyond the arc in a 106-97 loss at Atlanta on Dec. 21.

Blazers ready for LMA greeting

Aldridge pays his first visit to the Moda Center since signing with San Antonio
Nov. 11, 2015 / Stats LLC

Although LaMarcus Aldridge will go down as one of the great Portland Trail Blazers in history, his return to town could be acrimonious.

Aldridge will face his first NBA team for the first time Wednesday night when his San Antonio Spurs look to hand the Trail Blazers a third straight defeat.

The power forward spent the first nine seasons of his career with Portland. He’s second on the franchise’s all-time list in points (12,562), first in rebounds (5,434) and fourth in games (648).

Aldridge was generally a fan favorite with the Trail Blazers, though that may change after he signed a four-year contract worth $84.1 million with the Spurs this offseason as a free agent. The deal came one year after he vowed to local reporters he would sign an extension with Portland because he wanted to surpass Clyde Drexler as the club’s all-time top scorer and play his entire career with one team.

Instead, a persuasive pitch by Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich convinced Dallas native Aldridge to return to his home state and help San Antonio chase its fifth title in 14 seasons.

The transition hasn’t exactly been smooth, with Aldridge averaging 15.1 points after he averaged a career-high 23.4 last season for Portland.

His departure came in the same offseason the Trail Blazers (4-4) banked their future on Damian Lillard, who signed a five-year contract worth more than $120 million. Lillard is among the league’s leaders with a 27.5 scoring average, though he has found it difficult shouldering the scoring load without Aldridge.

Lillard has totaled 56 points and 18 assists in consecutive defeats entering this contest.

“I am not frustrated,” Lillard said. “As a competitor, after you lose a game, you sit there and you think about everything you could have done better as a team. You aren’t happy with it. But I’m happy with where we are as a team.”

The Blazers have one of the league’s top offenses, averaging 103.8 points and shooting 46.7 percent.

San Antonio (5-2) is shooting 48.8 percent after connecting at 52.9 percent in Monday’s 106-88 victory at Sacramento. Kawhi Leonard, who has made 20 of his last 29 shots, scored a team-high 24 points.

The Spurs showcased their depth by outscoring the Kings 34-19 in a fourth quarter in which Tim Duncan and Tony Parker did not play. Their bench scored 24 points in that period, with former Blazers guard Patty Mills compiling seven points, six assists and four steals.

“I understand you can’t live and die off your shot, so if my shot is not falling I have to do other things,” said Mills, who missed 6 of 7 shots through three quarters. “I’m trying to become more of an all-around player.”

The Spurs’ reserves average 36.4 points compared to 23.8 per game from the Blazers’ backups.

San Antonio has dropped 11 of its last 13 regular-season visits to Portland, including eight of nine in which Duncan has played. The veteran has missed four of the Spurs’ last eight games at the Moda Center.

Portland may have an extra big man to throw at San Antonio’s frontcourt since rookie Cliff Alexander could make his debut after being out with a knee injury.

Memphis rallies past Blazers

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.

Blazers roll up Lakers again

Lillard leads 106-94 win in Los Angeles over the Lakers
Jan. 11, 2015 / Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Damian Lillard dished out more of the same punishment to the Los Angeles Lakers that he did the last time he faced them. They still had no answer for his fourth-quarter theatrics.

Lillard scored 17 of his 34 points in the final 8:16, leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a 106-94 victory Sunday night and making the Northwest Division leaders the first NBA team to 30 wins.

“It’s a great accomplishment to have 30 wins in 38 games,” Lillard said. “We’ve just got to keep the same mentality that we’ve had and always remember that we are an elite team. And we’ve got to keep proving that every night and stay locked in.”

Four other players scored in double figures for the Blazers, who have won 27 of their last 32 games and are a season-best 22 over .500. LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points and nine rebounds, Wesley Matthews had 16 points and Nicolas Batum added 11. Chris Kaman had 12 rebounds and nine points in his fourth start of the season and second against his former team.

Lillard averaged 25 points over his previous four games against the Lakers. He scored 16 of his 39 points in the final 5:11 when the Blazers beat them 98-84 at Portland last Monday, and also had a 38-point effort against the Lakers on April 10, 2013.

“It was pretty much the same things I saw the last game against them,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “We played them really tough, and then Damien kind of takes over. We tried to pressure him, we tried to trap him at times, but he just made some great shots. He’s just a heck of a player.”

Meyers Leonard put Portland ahead to stay with a 3-pointer, triggering a 17-3 run that helped the Trail Blazers open up an 89-76 lead with 6:50 to play. Lillard made a 3-pointer, a driving layup and a three-point play during a 1:54 span before Aldridge capped the rally with a 20-footer.

“We started to run some sets that I was able to get loose on,” Lillard said. “Our bigs did a great job in transitioning and in the halfcourt game and setting solid screens. So I was just able to get a big man in front of me and make plays, and the shots were falling.”

The 6-foot-3 Lillard scored Portland’s final eight points, including a soaring slam dunk between the 6-10 duo of Jordan Hill and Ed Davis and turned it into a three-point play after Hill fouled him.

“At that point in the game, I knew it was getting really physical. They had cut the lead down, so I knew I had to go strong and I did,” Lillard said. “There was a perfect amount of space, and (Hill) jumped late. So I wouldn’t even say I completely jumped over him So I did. I was surprised that he didn’t just let me get the two points, instead of letting it be an and-one.”

The Lakers got to 97-90 on 3-pointers by Wayne Ellington and Wesley Johnson against a defense that entered Sunday first in the NBA in defending the 3-point shot.

Kobe Bryant was rested by Lakers coach Byron Scott for the sixth time in 11 games and second game in a row. The NBA’s third-leading career scorer, playing in his 19th season at age 36, played in only six games last season due to a torn Achilles and a fracture in his left knee.

Wesley Johnson returned to the Lakers’ lineup and scored 17 points after missing three games because of a strained hip flexor. Ronnie Price had a career-high 12 assists, one of which set up a driving dunk by Tarik Black that pulled the Lakers into a 69-all tie late in the third quarter.

Aldridge, Lillard score again

Portland improves its win streak to seven straight with win over Celtics
Nov. 23, 2014 / Associated Press

BOSTON - LaMarcus Aldridge likes the attitude the Portland Trail Blazers have during this winning streak.

Aldridge had 20 points and 14 rebounds, reserve Chris Kaman scored 16 points and the Trail Blazers extended their streak to seven games with a 94-88 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday night.

“I like it because I don’t want guys getting caught up in the moment of seven in a row,” he said. “Act like we’ve arrived, still in the moment, still staying hungry.”

Damian Lillard added 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists for Portland, which began a brief East swing. Nicolas Batum also had 12 points.

After a rough first half, the Trail Blazers were much better offensively in the second. They added better defense and pulled away early in the fourth quarter.

“We started to get stops,” Lillard said. “Everything in the first half, they were comfortable and it was simple. We picked it up in the defensive end and made them have to guard more than one thing.”

Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger had 19 points apiece for Boston, which dropped its fifth in six games. Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo each scored 13. Rondo added eight assists and six rebounds.

“I feel really good about the way we guarded,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “I feel like now we have a way that we can point to or a game that we can point to that we did it against a good team.”

Green agreed.

“I believe we played great,” he said. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game.”

The game was tied at 72-all after three quarters before the Trail Blazers took charge with a 17-5 run to start the fourth. Wesley Matthews and Lillard each hit a 3-pointer just over a minute apart.

Boston missed 12 of its first 14 shots in the quarter.

The Celtics made a brief spurt, closing it to 92-88 on consecutive 3s by Bradley and Sullinger with 90 seconds to go, but they were unable to make shots in the final minute.

Portland shot just 35.4 percent in the opening half, but started 6 of 7 in the second and took their first lead of the game at 59-57 on Aldridge’s layup. The teams were then tied five times in the final 4 minutes of the third.

Before the game, Portland coach Terry Stotts talked about his team needing to stop its habit of slow starts. It didn’t happen, as the Trail Blazers missed 12 of their first 13 shots from the floor and fell behind by 10 midway into the second quarter.

It's a Northwest thing

Portland struggles in its first week - but so does the rest of the division
Nov. 3, 2014

A 1-2 start might be cause for a bit of concern for Portland Trail Blazers fans, especially when it includes a loss to the Sacramento Kings. But, the Blazers still find themselves atop the Northwest Division, which has the worst record in the NBA through its first week of play.

The Blazers and Oregon football program are the key topics for this week's episode of Sportsland, Oregon, recorded Monday nights at Blitz Pearl in Northwest Portland.

Co-hosts Cliff Pfenning and Derek Weber talk up the NBA, as well as the Pac-12's ability to beat the Ducks, who are back to their level of play from past seasons. Those seasons, though, included significant losses that throttled the team's ability to play for the national championship. Fortunately, there's a four-team playoff this year, and Oregon seems like a shoe-in to be one of those teams.

The Oregon State Beavers, World Series, state cross country meet, and University of Portland women's soccer program all come up in this week's episode.

 

Blazers handle Thunder in opener

LaMarcus powers the offense, and depth overpowers Durantless visitors
Oct. 29, 2014 / Associated Press

PORTLAND - LaMarcus Aldridge’s first basket of this season was a bit of a surprise, even to him.

Aldridge hit a 3-pointer and Portland’s All-Star forward went on to score 27 points in the Trail Blazers’ 106-89 season-opening victory over the injury-depleted Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.

Aldridge, who has been working on his long-range shot, said Russell Westbrook’s defense on the play gave him no choice but to shoot.

“I don’t think anyone was thinking my first shot would be a long 3, so it was pretty cool,” he said.

The Thunder only suited up nine players. Most notably they were without reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant, who had surgery for a fractured bone in his right foot this month and will likely be sidelined until December.

Westbrook picked up the slack, with 38 points, including 26 in the first half.

After trailing for much of the game, Portland pulled to an 89-80 lead with 7 minutes left on Damian Lillard’s 3-pointer. Nicolas Batum passed to Aldridge for the alley-oop dunk to put the Blazers up 93-83 and the Thunder could not catch up.

“It felt great,” Aldridge said. “I’ve been waiting for this game for a while.”

Portland outscored the Thunder 31-12 in the fourth quarter. All five Blazers starters were in double figures.

With 14 straight home-opening victories, the Blazers matched the Boston Celtics’ record set from 1979-92.

Also sitting out the opener for the Thunder were guard Reggie Jackson (right ankle), forward Grant Jerrett (ankle surgery), guard Jeremy Lamb (lower back sprain), forward Mitch McGary (left foot fracture) and guard Anthony Morrow (left MCL sprain).

Durant averaged 32 points last season when the Thunder went to the Western Conference finals, carrying the team when Westbrook was nursing a knee injury. The roles are reversed to start this season.

“I thought we played hard. That’s the only thing I can ask from the guys. Just compete, play hard and play for each other. They did that tonight but we made too many mistakes at the end of the game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.

The Blazers opened with the exact same starting roster as last season, when they won 54 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

Despite being short-handed, Oklahoma City took a 13-5 lead on Westbrook’s seven-point outburst.

The Blazers pulled in front 35-34 in the second quarter on a 12-footer from Chris Kaman, picked up by the Blazers as a free agent in the offseason to help backup Robin Lopez.

Westbrook hit five straight free throws to give the Thunder back the lead, and he dunked to close out the half make it 54-49 for Oklahoma City at the break.

Westbrook pushed the lead to 71-65 midway through the third quarter with a layup and the free throw. But the Blazers never let the game get away from them and trailed just 77-75 going into the final quarter.

Lillard, who had no points in the first half, hit a 3-pointer that gave Portland an 81-77 lead with 10:35 go.

“We put ourselves in position to win the game but we don’t take moral victories around here and never will,” Westbrook said. “We just gotta find a way to close the game out better.”

 

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