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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.

Hawks handle Blazers range

Portland slumps from 3-point territory, drops home-stretch opener
Jan. 20, 2016

PORTLAND - The Atlanta Hawks had one main goal Wednesday night: keep Portland from making 3-pointers.

The defensive strategy worked, and the Hawks opened a four-game road trip with a 104-98 victory over the Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.

Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore each had 23 points for Atlanta, which has won three straight overall and four straight against the Blazers. Millsap added nine rebounds.

Portland went 9 for 31 from beyond the arc. The Blazers shot 39.9 percent from long range over its previous six games, averaging 13.2 made 3s.

“Defensive focus tonight was to make sure we forced them off the 3-point line,” said Al Horford, who finished with 16 points. “We did that throughout the game. They had a lot of drives to the basket and that’s what we wanted to do.”

CJ McCollum had 28 points for Portland, which trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half but came all the way back to grab an 84-79 lead after Meyers Leonard’s 3-pointer with 8:10 left.

Kyle Korver wrestled back the lead for the Hawks with his first 3-pointer of the game, before Millsap’s 3 and Horford’s jumper stretched Atlanta’s lead to 98-92 with 1:53 left. Portland couldn’t catch up.

“We got a couple stops, and I think we hit some 3s,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “At the end of the day, both teams can be very effective from the 3-point line. We wanted to take away their 3s.”

Damian Lillard had 18 points for the Blazers in the opener of an eight-game homestand.

“We wanted to start it off with a win tonight,” Lillard said. “It would have been a good win for us but we didn’t put enough of a complete game together.”

Atlanta opened a 33-20 lead on Mike Scott’s jumper in the second quarter, but Portland pulled within one at 43-42 after Lillard’s long jumper. Atlanta had a 48-43 lead at the break.

The Hawks increased their advantage to 66-56 midway through the third, but the Blazers kept hanging around, closing to 74-72 on McCollum’s 19-foot jumper.

Lillard hit a 3-pointer and a free throw to tie it at 79 with 9:42 to go. He followed with a running layup that gave Portland its first lead since the first quarter.

“When our defense is where it needs to be on any given night, we will be tough to beat. Our offense gets a lot of the glory but it was our defense that kept us in the game,” Bazemore said.

With a young squad, Portland was looking at the process more than the result.

“I thought we had a good effort. It seemed like we were fighting from behind most of the way but we kept at it,” coach Terry Stotts said.

TIP-INS

Hawks: With the win, Budenholzer tied Bob Weiss for eighth on Hawks’ career wins list with 124.

Trail Blazers: McCollum has now scored 20 or more points in 20 games this season. ... The Blazers played the music video for Lillard’s newly released song “Bigger Than Us.”

VANITY PLATES

The Trail Blazers unveiled Oregon’s new Trail Blazers license plate, which will be available to drivers this spring. Proceeds from the $40 surcharge for the plates will be distributed to youth-oriented nonprofits across Oregon. Gov. Kate Brown was on hand for the unveiling.

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 shoot past Thunder

Lillard, McCollum lead 3-point barrage in comeback victory
Jan. 10, 2016 / Associated Press

PORTLAND - After hitting his third consecutive 3-pointer, Damian Lillard flapped his arms above his head and motioned to the crowd while screaming, “Come on, man! Let’s go!”

“I got some good looks at the rim and let them fly,” Lillard said.

The star guard scored 31 points, including five 3-pointers in the last 3:07, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-110 on Sunday night.

Portland coach Terry Stotts said calling Lillard’s performance “big” would be an understatement.

“You don’t see that very often,” Stotts said.

C.J. McCollum added 22 points for Portland, which hit a season-high 19 3-pointers to snap a three-game losing streak. Lillard finished with eight 3s, which matched his career high.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook nearly had his fourth triple-double of the season but fell short with 25 points, 15 assists and nine rebounds. Last season, Westbrook led the NBA with 11 triple-doubles.

Kevin Durant had 28 points for Oklahoma City and has scored 20 or more in 23 consecutive games.

With 3:19 remaining, Andre Roberson hit a buzzer-beating 3 to put Oklahoma City up 103-95. That started a 3-point shootout. Lillard hit three straight 3s, and Allen Crabbe drained another to cut the Thunder’s lead to 108-107 with two minutes left.

Lillard wasn’t done. He hit two more 3s to give Portland a three-point lead, and an offensive foul on Oklahoma City with a minute left brought fans to their feet. But it was Mason Plumlee’s block for the Blazers with 30.9 seconds left, Lillard said, that made all the difference.

“Changed the game completely,” Lillard said. “That was the game-winner right there.”

Lillard finished with 17 points in the final quarter. Durant went scoreless in the fourth.

“They played well in the fourth, and we didn’t,” Durant said. “All those made shots kind of broke our backs.”

The loss ended a four-game road win streak for the Thunder.

The Blazers and Thunder kept it close in a sloppy first quarter. Steven Adams slammed a one-handed dunk for Oklahoma City, and Maurice Harkless answered with a 3.

Portland led 52-46 at halftime. Westbrook had just two points heading into the break.

Lillard’s eight points in two minutes allowed the Blazers to open their lead to 65-55 in the third quarter. Quick points from the Thunder, including a 3-pointer and a free throw by Adams and a running jumper from Durant, trimmed Portland’s lead to two.

The Thunder rallied to take the lead, but McCollum’s 3 at the buzzer to end the third brought the Blazers to 85-80.

Blazers rout Love-led Cavs

Portland returns from the road and thrashes the Eastern power, 105-76
Dec. 26, 2015 / Associated Press

PORTLAND - Portland coach Terry Stotts came armed with a witty opening statement for his postgame press conference Saturday night following the Trail Blazers’ 105-76 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Anybody see that coming?” Stotts said.

Hard to imagine many raising their hands. Portland came into Saturday with a five-game losing streak, while LeBron James-led Cleveland had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Almost from the opening tip, Portland was in control. Allen Crabbe scored 21 of his career-high 26 points during the first half to lead the Blazers (12-20) to their most lopsided win of the season.

C.J. McCollum had 16 points, while Mason Plumlee had 11 points and 14 rebounds for Portland.

The Blazers ran out to a 34-12 first quarter lead and were never threatened, holding Cleveland to a season-low 76 points. James, playing only 27 minutes, matched his season low with 12 points.

“One of the things you love about the NBA, anything can happen,” Stotts said. “Obviously we played a very good game. Our defense allowed us to get into transition and took a little pressure off our half-court offense.”

Crabbe hit 4-of-6 from 3-point range. He said returning home after the recent 0-5 East Coast trip gave the Blazers a spark.

“I think it was good for us to get back home, see family. It was great to get back and play a good team like that. Everybody was up and excited to play them,” Crabbe said.

Stotts saw a different team than the one he coached during the winless trip.

“Having two days off was good. We had a lot of energy. We were pushing the ball after stops. We seemed to have a little extra bounce,” Stotts said.

The Cavaliers have lost two consecutive games, this one on the heels of an 89-83 defeat to Golden State on Friday night. The 76- and 83-point performances are season lows for Cleveland.

“Offensively, we are in a funk right now,” said James, who also had four rebounds and five assists. “Our energy was lacking at the beginning of the game. It picked up, but at some point it got so out of hand that it didn’t matter.”

Kevin Love had 13 points to lead the Cavaliers.

Soccer City, USA rules America!

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Timbers overwhelm Columbus 2-1 for MLS Cup
Dec. 6, 2015 / By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports Journal

Maybe fate made it happen - 40 years later.

Four decades after the original version of the Portland Timbers played for the national title, the current version claimed the title with a 2-1 victory over the host Columbus Crew Sunday.

Diego Valeri scored a spectacular goal 27 seconds into the match, Rodney Wallace finished off a stirring play with a header seven minutes later and the Timbers allowed the host team only one shot on goal in a dominating performance at MAPFRE Stadium.

The Timbers won their first title in the team's second incarnation since its original creation in the North American Soccer League in 1975. That expansion team also reached the league championship game before its fantastic playoff run ended in a loss.

A passion for soccer emerged with the original team that caused Portland to call itself "Soccer City, USA," and that played into the championship as more than 1,000 Portland fans were in Columbus for the title match.

 

 

Blazers slump on road again

Orlando sends Portland to a second loss in two nights
Dec. 18, 2015 / Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. - The Orlando Magic rarely rely on one star for consistent production.

They don’t seem to need it.

The Magic got 25 points apiece from Tobias Harris and Nik Vucevic and late offensive help from Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo in a 102-94 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.

It was the third straight win for the Magic, who have won nine of 12. Harris and Vucevic carried a stagnant Magic offense for the first three quarters before finally getting some help in the fourth. Harris was 9-of-13 shooting and pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds. Vucevic was 12 of 22 and had 11 boards.

“We’re going to get a pretty good effort from those guys pretty much night in and night out,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said.

“The goal is to win by any means possible,” Harris said. “That’s pretty much been our team all year. Whoever has the hot hand, we keep feeding him and build trust that the guy with the hot hand is going to make the right play.”

CJ McCollum led Portland with 29 points. Damian Lillard added 17 points and 10 assists, and Al-Farouq Aminu had 16 for the Trail Blazers.

The Trail Blazers trailed by 14 with four minutes left before making 3-pointers on four possessions in a row to cut the deficit to 100-94 with just over a minute to play. However McCollum missed an open 3 on the Trail Blazers’ next possession and the rally fizzled.

Portland turned the ball over four times and missed two shots on its first six possessions of the fourth.

Orlando converted 19 turnovers by Portland into 23 points.

“Turnovers come in bunches for us,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “Orlando did a nice job pressuring us into mistakes. Some of it was our fault, some was the defense, but we have to do a better job of understanding the game and not compounding one mistake with another.”

Payton had a career-high 17 free throws and made 11. Oladipo, who scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, started the final period with a 3-pointer and long jumper to help the Magic go up 81-68 with 9:31 left in the game.

The Magic went on a 14-2 run early in the third quarter to push a one-point halftime lead into a 67-55 lead. Orlando limited Portland to 1-of-10 shooting during the run and got dunks from Harris and Vucevic to wake up a quiet crowd.

Timbers heading for MLS Cup

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Portland's series victory over Dallas earns title shot
Nov. 29, 2015

FRISCO, Texas - After a scorching run through the end of the season and the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, the Portland Timbers booked their first-ever berth in the MLS Cup.

Portland will play the Columbus Crew Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, in the 20th edition of the league championship game - 40 years after Portland played for the North American Soccer League title.

Portland’s 2-2 tie against FC Dallas Sunday earned a 5-3 aggregate goal series win over the Western Conference’s top finisher.

After a scoreless first half Sunday, Fanendo Adi found himself in prime position in the 54th minute to all but seal Portland’s trip to either Columbus or New York next weekend. After working the right flank, Diego Valeri found Adi alone in front of the net with Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman on the ground. Adi was able to fire the ball off of Jesse Gonzalez’s right foot, ricocheting into the net for 1-0 lead. Zimmerman was making only his third start since mid-June in place of Zach Loyd.

Dallas would not give up, however. After being on the defensive often in the first half, defender Ryan Hollingshead found the back of the net in the 69th minute. Argentine midfielder Mauro Diaz took a pass from Je-Vaughn Watson at the top of the Portland box and found Hollingshead streaking down the left flank. Hollingshead drilled the ball to the opposite corner, squeaking it inside the left post to draw even at 1-1.

Just four minutes later in the 72nd minute, Diaz was able to thread another high-arcing pass, this time off a free kick. The ball found the head of a charging Blas Perez, who substituted into the game in the 66th minute, and he put it past Adam Kwarasey to give Dallas a 2-1 lead and a hope of forcing extra time.

But the two quick goals in a four minute span was all Dallas was able to muster, as Portland hung tough through the final 20 minutes. Dallas threw out all the stops, including subbing in Michel for Hollingshead in the 86th minute to attempt to capitalize on set piece opportunities.

Forward Lucas Melano was able to add a cushion goal in stoppage time after the furious Dallas rally, leaving the score level at 2-2.

Blazers shoot past Lakers

Lillard scores 30 in win over other slumping Los Angeles team
Nov. 22, 2015

LOS ANGELES - Damian Lillard saw potential in the Los Angeles Lakers’ talented young guards. The Portland star guard also demonstrated just how far D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson have got to go to catch up with the Trail Blazers’ brilliant young backcourt.

Lillard had 30 points and a career-high 13 assists, and C.J. McCollum added 19 points in the Blazers’ sixth consecutive victory over Los Angeles, 107-93 on Sunday night.

Mason Plumlee added 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers, who have won two straight after a seven-game skid. Portland has won a franchise-record five straight road games against the Lakers after maintaining a steady lead throughout the second half.

“We got ourselves together,” Lillard said. “The position we’ve been in, we know it’s a game of runs. We tightened down defensively and got it done.”

The Lakers trimmed Portland’s lead to three points with four minutes to play, but Portland scored eight straight points capped by four from Lillard, who made up for an inconsistent outside shot with exceptional playmaking throughout.

Kobe Bryant scored 18 points on 6-for-22 shooting, missing all five of his 3-point attempts in the Lakers’ third straight loss. Los Angeles’ 2-11 start is one game behind their pace from last season, the worst year in franchise history.

“It’s just that we’re making little mistakes at the wrong time,” Bryant said. “Defensive balance and the wrong rotation here and there, that’s really been caving the roof in on us in the last five minutes of the ballgame. Our rotations weren’t up to snuff, and they just killed us all night.”

Jordan Clarkson led the Lakers with 19 points.

Portland forward Ed Davis returned to Staples Center after spending last season with the Lakers and playing well enough to earn a $20 million free-agent contract. Davis had nine points on 4-of-5 shooting along with three assists and three rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. “I had a great time here,” Davis said. “The fans were great to me. Everybody took care of me.”

Timbers move forward

Assertive 3-1 win over Dallas puts team closer to MLS final
Nov. 22, 2015

PORTLAND - The Portland Timbers received goals from defenders Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers, while midfielder Dairon Asprilla added a goal and an assist to power a 3-1 win against FC Dallas in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Championship Sunday afternoon at Providence Park.


Taking a two-goal lead on aggregate, Portland will travel to face FC Dallas on Sunday, Nov. 29, in the decisive second leg at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas; kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. (Pacific) with a live national broadcast on ESPN.

After several close chances in the opening few minutes, including a shot inside 30 seconds by midfielder Lucas Melano that was saved by FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, Portland got on the scoreboard first as Ridgewell converted at the far left post off a corner kick in the 23rd minute for his first postseason goal for the Timbers. Midfielder Darlington Nagbe delivered the corner before Asprilla rose above the crowd to head the ball to Ridgewell at the far post for the go-ahead goal.

Asprilla doubled Portland’s advantage in the 53rd minute, intercepting a pass before firing a long-distance strike that hit the underside of the crossbar before settling in the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.

FC Dallas pulled a goal back in the 63rd minute as forward David Texeira converted a glacing shot from inside the penalty box off an assist from defender Je-Vaughn Watson.

Borchers helped Portland regain its two-goal lead in the first minute of second-half stoppage time, poking in a rebound off a Timbers corner kick. Following up the initial shot from defender Norberto Paparatto, Borchers was in position to convert the rebound following a save from Gonzalez.

The Timbers registered a 13-11 advantage in total shots, including a 7-5 edge in shots on goal during the match. Portland also maintained 54 percent of the possession and pushed its unbeaten run to seven straight games (5-0-2) since Oct. 14 during the regular season, including a mark of 2-0-2 during the postseason. Additionally, Portland improved its home record against FC Dallas to 5-0-2 overall in all competitions since 2011.

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