Trail Mix: Blazers 99, Pelicans 90

(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

The Portland Trail Blazers played excellent defense in the 4th quarter to push them past a hungry New Orleans Pelicans team 99-90 Saturday night at the Moda Center.

It was the team’s 50th win of the season, making it the first time the team has had back-to-back 50-win seasons since 2010.

Before the game, Terry Stotts had talked about how there isn’t a lot of time for celebration in the NBA. And for the third time in four games, the Blazers had some kind of accomplishment that they had marked on their list as goals along the way.

“I’m really proud in back to back games to win our division and have back to back 50-win seasons,” Stotts said after the game. “It’s something to be proud of, which we are, but we’re not done. We’ve got to continue to get better and prepare for the playoffs, but this was a good night for the Trail Blazers.”

The Blazers’ defense had one of their better performances of the last month against a potent Pelicans team. The Pelicans are a top-ten offense and Portland slowed them down in the fourth quarter after letting Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon run roughshod over their defense.

Chris Kaman was Portland’s unlikely hero tonight, playing in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, over Robin Lopez. Lopez rebounded well but was noticeably frustrated with the officiating, picking up a technical foul in the third quarter. Stotts said that he thought Kaman was playing well and didn’t want to screw up Portland’s mojo.

“Our fourth quarter defense was very good,” Stotts said. “Nic did a really good job on Evans. And as I said, Chris and LA did a nice job tag-teamas far as whether they had two bigs in or whether Ryan Anderson was at the 4. We did a better job of controlling penetration. When you get stops and you’re able to get the ball out, it makes your offense better. Obviously, Damian made a lot of good plays at the end at the offensive end. Usually when you do things like that, it’s a combination of both offense and defense.”

Portland’s starters were severely outplayed by the Pelicans in the first quarter, forcing their bench to step up and get them back into the game.

CJ McCollum helped give Portland a lift again off the bench, something that’s become a consistent factor for the Blazers. Stotts has been pleased with his play as of late. And Stotts noted the obvious that the Blazers need McCollum more than ever with Dorell Wright and Wesley Matthews being out.

“Obviously last night in LA, he had an outstanding offensive game,” Stotts said. “He’s playing in flow, I though he had an excellent floor game, not just his scoring but he’s making good reads on his penetration and his passing. We need that scoring off the bench. THe first half tonight, getting 10, he kind of picked up where he left of. With Wes and Dorell gone, we need his scoring punch when he comes in and it looks like he’s kind of latched on to that responsibility.”

McCollum has been in a good offensive rhythm since before the All-Star break. He’s embracing the process.

“Feels good, man,” he said of the playing time. “Feels good. Getting into a good rhythm. Figuring out when to attack, when to be aggressive. It’s a process. But I’m enjoying the process of learning the game and taking advantage each night.”

McCollum has seen his minutes increase even more since Wright went down with a broken hand. Stotts has kept to nine-man rotation, rotating three guards in the game when Nicolas Batum hits the bench.

With the Final Four going on at the same time and a crowd that was not as lively as usual, the game had a weird feel to it inside the arena. Batum also remarked on the weird feeling in the game as Portland won second and fourth quarters but were outplayed in the first and third.

“You know, that was a weird game,” Batum said. “The first and third quarter were for them. The second and the fourth were for us. I mean, the way we came back. Gordon’s 3rd quarter. That was a big game for them. We knew they were going to fight, they were going to not give up. We needed it too. We keep fighting. Bench did a good job, came back in. We come back in and make plays, Shut Tyreke down. And we rebounded the ball, start running, get easy buckets. We did good.”

Batum deserved a lot of credit for said shutting down of Tyreke Evans who only attempted one shot in the fourth quarter after slithering his way through the Blazers defense for easy baskets and assists.

The Blazers finally got it together against a team they’ve dominated all season long. The Pelicans needed the game, which added a little more to it. But more than anything, the Blazers have to continue to build off this as they approach the playoffs.

Other things: 

  • Amy Schwartz of 750 The Game reports that all three of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Chris Kaman will not travel to Brooklyn for Portland’s make-up game against the Nets on Monday. Both Kaman and Aldridge sounded less than thrilled to be making the trip when asked about it post game
  • “It’s a long flight for 1 game. It’s a long flight for 1 game. And, it’s a long flight for 1 game,” Aldridge said, channelling Rasheed Wallace.
  • Kaman: “I’m thrilled. 5 hours one way. 5 hours back. For a game that we should have played a month and a half or two months ago. Now they’ve won (8) out of 10. Before we could have [played them when they ere struggling a bit. Yeah, they’ve been playing well lately. We have to play well and handle the business.”
  • Meyers Leonard continued to get a look as the team’s back-up power forward to start the second quarter after doing so in Los Angeles on Friday. Leonard played 11 minutes, scored five points, grabbed four rebounds and hit one 3-pointer.
  • It will be interesting to see how Stotts will manage the backcourt rotation moving forward. Going three guards appears to be his best option, talent-wise. But against bigger wings on teams like the Spurs, Grizzlies and Warriors, it will be interesting to see how or if Stotts changes it up.
  • Given his lengthy red beard and his great play tonight, his love for organic food and that Action Bronson was performing in Portland tonight, I’d like to propose the nickname “Action Kaman” for Chris Kaman going forward. At least for when he’s playing well.
Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for The Columbian. He's a graduate of the Allen School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in addition earning a degree in Spanish. He's covered the NBA for four seasons. You can also occasionally find his work on's NBA section for their TrueCities series. He also fist-bumped with Kanye West once. Follow @BlazerBanter on twitter for more Blazers and NBA news.

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