Basketball
5:29 am
Fri December 27, 2013

NBA Trailblazers Continue Their Surprising Season

Originally published on Fri December 27, 2013 8:06 am

Transcript

DON GONYEA, HOST:

A third of the NBA season is complete and the Portland Trailblazers are on a surprising run. Last night they beat the L. A. Clippers 116 - 112 in overtime. Portland has the league's best record - 24 wins, five losses. Now the tepid pre-season forecasts are turning into talk of how far the Blazers can go in the post-season. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The Trailblazers already have beaten title contenders Indiana, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. Eight times this season, including last night, Portland has overcome fourth quarter deficits and won. The Blazers score more than anyone in the league, averaging almost 109 points per game. And it's an exciting offense - they're the NBA's top three point shooting team.

But Charles Barkley continues his hold out. TNT's tell-it-like-it-is basketball analyst is skeptical about the Blazers' reliance on outside shooting. Here's Barkley last night at halftime, wrongly predicting the outcome after Portland's shooters cooled off in the second quarter.

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CHARLES BARKELY: But when those jumpers were going in the first quarter it was, they were rip city whatever they call it. That play was great. Great fans up here in Portland. But when they start missing those jumpers, that's when the Clippers came back. That's why I still think the Clippers are going to win this game.

COACH TERRY STOTTS: I've been getting asked a lot about Charles.

GOLDMAN: And Blazers head coach Terry Stotts had his answers ready, earlier this week. a jump-shooting team can't win a title? Stotts harkens back to last season's NBA finals and the way eventual champion Miami avoided elimination in game six.

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STOTTS: LeBron James and Ray Allen hit two threes in the last 30 seconds of a game.

GOLDMAN: Stotts also notes, two months ago, nobody thought the Blazers would even make it to the playoffs.

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STOTTS: Now they're saying we can't win a championship. I think that's a monumental leap right there. So the fact that we're in that conversation, that's great.

GOLDMAN: And it has energized a small market city renowned for its big NBA love. So how did a team that won 33 and lost 49 last season get in the conversation? Some smart offseason deals strengthened Portland's weak bench and added seven-foot starting center Robin Lopez.

He's given the Blazers the big defensive presence inside they desperately needed last season, when they were the easiest team to score against near the basket. The new guys, says Lopez, have helped the returning starters feel more comfortable.

ROBIN LOPEZ: Everybody's been freed in a way. They play a lot more efficiently.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Down to the final 40 seconds in overtime number one Aldridge. Oh! And a great shot, with Griffin defending.

GOLDMAN: Case in point, all-star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. He's had to play center in the past with Portland lacking a true big man. But with Lopez anchoring the middle, Aldridge is scoring and rebounding at an MVP clip. As good as the Blazers are at sharing the ball and scoring, their defense remains a work in progress. Portland is near the bottom in points allowed. Damian Lillard is the Blazers' dynamic second year point guard.

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DAMIAN LILLARD: Our offense covers up a lot of that. You know, our record covers up a lot of the mistakes that we've made on the defensive end of the floor.

GOLDMAN: Lillard, the reigning rookie of the year, has done his share of covering up the flaws.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Score! Are you kidding me? At the horn. His fourth game winner.

GOLDMAN: Two noteworthy things about Lillard's game winning three-point shot against Cleveland last week. It was his second buzzer beater in as many games and as his teammates mobbed him, Lillard's expression was not one of joy, but, as he described it later, a sense of, I just won the game for my team - now what?

The answer has special meaning tomorrow night, when the Blazers play two-time defending champion Miami - the only elite team Portland hasn't vanquished, on its surprise run through the league. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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GONYEA: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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