Portland Trail Blazers vs. Charlotte Hornets 11/26/14: Video Highlights, Recap

The scorching Portland Trail Blazers looked to continue their torrid run of form on Wednesday night when they took on the Charlotte Hornets. The Blazers had won eight straight after a 3-3 start and faced a reeling Hornets squad that had dropped six straight and eight of its last nine.

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Philadelphia 76ers vs. Portland Trail Blazers 11/24/14: Video Highlights, Recap

The longest winning streak in the NBA met the longest losing streak on Monday night when the Portland Trail Blazers took on the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Blazers had won their past seven games, while the Sixers have yet to notch a victory this season.

Watch the video for full highlights.

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Boston Celtics 11/23/14: Video Highlights and Recap

Owners of a league-high six-game winning streak, the Portland Trail Blazers headed east as they looked to make it seven straight against the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics were looking to turn things around, having lost seven of their last 10 contests.

Watch the video for full highlights.

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Boston Celtics: Live Score, Highlights and Reaction

Today’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics is underway! Stay tuned for live updates and reactions!

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Chicago Bulls vs. Portland Trail Blazers 11/21/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The red-hot Portland Trail Blazers looked to continue their recent run of success on Friday night when they took on the Chicago Bulls. The Blazers’ explosive offense and lockdown defense had carried them to five straight wins, but they faced a tough test from a dangerous Bulls squad, which had lost two of its last three. 

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How Can Terry Stotts Make Best Use of Portland Trail Blazers’ Bench?

During Terry Stotts‘ first two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, there was a common theme that was recognized across the NBA

Rip City’s bench simply couldn’t hang.

Because of the obvious struggles, the reserves were hidden on the bench in fear by the coaching staff. However, in Year 3 under Stotts, Portland’s second unit has seen enough improvement to warrant newfound faith from the man controlling the rotation.

Following a recent 97-87 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 15, Stotts said, “It was definitely a team win because we needed everybody’s contributions,” via The Oregonian‘s Mike Richman

The head coach was right. Portland’s second unit (and a starting Meyers Leonard, as well as a starting Allen Crabbe) stepped up with LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum sidelined.

Damian Lillard put together a very Lillard-like performance (28 PTS, 10 AST, 5 REB), but Wesley Matthews struggled, going just 3-of-13 from the floor. 

“It just goes to show you that the young guys are getting better,” Stotts said after Portland’s bench outscored Brooklyn’s 31-16.

At this point in the process, Stotts must take this confidence one step further by digging Portland out of the basement in terms of minutes played by a second unit. The team is currently 24th in that category, according to HoopsStats.com, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support an expanded rotation.

Against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 6, the Blazers bench outscored the Dallas bench 52-35 in the fifth game of the season. It shot 57 percent and hit seven three-pointers en route to a 108-87 victory.

Then there was the Nov. 11 comeback against the Charlotte Hornets. Steve Blake and Joel Freeland made big plays on both ends down the stretch, helping Portland to a 102-100 win after a 23-point deficit.

And don’t forget the 53 points the second unit dropped on the Denver Nuggets during the Nov. 12 130-113 win.

“When everybody’s shooting decent percentages and making shots, we have just as much firepower or more than any team in the NBA,” Chris Kaman said following the win over Denver, via The Oregonian‘s Joe Freeman. “I don’t think there’s anybody that has more than we do.”

Consider Kaman’s comments to be the ego-boosted result of a blowout victory. Portland’s positive morale off the bench is good to see, but it comes primarily from not being dead last in most major categories.

Then again, we’re certainly seeing individual players step up during the early part of 2014-15. For instance, Blake has been the pass-first floor general Mo Williams never was. He’s also played a crucial role late in games with his three-point shooting and gritty defense.

Then there’s Kaman. He’s a reliable defender and can score in a multitude of ways. His personal efficiency rating (PER) of 21.3 is also third-highest on the team behind Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, according to ESPN.com.

Unfortunately, the Blazers are now dealing with an injury to C.J. McCollum. According to the Trail Blazers PR Twitter account, the sophomore has fractured his right index finger and will be out for at least four weeks.

Luckily for Portland, injuries have already proven to be less debilitating this season than in years past. Batum and Aldridge have missed time, and the team has instilled a “next man up” mentality with Freeland, Leonard, Crabbe and Will Barton contributing—something Stotts should continue to practice even as players return.

So, how can Stotts build upon the early success? A simple recipe of minutes and trust.

Despite the improvements, the second unit is still playing the seventh-fewest minutes among benches in the Association. That shouldn’t be the case for a group that’s posting a respectable 15th-best offensive efficiency, per HoopsStats.com, as well as an elite fifth-best defensive efficiency.

As far as the rotation goes, now is the time for Stotts to consistently test guys such as Crabbe and Barton as backup perimeter players if he thinks they have a shot. 

Furthermore, the team is leading the Northwest Division comfortably. Playing a deep rotation should be the plan of attack when determining if players such as Leonard, Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright can be counted on late in the year.

Amid the bench-centric analysis, it’s important to remember this isn’t solely about improving the second unit. It’s also about preserving the starters for long-term success.

“The greatest thing for us was losing to the Spurs,” Damian Lillard recently told The Oregonian‘s Joe Freeman, referring to the 2014 postseason. “Because we got to see what brand of basketball makes you successful and we got to see fresh body after fresh body and guys coming in comfortable against us. I think that’s what we’re getting to.”

So, easy enough, right? Rest the starters, increase bench minutes and work toward a better, more balanced future. 

Unfortunately, it’s tough for coaches to convince themselves that rotation experiments are best when they already know what’s working. 

With the Blazers in win-now mode, they’ve taken their 8-3 start and jumped out front in a watered down Northwest Division. They’re also about to enter a stretch in the schedule that (for the first time all year) takes them away from the friendly confines of the Moda Center on a more regular basis.

For any coach, that would be a frightening time to throw the reserves in the deep end. But if Stotts is smart, he’ll take a Gregg Popovich approach now, preparing everyone in the rotation for a deep run in the 2015 postseason.

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New Orleans Pelicans v Portland Trail Blazers 11/17/14: Video Highlights, Recap

In a showcase of some of the NBA‘s best talent, Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans took on Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland was looking to push its win streak to five games against a Pelicans squad that had won its last two and has been led by Davis’ stellar play.

Watch the video for full highlights.

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets 11/12/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Portland Trail Blazers looked to continue their recent hot streak, when they took on the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. The Blazers had won two straight, and their explosive offense faced a tough test from a Nuggets squad desperate to get on track after losing five straight games.

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Portland Trail Blazers Must Take Advantage of Early Chance to Control Division

The Portland Trail Blazers last won a division title during the 1998-99 season, as a part of the Pacific Division. Since the forging of the Northwest Division to start the 2004-05 season, the Blazers have been unable to reach a similar level of success. But now with the four-time reigning divisional champion Oklahoma City Thunder starting slowly, Portland must take advantage promptly to gain control of its division once more.

You have to feel for the Thunder.

Rip City is no stranger to having its star players injured, so there’s a certain level of sympathy that can be extended to its divisional rival. OKC was forced to apply for a hardship exception to sign an additional player in guard Ish Smith, with as many as eight players unable to contribute due to injury.

From their All-Stars in Kevin Durant (foot) and Russell Westbrook (hand), to their newcomers in Anthony Morrow (MCL) and rookie Mitch McGary (foot), the Thunder face dark times over the next few weeks and months.

Oklahoma City currently holds a 2-6 record, sandwiched between two other Northwest teams in the Minnesota Timberwolves (2-4) and the Denver Nuggets (1-5). The Utah Jazz, the fifth and final team of the group, is just a sliver above Minnesota at 3-5. These teams currently make up four of the bottom five teams in the Western Conference.

It almost goes without saying that the Blazers have it a little easy if snatching the division is in their sights. Portland had the best division record last season at 13-3, which could increase this year.

Durant is anticipated to be out for a further two to four weeks, with Westbrook expected to miss about a month. A plethora of the Thunder’s supporting cast remain sidelined for assorted times depending on the injury, though Durant and Westbrook will be the driving force behind OKC getting a playoff berth.

The time is now for Portland to create some space between itself and Oklahoma City.

Not only will the Thunder be missing their two best players, but the Blazers have a relatively easy schedule lined up to close out the 2014 calendar year.

Between now and New Year’s Eve, just eight games will be played against teams that are currently ranked as playoff seeds in either conference. The Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs will see Portland twice, while the Memphis GrizzliesBrooklyn NetsHouston Rockets and Toronto Raptors will each get one chance.

Respect is due to the remaining teams on the Blazers’ schedule until the end of December, as all of them are attempting to compete and improve. But in retrospect, they do not match up with Portland in terms of talent or synergy.

Teams such as the Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ersNew York Knicks or Indiana Pacers don’t have the same drive as the Blazers at this point. These teams are either in a rebuilding process or are trying to compete while their sights are set on the future.

The Pacers await the return of injured star Paul George, while the Knicks are banking on the free-agency class of 2015 to return to prominence.

That isn’t to say these teams won’t compete with everything they can muster, but there’s no questioning the separation between a playoff-bound squad like Portland and a lottery-bound group like the 76ers.

The Blazers will see each of the aforesaid teams twice before the end of December.

As such, the Blazers must reap the benefits of an early schedule that is rife with less-than-stellar competition. The Thunder would normally have a laid-back schedule also. But with their best talent shelved until further notice, clashes with even the Milwaukee Bucks or Detroit Pistons can carry some importance in having a winning record.

You can only be respectful for so long, but let’s face it, the Nuggets, Jazz or Timberwolves aren’t going to top the Northwest this year, and it won’t even be close.

The division will be a two-team race between OKC and Portland, though the latter has the inside track right now. It is at full health and has a relaxed schedule to end the year.

The Blazers just have to take advantage as soon as possible and in turn they will have the best chance to win the division for the first time in 16 years.

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Charlotte Hornets vs. Portland Trail Blazers 11/11/14: Video Highlights, Recap

The Portland Trailblazers looked to continue their recent hot streak on Tuesday night when they took on the Charlotte Hornets. The Blazers had won three of their last four behind an explosive offense and a surprisingly stingy defense, but they faced a tough test from a gritty Hornets squad that had won two of its last three. 

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