The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, 110-104, at the Moda Center on Wednesday night, completing the 2013-14 regular season with a 54-28 record.
The regular season came to a conclusion in the fan-friendliest way possible: Portland won, Will "The People's Champ" Barton scored a career-high 23 points on a career-high 20 shots, Joel Freeland made his return after missing more than eight weeks with a knee injury, and an absolutely Hammered Fan seated behind me in a luxury suite started chanting for Chalupas on the possession after the Blazers hit 100 points. What a goofy gumbo this meaningless game was, given the absences of LaMarcus Aldridge, Mo Williams, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick.
What follows is a bullet-point rehashing of the night's various developments, as it's time to focus the bulk of our attention on the upcoming playoff series between the Blazers and the Houston Rockets.
- Joel Freeland. In his first game since Feb. 11, Freeland tallied six points (on 3-for-7 shooting), seven rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes. Freeland is now decked out in two sets of tights with a knee brace sandwiched in between them. He told me he recently had the brace refitted and that he doesn't feel limited mobility-wise. Freeland said he didn't feel any pain while playing and that his fatigue wasn't as bad as he expected, while noting that it was "relieving" to get back on the court after the longest injury absence of his career.
- Freeland sounded like he expects to play in the postseason: "Playoff basketball is kind of what I do. It's going to be tough, it's going to be physical, it's going to be a lot of pushing. I might not be playing as many minutes as I played tonight, but I think [I'm] definitely ready."
- Freeland on his knee brace: "It's giving me some good support on the side of my knees. It's not that heavy. It's kind of light and it's strong. It's good, that's what everyone uses. Greg Oden uses it."
- That last quote reminded me of those late-night television ads when "four out of five dentists prefer..." a certain toothpaste. What an endorsement.
- Below, check out what coach Terry Stotts had to say about Freeland. He was pleased with Freeland's play and said he would have "no reservations" about playing him in the postseason, but he then went on to mention both Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson by name. He seemed to be intentionally/strategically noncommittal, at least for now.
- Robin Lopez. The Blazers honored Lopez with the 2013-14 Maurice Lucas Award, which recognizes the player who "best represents the indomitable spirit of Maurice Lucas through his contributions on the court and in the community." The organization is donating $5,000 to the charity of Lopez's choice and he was recognized during a brief pre-game ceremony.
- After the game, Lopez said that when he first met Lucas's widow, she told him she knew immediately that he would be this year's winner. "For her to think that way about me, I can't really put that into words," he told reporters. Previous winners of the award include Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard.
- Lopez set a franchise record by collecting 326 offensive rebounds this season (Chris Dudley and Kermit Washington shared the record previously). A little esoteric, to be sure, but it's representative of one of his best attributes. Afterwards, Lopez said that Mo Williams had campaigned for Stotts to start Lopez during the second half so he could get the final rebound he needed to set the mark. Stotts relented, setting a three-minute time limit for Lopez to get the record-breaking rebound.
- "Will [Barton] did everything tonight, and he also missed that shot," Lopez quipped, referring to the shot in which he was able to get his final offensive rebound. "That's another feather in his cap."
- Lopez called Rockets All-Star center Dwight Howard "one of the best players in the world" and said he looks forward to the match-up because he knows he will be able to play a physical style against another big body.
- I asked Lopez if he believes the Blazers are entering the series as underdogs: "We don't feel that way. The media has its own agenda. It portrays teams differently. In the locker room, [we think about the fact that] we've beaten just about every team. We feel we can win."
- Lopez on keys to the Rockets series: "We've got to steal one of these two games. We've got to limit their fast break, easy points. Same thing its always been."
- Wesley Matthews. The Blazers had four starters who played in all 82 games this season (Lopez, Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard), the first time that's happened since the Los Angeles Lakers did it in 2010-11. "It's luck," Matthews said. "The way the game is now, to be able to play through injuries, not get injured, it's a blessing and a lot of luck. To be able to do it with four of your five starters, it's a big deal."
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian had a recent piece on the Blazers' strong health record this year.
- The Matthews vs. James Harden match-up will be one of the most intense we see around the league in the first round. I asked Matthews when he planned to begin the process of reviewing film on Harden: "It never ended. I watch the game, study the game. James and I have had plenty of battles. There's not really anything that's going to surprise me. I think I've seen it all. I'll start watching a little bit of what I did, what other guys -- quality defenders -- did against him, but it's going to be different from film when the game starts."
Random Game Notes
- The crowd was announced at 20,021 (a sellout). A boisterous group for the season finale.
- NBA.com video highlights are right here.
- Hedo Turkoglu is still getting booed for spurning the Blazers for the Toronto Raptors in 2009, even though he was bought out of that five-year contract earlier this year.
- Signs: "Forever a Blazers fan," "Batum Un Deux Trois," "Go Blazers, fan forever," "Damian Lillard: Prom with me?" "Lillard Time," "Go Blazers, Bring on Houston," "I Flew 5,000 Miles For The Blazers," "First Blazers game, We're From Alaska," "I wanna be like Damian Lillard," "Houston, You Have a Problem," "Blazers: Playoff Ready."
- Great Will Barton ball fake/reverse lay-up in transition. Vine via @CJZero.
- I spent two solid days this week grading all 30 NBA teams. Please do me a favor and give it a click. The Blazers scored well as you surely expected. My 2013-14 awards picks are right here too.
- Portland's 54th win marked a 21-game improvement from last season, the biggest single-season improvement in franchise history (with both years being in an 82-game schedule). "I like records," Stotts said afterwards.
- Mike Acker of the Willamette Week has a playoff preview here.
- Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated had a feature on Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley in last week's issue. It's online now here.
- If you're not already following Blazersedge on Twitter (here) and Facebook (here), there's no better time than the playoffs. I'll be going full bore with Playoffs/Finals coverage for the next few months too, if you're interested. Follow here.
- No updates on the Chalupa/McMuffin stuff, other than the Hammered Fan behind me failing at his timing and/or math.
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
It was good to end on a positive note. I was really pleased with the way everybody played. The starters came out and did a terrific job in the first quarter, set the tone. Offensively, the first half was fun to watch, 21 assists, the ball was moving, guys were making shots. It was fun basketball. I was proud of the young guys in the second half for the fact that we struggled through a third quarter where the offense didn't click, and it was a close game and it was a really good experience for them to play in the fourth quarter of a game that mattered, going up against vets like Jamal Crawford, Willie Green and those guys. It was a great way to end the regular season.
I was glad to get a win, to set that record. I like records. [Robin Lopez] got a record, I love it. To establish a 21-game turnaround is really something to be proud of. I told the team that we had a regular season we all should be proud of. Now the fun starts.
Joel Freeland -- did you like how he moved?
I did. I thought he competed well, it didn't look like he was favoring his leg. I couldn't tell if he was fatigued or not on some of his shots. I thought the game probably for him was invaluable, to get him out there and play him the last three minutes of a game that we were trying to win. I was pleased with the way he played.
Any hesitation on playing Joel Freeland going into the playoffs?
No. I don't know -- short answer is no. I don't have any hesitation. I'm not sure how it fits in, we've kind of changed the way we played, using Dorell [Wright] at the four, Thomas [Robinson] has played well. But I don't have any reservations playing him.
Winning nine of last 10 games, momentum?
I don't know about vindication. I was proud of the way our team responded after the Orlando game. That was the low point, as far as trying to get things back on track. Since that point, winning nine out of 10, beating some playoff teams, got us back on track. In this league, you're going to have rough patches, it's how you get through them. I was proud of the way we fought through rough times. Part of those rough times were in February, when we lost a lot of close games in a row, we fought through that as well. That showed our mettle. You need that going into the playoffs.
Rally moment after the lull in midseason?
It's easy to point to the Orlando game. We lost to Charlotte by 30, gave Miami a good game, lost at Orlando, and it coincides with LaMarcus [Aldridge] coming back. Even though we were 7-5 without L.A. in the lineup, him coming back bolstered everybody. I think that's the most obvious thing to point to.
Spread out playoff schedule early, does it change your preparation?
When you have two days off between games you can extend minutes, that's one thing. You almost expect in the first round, you're going to have two days off between games at some point. You don't know when it is. Such as it is, our starters were able to rest, we should be fresh going into Sunday's game. We'll see what happens on Wednesday. The schedule didn't surprise me at all.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter