A torrid opening from the starters and a hot finish by Rodney Hood led the Portland Trail Blazers to a 118-108 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. With the win, the Blazers moved to 5-1 on this remarkably long road trip.
An early 15-point lead hinted at Portland walloping Charlotte for the second time this season. The first matchup between these two teams back in January ended in a 31-point drubbing. This contest would prove to be much closer. Jeremy Lamb couldn’t miss and kept the Hornets within striking distance through much of the first half.
The Blazers began several runs that could’ve put the game away, therefore saving the starters’ energy to finish the road trip strong. Turnovers, bad pick-and-roll defense and questionable shot choices prevented coach Terry Stotts from turning to the reserves late.
Buoyed by Rodney Hood’s strong play, the Blazers closed out the Hornets in the second half. He missed his only shot in the first half, an open three-pointer. In the second half, he went 9-13 from the field, including three triples for 27 points. When the Blazers failed to create an uncontested look, he came to rescue. Stotts left Hood in with the starters and his hot hand created space for Jusuf Nurkic to put the game on ice.
Mt. Hood Erupted
Through the first five games of the current road trip, Hood scored a combined 16 points on 7-32 shooting. This morning, he scored 27 points on 9-14 shooting, with all the points coming in the second half.
Hood missed his first two attempts, both from beyond the arc. To get his touch back, he backed down smaller defenders like Tony Parker and Kemba Walker into the post for shooter-friendly turnaround jumpers. His confidence grew from there and escalated to a three-point conversion from the logo.
After torching the nets, the Hornets stayed glued to Hood on the perimeter and the starters returned to the game. Damian Lillard and Nurkic operated in the extra space effectively. The Bosnian Beast dominated the paint against Frank Kaminsky to give Portland the final baskets that put the game away.
After the buzzer sounded, every Blazers player high-fived or acknowledged Hood. Nurk grabbed a cup of water and dumped it on the new signing during his post-game interview. Hood’s eruption will hopefully propel him toward consistency on the offensive end, something Portland needs off the bench.
Three players displayed noteworthy defense today: Seth Curry, Moe Harkless and Jusuf Nurkic.
Curry defended Parker in his initial stint during the second quarter. He stuck with Parker, who’s a master screen navigator and nifty ball handler. He challenged jumpers without biting on pump fakes and eliminated the threat of the pick-and-roll by fighting over every screen. Despite being held in check early, Parker did find success in the second half.
Harkless recorded two steals and extended his streak of two or more steals to five straight games. He preys on opponents driving by him. Harkless routinely dislodges the ball from passing dribblers to kickstart transition opportunities for the Blazers.
Nurkic and Lillard switched on most Walker-Zeller pick-and-roll sets. Walker is an impressive open-floor shot creator, but the Bosnian Beast contested every shot, even the the former UCONN standout’s trademark step-back move. He nimbly recovered on Walker’s perimeter moves and prevented easy baskets at the rim. Walker scored 18 points on 5-21 shooting, each significantly below his season averages.
CJ McCollum’s Hot Streak Ends
In the 14 games prior to this morning, McCollum hit seven three-pointers on five separate occasions, all of which tie his career high. Like after his last 35-point outing, McCollum once again struggled from the field.
He made two of his first three triples and ignited the Blazers’ first-quarter run, but then missed ten straight and failed to score again. McCollum played 34 minutes and scored six points on 2-13 shooting—tying his lowest mark this year.
The eye test indicates there was not a difference in McCollum’s shot choice or form. His usual wrap-around the screen and shoot a falling-forward midrange jumper simply didn’t connect on Sunday. Neither did his floaters.
Bad Shot Choices
Lillard and McCollum like their midrange jumpers, especially along the baseline. While midrange shots are fading in today’s NBA, the Blazer guards shoot them well and often see enough room to get the shot off without a hand in their face.
On Sunday, however, each guard attempted shots early in the shot clock without making a single pass. The screen didn’t create its usual room, so opponents easily contested their attempts. These wasted possessions allowed Charlotte to crawl back in the game in the third quarter. If Portland continued to build its lead, the starters might’ve been able to rest and save energy in preparation for the final game of the road trip.
The Blazers are a deep team—Lillard and McCollum don’t need to play hero ball as often. The no-pass possessions and contested midrange shots should not occur so frequently.
The Blazers return to action on Tuesday with a trip to Memphis to face the Grizzlies.