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Trail Blazers Lose 13th Straight, Look To Future With Lillard As Leader

04/18/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    The Portland Trail Blazers (33-49) were outrun and out-manned by the playoff bound Golden State Warriors (47-35) on a night when LaMarcus Aldridge shined the brightest, scoring 30 points and grabbing 21 rebounds, becoming only the fifth player in the NBA this season to have such a game. The Warriors proved to be too much, however, as they pulled away in the fourth quarter on their way to a 99-88 win, giving Portland a franchise record tying 13-game losing streak.

    Tonight, despite the losing streak and the fact that the Warriors came into the game with a lot to play for, it was about the fans. And, Head Coach Terry Stotts was quick to thank the fans for their support and said his appreciation for them has grown.

    "I was pleased with the way we played. Last game, I wanted our team to play hard. Our fans have been great all season. I told the team before the game -- it was important for us to play hard. Win or lose, play hard because I really have grown an appreciation for the fans here. I'm not just saying that, I have a big appreciation of what the fans of Portland mean for the team. I've been in this league twenty years and fans here are exceptional. I wanted our team to play to the level that they expected and I though they did that. Obviously it's disappointing to lose, but more importantly, I liked the way we played for the last game of the season."

    The Trail Blazers, although it's cliche to say and I won't be the only one saying this, provided in the last game of the season a microcosm of their season as a whole. A rough start, a furious fight back, stellar play from their All-Star and solid play from their amazing point guard that eventually just wasn't enough as the young players tried to close out the game against a very good opponent. There were highs, there were lows, there was excitement, but most importantly, the goal Coach Stotts had for his team this season and the ones they had tonight were exactly the same: compete.

    It's what they did and despite their lack of depth, their youth, their defensive deficiencies and their streaky offense, they did the only thing that was asked of them and that was that they competed until the final buzzer and until the final game.

    The Warriors ended up shutting down Portland's offense other than Aldridge in the first half and managed to fend off a big third-quarter run to get the Golden State lead down to three after three quarters. Steph Curry scored 15 points and broke the NBA record for threes in a season with 272 (Ray Allen 269, 2005-06). David Lee had 20 points and 10 rebounds while Klay Thompson scored 24 points.

    This 13-game losing streak brought questions of a "bad taste in the mouth" or "a damper on the season," but despite what the records may show and how they finished with a historic losing streak, the Trail Blazers are not hanging their heads.

    "Obviously we've lost 13 in a row but when I look back on a lot of things we did, particularly in the first 50, 60 games and some of the wins that we had and how we played and the close games -- I'm going to have a lot of fondness for this entire season. Again, the losing streak at the end -- you can't wipe that off the record. That's obviously part of it, but I'll remember more about the first two thirds of the season than the last 13 games."

    What began on a bright Halloween night with Damian Lillard taking over against the Lakers for 23 points and 11 assists brought so many great moments that, despite the losses and the low-points, at least this writer would love to see again.

    Luke Babbitt sparking a comeback in Charlotte from 18 points down with five minutes left, something that hadn't been done in 15 years. Gutsy wins when LaMarcus Aldridge went toe-to-toe with possible Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, blocking six shots and coming away with a road win. Aldridge going to his second All-Star game. Aldridge's five points in four seconds including his buzzer-beater against Dallas. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews stopping LeBron James' 33-game streak of 20 points or more and sparking a comeback in the final five minutes to stun the defending champions.

    Everything Damian Lillard: 37 points on his Oakland homecoming, going shot-for-shot with one of his heroes and living legend Kobe Bryant to get a career-high 38 or his game-winner against the Hornets in December, or his dagger against the Knicks to seal a win at Madison Square Garden, a place where the real starts shine the brightest.

    There were more moments, there are more things to take away and even some of them, such as Dame's amazing duel with Bryant and Will Barton's late season emergence happened in under the shadow of this 13-game losing streak. It had it's ups and downs, but the Trail Blazers are keeping their heads held high, taking it for what it was, rather than what others wanted it be after they raised their own expectations.

    "It's been an up and down year for us. I think we won a lot more games than people expected us to. I thought I played better than a lot of people expected me to. It's just, I mean, to be able to play at a certain level every night, knowing what it takes to win games consistently, I think we needed that this year to do that next year, so it's a lot that we can take from it," said Damian Lillard.

    "It takes away from the season that we had. We had 33 wins, 13 games ago. It's kind of bittersweet that we couldn't get a couple of more wins with that many games left. Going out with a 13-game losing streak is definitely going to leave a sour taste in our mouth," Lillard added. However, he did add that he's looking forward to rest after playing 82 games and finishing the season leading the NBA in minutes played.  

    LaMarcus Aldridge had a monster night and surely gave the home crowd a show on fan appreciation night, but he took the year for what it was. LA, the team's other pillar of consistency, won't let this season leave with him bad feelings.

    "A lot of ups and downs. We started early, doing better than everyone thought. We stalled at the end with injuries and guys being out but I thought throughout the whole year, guys try to get better, guys came in every day. The young guys came in and tried to learn the game and that's all you can ask for."

    Despite the injuries that have set the Trail Blazers back throughout the season, perhaps one thing that we will see more of next year and that is important to the team began to take shape. Damian Lillard, the "franchise point guard," as Aldridge put it after the game, has shown signs of leadership. Tonight, after accepting his fifth trophy for Western Conference Rookie Of The Month, Lillard addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support. It seems that despite the losses, the Trail Blazers have finally given way to the future, one with Lillard as their leader.

    "Definitely, I feel like being a point guard it should be natural for me to be more of a leader. I mean, I think with all our guys being out towards the end of the season, I had the most experience on the floor. I felt like the guys out there hadn't played a lot of minutes (he paused to joke with former Trail Blazer Jarrett Jack to leave the locker room) and I feel like they needed me to speak up and help them and kind of guide them what I had been going through the entire season. It's important for me especially being the point guard. If we gone be the type of team we want to be, I need to be able to speak up and hold guys accountable and also let guys know that I believe in them and that I'm here," he said.

    While the Trail Blazers lost their 13th straight and go into another season where they will be looking to get better and take the next leap, they seem to have found something crucial to a contender in this league: a franchise player and a clear leader for the locker room. Lillard has referred to Chris Paul as "The General" of the Clippers and it's no secret he is not only going to play his position but also lead his team as a whole as well.

    As he exited, he told the teammates that were left in the locker room that he'd see them tomorrow.

    As he exited, he left as the team's franchise point guard, the NBA minutes leader, franchise record holder for threes made in a season, the record holder for most threes made by a rookie in NBA history and most importantly for the future of the Trail Blazers: the leader of his team.


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