Perfect night for Blazers: Records, victories and no injuries
Things couldn't have gone a whole lot better for the Trail Blazers in their regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night at the Moda Center.
Portland won 110-104 to finish the season at 54-28, tied for the sixth-best record in franchise history while representing a franchise-record 21-game improvement from last season's 33-49 mark.
Center Robin Lopez played just long enough to set a club record for offensive rebounds (326), breaking the mark of 325 co-held by Kermit Washington (1979-80) and Chris Dudley (1994-95).
Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard all started their 82nd game, allowing the Blazers to become just the fifth team in NBA history to start four players in every regular-season contest.
No starter played more than 14 minutes and eight reserves saw at least 12 minutes of time, including Will Barton, who bombed in a career-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 35 minutes of duty.
And best of all, nobody got hurt as the Blazers closed out the regular season and began the post-season journey, which starts Sunday night at Houston.
"I was glad to get a win to set (the franchise 21-win improvement) record," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "I like records. RoLo (Lopez) got a record. I love it.
"To establish a 21-game turnaround is something to be proud of. We've had a regular season we should all be proud of. Now the fun starts."
Said starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews: "I was on the other end of that last year. We said before the season there was something special about this team. To get 54 wins after having 33 last year and being written off from the jump -- we played with an edge all year. I'm proud of this group."
With the playoffs looming, both teams chose to rest regulars. The Clippers (57-25), the third seed in the Western Conference, were without starting guards Chris Paul and J.J. Redick as well as suspended power forward Blake Griffin. Center DeAndre Jordan started, played one minute, 23 seconds and departed for the night. The Blazers didn't suit power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and reserve guard Mo Williams.
Portland opened a quick 14-point lead and appeared ready to run the Clippers out of the building. The Blazers led by 22 points in the second quarter and were on top 68-52 at halftime.
The worm turned in the third quarter as Jamal Crawford -- a Blazer last season -- led a jail break that included a 17-0 Clipper run. The visitors outscored the Blazers 29-8 in the last nine minutes and 33-14 through the entire quarter to take an 85-82 advantage into the final frame.
Barton and Victor Claver -- who scored eight straight points on a three-point play, a 3-point shot and a put-back in the final two minutes -- were the catalysts as Portland got enough done in the fourth quarter to put the win on ice.
"It's good to end on a positive note," Stotts said. "I was pleased with the way everybody played. The starters set the tone in the first quarter, and I was proud of the young guys, who struggled through the third quarter when the offense didn't click but hung in there."
Lopez was a whirling dervish in the first quarter with 11 points and seven rebounds. Stotts put him back in the game just long enough to get the offensive rebounds record.
"That was because of Mo at halftime," Lopez said. "Coach (Stotts) was reading off the starting lineup, and he said, 'You have to have RoLo in there.' I had three minutes to try to get that last one. Will did everything tonight. As he pointed out, he also missed the shot that led to my (record) rebound. That's another feather in his cap."
The Blazers ended the regular season by winning nine of 10 games. The streak began after an embarrassing 95-85 defeat at Orlando on March 25.
"I was proud of the way our team responded after the Orlando game," Stotts said. "That was the low point. You're going to have rough patches. It's how you get through them."
Said Matthews: "This is when you want to be playing your best basketball. I think we're on that path of continuing to get better."
NOTES: The Blazers play Sunday and Wednesday at Houston, then face the Rockets next Friday and Sunday nights at the Moda Center. Before the game, Lopez was honored as the 2013-14 recipient of the Maurice Lucas Award, presented to the player who represents the indomitable spirit of the late ex-Blazer great. "Maurice Lucas was a great player and a better person," Lopez said. "The award is nice, but the really cool thing for me was his wife reminded me that, earlier in the season, she said, 'That's the guy who is going to win the award.' For her to think that way about me, I can't really express that in words." Matthews, on the Blazers having four starters who never missed a game all season: "It's luck, it really is, honestly. The way the game is now, to be able to play all 82 games, play through injuries and not be injured, it's a blessing and a lot of luck. To be able to do it with four of your five starters is a big deal."
Reserve center/forward Joel Freeland played for the first time since injuring a knee on Feb. 12, collecting six points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. "Felt really good," Freeland said. "I haven't been thinking about my knee for the past week or so. The thing I was more worried about was my wind, and I felt good. I felt like I held my own. My legs didn't get too tired. I wasn't perfect, but my stamina was a lot better than I thought it was going to be." Stotts was impressed, too, though noncommittal on whether Freeland would join the rotation against the Rockets. "I don't have any hesitation about playing him, but I'm not sure how he fits in," the second-year Blazer mentor said. Crawford, the leading candidate for the NBA's Sixth Man Award, scored a game-high 34 points with eight assists and five rebounds in a surprising 42 minutes. Crawford had missed 13 of the previous 21 games with a calf injury. "It's only my (ninth) game in a month and a half," he said. "I had rustiness, and I had to get it off. I feel a lot better after playing those minutes." Crawford, on his former team's chances in the first round: "They're a good matchup with Houston. Portland has the continuity. their guys are healthy. When they had their five guys the first half of the season, they were at the top (in the West)." the Blazers finished the season shooting an NBA-best .815 from the foul line, a franchise record. They also established a franchise record for 3-pointers made in a season (770).