It's ugly, but it's a 'W' for Blazers
Observations from the Trail Blazers' home-opening 103-93 victory over New Orleans Tuesday night at Moda Center …
• Even the Blazer apologist would admit to it being an unimpressive win.
Portland's NBA-record run of winning consecutive home openers — it now stands at 17 — was in serious jeopardy almost to the end, despite the non-playoff-bound Pelicans losing All-Star forward Anthony Davis after five minutes to a knee injury.
If CJ McCollum hadn't come to the rescue with a 16-point fourth quarter, the Blazers likely would have been saddled with a loss that would have taken some heavy explaining.
"I tried to be aggressive," said McCollum, who made 4 of 7 shots from the field, 3 of 4 from 3-point range and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line over the final 12 minutes. "I tried to push the tempo a little bit more.
"I just wanted to make something happen. We were a little sluggish offensively. The flow wasn't what we'd like to it be. Luckily, we were able to get a win."
• Portland shot .375 from the field in both halves, made only 10 of 29 3-point attempts and committed 19 turnovers — 17 through three quarters. The Blazers made only one field goal over the final six minutes but were 11 for 13 from the line over that stretch, scoring the final nine points. New Orleans went scoreless over the final 3:23.
But the Blazers (3-1) ruled the backboards, 63-42 — 18-4 off the offensive glass — and held the Pelicans (1-3) to .395 shooting, including 9 for 30 from beyond the arc.
"We had a couple of nice runs here and there, but our defense basically won it for us," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "Our offense struggled most of the night. We had a rough time getting it going, but we made plays when we needed to."
• Damian Lillard had one of the poorest performances of his five-plus seasons and 400 games as a Blazer. The two-time All-Star point guard started 0 for 9 from the field and didn't hit his first basket until 4:40 was left in the third quarter.
Lillard — sixth in the league in scoring with a 27.0-point average last season — finished with 13 points on 3-for-16 shooting, including 1 for 8 from 3-point range. A career .877 foul shooter, he made 6 of 9 from the line — missing two straight in the final minute — and had six turnovers in 35 minutes.
"It was a tough offensive game for me shooting the ball," Lillard said. "You're going to have nights like that in a long NBA season, with a lot of attention being paid to you.
"I'm just happy we were able to pull it out. We could have done a lot of things a lot better, but I was proud of what we did at the defensive end to pull out an ugly game. You never apologize for winning a game."
• Depth proved crucial for the Blazers (3-1) again Tuesday night.
Lillard's performance was dreadful. Center Jusuf Nurkic drew three fouls in the first 6:17 and didn't play the rest of the half. He finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. Small forward Moe Harkless was 0 for 5 from the field and had four points and six boards in 23 minutes.
But off the bench, Ed Davis (12 points and 10 rebounds, including six off the offensive glass), Evan Turner (13 points, seven rebounds), Pat Connaughton (eight points, six rebounds), Caleb Swanigan (five points, eight boards) and Meyers Leonard (five points on 2-for-2 shooting, two boards in six minutes) all had their moments.
"We have so many guys we can count on," Lillard said. "Each game we've played, guys have come in and gotten the job done. They're helping us produce wins. When you're doing that over a period of time, you see you're a deeper team. The longer we can sustain that, the better we'll be as a team."
Said Stotts: "One of the positives after four games is we've had different guys have a game. That's the sign of a good team — to have different guys come in and help you win games."
• DeMarcus Cousins was a one-man wrecking crew for New Orleans, going for 39 points and 13 rebounds (along with eight turnovers) in 40 minutes of destruction.
"He's one of the better bigs in the league," said Ed Davis, who spent some time contending with the 6-11, 270-pound Cousins at the defensive end. "He can put it on the floor, he can shoot it, he's a big body. He's what you call a matchup problem."
Only two other Pelicans scored in double figures — point guards Jrue Holiday (14) and Jameer Nelson (10). Cousins was 12 for 23 from the field; his teammates combined to make 18 for 53.
• Nurkic took a subtle shot at Cousins — who drew a pair of offensive fouls on "The Bosnian Beast," embellished with some backward theatrics — when talking about his foul trouble afterward.
"Can't afford to be in too early foul trouble, even with the guy flopping all the time," Nurkic said.
• Davis has been a consistent producer in Portland's four games, averaging 8.8 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting .583 from the field. The 6-10 forward, who is in the final year of a three-year, $21-million contract, underwent shoulder surgery in March and missed the rest of the 2016-17 season. The shoulder had been bothering him for some time, and he vowed he would come back an improved product.
"It started as soon as I got my shoulder fixed," he said. "It changed from that day. I took five days off all summer."
Paying tribute to Davis' work ethic, some teammates have taken to calling him "Shirt-Off Ed."
"'Dame' started it one day when I had my shirt off in the weight room," Davis said. "I work hard for my body, man. I got to make sure people see it."
• Lillard seemed to indicate Anthony Davis' absence after the opening minutes was a mixed blessing.
"You hate to see anybody go down, especially one of the better players in the league," Lillard said. "As a competitor, you want (an opponent) to be at full strength. You wouldn't want that to happen to your team.
"Had he been out there, it would have made it a better game. It would have forced us to be sharper — not that we took (a victory) for granted. But with him not being out there, it played to our favor."
• An hour before game time, Swanigan had pencil and paper in hand in the locker room, charting notes while watching video of the Pelicans' Sunday victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 6-9, 250-pound rookie said he is doing it prior to each game to collect information on the opponent.
"It's just getting familiar with the league," Swanigan said. "I'm writing down every play as I watch them. The coaches quiz me about it. I'm not going to get everything right away, but through repetition, I'm going to eventually get it."
NOTES — Portland plays host to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, the second of a string of 10 home dates over the next 11 games. … The Blazers haven't fallen in a home opener since a 96-86 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000. … Lillard has moved into 10th place on the franchise career scoring list with 8,964 points. Barring injury, he should climb to fourth place by season's end and trail only Clyde Drexler (18,040, 1983-95), LaMarcus Aldridge (12,562, 2006-15) and Terry Porter (11,330, 1985-95). … Jamelle McMillan, son of former Blazer coach Nate McMillan, is an assistant coach for the Pelicans. "Jamelle is going to be a great coach in this league, he really will be," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said of the ex-Arizona State guard. "For a young coach (age 28), he has instant respect from the players. He has the pulse of what's going on, but he can also be stern. He's a lot like (Cleveland head coach) Tyronn Lue. He does a great job relating to the players, but when it comes down to being serious, he gets the job done."