Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum Pace Blazers Past DeMar DeRozan, Spurs

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2019

PORTLAND, OR - FEBRUARY 07: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles against Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers in the second quarter during their game at Moda Center on February 7, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers continued their impressive play of late with a 127-118 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday at Moda Center.

Portland is 7-2 in its last nine games, while the Spurs lost their third in a row. 

The three-headed attack of Damian Lillard (24 points, nine assists and five steals), CJ McCollum (30 points and nine rebounds) and Jusuf Nurkic (22 points and six assists) spearheaded the winning effort for the Trail Blazers.

San Antonio had a three-man attack of its own with DeMar DeRozan (35 points, six rebounds and six assists), Rudy Gay (25 points on 5-of-6 from three-point range) and LaMarcus Aldridge (17 points and 10 boards), but it wasn't enough.

         

Rodney Hood's Arrival Gives Blazers Depth to Make Playoff Run

Portland didn't make the league's flashiest move when it acquired Rodney Hood from the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, but the deal will pay off in the long run.

The Duke product wasted little time in making an impact in his first game with his new team, scoring 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field as a formidable bench piece.

He averaged 12.2 points per game in 45 contests for the Cavaliers and is well on his way to posting double-digit scoring totals for the fourth straight season. He also sports a 36.8 percent career shooting clip from three-point range and can play off Lillard and McCollum when defenders collapse on the guards' penetration or perimeter shots.

What's more, Hood joins a Trail Blazers bench that is fourth in the league in offensive rating, per NBA.com, bolstering a strength that could swing a playoff series.

Evan Turner is a ball-handling point forward who can score in the lane over smaller defenders and facilitate when opponents collapse on him, Seth Curry can stretch the floor with his outside shooting and Jake Layman can provide scoring in spurts. Layman poured in 25 points in Tuesday's loss to the Miami Heat and has scored in double figures in 10 of 12 games after he added 13 Thursday.

Hood slides right into that group because he won't take frontcourt minutes from Layman and doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective like Turner.

Portland already has backcourt star power in Lillard and McCollum, and Nurkic is capable of tallying a double-double on any night. However, it is going to need contributions from the supporting cast over a seven-game series, especially after last season's sweep by the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Trail Blazers had a double-digit scorer off the bench in just one of those four games and couldn't counter the firepower of Anthony Davis and the Pelicans' shooters.

Hood is a proven scorer who can capitalize on the space created by the one-two punch in the backcourt if he is with the starters, or he provide another scoring option for an already dangerous bench. He wasn't a league-altering addition, but he can help the Trail Blazers avoid the same postseason fate they met last season.

           

Rudy Gay Flashes Much-Needed Third Scorer Potential for Spurs

DeRozan and Aldridge are the only two players on the Spurs who are averaging more than 15 points per game.

That won't cut it in the postseason against a daunting array of Western Conference opponents that features star power all over, including the entire Golden State Warriors starting lineup, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Donovan Mitchell, Lillard and LeBron James, among others.

San Antonio will need more scoring, and Gay proved he can fill that role Thursday. He caught fire during the third quarter as the Spurs used a 25-4 run to turn a 21-point deficit into a tie game, consistently hitting from the outside and making plays off the bounce when defenders pushed up on his shot.

The veteran is the most obvious candidate to be the third scorer, considering he was hitting 51.8 percent of his shots from the field and 40.9 percent of his three-pointers heading into Thursday. He is also doing it all at 32 years old with an injury history that includes an Achilles tear.

The last time he played even 60 games in a season was in 2015-16 on the Sacramento Kings.

His 50/40 split after he shot just 31.4 percent from three-point range last season is a head-turning development.

That refined attack diversifies the Spurs offense beyond Aldridge on the post and elbow and DeRozan in isolation mode, and Gay showed a much-needed aggressiveness during Thursday's contest that will help force doubles away from the top two options.

While he won't put up 25-plus on a nightly basis, he flashed his potential to create off the primary playmakers and give the Spurs another way to attack opponents in the West.

                   

What's Next? 

The Spurs will visit the Utah Jazz on Saturday, while the Trail Blazers will play in Dallas against the Mavericks on Sunday.

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