Now it's about Blazers just playing better

Team isn't talking about making playoffs anymore

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, the video crew did not torch evidence of their loss Wednesday night to the Brooklyn Nets.

Visual proof still exists on how the Blazers provided little opposition to their aggressive opponent. So on Thursday afternoon, the team reviewed the excruciating details — or at least, they could stomach watching just the first quarter and a half. By that point in the video, the realization became clear.

"We watched ourselves and it kind of set in with everybody that (coach Terry Stotts) was right about everything," point guard Damian Lillard said. "We weren't playing as hard as we thought we were. We got a chance to see it for ourselves."

And the sight wasn't pretty. The Nets scored 10 percent of their points from offensive rebounding — evidence of their activity compared to the passive Blazers — and won the clash under the rim by a 14-rebound margin. Nets forward Reggie Evans grabbed a career-high 26 rebounds, more than the total effort from Portland's starting five.

Repeating the refrain from Wednesday's somber locker room, Lillard again called the outcome "embarrassing," while also attempting to share culpability in the 111-93 loss.

"We can't just blame it on the bigs," Lillard said. "There were also a lot of loose rebounds that came out that we (guards) didn't get that we should've got to. It wasn't just them, it was us, too."

Now, the Blazers (33-38) must be quick learners because they will return to the court Friday night against the Utah Jazz, another physically-imposing rival.

"It's got to get us back on track," Stotts said of the loss to Brooklyn. "Whether it's our mental focus, our physical energy, our anticipation, having a more aggressive demeanor. All those things. We have to use (Wednesday's) game as a starting off point."

On the same night that the Blazers were starring in Evans' highlights, the Jazz were ripping through the Phoenix Suns as their frontcourt players combined for 62 points.

With the win, Utah (36-36) retained the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings, one slot behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff seed.

For the Blazers, now dropped to the 11th spot, conversation about the playoffs became a distant and secondary topic.

"The headline isn't about the playoffs, the headline is us playing better after a bad performance," Stotts said. "I'm not the one bringing up the playoffs. I haven't brought it up with the team."

"It's about us playing better. The playoff race is the playoff race."

Aldridge rests ankle

On Thursday, LaMarcus Aldridge received treatment for his right ankle sprain and did not participate in practice. Stotts said the ankle had worsened overnight and Aldridge's playing status would be determined before Friday's game.

Aldridge sustained the injury late in the first quarter against the Nets and though he temporarily left the court, Aldridge returned and played what could be argued as his most efficient game of the season.

"I was surprised," Stotts said of Aldridge's 24-point performance. "He came down on Evans' foot and when he came back, I didn't know how bad it was because he played pretty well."

Aldridge hit 11 of his 14 shots for a season-best 78.6 field-goal percentage. Also, according to Synergy Sports, Aldridge rated at 1.41 Points Per Play -- his third highest mark of the season. The Points Per Play statistic measures a player's total points divided by his overall amount of plays.

"He makes shots," Lillard said. "He can really shoot the ball. He can really score the ball. I think once he made that first one, he felt good about every ball that he shot. As far as him coming back, he's our best player. He's our All-Star. He wants to makes the playoffs, so I wasn't surprised that he came back and still was able to play an efficient game."