Curry strengthens rookie-of-year candidacy with 42-point output
PORTLAND, Ore. – With the way the season has gone for the Trail Blazers, center Juwan Howard thinks perhaps Portland shouldn’t be the playoff underdog that some are suggesting.
The Blazers have been hit by a myriad of injuries this season, and yet still finished with 50 wins to land as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. They’ll play the third-seeded Phoenix Suns in their first-round playoff series starting on Sunday.
“I just believe in every guy in this locker room. I have believed since the start of the season,” Howard said. “With all the injuries, people wrote us off and said we weren’t going to make the playoffs.
“But look at us now. We’re still standing.”
The Blazers lost their regular-season finale 122-116 to the Golden State Warriors, who had just six healthy players going into the game. Stephen Curry, a rookie of the year candidate, had 42 points. Monta Ellis added 34.
“Bottom line is that we played a spectacular, a great performance from all five guys that could play,” Warriors coach Don Nelson said. “Like the guys said, they want the video. They thought it was the greatest game they ever played in, to do something like that. You know what? They might be right.”
The Blazers were hurting, too. Besides All-Star Brandon Roy, who has a torn meniscus in his right knee and was resting while he waits to test it, Portland was without forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who was hospitalized the night before with a gastrointestinal virus. It is not expected the virus will keep Aldridge out of the playoffs.
Portland went 2-1 against the Suns this season, but could be without Roy.
Howard was undaunted.
“I don’t care what people say,” he said. “We haven’t even played a game yet in the series. People are entitled to their opinions.”
Although he will require surgery, Roy said he would try to play with the injury during the playoffs. Doctors have told him he cannot make the injury worse, but he didn’t know if pain would prevent him from being effective.
Roy, the team’s top scorer, will likely be evaluated on Friday.
“At the end of the day, you still have to play,” Portland forward Martell Webster said about the prospect the team may not have Roy. “We’re going to have to rally together and play the game.”
Portland started a completely different lineup Wednesday night against the Warriors than it began the season with.
Gone are centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, who both sustained injuries that required season-ending surgery. Forward Nicolas Batum missed the first half of the season after shoulder surgery, and swingman Rudy Fernandez had midseason back troubles.
Roy missed more that a dozen games with a sore hamstring earlier this year, before the meniscus tear was discovered.
In all, 13 Blazers have missed a combined 311 games because of injuries, second only to the Warriors this season.
Golden State is heading home to a somewhat uncertain future.
Owner Chris Cohan has formally put the franchise up for sale. Coach Don Nelson has said he plans to return next year, the final season on his contract, and general manager Larry Riley said that would be the case barring any unforeseen circumstances.
Nelson has said he is committed to developing this young team to pave the way for an easier transition for his successor.
Paced by Ellis’ 18 first-half points, Golden State had a 60-58 edge on the Blazers at the break.
Fernandez hit a 3-pointer to put Portland up 78-73 in the third quarter, before Jeff Pendergraph’s dunk and Webster’s 3-pointer made it 91-85 heading into the fourth quarter.
But Curry’s 3-pointer put Golden State back in front at 98-96, and Ellis’ layup made it 108-104 with 5:34 left.
Webster gave Portland back the lead with a layup and a free throw that made it 109-108 with 3:45 left.
Nelson argued at length with the officials after Devean George apparently fouled out – and the Warriors had no available healthy players. George was eventually allowed to return, but it cost the Warriors a technical.
Starting center Chris Hunter hurt his knee in the opening five minutes of the game, meaning the Warriors were down to five available players.
Curry came back with his 3-pointer that made it 113-110, and after Pendergraph scored for Portland, Curry’s baseline jumper made it 115-112 with 1:49 left.
Curry added a pair of free throws with 1:07 to go and the Warriors led the rest of the way.
The Blazers were already the No. 6 seed before the game started after Dallas defeated San Antonio. Their frst-round opponent was determined when the Suns defeated the Utah Jazz 100-86 just moments after Portland wrapped up.
“I think we’ll match up against them well,” said Pendergraph, who had a career-high 23 points. “Going into that series – almost any series – we’re going in as underdogs. I think that plays to our favor. We’ve been that the whole season so it’s really nothing new for us.”
NOTES: Portland players came down from the seats during introductions, part of fan appreciation night. The team wore their “Rip City” white uniforms. The term dates back to the early 1970s, when it became the trademark of broadcaster Bill Schonley. … Portland has won four straight against the Warriors at the Rose Garden. … Blazers center Marcus Camby was replaced by Dante Cunningham in the starting lineup just prior to tipoff.
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