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Portland sends LeBron James and company back on road with one-sided defeat


TRIBUNE PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - CJ McCollum (left) brings the ball up the court for the Trail Blazers in their win against Cleveland on Wednesday night at Moda Center.The Trail Blazers are making it a tradition.

For two straight seasons, the Cleveland Cavaliers have come to town and taken a spanking at Moda Center.

A year ago, it was 105-76 pounding of LeBron James and company.

On Wednesday night, Portland laid the wood on the defending NBA champions to the tune of 102-86 in a game in which the Blazers led by as many as 24 points in the fourth quarter.

All told, Portland has won four in a row and six of seven at home against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

It was a happy affair all around for the Blazers (18-23) after a challenging 18-hour travel period that began late Tuesday night in Los Angeles, detoured through Seattle and wound up in Portland in mid-afternoon.

With record snowfall in Portland Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the Blazers were forced to fly to Sea-Tac International Airport following their 108-87 victory over the L.A. Lakers at Staples Center.

The Blazers left LAX at 1:30 a.m., arrived at Sea-Tac at 3:30 a.m. and got to their hotel at 4:15 a.m. They had an 11 a.m. bus to Sea-Tac for their flight to PDX, checked into a Portland hotel at 2 p.m. and boarded a bus at 4:30 p.m. to head to Moda Center.

"It was a long 18 hours," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "The 'Out-of-Towners' movie comes to mind, or maybe 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles.'"

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were able to spend the night in Portland after flying from Salt Lake City following their 100-92 loss to Utah. The Cavs, who remained on the airplane for three hours before the decision was made to fly to Portland, arrived at PDX at 3:30 a.m. and got to the hotel after 4 a.m.

"The best thing is, we made it in safe and got some rest," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. "(The Blazers) should be madder than we are. They couldn't land in their home city, and we could."

The Blazers, though, were the ones who showed the most energy and life Wednesday night, sending the Cavaliers (28-10) to their second straight defeat and a 2-2 mark on their current six-game road trip.

"Our team showed a lot of character," Stotts said. "To go through we did (with travel) and beat one of the best teams in the league — that was a special game. i was proud of our guys, how they played and how they competed all four quarters. Defensively, it was one of our better games. To do it against a team like Cleveland makes it even better."

The Cavaliers shot a season-low .341 from the field, including 9 for 30 (.300) from 3-point range, and had more turnovers (16) than assists (14).

"We didn't show any fight out there, but it's nothing we can't correct," said Cleveland forward Kevin Love, who collected 17 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes. "When we play faster, we're a better team. We got away from that tonight. We need to play harder as well as our style of basketball."

Portland got the bulk of its offensive production from shooting guard CJ McCollum, who scored a game-high 27 points, and his backup, Allen Crabbe, who chipped in 24 points in 9-for-11 shooting.

"CJ scored like he's been scoring," said Stotts of McCollum, who has topped the 25-point mark in each of his last seven games. "A.C. is shooting with confidence, but he's making some really good reads with his cuts. Our passing is improving because of how hard he cuts. Guys are looking for him. That type of play is contagious. when players make those cuts, it encourages passes."

Crabbe is 25 for 34 from the field over his last three games, including a career-high 30 points in a 125-124 double-overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday night.

"It's confidence," Crabbe said. "I'm shooting the ball like every shot is going to go in."

Crabbe felt a special pulse of fervor with Cleveland's annual visit to Portland.

"You're on ESPN and you're playing the Cavaliers," he said. "You want to make that exciting. The NBA made us play this game, so why not go out there, play hard and get a 'W'?"

The Blazers are beginning to show some life at the defensive end at the midway point of the regular season. A night after holding the Lakers to .386 shooting, they were effective against the Cavaliers, holding the Big Three — Love, James and Kyrie Irving — to a collective 14 for 43 from the field.

"The last time we played them (a 137-125 loss at Cleveland on Nov. 23), they scored 80 in the first half," said Damian Lillard, who was held to 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting. "Tonight they barely got to 80 for the game. It's a good measuring stick. Shows how much we've grown."

James got 20 points and 11 rebounds but made only 5 of 12 shots in his 31 minutes. Moe Harkless and Evan Turner shared primary defensive duties on the four-time Most Valuable Player Award winner.

"My teammates did a great job helping me," said Turner, who scored only two points on 1-for-7 shooting but had eight rebounds and a season-high 11 assists. "(James) looked over his shoulder and saw not only myself but a couple of other bodies. I tried to be physical, to stand in front of him and deter him from trying to drive as much."

The Blazers believe they can begin to make a move up in the standings.

"It's time to pick it up," reserve forward Ed Davis said. "We have a schedule coming up where we can go eight out of 10, seven out of 10, nine out of 10 — something like that."

"The last six or seven games, we've started playing basketball the way we want to play," Lillard said. "We've continued to be true to who we are, we've kept working, and we're finally starting to learn to be more consistent. It's working in our favor."

NOTES: The Blazers play host to Orlando on Friday, then embark on a four-game road trip that begins Monday at Washington. … Stotts notched his 200th career regular-season victory as the Blazers' head coach. He trails only Jack Ramsay (453), Rick Adelman (291) and Nate McMillan (266) on the franchise list. "I'm very proud of it," said Stotts, who is 200-169 in his 5 1/2 seasons at the Portland helm. "A lot of players and coaches went into it. If you'd told me when I got the job I'd get 200 wins, I don't know if I'd have believed you." … McCollum becomes the first Blazer to score 25 in seven straight games since Clyde Drexler in 1987. New Orleans' Anthony Davis, Houston's James Harden and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook are the only other players in the league to achieve that this season… McCollum also had a career high four blocked shots. … Stotts, asked how his players were so resilient after getting about four hours of sleep Wednesday morning: "NBA players are special athletes. Somehow, they can summon the wherewithal to compete in a game. Part of it is physical, but most of it is mental. Our guys showed that tonight." … Turner, asked if he gets more psyched than usual to match up with James: "I've been trying (to play strong defense against every team). Some days are going to be better than other, but I'm trying, God damn it." … James had five turnovers, and has 16 giveaways in the last three games.

Al-Farouq Aminu had his second double-double of the season, with 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in 31 minutes. … Cleveland's total of 86 points was lowest by a Portland opponent this season. … The Blazers have won consecutive games for the first time since winning three straight from Nov. 30 to Dec. 5. … Why were the Cavaliers able to fly into Portland, and not the Blazers? As Stotts understands it, "They were planning on flying into Seattle. (PDX) opened up. All the logistics on the ground were planned — their hotel, a bus. Once we set our flight plan (while in L.A.), we weren't able to make changes in mid-flight." … After Wednesday's game, each of the Blazers had a decision to make. "All our cars are at the airport," Stotts said. "We'll have a bus go to the airport for anybody who wants to get their cars. The others can spend the night at the hotel and get their cars (Thursday)." Would Stotts have preferred to postpone the game to Thursday? "That would have meant a back-to-back with Orlando (on Friday)," the Portland coach said. "I'm glad to play the game, get it over with and move on."

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