Media Row Report: Blazers 97, Magic 83

The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Orlando Magic 97-83 in the Rose Garden Thursday night, proving that multiple dimensions will almost always beat a single dimension in basketball.

I hate to continue to harp on the importance of Portland's perimeter versatility, and lean so heavily on this September post, but beating the Orlando Magic on a season-high night from Dwight Howard was the Blazers' signature win of the season, and it showed how dangerous and frustrating Portland can be for opponents when the ball moves and the assertiveness level from Portland's wings is where it needs to be.

The Blazers got excellent energy from both Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, and a "chip on his shoulder" performance that won't be soon forgotten from Andre Miller, who was still bitter about his suspension for roughing up Blake Griffin. It was more than enough to not only overcome cold shooting from both LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, but also to leave a quality Orlando Magic as thoroughly defeated and down as any Blazers opponent in recent memory.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy didn't appear from the team's locker room until after Nate McMillan had already addressed the media and many of the Blazers had already dressed and gone home. Speaking in a calm tone when he finally emerged, he tore apart his team's effort. "Defensively I thought we were bad," Van Gundy said. "And offensively we were probably a little worse... We had one thing we could do offensively tonight, throw Dwight the ball and that was it."

Van Gundy pointed to Miller, who finished with a team-high 22 points to go along with seven rebounds, eight assists and two steals, as the difference maker. Miller attacked the basket and operated out of the post, taking it to the smaller Jameer Nelson and setting up much of Portland's weakside offense by attracting attention. "We did a very poor job against the mismatches. We were not able to handle Andre Miller at all," Van Gundy admitted. "We couldn't handle him without double teaming, [and] we couldn't handle him with double teaming because our double teams were poor."

Miller's consistent energy and the sparks from Matthews, who made a few plays in transition and attacked the rim, on his way to 20 points, three rebounds, two assists and three steals, and Batum, who attacked the offensive glass in a game that started with tons of one-shot-and-done possessions for both teams, to finish with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, caused Orlando's wings, who couldn't hit a shot to save their lives, to mail in the second half performance.

Think that is too harsh of an assessment? The Magic were even harsher on themselves.

"I got frustrated," Nelson admitted. "It's everybody. I'm not putting the blame on anybody. We just get frustrated and it's kind of like, basically, [bleep] it... We can't say, '[bleep] it, I'm not going to play defense. I'm not going to play defense because I'm not making shots.' Or, '[bleep] it I'm not going to get back or I'm not going to play hard.' It has to be hard. Whatever we do has to be hard."

Magic center Dwight Howard, who finished with a season-high 39 points, plus 15 rebounds, three blocks and a steal, and looks like, unquestionably, the best player in the NBA, was less profane than Nelson, but just as direct. ""We came out playing great, they threw everything they had at us, and we folded," Howard told me. "We shouldn't fold. Nothing should break us. And it did. Until everybody steps up on the team and man up, teams are going to throw their best punch at us and we're going to fold."

Watching the second half play, with the Blazers winning the third quarter 22-16 and the fourth quarter 30-21, you knew the post-game frustration was coming. The Magic were pointing fingers on defense, jawing with each other a little bit coming off the court and looking, generally, like a team that was overwhelmed.

This is precisely how a team should look when Portland is able to both play hard and utilize its many offensive weapons effectively at the same time. The three-pointers should be more open for Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum should be able to use his length against smaller defenders, Andre Miller should be able to balance his own scoring with play-making for his teammates with a little extra space to work with. Defenses should be back on their heels, unsure where the offensive attack is going to come from, and they should eventually wear down when a multi-front attack accumulates easier baskets.

The energy and match-up difficulties that result when all three of those guys are playing hard and in-sync provide a much greater margin of error for everyone else, a much greater margin of error than most of us would probably expect. If I told you before the game that Howard was going to go off for 39 and 15 without getting into any foul foul trouble, while Roy and Aldridge combined for 9-27 shooting, would you have guessed Portland won going away? Getting those producing on the same night is a winning strategy, and going smaller down the stretch to keep that mojo going has been an intelligent adjustment from Blazers coach Nate McMillan.

Another impressive aspect of this game for Portland was its attention to detail on the defensive glass. Howard is a premier rebounder and the Blazers diligently boxed him out possession after possession, to the point that the Magic had just two total offensive rebounds through three quarters. Add that number to the two that Portland conceded to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, and the Blazers allowed just four offensive rebounds in seven quarters of basketball. That's eye-popping. It's another measure of effort, and a major cause of the frustration from both the Magic coaching staff and the players mentioned above. 

Comparing this win over the Magic to losses on the road trip, the Blazers look like two completely different teams. Surely their fans prefer the version that leaves its opponents frustrated rather than the version that leaves its coaching staff frustrated and at a loss for words. Which team will show up during Portland's next four game road trip, which features visits to Phoenix, San Antonio, Memphis and Dallas?

Random Game Note

Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments

Defending Dwight Howard and his teammates

We wanted to mix up our defense but he was scoring. He didn't miss a shot in that first quarter. But we were shooting 27%. In the second quarter we started to score. The second quarter we started to score, and he was still scoring, it was a one point ball game. We felt like if we could continue to make him score and we continued to score, we had a chance of winning this game. So we wanted to take care of the three point ball.

Andre Miller

We played him a lot of minutes. He had the day off, so we felt like he would be able to go. We wanted that match-up. What you try to do is take the match-up between Brandon and LaMarcus and Dre. Tonight we felt like he had the match-up. A couple of times they had Jameer on Nic and Wesley and we went at that match-up and it worked out for us. He was the guy who really had to control this game, control this tempo. 

50 points in the paint

Attacking the basket. That is the gameplan every night, we don't do it every night. Go to the basket, get into the penalty, that will set up the perimeter game. At times we start to settle for the perimeter game and try and out shoot teams. You have to get a better shot when you penetrate the ball, whether it's through penetration or post ups. I like the fact that we won the free throw line tonight.

Wesley Matthews energy

Wesley and Nic, we put Nic at that power forward spot and we've gone small in a couple of games. That lineup has worked for us. We are able to spread the floor. We used that up in Boston, Brandon is guarding some fours, like Big Baby and tonight it was Bass, but we're able to spread the floor with that lineup and it's something we're going to continue to look at. Spread the floor, move Lamarcus to the center position so that we can create some offense.

What has turned this around since the losing streak

I don't know. We've played good basketball. We've made plays, we've made shots. I think on that road trip, we were scoring 10, 12 points in quarters. In the last two fourth quarters we've had 37 and 30. Somebody asked me is it as simple as that. Yeah. If you make shots, you get stops, you give yourselves a chance to win. 

Heading back on the road

Well, it's good to go out with wins. Build off of tonight's game. Now we need to go back on the road and play better basketball and win some road games.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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