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The Trail Blazers win an odd contest but lose their rookie center to a sprained ankle.
This game wasn't nearly as weird statistically as the recent Denver contest but it was odd nonetheless.
The game started out as expected with both teams whipping up a meringue of jumpers with the occasional incautiously-guarded drive sprinkled on top. The Blazers shot a good percentage but Philadelphia was in all-world form. Uncharacteristic turnovers on their part put the kibosh on any kind of lead. Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Victor Claver (!) hit enough shots to keep Portland ahead despite the lousy defense.
The middle periods were more or less on cruise control. Philly calmed down their turnover follies and started rebounding well but the Blazers also played better defense overall. Jrue Holiday and Nicolas Batum kept up the scoring. Portland wanted to streak ahead but they just weren't generating enough attempts, let alone good attempts. It was almost like both teams tacitly agreed to leave it until the fourth quarter, the equivalent of a fight started at lunch to be resolved after the 3:00 bell.
The Blazers sprinted ahead early in the fourth off of an Aldridge jumper, a Lillard three, and two Batum free throws. And it was over. That was all it took. 10 points up, the Blazers watched Philly make a game run at the end but the Sixers weren't shooting reliably at that point. Neither were the Blazers. It's like both teams shrugged and went home.
An odd win is still a win, however. If this victory didn't exactly inspire confidence at least it padded the win total against the possibly-rough upcoming road trip. If the Blazers can get a little momentum going on the road, it doesn't have to be that rough after all. A "W" here was a necessary start to that exploratory process.
LaMarcus Aldridge was punishing the Sixers with regularity whether he hit jumpers or posted up. Unfortunately he got only 13 shot attempts tonight. Part of the weirdness of Portland's attack is that it didn't center around Portland's best player. Maybe Aldridge wasn't feeling up to snuff. Maybe he wasn't calling for the ball. Maybe it worked out fine in the end anyway. It's still an experiment the Blazers shouldn't repeat. 7-13 shooting, 16 points, 5 rebounds.
Nicolas Batum seems to have settled into a mini-rhythm with his offense, passing the ball when playing with the first unit and shooting when playing with the second. It works well enough. He shot 6-17 tonight but also drew 8 foul shots (hitting 7) and dished 8 assists en route to a team high 22 points.
Damian Lillard shot aggressively (for better or worse) tonight but also made aggressive drives to the hoop (which are almost always for better). He appeared to take the challenge of Jrue Holiday seriously. Although Holiday blew away everybody with 29 points he was hitting legitimately difficult shots. Lillard picked his spots...maybe a few too many, but still acceptable. He went 8-18 for 20 points. The glaring number for Damian was 0 assists. Yup, 0. It's possible he forgot himself but it's also possible you're seeing a philosophical shift, making Batum more of a facilitator and Lillard more of a scorer. We should find out during the next couple of games, mostly by seeing whether Lillard plays contritely, or at least with a bit more of a conscience.
J.J. Hickson recovered just fine from last night's humiliation. Spencer Hawes and company felt his wrath to the tune of 7-11 shooting, 16 points, and 13 rebounds. Hickson didn't get much help from his friends due to the perimeter nature of Philly's game. The Blazers had trouble rebounding tonight but it wasn't J.J.'s fault.
Victor Claver started the game and demonstrated some really nice defense for a rookie. He also had his stroke going during the first quarter, though he was quiet after that. He finished with 3-4 shooting and 8 points scored.
Will Barton wanted to continue his impressive streak off the bench but it wasn't to be. Trying hard only got him 0-4 shooting, 0 points scored, and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes. Rookies go up, rookies go down.
Ronnie Price, on the other hand, put in a solid 20 minutes with 4 assists and 3 steals. He played alongside Lillard, further reinforcing the shift in Damian's role. (And also pointing out that Wesley Matthews remains injured, naturally.)
Luke Babbitt netted 4 rebounds in 11 minutes but those were almost incidental as he was clearly looking to generate offense tonight. It didn't work. He went 1-4 for 2 points.
Meyers Leonard appeared energetic, bouncing back from his poor showing against the Lakers. He got 4 rebounds and a block in 14 minutes, hitting 2-3 shots for 4 points. Unfortunately he rolled his ankle late and had to be helped off the floor. Ben has the following update from the Rose Garden:
Meyers Leonard Injury Update: Leonard sprained his right ankle. X-rays were negative for a break. He will not travel with the team on Sunday and his availability is currently to be determined. He did not speak with reporters after the game. -- Ben
Leonard's sprain put a sad coda on an otherwise happy win.