In a Nutshell
In their first game back from the All-Star break--rested, fresh, facing an injured Denver Nuggets team that doesn't play well at home--the Portland Trail Blazers announce to the world that somewhere between the 7th and 9th position in the West will be just fine for them this season, thank you. Portland gets out-hustled, out-rebounded, out-run, and loses.
The play got sloppy early in this one with both teams committing turnovers leading to run-outs (and in turn more turnovers). However even in the back-and-forth early minutes the Denver Nuggets clearly showed more energy, getting to loose balls, running faster, and rebounding harder. Denver dominated Portland on the boards in the first period with 9 offensive rebounds. The Blazers responded with steals and 7 blocked shots of their own. But shot blocking and turnovers affect plays every now and again. Rebounding affects every possession. Kurt Thomas getting knocked out by a Kenneth Faried sneaker and subsequent fall while the two were trying to save the ball from going out of bounds pretty much symbolized the evening. Thomas left for the night with a mild concussion. The rest of the Blazers stayed, also playing like they had mild concussions in solidarity with their teammate. Denver led 29-22 after one. They outscored the Blazers by 10 in the second period. Portland was saved from complete disaster by a little zone defense and a lot of Jamal Crawford shooting but still trailed 55-38 at the half.
The Blazers connected on some threes in the second half but if you read the game preview you'll understand that the Nuggets don't care about that much. They'll let you hit threes all you want as long as they run faster, score in the paint more, keep you out of the lane, and rebound. They did all of those tonight. The Blazers closed within single digits a few times, including the game's close, but they never seriously threatened. On an night when the team should have roared and broken out of their old routine they shuffled around with their hands in their pockets instead, confirming their bad habits instead of breaking them. Denver wins 104-95.
Take Away Points
I think I just said it all right there. This team has skill, talent, a bona fide star. This team doesn't have fire. This team doesn't have anybody to rip control away from an opponent and not give it back. Nene was out and the Blazers got out-rebounded by 18 and outscored in the paint by 20. Danilo Gallinari was out and the Blazers lost the shooting battle, the scoring battle, the fast-break battle. That's not good.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 and 9 on 7-16 shooting against a defense that took the non-risk of doubling every threat Portland had most of the game. Aldridge always looked like he was treading water, though. He wasn't in command of the ship, just trying to keep afloat.
Gerald Wallace had 4 points on 2-7 shooting with 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 5 assists. The rebounding is the worst part of that line. Wallace never got the ball in position to score. His defense was OK and he made some nice passes. But Kenneth Faried looked more like the Predator tonight.
Jamal Crawford went 8-15, 5-9 from distance with 21 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal. That line also reflected his status as one of the only Blazers who played above themselves (and really looked like they cared about it) tonight. Crawford did more than expected on defense.
Nicolas Batum continued his season-long stretch of excellent rebounding with 7. Unfortunately 5 of those were on the offensive end when the Blazers needed help on the other end. His defense was fine. His shot was off. He made 4 of 13 for 9 points and never looked comfortable. Denver did give him the respect of watching him hard, though. He got free on a couple three-pointers but only shot 1-3 from the arc, not helping his confidence.
Marcus Camby made all 5 of his attempts for 10 points plus 3 blocks. He had but 4 rebounds but he also played only 16 minutes. The Nuggets were still pushing the Blazers around when Camby was on the floor. Portland just got more blocks when he played.
Raymond Felton had 7 assists in 24 minutes, ran and shot aggressively, kept his teammates running a little, and shot 3-8 for 6 points. He was part of the late-game squad too, so he's inspiring confidence somewhere.
Wesley Matthews had a rough shooting night, able only to connect off of catches when he was already on his way to the hoop. He went 4-11 for 11 points.
Elliot Williams attempted a prodigious 10 shots in 11 minutes of floor time. He connected on 4, including a 2-4 night from the arc. Like Crawford, he appeared into this game. Despite the high shooting rate he also looked in tune with the court and his team...more confident than we've seen and in the right place more often. 10 points.
Chris Johnson didn't look as in tune as Williams. He played 10 minutes, grabbed a rebound, attempted a couple shots and hit one.
Craig Smith played 5 minutes and collected 3 personal fouls and a turnover. 0 points, 0 rebounds. He did not look like a happy camper.
Kurt Thomas: 1 minute, 1 shoe eaten, 1 trip to the locker room.
Fun With Numbers
- Nuggets 21 offensive rebounds, Blazers 25 defensive rebounds. Not often you see that ratio.
- Nuggets 54-36 rebounding advantage overall.
- Nuggets 54 points in the paint, Blazers 34
- Nuggets 14-6 fast break point edge
- Nuggets 48.4% from the field, Blazers 43.7%.
- Blazers 9-24 from the arc for 37.5%.
The Heat have the same general philosophy as the Nuggets when it comes to defense: nothing on the run, nothing in the lane, shoot outside all you want. Except they do it better than Denver. Let's hope the Blazers bring more energy to break open the defense or it'll be a long night.
Denver Stiffs will tell you about the home win.