The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the New Jersey Nets, 101-88, at the Rose Garden on Wednesday night, improving their record to 26-29 on the season.
Blazers point guard Raymond Felton bounced back from an unfortunate Monday night loss to deliver a near triple double in Wednesday's win over the Deron Williams-less Nets. He then delivered an open invitation to his critics: come to my home and we can sort things out.
"Regardless of what they say about me, I don't care," Felton said, after putting up 14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 turnovers on 5-for-8 shooting. "Words don't break me. I stay right off Pearl District, in the Indigo, if you want to come see me."
That bold challenge and the unusual revelation of his home address elicited laughter from the next locker over.
"I'm going to keep it 100 with them," Felton declared. "You feel me?"
Flush with confidence after heading up a steady late-game performance and showing off what looked to be brand-new black Louis Vuitton shoes, this was Tony Montana "Say Goodnight To The Bad Guy," a rebel without a cause, a pause or a filter, a moment of 1995 Tupac Shakur "Me Against The World" audacity. Love Felton, hate Felton, indifferent to Felton, frustrated by Felton, amused by Felton or confused by Felton, the exchange certainly settled one thing, once and for all: He simply doesn't give a [yup].
The comment came less than two minutes after he stated that fans and media members -- including a team broadcaster -- are wrong to assume that it's a foregone conclusion that he will leave Portland this summer.
"They don't dictate that," he said. "That's all I'm going to say. They don't dictate that... If it happens, it happens. I'm not going to close no doors no way. I would love to play here. But we'll see what happens. The media, the fans they don't dictate that."
Asked if he would like to return to the Blazers next season, given the months of criticism, Felton responded without hesitation: "Of couse, yes. Definitely. Definitely." Later, he added, "I would love to come back."
Jason Quick of The Oregonian reported that Blazers president Larry Miller said the team will take a wait-and-see approach with Felton's future as they potentially look to add a big name point guard in free agency.
Felton said the team has contacted him since the trade deadline about the possibility of returning next season. "Yeah, they have definitely talked," he said. "That's something I don't get into. That's something I let my agent do. My job is to play basketball. That's his job to take care of all that."
On Wednesday, Felton did his job well, at least on the court, although his big night came against former D-Leaguer Sundiata Gaines and a host of Nets playing out of position due to the absence of the All-Star Williams, who was a late scratch due to a "stomach virus." There was no question that -- sans Williams -- Portland's top-5 was significantly better than New Jersey's. All five Blazers starters plus fourth quarter go-to guy J.J. Hickson finished with monster plusses in the plus/minus column. The Nets kept it close by virtue of making a number of runs against the Blazers bench, as Kaleb Canales went 10 players deep plus a brief stint for Hasheem Thabeet.
"After you have a bad taste in your mouth after one game, you want to come out and perform well the next game," Felton said. "My biggest thing was to try to get this win."
A back-and-forth game of runs entered its final act with Portland trailing, 85-82, at the 6:33 mark. The Blazers then closed on a 19-3 run, as the Nets failed to generate clean looks, knock down contested ones, or penetrate Portland's defense.
"I just felt our team defense was very good tonight," Blazers interim coach Kaleb Canales said. "I thought we were helping the helper. I thought we got into our defensive rotations really well. I thought we closed out to shooters. [It] felt like they hit more than six threes but that's a good number for us, we don't want them to hit more than seven. We had five guys committed to the defensive end tonight."
"Our defense picked up," Felton agreed. "The way we can play defense, we can really shut guys down. Make them take bad shots. Everybody was committed to rebounding."
The Blazers, meanwhile, scored fairly easily, thanks to the long, mobile look that All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and reserve forward J.J. Hickson can provide in tandem. Hickson finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds on 7-for-10 shooting, including six fourth quarter points.
"He's so active," Aldridge said of Hickson. "I've always wanted to play with someone who is like a Lou Amundson or a Reggie Evans, somebody that's active and always keeping guys on their toes. He's been big late in games when teams have been keying in on me. He's been getting easy buckets. He's been coming through for us."
"We've talked about that combination," Canales said. "We're excited about that combination. Especially down the stretch. We feel that they're playing off each other really well. Getting those reps, getting that time at practice and during the games is something that we're excited about."
Aldridge finished with a game-high 24 points and 9 rebounds with forward Nicolas Batum chipping in 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. Batum hit four of Portland's 12 three-pointers.
"We just calmed down," Batum said of Portland's late-game play. "We did something to get the lead, and just get back to it. Play defense first, rebound, run the offense and get the ball inside. Run around, run the pick-and-roll and get a good shot."
It sounds simple when you put it like that and it was fairly simple. The Nets are bad with Deron Williams, awful without him. "Any time you take an All-Star away from a team, it's going to have some sort of effect," Canales said.
"Like the rest of our season, we get a late scratch," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "Deron comes down with that food poisoning stomach virus, and if Deron Williams can't play, something is really wrong."
Williams' absence forced former Blazers forward Gerald Wallace to guard Felton at times. "It puts me at the point more," Wallace explained. "I had to be more focused on running the offense and trying to get guys in the right position and getting easy shots for guys." Wallace finished with 8 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals on 3-for-12 shooting, far from his best Rose Garden outing.
Wallace was given a nice standing ovation in his first return to Portland, but he shrugged off any particular significance to the contest afterwards. "There wasn't anything big about it," he said. "It was kind of fun playing against those guys, but at the end of the day it was just another game. I think that we played pretty good. We continued to fight, we didn't get down in the third quarter, [and] our young guys made a hell of a comeback in the fourth."
Williams' absence also spoiled the plans made by some fans to cheer for him in an attempt to sway him to pick Portland when he becomes a free agent this summer. Aldridge said that he was aware of the "Deron Williams to Portland" campaign because of Twitter but also admitted he hadn't talked to Williams on Wednesday.
He then offered this ringing endorsement of the fan movement: "It is what it is. People are going to do what they want to do." Perhaps Aldridge is leaving the hope selling to others, perhaps the summer talk is still premature.
In the meantime, we do know this: The Indigo's doormen's lives just got turned upside down.
Random Game Notes
- This game was announced as a sellout.
- The Indigo has an awesome website.
- Matt Calkins of The Columbian reports that Deron Williams had a salty exchange with a Portland media member before the game.
The reporter tried to explain, but Williams cut him off and brusquely said "I don't talk before the games." When the reporter asked "do you at least know what I'm saying?" Williams was again stand-offish and said "No, I don't."
Williams later said "this guy is asking dumb questions" loud enough so that the reporter could hear.
- Gerald Wallace had this to say before the game about his trade, according to Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: "It was kind of shocking. I didn't see it coming. I didn't think I was on the trading block. It was kind of surprise to me. But at the same time, it's a business, and you get used to it."
- Nicolas Batum, new starting 3, on what he told Gerald Wallace, former starting 3: "Good luck with the season. Good luck next year. It was good to see him back."
- Batum on making the Chalupa shot after an earlier J.J. Hickson putback, which would have delivered the Taco Bell, was ruled off: "That's my first one. All these years... finally! It was nice. It was nice. Finally! People on the side when J.J. got it, they were like, 'Yeah Chalupa,' but I was like, 'No basket, calm down there's no basket.' So I make it, I was like, 'I got you.'" Batum then added that Travis Outlaw and Brandon Roy "used to fight" over who got to shoot the Chalupa shot.
- Felton on Wallace, his former Charlotte Bobcats teammate, after the trade: "It was no hard feelings, it was no bad feelings, he kind of understands the business."
- Blazers forward Luke Babbitt is now getting recognized on the scoreboard with a Luke Skywalker graphic. Babbitt scored 6 points, including two three-pointers. He's now made multiple threes in seven consecutive games. Babbitt also played center during the second half, albeit briefly. Canales chuckled when asked about it. "We went to zone in that possession," he said. "Luke was in the middle." Indeed, Babbitt played the back middle of the 2-3 zone during a regular season NBA game, something I can honestly say I never conceived of being a possibility.
- Starting center Joel Przybilla has not made a basket in five straight games.
- The Blazers have alternated loss/win/loss/win for 10 consecutive games now.
- A funny, large sign from two guys in the crowd: "The Ppl Behind Us Can't See."
Kaleb Canales' Post-Game Comments
Our defense was the type of defense that we want to play for 48 minutes. That's our identity, that's what we want to be. Held them to 37 percent from the field. We had 46 team rebounds tonight. I thought it was a very good defensive effort tonight.
Loss of Deron Williams
Any time you take an All-Star away from a team, it's going to have some sort of effect. Morrow and Gerald Green had 40 points.
Using J.J. Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge together late
We've talked about that combination. We're excited about that combination. Especially down the stretch. We feel that they're playing off each other really well. Getting those reps, getting that time at practice and during the games is something that we're excited about.
I felt Raymond was very good. 14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, I think that's the third game he's close to a triple double.
Defense on Gerald Wallace
I just felt our team defense was very good tonight. I thought we were helping the helper. I thought we got into our defensive rotations really well. I thought we closed out to shooters. Felt like they hit more than six threes but that's a good number for us, we don't want them to hit more than seven. We had five guys committed to the defensive end tonight.
Did you talk to Gerald Wallace?
I did before the game.
What did he say?
Congratulations. Pulling for you.
What was the difference late in the game?
I think we got back to who we wanted to be in terms of the defensive end. I thought our defense, we had like three straight stops. I thought that was a big possession, 1.7 left on the shot clock, they called a timeout, we responded with a deflection and a stop. I thought that was a big possession in the game. We held them to a 17-point first, a 20-point third and that's who we want our identity to be as a team.
Why not start J.J. Hickson over Joel Przybilla
Joel is our starting center. Like I mentioned, we are excited to have J.J. We're taking it a game at a time... We're going to keep working on the combinations. Joel is our starting center.
Luke as your center
We went to zone in that possession. Luke was in the middle. Again, we're excited about all our guys, we believe in all our guys, that includes Luke, Jonny, everybody. We're just excited that we were fortunate enough tonight to get this win.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter