The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 91-82 on Wednesday night, pushing Portland's record to 10-2 and adding the 8th game onto their current win streak. The victory also sealed a rare perfect road trip at 4-0, with Boston, Toronto, and Brooklyn also falling to Portland's might. You can read the instant recap and GameDay Thread review here.
If you've watched the Blazers early in the season this game was about what you'd expect. Milwaukee suffered from a lack of post play and big-man scoring punch. This left the scoring burden in the hands of their guards. In the opening minutes of the game those guards seemed content to bomb from the outside. Even though the Bucks are decent jump shooters, that was a mistake. Nobody out-shoots Portland from deep. Besides, Portland's guards are more than permissive when it comes to stopping drives. When the Bucks finally figured that out they began to score with more regularity. Penetration and a few fast break points off of turnovers were enough to keep the Bucks nearly even with the Blazers even though Wesley Matthews was doing his best Hall-of-Famer impression from the field. Portland led 53-51 at the break.
The second half was a different story. The Blazers made adjustments at halftime. The Bucks apparently microwaved some popcorn and caught the first few scenes of Dumb and Dumber. The Blazers came out of the locker room having corrected most of their faults. The Bucks came out of the locker room going, "Derp, derp, derp." The most significant change came in Portland's backcourt defense. Damian Lillard started hawking Bucks point guards like he was a cat and they were a red laser dot. Lillard was followed closely by Nicolas Batum pestering anybody else who bothered to dribble beyond 20 feet. The Bucks responded by standing around and jogging through their sets. As a result the Blazers forced turnovers and got out on the run. Portland harassed the Bucks on the boards, grabbing multiple offensive rebounds. Every time the Bucks got a lucky break Portland's transition defense shut down their run. Portland's halfcourt offense wasn't stellar. The Blazers mostly settled for jump shots, many off the dribble instead of flowing from ball movement. But it hardly mattered. TO's, rebounds, and getting multiple players back on defense to make the Bucks set up was plenty enough to win the game.
Portland ratcheting up the guard defense was one of the major developments of this game. Matthews' scoring was another. But this game also showed how, early in the season, opposing teams are more interested in running their defense than actually defending the Trail Blazers. Why in the name of Saint Cerebrum would you ever double Nicolas Batum 22 feet from the basket? Obviously creating pressure near the sideline and trapping the dribbler on screens are both part of Milwaukee's defensive scheme. But Batum is no better than the 5th offensive threat on this roster right now. He's unlikely to take the ball to the bucket for a high-percentage shot when facing single coverage. He's the most likely Blazer to give up the ball to open shooters when doubled. If you know the Blazers, decisions like this are near-lunacy. But the Bucks did it repeatedly. Batum says merci for the free assist and Matthews tips his hat to you for the open three.
This game also showed Portland's commitment to hustle, particularly in the second half. The third and fourth quarters saw the Blazers playing with purpose and intensity, the Bucks playing like maybe they could win if things went right. Surprisingly enough hard, focused play won out over wishes and dreams.
LaMarcus Aldridge faced a rogue's gallery of non-threatening power forwards tonight. Ersan Ilyasova was coming off of an injury. Ekpe Udoh played horribly. John Henson got a few rebounds and Khris Middleton shot 4-4 but this was Mozart vs. The Monkees in a composing contest. Aldridge scored 21 while looking for all the world like he was in cruise control.
Damian Lillard struggled offensively, shooting 7-18, 2-7 from distance but still managed 19 points. He had only 3 assists against 3 turnovers. His first-half defense was pure lunch break but the second half was more lunch bucket.
Wesley Matthews had one of those nights where he couldn't miss off of catch-and-shoot jumpers and then forgot himself and started trying to score off the dribble. His first period was amazing. He scored 13 points on 5 shots with three triples put down, making the Bucks pay for their ill-advised double-teaming. He ended the game with 15 on 6-15 shooting, 3-9 from long range. That's only 2 points in the final three quarters but what the heck. When you've already tasered a guy common courtesy says you don't kick him after.
Nicolas Batum did everything but score tonight. He shot well, 8 points with 3 makes in 6 attempts. On this occasion his passes were as damaging as his scoring. He ended the game with 8 assists and 8 rebounds plus 2 steals. He really keyed the second half defense that kept the Bucks from mounting a serious comeback. Add up all of that and Batum may have been the player of the game.
Robin Lopez feasted on everybody the Bucks sent his way tonight. They didn't have anybody who could score on him one-on-one. They barely moved the ball on offense. After Portland's guards stopped letting their counterparts just waltz down the lane all Lopez had to do was sit back, wait, and either block the shot from a near-stationary position or grab the rebound. That's his comfort zone and it showed. 8 points and 8 rebounds in 31 minutes.
Dorell Wright provided some zip off the bench tonight, looking more aggressive than usual with his shot and cleaning up on the boards. All 6 of his shot attempts came from beyond the arc. When he hit 3 of them you could almost see the Bucks' shoulders slump, like it wasn't fair. 9 points and 5 rebounds in 16 minutes.
Joel Freeland also had 5 rebounds in 16 minutes but he continues to struggle. He had a couple good defensive stands tonight but nothing near the effect he did in his first couple weeks.
Mo Williams registered a pretty dismal first half. His shot was off and his defense was poor. He righted the ship on both ends in the second half, finishing with 5 points and 6 assists plus 2 steals in 23 minutes. This was the first time in a while Mo didn't make a big difference.
A 4-0 road trip should make the Blazers ecstatic. Unfortunately they're not going to get to rest on their laurels. They draw Chicago on Friday night in the Moda Center, their toughest matchup since the Houston game two weeks ago. Then Saturday night they back-to-back it in Oakland. In essence this is a 6-game road trip with the 5th game at home. Friday's game will be the biggest of the season so far. Buckle up.
Brew Hoop will let you know about the Bucks, such as they are.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the first game of the 2013-14 Jersey Contest! We had to redo the entire site and the entire system for this year, thus the delay. We're going to do a trial run on Friday with the Chicago game. You will need to click on THIS LINK to get to the Jersey Contest Form. You'll need to create an account with a password and then use that same account every time you enter a form. If you do not use the same account your scores will not be tabulated correctly. We cannot fix that. Logging in correctly each time is important so please write down your name and password.
Since Friday is a test run we're not going to do the Saturday game against Golden State. We need to make sure the bugs are out of the system before we proceed full bore. Enjoy!