Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
The Blazers have the rare easy outing against a decimated Timberwolves lineup. Portland has faced easy games before but this time they managed to put together enough energy and execution to make the night fun instead of frustrating.
They're a major sponsor of a certain opposing team but it appears Portland Trail Blazers Coach Terry Stotts put aside his qualms and took his team for a pre-game visit to Staples tonight. Finally...FINALLY the Blazers hit the Easy Button when facing a sub-par team, summarily disposing of the Minnesota Timberwolves by hitting them in all their weak areas.
There's not much need to go over the game flow in this one. Portland established an early lead. When the bench came in during the second period some of that lead eroded. A halftime pep talk righted the ship. Portland's starters excelled in the third and the reserves held steady in the fourth for a 15-point victory.
Points in the paint are the first critical stat to note tonight. Minnesota had no healthy interior players of note. That hasn't stopped the Blazers from playing chuck and duck offense in the past. Tonight they started the game going inside, finished the game going inside, and limited their lazy lofting through most of the minutes in between. The result was a robust 56 points in the paint for the Blazers to only 40 for the Timberwolves. Absent interior scoring, what were the 'Wolves going to do? They shot 39% from the field overall and an impressive 8.3% from the three-point arc. You didn't exactly need a Nuggets offense to beat them.
The second stat of note was 32 assists on 44 made shots for the Blazers. They didn't get lazy. They worked for the open opportunity against a defense without a prayer of stopping them. The result was 49% shooting and 109 points scored.
Unless something went astray in the rebounding or turnover departments the Blazers had no chance of losing their advantage. It didn't and they didn't. End of story. Nice game. It'd be a joy to be able to explain more Blazer victories so routinely.
All the starters played well except Wesley Matthews who: A. Looked gimpy. And... B. Owed the 'Wolves a bad outing after singlehandedly destroying them in three previous games this season. Matthews didn't play poorly; he just didn't look like himself. Nicolas Batum missed a few shots but made up for it with amazing passing. Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and J.J. Hickson were as superb as you'd expect.
Something happened to the bench tonight (besides playing Minnesota's third string, which was surely a part of it) because they looked...decent.
Eric Maynor handled orchestration. He played an unheard-of 31 minutes off the pines. Usually when we're talking 31 minutes it's for the whole bench combined. Maynor started with some nifty passing, got aggressive enough on offense to make the 'Wolves respect him, then carved apart the defense with more dimes. He ended up with 12 assists. That's a week's worth of bench assists normally. Or, if you prefer, equivalent to 84 assists in a single game by Portland's usual bench standards.
Victor Claver had a nifty little night. He got burned a couple times on defense but also made a couple of gutty plays on that end. He hit 4-6 shots and added 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block to 10 points in 14 minutes.
Meyers Leonard continued his offensive mojo from the Denver game, slashing to the rim and trying to dunk everything he caught. He also added in some jumpers. He scored 12 points on 6-7 shooting in 21 minutes. I think he likes it when people pass to him competently. Oooh. He had 8 rebounds as well. But man, Leonard guards the rim like Sergeant Schultz guarded Stalag 13. He'll need to work on that.
Whatever infected the bench tonight, Will Barton must have had already it as a kid. He went 0-7 in the only truly poor performance of the evening. He did have a rebound, an assist, a block, and 2 personal fouls in 16 minutes.
Joel Freeland also played 4 minutes with 3 rebounds, 2 missed shots, and a sweet little elbow upside Derrick Williams' jaw as Freeland swung around with the ball to make a move on the baseline. At the pub back home that's called "clearing space".
Easy, breezy, just the way we like it. Charlotte on Monday. But you can spend March 3rd enjoying the Blazers looking like a really good team.
Canis Hoopus can't be enjoying this stretch much.