Tonight we got to see how the Portland Trail Blazers would fare in a 6'5" and under league as they faced the injured Atlanta Hawks. The result? They'd do pretty well. The Hawks did not show up and the Blazers summarily disposed of them. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't spectacular. It was effective and insurmountable.
The game started with Portland exploiting Atlanta's injuries, taking the ball inside against non-existent frontcourt defense. Scores at the rim opened up three-pointers, which the Blazers shot at a fine clip. Robin Lopez screens, often followed by rolls to the bucket and even more easy hoops, made the Hawks look impotent.
The Blazers didn't play sterling defense. Then again they only had two jobs in this game: keep the Hawks from fast-breaking and keep them from hitting threes. Evidently learning their lesson from the Lakers debacle on Monday, Portland got back in transition and held Atlanta to 13 fast break points. The defense at the arc was so-so. The Blazers switched most perimeter screens, a departure from their norm, almost a call-back to the Nate McMillan days. Despite this attempt to stay with Atlanta shooters, the Hawks still got plenty of open looks, especially in the corners. But they missed them. And missed them. And missed them. Take your favorite pet, your significant other, and your television set, ship them to Siberia carrying your life savings, your car keys, and your last roll of toilet paper. You will still not miss them as badly as the Hawks missed threes tonight.
Going 4-27 from beyond the arc sealed the perimeter-dependent Hawks' fate no matter what else happened. The Blazers built an 18 point lead at the half, extended it above 20 in the third, and never let the Hawks back in. Portland won 102-78, a much-needed laugher amid far too many close games against shaky teams lately.
Portland shot 13-29 from distance tonight, 45%. They moved the ball well, notching 23 assists on 35 made buckets. The turnover situation wasn't great, as the Blazers committed 16...a semi-trend lately. But you can't have everything. If you were the Hawks you couldn't have anything. And that's just the way the Blazers wanted it.
LaMarcus Aldridge continued to struggle tonight but it's not like the Blazers needed him. He just doesn't have his lane moves comfortable yet, retreating to mid-range again and again. Shorter defenders almost beg to be posted and he can't do it. Aldridge went an astonishing 1-13 for 10 points and 6 rebounds, but only played 29 minutes...one of several starters with light duty during the blowout.
Damian Lillard went 4-9 for 12 points and 6 assists in 25 minutes. It was a fine game for him on both ends. He looks more comfortable switching screens than dealing with them.
Wesley Matthews went 50% from range, striking on 2 of his 4 attempts...also a good sign.
Robin Lopez might as well have been strolling through the mall tonight picking out shoes. The game was that easy for him against Atlanta's smaller players. His most impressive accomplishment was 12 points in 25 minutes on 4-5 shooting but he defended the rim against any and all comers, most of whom gave up 6 inches or more to him.
It was a good night for bench guards as Mo Williams shot 6-9 for a team-high 15 points, C.J. McCollum went 4-9 for 9 points, and Will Barton went 4-7 for 9 points. The opposition might have been slightly less proficient than the NBA norm, however.
Meyers Leonard had 7 rebounds and 4 assists, including a nifty no-look pass, in 17 minutes.
Side Note: Kyle Korver's record 127-game streak with a three-pointer hit ended tonight as the Blazers held him to 1-9 shooting overall, 0-5 from distance. He had a couple looks. Like the rest of his teammates, he just didn't hit them.
The Blazers now embark on a nasty, five-game road trip, beginning with Dallas on Friday evening.
Your Jersey Contest scores and the form for Dallas are HERE. Tonight's results: The Blazers and Hawks combine for 56 three-point attempts and 17 three-point makes. Victor Claver committed the most turnovers per minute and Damian Lillard outscored LaMarcus Aldridge.
You can check out the latest edition of the Trail Blazers' Running the Break feature, starring local media members, here. Also interviews with Chad Doing of Flight 750 and Phil Naessens. And/or you can follow on Twitter @DaveDeckard. Or you can watch the most adorable case of a fan invading the playing field ever at the team's reaction to it right here. I'm sure Robin Lopez would have done the same. Unless the kid tried to take it to the hoop, that is. Then it'd be swat city with an off-arm push underneath for good measure. Don't mess with Robin Lopez.