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Media Row Report: Blazers 116 Timberwolves 93

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Interesting basketball game this evening in the Rose Garden. It's hard to really, um, isolate the keys to tonight's Portland Trail Blazers victory. 

As I look through the box score I am noticing a few things that stand out.  

The Blazers scored more points in the first half, scored more points in the second half, shot better from the field, shot better from the free throw line, shot better from the 3 point line, got more offensive rebounds, got more defensive rebounds, had more assists, committed less fouls, had more steals, committed less turnovers, had more points in the paint, had more second chance points, and had more fast break points.

Other than that, you know, it was a fairly even match up. 

Big time kudos to the Minnesota Timberwolves for blocking more shots (4 to 3) and committing less defensive 3 seconds (0 to 1), which really kept things close.

The final score was 116 to 93 which implies that this was a respectable contest, which is incorrect.  Playing at 3/4 speed the Blazers ran out to a 28 point lead against a Timberwolves squad that is most likely the least talented professional basketball team I have seen in the last three years.  Aside from Jonny Flynn, who is already an elite point guard from a "pure joy to watch play basketball" perspective, this team was just bad.  Really, really, really bad.  They conducted themselves with class and dignity through the pre-game, game and post-game, much to their credit, but there is simply not enough talent on that roster to be competitive on most nights in the NBA.

If I charted this game it would read: possession 1, bad; possession 2, bad; possession 3, bad, etc. 

Let's focus on a few Blazers bright spots...

Dante Cunningham

In his seventh NBA game, Blazers rookie power forward saw his first action, stepping confidently into the game (surrounded by players he probably recognized from Las Vegas Summer League) and hit 3 of 4 field goals in 6 fourth quarter minutes.  

His first NBA bucket was especially memorable, as he banked in a 16 footer.  I asked Dante after the game how it felt to get his first run and whether the bank was intentional...

How'd it feel..

It was good. It felt real good. Get out there, get the jitters out. Go out there and have fun and play.

Did you call bank?

Yeah, yeah, I yelled it before I let it go. (smiles)

You gave it some extra juice...

It definitely was, it was a little nervousness, you hear all the time about rookies airballing their first shot, I really didn't want that to happen. So you know I kinda just let it go you know... It went in so you can't be too mad at it.

Was it a different feel out there from the preseason?

I mean, honestly it really wasn't. I took it as whenever you get your shot, take advantage of it. That's all I could do.

Be sure to read Nate McMillan's thoughts on Cunningham's performance below as well.

LaMarcus Aldridge

It was nice to see a little more assertiveness and a little less fadeaway from Aldridge, who quickly recognized that he over-matched his competition and did some nice work in the first half.  Given the relatively-weak caliber of opponents on this upcoming 5 game road trip, hopefully Aldridge uses tonight's game as a turning point and a building block.  

3 Guard Lineup

As expected, Nate McMillan went with it again tonight and was very forceful in his praise for its results.  The Miller/Roy/Blake trio is hear to stay, at least in the short term. Be sure to read Nate's comments on the subject below.

Brandon Roy

One thing to keep an eye on, though, will be Roy's mood as this three guard lineup continues to play out.  Tonight, in a blowout, he didn't seem to have any problem scoring just two points and sitting and watching the bench guys mop up an easy win for most of the second half.  But one obvious effect of more ball movement is less touches (and shorter touches) for Roy.  Overall, in theory, this is a good thing.  The Blazers assist to buckets ratio (35 assists on 41 field goals) was out-of-this-world good.  But tonight wasn't a true test.  The true test comes when the Blazers lose a close game and Roy's touches/shots are less than he'd prefer.  At that point, the feasibility of the new starting lineup will really get put to the test.  

As long as Roy buys into the greater good -- and reaps the benefit of some of Miller's outstanding passes and the easy buckets that go with increasing the tempo -- there shouldn't be a problem.  Easier said than done, I would assume. 

Nate's Post-Game Comments

Best thing about a game like this...

Well, the thing tonight, we wanted to be about business. Go out and try to work and improve and get better. Build off the last game against San Antonio, just play the game the right way. Matter of fact, we had 35 assists tonight. That's always a good sign when the team is moving the ball because it will get everybody involved. I thought defensively we did a nice job of setting that tone right from the start, creating some easy opportunities and then the white group went in there and did a better job. They had an opportunity to practice a little bit and they looked like they had a little better rhythm. Be about business and just play the game and try to improve and I thought they did that. 

Fast break points...

Yeah, that came off of getting stops and running out. I liked the tempo, the movement that we're getting from this group. You've got to get stops and then you can run out and get some easy baskets.

Prepared for a road trip...

We'll see. We've only been out there one time. Now I think we'll play 4 games in 5 days. Some back-to-backs. We split the last road trip. This is another challenge for us. To be better on the road this year. It starts in Memphis and we take that game and, again, try to improve, get that game, and look to do better on the road this year.

Andre Miller and his influence on fast break points...

A lot. No question. A lot of that is he will look up, see the floor and I think he's one of the... he's creating some of that off the defense, coming up with steals and rebounding the ball. Then our guys are learning to bust out and he'll throw it ahead. He sees all of that. He sees the floor. He's delivering the ball.

Second unit...

I thought it was better with them tonight. When I went to that lineup in the San Antonio game, they practiced a little bit but we went over some plays yesterday for that group and what we were looking for. Better ball movement, more spacing, better spacing, with them, defensively I thought they did a nice job. Bayless getting up on the ball. Martell and Rudy, Travis and Joel, being aggressive on the wings, busting out and running again. I think they'll get better as they play together more.

Brandon with only 2 points...

I told him I like the fact that he did other things. He had 6 rebounds and he had 7 assists. These are things that those guys will have to learn to do. Where Greg and Miller and some of these other guys have some things going but don't take yourself out of the game by assuming that you can't do some other things. Later in that game we may need you to score. He kinda allowed the game to come to him and he did some other things. Which is what you need to do. Rebounds, he had the opportunity to distribute the ball. And he did that.

Do you expect to see more balanced scoring...

I think what you do is play the game, take advantage of what the defense gives you and tonight our post-ups were good. They were double-teaming, we were getting something off of that. They take away the post and the perimeter will open up. So I thought our guys did that and tonight they shared the ball, which was great. 35 assists. Everybody gets involved that way.

Aldridge's first half..

I thought he did a better job of getting deep. He's still learning to play against a double team. And they're learning to play off of Andre. He does a great job of moving and getting to the open spot when teams double team. Started to pick up on Andre, where he was at, where he will be and did a better job of attacking the basket, I'd like to see that more.

Line up

I like it. It's moving. You've got two guards out there that are moving and working. That combination is working together. I like the flow that we're playing with.

Dante's first mintues

He's worked hard. I told the guys, let's try to get everybody in this game. I thought that both groups went out there and played hard. Didn't play the scoreboard and stayed solid on the defense. Offensively, kept attacking. Which gave us an opportunity to sit some guys and allow some guys to play. Dante stepped right in and did well. Knocked down a couple of shots. Defensively, I thought he was in the right position. He's a young guy that can play.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter