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Media Row Report: Blazers 95 Kings 88

Forget about the rumored trade demand.  Jerryd Bayless is demanding burn.

It feels like I've written the "Jerryd Bayless just had a breakout game" post a few times over the last 18 months so I'll spare you some of that hype. I'm sure you'll gladly pick up the slack in the comments.  Bayless provided the spark tonight while an inspired Brandon Roy and a second-half-inspired LaMarcus Aldridge did the heavy lifting, carrying the Portland Trail Blazers to a come-from-behind 95-88 win over the Sacramento Kings in Portland.

Roy finished with 25 points, 5 rebounds and a season-high 10 assists.  Aldridge went for 25 points, 9 boards and 5 assists.  The pleasant surprise was Bayless, who torpedoed to the hoop time and again down the stretch on his way to 14 points, including 8 of 10 from the free throw line.  Every single thing that the numbers suggested Bayless would do if given more playing time he did in 24 minutes tonight.  He got to the basket, got to the foul line, converted a high percentage of his field goal attempts, struggled with the longer shots, got some ticky tacky fouls, moved the ball and read defenses better than last year, and, perhaps most importantly, protected the basketball.  It felt like a Synergy Sports scripted movie tonight. It's unclear whether Synergy robotically controls Bayless's body or if he is acting independently.  

Either way, Bayless's solid play earned him crunch time minutes and a solid review from his head coach.  After the game, Nate McMillan said "Bayless was big" and praised his point guard's scoring and energy.  In the locker room, a smiling Roy added, "He's an aggressive attacker. Even in practice, we can't keep him out of the paint. Tonight I just told him, 'keep being aggressive. We need you to try to make plays. Don't go out there and think too much. Just be aggressive and make plays.' I think he did a great job of that tonight."

A great job that was fully appreciated by the Rose Garden crowd.  The always-boisterous section 314 even started a "Jerryd! Bay-Less! clap clap clap-clap-clap" while Bayless stood at the free throw line during the fourth quarter.  It was a surreal sound and an equally surreal sight to see Bayless handling himself with poise on both ends down the stretch of a close must-win game.

The team's improved energy started before Bayless ever took the court.  The Blazers had one of their best starts in recent memory, putting up 17 points in the game's first six minutes, whipping the ball around the perimeter and moving off the ball like we've rarely seen this season.  It also happened to be Andre Miller's first start.  Not a coincidence. Roy looked particularly motivated early and, more than anything, decisive.  It was no accident he finished with 10 assists; his reads were consistently on point from the opening tip.

This win wasn't all roses for the Blazers thanks to a strong push from the Kings, who regularly and routinely exploited the Blazers' interior defense, especially when Joel Przybilla wasn't on the court.  At one point, Kevin Pelton started chanting at the top of his lungs for the Blazers to find an immediate replacement for Juwan Howard. It was as awkward as you might imagine.  Dante Cunningham found himself playing only spot duty -- as has been the case recently -- due to the coaching staff's reluctance to match him against bigger, full-sized power forwards.  Lack of frontcourt size is starting to show itself to be a fairly large problem, as evidenced by the Kings' 42 points in the paint tonight.  If not remedied in the short term, it could certainly cost the team some wins, especially if Aldridge and Przybilla are unable to avoid fouls as successfully as they did tonight.  

When it counted, though, the Blazers defense did a solid job of locking down. In the fourth quarter the Kings shot just 6 of 19 and were 1 of 6 from distance.  The Blazers fielded an unorthodox 3 guard combination of Steve Blake, Brandon Roy and Jerryd Bayless, which succeeded in throwing off the Kings just enough.  Whether that is a lineup that can provide sustained defensive success -- especially down the stretch against the league's offensive juggernauts -- remains to be seen. (Doubtful.)  

But McMillan's willingness to trust a unit that was having success -- even if it wasn't the most likely unit -- is probably the best long-term sign from tonight's game.  If Martell Webster isn't hitting shots, sit him.  If Andre Miller isn't hitting shots, sit him.  If Jerryd Bayless is rolling, play him.  It's certainly not complicated but it hasn't always been McMillan's approach.  Good times. Good times that might not last.  But, still, good times.

A win tonight was so necessary for a Blazers team that has been reeling for the last few weeks.  The mood in the locker room after the game was loose and, dare I say, happy.  Tonight the juggling worked.  

Random Game Notes

  • Kings rookie guard Tyreke Evans was, as they say, all that.  More impressive than he was during the preseason, which was impressive indeed.  His numbers were great  -- 17, 7, 3, 2 steals, 1 block, 1 turnover in 32 minutes. His demeanor and cool even better. He passes to space fearlessly and intelligently; he sees passes and angles his teammates don't yet see. He plays hard.  He rises to challenges. He is tough. He is level-headed.  His touch at the rim is next level. Body control out of this world. There was an unmistakable feeling to tonight's game that within say, two years, the buzz before the Kings come to town will rival just about any other team in the league, simply because of Evans' presence.  Rolling your eyes at this praise? Go check out Nate McMillan's comments below.  He compared Evans to Magic Johnson. And was dead serious.
  • Prior to the game, Washington Husky Jon Brockman asked me what time it was.  I contemplated barking the time back to him but decided against it.  Pelton was crushed.
  • Sergio Rodriguez: 0 for 3. 2 points, 2 assists, 2 turnovers in 8 minutes.  So that's why Kevin Pritchard paid the Sacramento Kings to accept you in a trade.  An unfortunate return home for Rodriguez, who has enjoyed some success this season.
  • Jerryd Bayless picked the warmup music tonight: "All the Way Turnt Up." Music is an expression of self.

Nate's Postgame Comments

Nate came slowly into his postgame room due to the crutches he is now using after his Achilles surgery.

This is some different stuff so just be patient.

Initial thoughts

I liked the fight. I liked the scrap in the team. We didn't have -- that first half was not really a good half for us. They dominated us on the boards. Pretty much got what they wanted. In the second half, there was a challenge to LaMarcus to -- we're going to go through you. I thought he responded, he had 1 rebound in the first half, ended up with 9. Offensively he got us that momentum.

Blake stuck with it. Looked like he was struggling again, he kept staying with it, knocked down his shot late in that game. Bayless came off and gave us some energy, some scoring. The two main guys, Brandon and LaMarcus, we're going to ride those guys and we're going to play off of them. We need some other guys to step up and I thought we got that from our bench and Bayless was big.

You challenged LaMarcus?

Because he had one rebound. That first half, even though he wasn't totally responsible for that, they have 15 second chance points. They had 15 at the half, they finished with 17. 

You needed a win?

We needed a win. For us, we can't make a lot of mistakes because of the depth that we have. The personnel that we have. We have to play almost flawless ball and we've got to outscrap you, outhustle you, outwork you. Keep believing in ourselves. We didn't shoot the ball well. We're still struggling with perimeter j's. When we have open looks -- I thought we had some open looks in the first half -- but the second half we got some things going where we were going to the basket.

LaMarcus playing injured?

We had a lot of guys injured around here as you know. He keeps playing through it. We needed him. We don't win tonight if he doesn't do what he did late in this game. I like the fact that we got 26 free throws tonight, we were attacking, getting to the basket. We missed a ton but we were getting to the basket.

Playing Bayless, Blake and Roy down the stretch?

My thing was, we were rolling with him, defensively we made the adjustment. Evans is really good, made the adjustment to get Brandon, some size, on him. Bump Bayless over to keep him in the game. That worked out for us. That put a halt to Evans where he was hurting us and still allowed us to keep Bayless in the game.

Miller starting?

I thought Miller when he was in there with that group we scored. The first and the third. We did some good things. It's going to take some time with that combination. Getting a feel for each other. Today was the first time they've played a lot of minutes together -- Brandon, Miller, Martell, LA and Joel.

Will you keep starting Miller?

We're going to stay with that lineup.

Miller didn't play down the stretch?

Right now we're going to go with what's hot, what's working. If guys got a rhythm I have to try and stick with them because it's not a lot of places we can go. That wasn't just a feel tonight, where it's working, it got us back into the game. Miller done some good things but let's stay with it and see what happens.

Thoughts on Tyreke Evans

I think that kid is really, really good. I watched him on tape and just how he moves, I think he has some -- this is, you hate to compare players like this -- but I think he's got some Magic in him. He's a big guard that can see the floor. He's unselfish. He gets to the rim. He uses his body very well. He's good in transition. He can rebound and push the ball. A small or big guard doesn't really faze him. He sees the floor extremely well. That team is where they are because of Coach Westphal of course. Evans, he plays 3 positions -- 1, 2 and 3 -- who knows, when they get some of their guys back, you may even see him at some 4 because he's got a big body. He's going to be a very good player.

He doesn't play like a rookie, does he?

He's strong. He's confident. He's under control. What you saw out there was a young guy just taking a game over. He never looked out of control. It wasn't a selfish thing. Taking advantage of opportunities. Defensively he's not bad. He can defend too. He's a good player.

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter