The Portland Trail Blazers secured a six-game winning streak for the first time since Nov. 2009, defeating the New Orleans Hornets in the Rose Garden on Wednesday night, 103-96. With the win, the Blazers head into the All-Star break in the Western Conference's 5th seed. It's borderline shocking to write that.
Perhaps because my mind is on travel tonight as I un-handcuff myself from my desk for the first time since Summer League, to brave All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, I couldn't help but feel like we'd all been transported to a fashionable European cafe, where the table clothes are immaculate, the beverages are in litres, the waiters are mustachioed and the power forwards roam the perimeter facing the basket, pausing only to cash in corner threes. All of this orchestrated by Nate McMilliano - the small ball alter-ego of the formerly stuffy Blazers coach - a man who dares take a spindly small forward and put him in the post on one end, who dreams to throw him against the league's best point guard on the other.
Whether because of the dire roster circumstances or fate, Portland's new small ball look continues to be... searching for a Euro-ish word ... delightful (?). Using three versatile shooters in addition to Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge changes the offensive spacing, creating plenty of room for Aldridge in the first quarter (13 points) and fourth quarter (12 points), and Miller as well. During the short run when the threes were coming down in buckets, the guys in red and black were barely recognizable, their 35 first quarter points coming so easily and efficiently that it was almost enough to make you forget some of the clanking clunkers we've seen over the past few months.
All of the flighty fun did give way to some ugliness, but you can't really dwell on that because Aldridge erased all record of the second and third quarters when he threw down this triple-blinker put back slam and swag smirk. Blink, blink, blink, believe your eyes. His best finish of the season, I think you'll agree.
Paced by a Jordanesque performance from guard Willie Green (24 and 6), the Hornets looked like they might grind out an important road win ... until they got flattened by a truck in the middle of the fourth quarter. In roughly ninety seconds the Blazers went on an 7-0 run, thanks to a smooth Nicolas Batum dunk off a read from Aldridge, an and-one from Aldridge in the post and a Miller jumper that forced New Orleans to call a timeout and gave the Blazers a 90-86 lead. They wouldn't look back, cruising straight through the finish line and into the All-Star break.
Aldridge finished with 34, 7 and 4. Miller finished with 18, 4 and 7. Wesley Matthews finished with 24, 8 and 2. And Hornets point guard Chris Paul was virtually invisible all night, Portland's oft-changing schemes and attentive defense, helping hold Paul to 8, 2 and 5.
Tonight, things were clicking, the chemistry, both on-court and in a light-hearted locker room afterwards, was self-evident. Next week the second season begins, and the Blazers look to add in two familiar ingredients - Marcus Camby and Brandon Roy - without interrupting what has been substantial progress.
Let's just hope this isn't ciao for McMilliano. Encore. Encore.
Random Game Notes
- Here's audio from a pretty long chat with Chad in Portland on 95.5 FM on Wednesday morning. Starts around the 14 minute mark.
- Kevin Durant tweets about LaMarcus Aldridge: "No doubt he shoulda been a all star."
- Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus finally bothered to make the three-hour drive to watch an NBA game in person, leaving Nana to tend the kittens. Here's his recap, which includes this great note that had his blood pumping when he pulled it out of his spreadsheet: "Just 12 days ago, after the Blazers lost at Indiana, they trailed New Orleans by 5.5 games in the standings. Since then, the two teams have gone in opposite directions. Portland enters the break on a six-game winning streak, while the Hornets have lost six of their last seven."
- The only person who wasn't happy tonight was sideline reporter Terry Porter, who had liquid spilled all over the leg of his suit by Rudy Fernandez. The dribble of liquid required Porter to attend to it in the locker room's shower area while Aldridge compared the damage to what a young puppy might create, a line which drew significant laughter.
- Nearly 44 minutes played for Aldridge tonight. Mmmmhhggg. You and I would both coach it the same way if given the same set of players. But mmmmhhhgg.
- You probably saw Blazers point guard Andre Miller pretend like he was going to call a timeout, only to drive the ball past New Orleans' surprised defense for a layup. Matt Calkins of The Columbian got Miller's reaction: "I was going to call the time out, but then I saw that everyone was walking toward the bench, so I was like 'OK' and it just happened. For a second, I thought it was a bad decision because it looked like it was going to get blocked, and if it did get blocked, it would have been a bad decision." Read the rest of that post, it's great.
- A bunch of interesting comments from McMillan tonight, including his challenge to Matthews and Batum prior to the game, his thoughts on their developing roles, and a nice quip about Miller's fake timeout.
- The general mood around the team was very content and, as you might expect, excited for the break. Very self-assured.
- Prior to the game, Matthews took the microphone to address the crowd and received a hearty ovation when he mentioned representing the team this weekend in the Rookie / Sophomore game.
- Someone play devil's advocate and make an ironclad case for trading Andre Miller prior to the deadline and email it to me. Because he made a pretty solid case that he should stay through this year (and next?) again tonight.
- The Sean Marks highlight of the night ... has been temporarily discontinued due to a shortage in the supply chain.
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments
An excellent way to go into the break. These guys have just been scrapping this whole month. New Orleans is a very good team. One of the top teams defensively. Offensively they pose some problems trying to guard their options. I think Paul is playing great basketball. I thought our guys tonight did a great job. They've been doing this recently. You've got to do this to win games: making adjustments during the course of a game. Going from Nicolas on Paul to Wesley on Paul. Going from switching to showing, from man to zone and being able to execute and make that work. They've just been good here these last few games.
Nicolas and Wesley answered a challenge
It is a challenge. What I said to them this morning... these games coming up is why we brought Wesley here. To play in this atmosphere and to play against teams like this. To bring his attitude, to bring his work ethic, scrappy, being able to match him with a Chris Paul or a Green. Nicolas, this is why we like his potential. His versatility, being able to put him on a Chris Paul, down the stretch we played him at a four position, these two guys need to grow into those players for us. These games coming up. That's why we like Nic's potential and why we brought Wesley in here.
LaMarcus is just ... I thought against West he's had some tough nights against West. I thought tonight I know he was fired up, but he was fired up and able to keep himself calm. Sometimes you can get fired up and be too fired up and you kind of lose your head out there. I thought tonight West bumping, getting away with some calls, L.A. not getting some calls, he kept a calm head and played a very disciplined game.
Early and late offense good, struggles in the middle
I thought we were executing. We got some stops, we were running. But the main thing, we got some stops, we got out early in our transition. And then second quarter we struggled trying to score. Their second unit is pretty good. But it's a 48 minute game. We were able to ... we were down a point at half but came back with a big fourth quarter.
Where the team stands
I like where we are right now, as far as what has happened, trying to finish off strong. Just take this momentum that we've been gaining here recently and get this game tonight. After having success on the road, I really felt like this was a game for us to measure ourselves. Even though they came off a game last night they really kicked us the first two games by 19 and 20. I thought tonight we came out and played so we go into the break. The thing is to continue to win. You start watching the standings when you're losing. As long as you keep winning you know you are in good shape and you'll be moving up.
He has looked at that a couple of times. Definitely wasn't called. I was [on the court], I didn't even see it. That's just experience. A lot of times in situations like that, teams start to walk to the sidelines, he picked up on that and made a great read. He finished the play so it was a great read [laughs]. That's a veteran guard picking up on a team that made a mistake.
No. The match-ups were going to be tough for Joel. We tried to get him in that first half and then the second half they go small. He would have been involved in a lot of pick and rolls so I felt like our rotating six guys that second half was what we were going to have to do. So that I felt that we would have the match-ups.
Hammered on the boards without Joel?
They were hammering us with Joel and Dante everybody else on the floor [too].
He played four minutes
That's OK. It worked out.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter