The Portland Trail Blazers played around with the short-handed Sacramento Kings for the first half tonight before summarily dismissing them in the third quarter and never letting them back in the door. For a recap of the quarter-by-quarter action, CLICK HERE.
This wasn't exactly a night for significant developments. The Blazers did what they needed to do. They jumped on a weakened opponent early and put themselves in position to take a game they should have won. It was refreshing to see Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard come out hard early, as oftentimes they wait until the third and second quarters respectively to put their foot on the gas. The Blazers built a 15-point lead then lost it due to a lack of interior defense plus some great point guard play from Sacramento. Both of these are season-long Blazer issues. Also a Portland trend: strong defensive third quarters. The Blazers delivered tonight, throttling the Kings by packing the paint. Sacramento fell into a distance shooting competition with the Blazers, a contest they were destined to lose on a night when Portland fired 14-27 (52%) from the arc. When the Blazers shoot like that only multiple major leaks can sink the ship. Absent DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, the Kings were incapable of forcing such leaks.
This game doesn't change anything for the Blazers. They allowed the opponent 47% shooting and 54 points in the paint. Their bench played spotty and showed more mistakes than bright spots, even though the 19 points scored by Portland's reserves seems like a tidal wave in comparison to recent efforts. The Blazers scored only 28 points in the paint themselves, relying heavily on the jumper. LaMarcus Aldridge neither shot nor rebounded well. Most of the usual problems still lurked beneath the surface. However the Blazers needed to win this game and they did, in convincing fashion. Sometimes avoiding the loss is as significant as gaining the win and the Blazers dodged a bullet in fine Matrix style tonight.
Somebody took the monitor out of the back of Damian Lillard's neck tonight and the kid became Ender, winning no matter what the game and leading his comrades to victory. He shot 7-10 from the field, brutalized the Kings by hitting 5-6 from downtown (and that was downtown Yreka, as far back as he released the ball on those shots), dished 9 assists, and led all scorers with 22. Lillard's shot is a thing of beauty. He also abused Jimmer Fredette when the Sacramento sophomore thought to guard him. Fredette also got in his share of good plays against Lillard. Damian was overmatched by Tyreke Evans as well, though size makes that a hard cover. Evans also caused Lillard problems on offense for a while.
LaMarcus Aldridge shot 5-14 on a variety of dizzying (and somewhat ineffective) attempts but he also drew 10 foul shots, hitting 9. He finished the game with 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks...1 of which was a super-pink eraser special. I just can't help but wish for just one of last year's sets wherein Aldridge posts low and either makes a move one-on-one or gets doubled and tosses out to the point guard for an open three. Of course the defense wouldn't send Lillard's man the way they always sent Raymond Felton's, but I keep seeing that play and a host of Lillard catch-and-shoot jumpers raining down on opponents.
Nicolas Batum got aggressive on the boards and on defense really early in this game, one of the clearer signs of life we've seen from him in opening stanzas this year. As usual his offense came through in the third period, in which he scored 7 of his 15 points on the night. The Kings let him by for a clear dunk in the halfcourt and he looked like he grew to 8 feet tall as he sailed downward for the slam. His line of 15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals was just as impressive.
Wesley Matthews had a sloppy opening two minutes to this game but then got into an offensive rhythm which always spurs his all-around game. When he got lots of touches he did lots of good things all over the floor. When the ball went away from him his game became more muted. Still he shot an impressive 6-9 from the field, 2-3 from the arc, for 18 points.
J.J. Hickson did his usual sterling job on the boards, netting 13 rebounds and 10 points on 5-10 shooting. He had defensive issues inside but the Kings didn't have the offensive talent to capitalize.
Ronnie Price continued his week of showing strong off the bench, playing 20 minutes, shooting 3-5 from the field, 2-3 from distance (including one Lillardesque bomb), and netted 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Sprinkled in with the praise comes the admission that the offense doesn't run nearly as smoothly when Price is in as it does (most times) with Lillard. Part of that may be Price playing with more reserves than Damian usually does.
Sasha Pavlovic was the silver medalist off the bench tonight with 15 minutes played. He took 4 shots, all threes, and hit 2 for 6 points and 2 rebounds. It was one of his more active games.
Meyers Leonard got killed in his first half stint and didn't see the floor again until very late in the fourth. He played but 9 minutes with 2 rebounds and 16 lessons taught by veteran bigs on the other side.
Those hoping that Joel Freeland could get his team's plays straight on either end, get above the rim when shooting in the paint, or hit a jumper...keep hoping. He played 5 minutes in the first half and never saw the light of day again.
Jarred Jeffries played 9 minutes and collected 3 personal fouls, a block, a turnover, and missed 2 shots. His play hasn't inspired confidence early on this season.
Luke Babbitt managed a rebound, an assist, a steal, and 3 personal fouls(!) in just 2 minutes of play. That makes his semi-advanced per-48 stats for this game incredible: 24 rebounds, 24 assists, 24 steals, and 72 fouls committed, 24 of them flagrant.
Victor Claver and Nolan Smith got token minutes too. Smith hit a 3.
Note: Sacramento analyst Jerry Reynolds had a great line as the game wound down. Commenting on the Kings' near-continuous struggles on offense this year he said, "You know, there are a million ways not to score." That's genius right there.
The best news for the Blazers now, besides the win, might be that they get a couple days to rest before welcoming Houston to the Rose Garden and they have no more back-to-back games until a post-Thanksgiving road trip. A little rest and a little practice could do wonders for this team.
The boxscore for this game.
Sactown Royalty will tell you how it felt to be on the wrong end of this one. Also how passing on Lillard in the draft may hurt a little even though Thomas Robinson had a nice game tonight.
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