It took a while but the Portland Trail Blazers disposed of the eminently disposable Sacramento Kings tonight, overcoming a mammoth night for Kings center DeMarcus Cousins with a balanced team attack.
The evening started out with the Blazers trying to rattle, draw fouls on, and otherwise expose Cousins by running Robin Lopez right at him. Lopez scored 6 of Portland's first 8 points via two shots right at the rim and free throws off of a third attempt. Cousins battled back by hitting mid-range shots which Lopez couldn't come out to defend. After that both teams settled into a jumper-lofting duel...a contest Portland won thanks to some nifty target-finding passes and 3 three-pointers from Damian Lillard. Joel Freeland, playing the game of his career so far, held the Blazers firm as Lopez rested in the late first quarter and actually shut down the lane as the Kings tried to take it in the early second. Sacramento would get inside more in that second quarter, trimming a 7-point deficit after one to 5 points at the half.
The Kings made a huge adjustment coming out of the locker room. Their center attack had come from the perimeter thus far, and quite effectively so. They abandoned that in the third period as D.C. drove right down the heart of the lane. They pulled within 1 with 10:00 left in the quarter when Lopez decided enough was enough and started playing Arkansas defense: putting his hands all over Cousins at every opportunity. At no point did Lopez shut him down. DeMarcus ended the evening with 35 points on 13-25 shooting and 9-10 from the foul line. But the bumping, shoving, grinding, and grabbing encouraged Cousins to take the easy way out, retreating back to the mid-range jumpers or passing up shots to the guards. The latter was disastrous. Marcus Thornton killed his team by missing open shots. The Blazers didn't give Isaiah Thomas that kind of opportunity, holding him to 13 points on 5-15 shooting. Meanwhile Portland kept sharing the ball, surviving a few miscues with a modest lead intact until the last half of the fourth. Then the Blazers hit LaMarcus Aldridge in the post for a few possessions. Aldridge delivered. The lead ballooned to double digits and that's all she wrote. It wasn't the most inspiring win but it was probably the most solid of the young season.
Portland held the Kings to 5 fast break points, a dozen off of their average...hands down the best achievement of the evening. Also significant: Portland won the rebounding battle on both ends of the floor against a team that, while not spectacular on the glass, outranks the Blazers in that department. Holding the opponent to 42% shooting and only 40 points in the paint is a nice touch for the Blazers but some of that also has to be credited to Sacramento. That's a percentage point higher than their season average so far from the field and exactly at their points in the paint total. The Blazers did hold the Kings below their lousy three-point shooting average. Portland exceeded their own three-point percentage, raising their assist total in the process. Sacramento just wasn't as interested in chasing the ball and fighting through screens as the Blazers were in setting picks and passing around the ball.
After a quiet start to the game LaMarcus Aldridge ended up with 20 points on 10-20 shooting, nailing shut the coffin after his teammates had deposited Sacramento inside of it. It was a nondescript night for LMA. Nondescript nowadays means All-Star-level numbers.
Damian Lillard added 22, a dozen off of 4-9 three-point shooting and 8 more in a perfect night from the foul line. 9 of his 13 attempts were threes. He scored only 1 bucket inside the arc, though the foul shots tell part of the story there. Lillard also added 8 rebounds and 7 assists...nice numbers.
Speaking of nice numbers, Nicolas Batum hit 5 of 10 shots, 3 of 6 from distance to score 14 with 8 assists and 7 rebounds. The Kings had their hands full keeping up with Lillard. In the meantime Batum shunted the ball to open shooters and blammo...possession validated. This was a nice night for Nic.
Wesley Matthews continued his scoring ways, shooting 7-11 for 18 points plus 7 rebounds and 2 steals. The only time he got in trouble was when he tried to create the offense himself. Playing in the flow he was near unstoppable tonight.
Robin Lopez had a heck of an interesting night. He kept active in the middle and managed to draw only 4 fouls in 31 minutes...an achievement considering the physicality he was serving up. Though Cousins left Lopez all alone when Robin drifted beyond a dozen feet from the bucket, Lopez kept him honest by converting 4 of 8 shots for 11 points close up. Cousins could stay home but he couldn't wander. Good enough to free up everybody else. Normally there's no way you would call the defense of a guy who just gave up 35 points "good", but Lopez did himself proud tonight, changing the game in the ways he could and ignoring the rest.
We might as well tag in Joel Freeland here as well, because he had a heck of a 17-minute stretch. Hip or no hip, Freeland ended up in the right place at the right time on both ends. He blocked shots and hit them. He grabbed rebounds and prevented them. I don't want to oversell. It's not like his night was incredible by NBA standards, though it was certainly good. But by Freeland standards and by the production we're used to seeing from Portland's bench bigs, this was everything you could have hoped for. It was the best night of his NBA career.
Thomas Robinson snaked his way to 10 points in 12 minutes of play, mostly by being longer and quicker than his opponents. He stayed aggressive but mostly under control (2 turnovers and 3 fouls accounting for the "mostly"). It was his best night as a Trail Blazer.
Side Note: In the pre-series Q&A with Tom Ziller of SactownRoyalty I said the following...
You can flip a coin with [Portland's big-man reserves] on any given night. Heads they'll almost look like they belong in an NBA uniform. Tails they're better suited to be giant mascots at Hot Dog on a Stick.
So OF COURSE this would be the night that Freeland and Robinson put in the games of their lives. Just sayin'.
Dorell Wright hit a three and grabbed 4 boards in a mostly-forgettable night.
Mo Williams had one of those nights you'd like to forget from the field, shooting 1-6 for 2 points in 25 minutes. The good news: It wasn't 2-13. The better news: He added 6 dimes. The best news: The rest of Portland's bench did fine and the bad shooting didn't hurt the Blazers in the end.
We get these same Kings tomorrow night in a game televised locally on KGW.
Timmay's Instant Recap and GameDay Thread review.
Jersey Contest will commence after next weekend's set of games.