The reality of an 82-game season in the NBA dictates that some nights are going to be prettier than others. If you're thinking that tonight's contest between the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings fell into the "pretty" category, think again. Exactly two things turned out beautifully:
1. There aren't even words for how the Blazers treated the Kings on the boards. Sacramento coach Mike Malone alternated between bursting veins in his forehead, crying, and placing calls to 9-1-1. That last was a waste of time, by the way. A S.W.A.T. team and the national guard together couldn't have saved the Kings tonight. Every miss on either end seemed to have Portland's name on it. The Blazers ended up with 19 offensive rebounds and won the overall board battle 52-33. Put three zeroes at the end of Portland's number and you'll understand the effect on the game.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge was sweetness personified. This was true all game long but particularly in the fourth quarter when the Kings, by then 20 points behind, made their obligatory run. Aldridge took the ball and delivered again and again, taking in the whole court like it was his personal throne room. "No, you're not coming back. Your silly little run is just keeping me on the floor longer which means more stats for me and more pain for you. Want to stop now?" Aldridge finished the game with 22 points on 10-19 shooting with 14 boards.
Other than that, though, this game was so ugly it needed to troll for hook-ups on Craigslist at 3 a.m. on Monday. And even then it would be well-advised to show up wearing a mask. But hey, winning ugly games is part of becoming a good team. Portland did that tonight.
Just about everything you needed to know about how this game would unfold could be seen in the first quarter. DeMarcus Cousins picked up two early fouls and had to sit at the 6:00 mark of the period. That left the Kings relying on jumpers. And their jumpers missed. A lot. But Portland's guards obliged by missing most of their shots as well. Great rebounding and shots from Aldridge kept the Blazers ahead in the quarter, a 21-18 affair for Portland.
The Blazers's second unit continued the rebounding dominance behind Joel Freeland but the effort was marred somewhat by the horrible guard defense being played on both sides. As observers scrambled to find ice picks to thrust through their eyes, Mo Williams, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas, and Jimmer Fredette proceeded to lose men, get dwarfed by picks, or just let their opponent shoot for the heck of it. And many of the shots still missed. Finally Thomas and Ben McLemore managed to splash net as Sacramento ran a small lineup but even that didn't help much. Sacto's trump card, Cousins, returned to the game but got swarmed every time his sneakers touched paint and remained largely ineffective. Robin Lopez stayed in front of him while a couple of teammates closed and took away his ability to spin, dodge, or even blink. The Kings followed up their 18-point first period with a 20-point effort in the second, trailing Portland by 6 headed into the break.
Cousins had his way in the second half as the Blazers stopped collapsing and he ruined some good defense by Lopez. He would finish with 33 points and 12 rebounds. That could have ruined Portland's night had Sacramento's defenders not gone totally brain-dead in the third period. I don't know what they were doing, but I'm pretty sure putting your hands down by your side and taking a couple aimless steps like you were browsing lumber choices at your local Home Depot does not appear in the defense section of most NBA playbooks. The Kings left Portland's shooters so wide open that the Blazers couldn't miss. Well, they kind of still did sometimes, but 24 points in the period was enough to counter Cousins' 1-on-1 work and the 16 points the Kings amassed because of it.
The Kings made a run in the fourth behind more DeMarcus dominance but rebounding and some well-timed threes shut the door on what ended up being a fairly comfortable Portland win.
The Blazers started off poorly from the three-point arc in this game, to the point where I thought we'd finally be able to herald a win when they shot below average from distance. They ended up 9-20, 45%, when the game was done. But they would have won anyway. That sort of counts.
The Blazers also kept the paint deficit to 32-40 for Sacramento. Though every non-Marcus-Thornton guard ended up shooting a high percentage (Thornton was awful again, missing open shots all night) the Sacramento backcourt wasn't prolific enough to overcome the lack of inside scoring and rebounding.
Other than that, this game was fairly nondescript.
Lamarcus Aldridge we already noted. Wonderful game.
Damian Lillard threw Aldridge's efforts into stark relief by missing 14 of the 15 shots he attempted on the night. By the end of the game he was running away from his own shot in quite un-Lillard-like fashion. But he dished 6 assists, grabbed 6 boards, and snagged 3 steals.
Wesley Matthews made up for Lillard's brickery by scoring 21 on 8-11 shooting. His catch and shoot is pure right now.
Nicolas Batum did well with 4-9 shooting, 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Watching him play John Salmons is like watching a real salmon run into a dam.
Robin Lopez led the rebounding parade with 10 and also scored 12 points. He did extremely well against Cousins in the first half.
Joel Freeland played a fine defensive game in 15 minutes. His stats read 4 points, 2 assists, and a rebound but it was another happy game for him.
Thomas Robinson had 5 boards in 13 minutes.
Dorell Wright and Mo Williams each bombed a couple of treys for 8 points. Williams added 5 assists. Then again Wright got his 8 points in just 11 minutes.
The Blazers now get to rush home to take on the Pistons on Monday night.
Sactown Royalty covers the Kings.