Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers welcomed the Minnesota Timberwolves into the Moda Center for the first time this season. For a while it seemed like the Blazers would be gracious hosts, making small talk for a quarter or two and serving their guests light refreshments. But when it came time for business LaMarcus Aldridge and company got downright mean, shooting and slamming over the 'Wolves with abandon en route to a 107-93 victory.
If you've read our recaps over the last two weeks you almost don't need a description of this game. Just envision, "Typical Blazers Outing" and you'll have the idea. Portland started the game slowly, both in terms of momentum and footspeed. Nowhere was this more evident than on defense, as the Timberwolves outraced, outrebounded, and generally outplayed the Blazers, scoring at will in the paint with crisp cutting and passing. Minnesota dominated second chance points, fast break points, basically all the easy ways to score.
On defense the Timberwolves mixed zones with quick double-teams to force the ball out of the paint and out of the hands of Portland's primary scorers. The Blazers' halfcourt offense once again generated plenty of open three point looks as a result, but once again the Blazers missed most of them.
10 points from Aldridge in the first quarter saved Portland's bacon, but the Timberwolves still led 26-22 exiting the period.
In the second quarter (and really for the rest of the game) the Blazers reversed the trend. They knuckled down on defense, forced the 'Wolves out of the paint, rebounded missed jumpers, and ran for quick offense. The same triples that rimmed out in the slower-paced attack started falling as the 'Wolves scrambled to keep up with Portland's speed. Once rebounding hands got sticky and threes started going in, everything was right in Blazer Nation. The Blazers outscored the 'Wolves 26-14 in the second quarter to take a 48-40 lead into the locker room and never looked back. Minnesota offered some good individual performances but no real threat and the Blazers waltzed to victory.
P.S. Minnesota? You can't play zone defense against the Blazers. I mean, for a possession or two to shake things up, sure. But you should hear a submarine-like ping getting closer and closer as you throw that zone on. You know when Portland finds the range you're going to get torpedoed out of the water. Next time get out of the zone before that happens.
17 games and 1 month into the season, we're starting to figure out some things about the Blazers:
1. They're one of the best rebounding teams in the league, which is good because when they're not, it's a disaster.
2. Originally we said that the second unit would play better with a faster tempo but now we can revise that. The entire team plays looser when they push the ball and look for early offense. When the ball stalls the Blazers get in trouble quickly. Turnovers and missed shots abound.
3. Portland is vulnerable to teams that want to push the ball in return...or at least it takes them a while to commit to stopping that kind of attack. If you want to beat the Blazers, get the ball up the floor quickly and move it around once you get there.
4. That said, the Blazers are now deep enough to run for most of the game. In previous years they'd tire out. Now we're seeing opponents exhibiting fatigue long before the Blazers do. You'd better come with enough talent and resolve to play for 48 minutes or the Blazers are going to rope-a-dope you.
5. If you can score inside the Blazers aren't going to stop you unless you're foolish enough to give them time to get extra men in the lane and then take it right into the teeth of the defense. When Portland can get 2 stationary defenders in the paint you're not going to score on them ever. Against a single defender or a late rotation the floor is yours.
Fun With Numbers
--After starting the game 2-7 from the arc the Blazers found their comfort zone, shot 10-26, and finished the game 12-33, 36% from the arc. The 'Wolves paid tribute to missing teammate Ricky Rubio by shooting 2-9, 22%, from distance.
--The Blazers allowed 60 points in the paint, much of them off of penetration or second-chance efforts. The upside: teammates letting all those guys free in the lane allowed Robin Lopez to channel Theo Ratliff and block 5 shots.
--Portland turned over the ball 18 times tonight, including 12 steals given up. Minnesota only scored 13 points after those turnovers...a relief to the Blazers.
--Portland also had 27 assists on 39 made shots...a nice ratio.
--Mo Williams scored 21 in his return to Portland. But Shabazz Muhammad topped him with 28. The Blazers had no answer for Shabazz.
If you didn't remember Friday night's loss to Memphis, you'd almost believe the Blazers couldn't get themselves into any situation that LaMarcus Aldridge couldn't get them right back out of. We talked about the 10 first-quarter points already. Those were but a prelude to a 26 point, 15 rebound outing which the 'Wolves couldn't even begin to deal with. Everything Aldridge does right now is pure gold. His season stats say 21 points, 9 rebounds per game, but to Portland opponents it must feel more like 36,000 points and every rebound necessary to make sure his team wins. Do not sleep on Aldridge's first month of this season. It has been nothing short of incredible.
Wesley Matthews once again played Aldridge's right-hand man, canning 6-10 three-pointers and scoring 23 with 6 rebounds and an unusual 3 turnovers. When Matthews' three is falling the Blazers become all but impossible to guard.
Damian Lillard scored 17 with 8 assists but hit only 1-7 triples and had trouble keeping his man contained.
Nicolas Batum continues his "love me and hate me" ways, shooting 1-8 from distance and 4-13 overall for 10 points but adding 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, and 3 turnovers. The main thing about Batum right now is that you don't really notice him much unless he's missing an open shot. Part of that is because you expect the good things he does while the bad stand out. But part of that really is his light dimming. He's not making the same visceral impact defensively we're used to seeing. Plus he's picking his spots more often on offense instead of letting the game come to him naturally.
Robin Lopez: 7 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 points, 4 turnovers. With Minnesota fielding quick but offensively-challenged bigs it felt like Lopez was the hunted in this game more than the hunter. They were looking to poke the ball away the instant he touched it. Those 5 blocks...nice.
Stop the presses! Chris Kaman didn't dominate off the bench tonight! Everyone can now check outside to see if rain is falling upwards, livestock are flying, and Twitter is full of sound advice. Kaman did score 8 with 8 rebounds in 18 minutes but as with Lopez, the 'Wolves were all over him.
Steve Blake, though? Great game. Sure he shot 1-5 from the field but he provided 7 assists in 22 minutes and the point guard defense the Blazers were lacking.
Allen Crabbe did really well in this game, hitting 3-5 three-pointers (including a miracle bank off an inbounds with 0.4 remaining on the shot clock) and played decent defense to boot. Solid game from him.
Joel Freeland had 6 points and 6 rebounds in 12 minutes. Also 2 turnovers and 2 personal fouls. Freeland looks like he's out there to make something happen and he doesn't care what as long as it's something. This is not a bad approach for a Portland bench player to take. In the process he's provided a little of Thomas Robinson's rebounding and a little of Meyers Leonard's offense, creating a middle ground that Terry Stotts seems to like.
The Blazers play in Denver on Tuesday, return home against Indiana on Thursday, then head out for a 5-game road trip.
Our Instant Recap with post-game reaction from around the 'net.
Canis Hoopus misses Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. Heck, I missed seeing Pekovic vs. Lopez and I'm not anything close to a 'Wolves fan.
Stay tuned for our In-Arena Report covering the crowd reaction to tonight's win.
Phone in a question for this week's Blazer's Edge Podcast at 234-738-3394