Here's an NBA pop quiz. Let's say you won a triple-overtime thriller last night, your key starters logged 50+ minutes each in that game, and you just hopped off the plan for the second night of a back-to-back. What is your game plan?
If you said, "Give the starters short shifts early, pace yourselves, hope to catch a break and generate enough momentum to win the game late, but otherwise just accept the schedule-induced loss," you are not the Portland Trail Blazers. Sure, that's the standard, but Coach Terry Stotts and crew don't care about your preconceptions. If you put a "W" in front of them, they're going to go and get it.
Tonight they accomplished that goal against the New Orleans Pelicans by employing a witchy voodoo reverse-psychology strategy. The last things you'd expect a 3OT-spent, travel-and-play club to do are run, press, and crash the boards right out of the gate. That's exactly what the Blazers did tonight. The Pelicans never knew what hit them. Before they could say, "More sugar on that beignet, please" the Blazers had runned, gunned, treyed, and played their way to a 32-17 first-quarter margin.
After that, it was easy. The second unit played with ease, keeping the enormous cushion the starters handed to them. As long as the Blazers clogged the middle on defense, New Orleans couldn't score. Anthony Davis never got to the rim. The Pelican perimeter crew drove repeatedly but if missed layups were doughnuts, they could have started a bakery. With their confidence shaken from 2 feet, they had little chance on 20-foot jumpers even when they were open. About the only thing they could do was offensive rebound, which they did plenty of. But it wasn't enough. Portland won the 2nd period by 3 points before squashing the Pelicans all over again in the third, 32-18. By that time the game was way out of hand and the Blazers rode their deep subs to a laughably-easy 114-88 victory.
You can't say enough about the genius and heart behind this effort. The Pelicans kept waiting for the Blazers to get tired but they never did. They didn't have to, as no starter played more than 30 minutes. It's like the Blazers said, "What's the most ideal way we could get our main guys rest tonight?" then came up with "blow them out early" as the answer. It's one of those things that's so obvious, it makes you slap your forehead for having not thought of it. But what coach or analyst would predict that a weary team would come out and expend all that energy in the first period? Who thinks of that approach besides Terry Stotts? And full credit to the Portland players for making it work, putting serious effort behind it. Trust, faith, commitment, drive...whatever you want to call it, this team is showing it.
This whole group is starting to resemble the Dirty Dozen from movie fame. Put an obstacle in front of them and they're going to come up with some kind of alphabetical chant involving Donald Duck and parachutes, then execute perfectly no matter what the odds against them. Except the Blazers are basically nice guys, so maybe they're the Clean Dozen?
Either way, 114-88...on the second night of a back-to-back...with Anthony Davis shooting 3-14 and netting only 6 rebounds. Think about that for a minute.
Nope, you're not done thinking. More.
OK, here are a few nifty stat lines.
LaMarcus Aldridge went 12-20 for 27 points and 12 rebounds, 3 steal, and 2 blocks. His 13 first-quarter point made Portland's strategy work. His defense is getting really scary.
Damian Lillard shot 50% from the field and the arc, scored 17, and added 7 assists. One of the more impressive things about his evening: 12 shots. For a guy coming off a career high in which he carried the team, that's a measured number of attempts. You can't spell "team" without "Dame". Except the "D" should be a "T", but go with me here.
Nicolas Batum was way into this game, shooting 5-8 for 11 points but darting all over the floor to help his teammates out.
Wesley Matthews took only 8 shots tonight, all 8 from three-point range. He hit 3 for 9 points total.
Chris Kaman did that Kaman thing with 8-10 shooting and 16 points in 22 minutes. He invoked Portland fans to chant, "Omer who???"
Thomas Robinson went 6-8 off of a dunkety-dunk-dunk-dunk offensive bender.
Steve Blake had a so-so night except he was knocking people around tonight, including a little shove of Dante Cunningham from behind when the Pelicans were on the break. The Blazers may actually be the Clean 11 plus Blake.
The rest of the bench underwhelmed in general...as did Robinson everywhere but scoring.
Joel Freeland started, collected 6 personal fouls, but did a pretty nice job defending Anthony Davis in his 16 minutes of play. He was like a disposable razor tonight. "Oh...you're spent, huh? Did you get the job done? Great...that's all that matters."
New Orleans needs to look in the mirror defensively. It was like Davis carried around his own bubble of good defense all night and outside of his radius...nada. The entire Mardi Gras parade could have driven through the lane against them. I know their guards aren't the most diligent, nor their non-Davis forwards that quick and athletic, but you can't waste A.D. like that. 53% shooting for the Blazers tonight plus 46 points in the paint.
The Blazers get another back-to-back after a travel day, facing the Houston Rockets on Monday and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday. If the Blazers win even 1 of those games, everybody in Portland should spontaneously break into six kinds of happy dances. 3-4 on a road swing that included San Antonio, New Orleans, Houston, and OKC...without Robin Lopez? Inconceivable.
Our Instant Recap will clue you in on game flow and post-game reaction.
I have a hunch The Bird Writes will be a little bit discouraged, maybe even embarrassed, about this effort.
You can phone in questions for this week's Blazer's Edge podcast to 234-738-3394.
Since it's the season of giving, don't forget to help underprivileged youth, children, and chaperons see Portland's March 30th game against the Phoenix Suns by contributing tickets to Blazer's Edge Night. The cost of a ticket is low and the joy it brings into the life of a child who otherwise wouldn't get to see a game is immeasurable. We're looking to send over 1000 kids this year. You can find all the details here. Please help with a ticket or two (or 10!) if you can.