Let's credit the Portland Trail Blazers with this: their nice overall record and propensity for coming from behind to win games they've played less than ideally had me thinking tonight's game against the Los Angeles Lakers was going in the win column up until the final buzzer. The Lakers' 107-106 victory elated them but stunned practically everybody else. Falling streamers were notably absent in the post-game festivities at the Moda Center, replaced by the sound of 20,000 people picking up their jaws off the ground.
But let's get real here. If the Blazers didn't exactly deserve to lose this game, neither did they deserve to win it. As they've done so many times this season they left the result up in the air, dependent on a good bounce, copious doses of grit, and the spectacular play. Most of those went towards the Lakers. That doesn't happen to Portland often but it's one of the drawbacks of the "We're behind but we got this!" style the Blazers have fallen into the habit of employing against lesser teams. Both the comeback and the game were exciting, to be sure, but let's get even more real: making a game exciting that wasn't supposed to be isn't a feather in your cap when you're the better team. No amount of thrills and cheering can disguise the less-than-optimal performance for the Blazers.
This game smelled like trouble from the opening minutes. The Blazers apparently celebrated their win on Saturday against Denver by checking in for a relaxing weekend at the Lazy D ranch. They forgot to check out. The Lakers started the game with a clear plan: push the tempo into overdrive and put up the first reasonably-open shot available. It's not a bad strategy for an underdog. It's not a surprising strategy for a team coached by Mike D'Antoni. But the Blazers looked like they had just seen a rhinoceros in a tutu dancing backup for Beyonce right there at center court. They watched almost glassy-eyed, saying, "What the...?" as the Lakers converted layups and dunks on the break, drives off of screens in the halfcourt, and three-point shots.
Pop Quiz: In a lineup of Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Kendall Marshall, Kent Bazemore, and Wesley Johnson, who needs to be double-teamed?
Answer: NONE OF THE ABOVE.
So why did the Lakers end up shooting 8-18, 44%, from beyond the arc tonight, many of those makes coming off of wide open shots?
Well, folks, here at the Lazy D we have every comfort provided for you. Want to rope a calf? Don't bother getting out of that chaise lounge, pardner. We'll stun the little critter with a tranquilizer, plop him down beside your seat, tie a lasso around him, and put it right there in your hand. You won't even spill that little umbrella out of your drink!
The Blazers compounded their problems by offering up a buffet of turnovers to a team that ranks 28th out of 30 in turnovers forced.
Hankerin' for a change of scenery? Just mosey on over to our sister ranch, the Lazy O. And by "mosey" we mean, "Sit there while six burly, shirtless men carry you on a divan while three gorgeous attendants fan you, feed you grapes, and manually operate your eyelids so you don't have to expend all that energy blinking."
The Blazers did a few things well. Robin Lopez was once again spectacular on defense. He'd also throw down plenty of dunks and chip shots, some off of rebounds and others from opportunity passes. LaMarcus Aldridge did damage from mid-range. But Portland squandered much of their advantage by failing to hit enough weak-side threes to make the Lakers pay for double-teaming. The bench did their part as well, spending much of the game in disarray, giving back momentum that the starters earned. A third-quarter push spearheaded by Dorell Wright provided most of the noise that Portland's reserves would make.
Once the Blazers got down early they spent most of the evening playing accordion with the Lakers. They'd get a couple offensive rebounds, ride a couple Aldridge buckets, hit a couple threes, and close the margin. Then L.A. would streak out again, hit a layup or triple of their own, reverse the flow, and hold off Portland's charge. Each time the Blazers made a run and the Lakers pushed back the margin would narrow. Heroics from Lopez, Damian Lillard, and Nicolas Batum built energy in the building as the game progressed. Portland fell behind by 13 at the end of the first quarter but won the following three. They made up 6 in the second quarter, 4 in the third, trailing by only 3 points entering the fourth quarter.
Even better, the Lakers started tightening up in the final period. Portland's defense gave them fewer open shots, which they proceeded to miss anyway...badly. The Blazers secured offensive rebounds, wresting control of the glass authoritatively. Prospects for a Portland win looked good.
Los Angeles could still see daylight through the cracks in Portland's armor, however. Even when the Blazers were running hot they seemed to be getting in each other's way. Turnovers reared their heads again. Offense started too late or too early. Shots came from too far out on the court. Aldridge was either not involved or was involved so obviously that the Lakers couldn't miss him. In the end Portland's comeback hopes were pinned to a 22-point period. That wasn't quite enough.
The Blazers had worked themselves into a 105-105 tie with 34 seconds remaining when Damian Lillard stepped to the foul line to shoot two. He made the first, missed the second, but he secured his own shot. After a timeout the Lakers would successfully double the ball out of Aldridge's hands in the post, then cover well when it swung to Wesley Matthews for the corner three. The shot missed but Matthews followed his man down the court and tipped the ball out of bounds to set up an L.A. inbounds with 7 seconds left, Lakers down 1. After a timeout the Lakers ran a successful alley-oop play. Aldridge got snagged on a screen just enough to give Wesley Johnson daylight on a straight drive down the lane and a tip into the cup. Ironically I was thinking that the Blazers might be better off letting L.A. score quickly and get the ball into the hands of a dominant offense than relying on a shaky defense. The quick score left 6 seconds left for Portland to work with but the shot wouldn't fall. Jodie Meeks did a fantastic job shadowing Lillard as the clock wound down, staying in front of him, not biting on the three-point fake, not allowing the step-back, and getting a hand up to bother the shot. Lillard missed badly at the horn and the Lakers walked away with the win.
The Blazers shot an acceptable 45% from the floor tonight and grabbed 20 offensive rebounds...a great total. But for every forward step a half-dozen razor slices hamstrung them from behind. They committed 20 turnovers. (The Lakers force 13.5 per game.) They allowed a dozen offensive rebounds to an undersized team. They lost the battle of the paint 58-40, mostly by allowing 32 fast break points. (Want to get really sick to your stomach? The Lakers average just over 13 fast break points per game.) L.A. had 29 assists on 43 field goals. The Blazers made only 9 of 29 three-point attempts, 31%. To top it off Portland shot an uncharacteristic 11-19 from the foul line, an 83% foul shooting team shooting 58%, missing 8 free throws in a 1-point game.
In short, the Blazers were about as focused as a Glamour Shot tonight and it showed.
We're running late so we'll keep this brief.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 21 points on 9-19 shooting but he looks less mobile than he did pre-injury. His offensive success came mainly because the Lakers were trying to guard him with a guy named "Kelly". That won't work. It's an NBA Law. Ryan Kelly, Kelly Olynyk, Kelly Tripucka, Grace Kelly, Gene Kelly...Aldridge is going to burn them all. But his damage came from mid-range, he had only 6 rebounds, he committed 4 turnovers, and the Lakers had great success doubling him all evening.
Damian Lillard went 8-19 for 20 points but he seems to be trying to find himself again now that Aldridge has returned. He's not playing as free and easy as he was when the Big Guy was out and he was the best option. Lillard went a respectable 3-8 from distance but a not-so-respectable 1-4 from the foul line. He also committed 4 turnovers.
Nicolas Batum played rebounding forward tonight, snagging 15 rebounds, 5 offensive, including a mighty put-back in the fourth that looked like it might propel Portland over the top. Batum had 17 points on 6-14 shooting. He dished 5 assists but also committed 5 turnovers.
Wesley Matthews shot an ouchy 3-12 and an even ouchier 1-6 from the arc. He hustled and he was the only starter who didn't commit crooked-number turnovers but the Blazers needed that weak-side shooting tonight and it wasn't there.
I think Robin Lopez likes being the only true center on the court. He dominated tonight, providing soul-crushing dunks and wheelbarrows full of rebounds, plus the only real interior defense the Blazers mustered. 19 points on 9-13 shooting, 16 rebounds, 9 offensive.
Dorrell Wright hit the aforementioned threes in the third and totaled 8 points in 16 minutes.
C.J. McCollum twisted the hold Will Barton had on his playing time, scoring 6 in 8 minutes on 2-3 shooting while Barton managed only a block and a missed shot plus some questionable defense in 5 minutes.
Mo Williams had 5 assists but also committed 3 turnovers and shot 3-9 in 23 minutes.
Meyers Leonard got 14 minutes but his most striking contribution was 3 fouls.
The Blazers conclude this homestand with the struggling-but-semi-dangerous Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday before embarking on a tough, five-game road swing.
Your Jersey Contest Scores and the form for Wednesday are HERE. Tonight's Answers: Will Barton scores 0, Robin Lopez gets 16 boards, L.A.'s bench scores more points, C.J. McCollum scores the most points per minute for Portland.