November, 2015 has taught us a couple things about the Portland Trail Blazers. When they look good, they look really good. When they look bad, they're awful. Tonight's contest against the Los Angeles Lakers gave them a chance to demonstrate the former. It's not often Portland outclasses an opponent, but this was definitely one of those occasions. It was as if the 7th-best team in a major NCAA conference scheduled a Division II opponent to pad the win total. Even if the results won't transfer against stiffer competition, it was nice to see what the players are capable of, namely a speedy, excitement-filled 107-93 romp in L.A.
The Trail Blazers announced their intentions early as Damian Lillard opened the game by hitting a pair of dead-eye three-pointers. From that moment forward anyone Coach Byron Scott sent in the game to watch Lillard did exactly that: they watched Lillard drive to the cup, watched Lillard dish with targeted precision, watched Lillard post 30 points and 13 assists.
If Lillard slicing into the Lakers like prime Kobe Beef was the first constant of this game, the Blazers running out was the second. They converted turnovers and defensive rebounds into points, making the flat-footed Lakers look downright disinterested. As Kobe swore from mid-court, Portland built a decisive 18-2 fast break advantage.
That tells you almost everything you need to know about the progress of the game. Every once in a while L.A. would close an 8-point gap to 3 or 4, but the Blazers just ran away again. The final time this happened proved emblematic of the entire affair. At the 4:33 mark of the fourth period Brandon Bass dunked on Mason Plumlee, capping off the Lakers' most successful run of the evening and bringing his team within 3, 93-90. Lillard missed a jumper at the other end, leaving the ball in the hands of Nick Young. Parked at the three-point arc on the top right-hand side with the entire floor in front of him, Young took a lateral dribble towards the center of the court, bringing himself no closer to the basket but taking away the three-pointer. He then pulled up for a contested 20-footer, an incredibly long two-point attempt. He missed badly. On their next three possessions the Blazers attacked the lane, scoring 2 field goals and 2 free throws, putting the game out of reach. (Video here) L.A. continued to take toxic shots until the final horn put them out of their misery. Portland finished the game with a 14-3 run. The scoreboard said 14-point Portland victory but it felt like a billion.
Blazers fans had to love seeing what their team was intended to do instead of what they manage most nights. The big-picture explanation of this game: the Blazers finally met a team that plays worse defense and has a shakier bench than they do. But the Blazers still could have lost this game had they not bothered. For the second outing in a row they showed energy on both ends of the floor. Rebounding was their only major flaw. L.A. grabbed 15 offensive boards, 7 from Julius Randle alone. Balanced against that:
--The 18-2 Portland fast-break advantage.
--54 points in the paint versus 38 for L.A.
--27 assists to 17 for Portland, many of them coming on straight-line cuts to the cup.
--Lillard scored 30 and CJ McCollum 19. Nobody for the Lakers had more than 19.
--Lillard and McCollum shot 20-38, 53%...a rare night of efficiency for both at the same time.
--Portland didn't commit many turnovers, tying the Lakers with 10.
--Portland shot 49% from the field, holding L.A. to 36%.
Compared to the pluses, dwelling on the minuses (bench defense, dealing with physically bigger opponents) seems petty. The Blazers saw a weaker opponent, exploited them, and pressed the gas pedal exactly when they needed to in order to put that opponent away. No matter how sad the Lakers are currently, the Blazers played the game they should have played. End of story.
Lillard and McCollum combined for 49 points, 18 assists, and 10 rebounds, each looking supremely confident. This was one of the best games the two have played together.
Mason Plumlee had a stellar outing as well, shooting 6-9 off of nifty catches, dribbling down the court like a delerious fiend, and scoring 17 with 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 0 turnovers. When Plumlee is on, you notice him.
Al-Farouq Aminu had one of the few rough outings for the Blazers tonight. He never got on track offensively, shooting 3-8 for 10 points.
Noah Vonleh started and played 17 minutes. His main claim to fame was 2 blocked shots.
Ed Davis scored 9 on 4-5 shooting in 18 minutes. He got to pass out of the post more than usual but L.A.'s bigs foiled his defensive and rebounding efforts.
Allen Crabbe scored 7 on 3-7 shooting in 26 minutes...mostly a neutral outing for him.
Moe Harkless played 25 minutes off the bench and attacked the rim hard against the permissive Lakers defense. He shot 5-11 for 10 points but missed all 4 of his three-point attempts.
Gerald Henderson played 18 minutes and shot 1-5. For those counting that's 13 shots hit in 41 attempts this season.
Links and Notes
The Blazers will face a stiffer test against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.
When the universe gives you back-to-back wins against L.A. teams it's time to give back. Please help send 2000 underprivileged young folks and their chaperons to the Blazers-Kings game on March 28th. It's easy to do. Tickets are automatically donated when you purchase them through this link:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range through three levels: $7, $9, and $13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966 if you'd like to order that way. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.