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Divided Trail Blazers Bow to Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

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Portland's guards score but their bigs can't hold the paint.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday night the Portland Trail Blazers' effort versus the Oklahoma City Thunder was marred by their inability to defend the paint. After such a stirring debacle one would think interior defense would be a top priority as the Blazers entered tonight's game versus the Orlando Magic.

One would think.

Instead the Magic dominated Portland in the lane six times worse than the Thunder did, racking up a credibility-straining 52-18 advantage in paint points. Portland's three-point game kept them from getting blown out by 30, but they never had a chance carrying that kind of disadvantage in the middle. You don't even need to ask...Orlando won this one 102-94, the second straight defeat on Portland's five-game, pre-Christmas road trip.

Game Flow

Portland's superb guard trio of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Allen Crabbe came out firing in the first period. Between them they scored 22 of the 26 points Portland put up in the frame. An energetic Noah Vonleh accounted for the other 4. Nobody else even attempted a shot in the period. You heard that right. Portland's guards took every shot in the first quarter outside of Vonleh's pair of makes.

Neither this nor the resulting 26-point total would have been a problem if the Blazers could have stopped Nikola Vucevic from having his way inside. He scored 10 in the period, not a single make coming beyond 10 feet.

Even that wouldn't have been fatal if the Blazers could have stopped throwing the ball into the waiting hands of Tobias Harris and company, allowing the Magic to streak down the court for easy layups off of turnovers. But the Blazers committed 9 TO's in the quarter on their way to 19 in the game and a 23-10 points-after-turnover disadvantage.

As such, the Magic countered Portland's 26 points with 29 of their own, most coming far easier than those generated by the Blazers.

The second period started sloppy, a condition favoring Portand's bench. Orlando stopped scoring, Portland manufactured points from mid-range and the foul line, and the Blazers moved ahead briefly. Then Vucevic and Harris cranked it up again and the Magic recovered their composure for a 49-48 halftime lead.

The beginning of the third quarter was a replay of the first: Vucevic, Harris...Harris, Vucevic...throw in a couple opportunistic buckets from Elfrid Payton for good measure. Lillard connected from deep but he was bailing water on a sinking ship. Things were looking bleak.

The fourth quarter got worse as Victor Oladipo got hot, ignoring non-threatening defenders as he rose for easy jumpers. Portland hit 4 three-pointers in the final 3 minutes to make the score look respectable, but they were doomed far earlier than that. Whatever advantages marksmanship brought were squandered twice over by lack of defense and coordination. The game limped to a close as the Blazers walked quietly off the court once again, their usual fight noticeably absent.

Analysis

The Blazers are still getting impressive offense efforts from half the rotation. McCollum scored 27 on 11-19 shooting; Crabbe provided 14 points off the bench; Al-Farouq Aminu hit 4-5 three-pointers, scoring 16; Lillard scored 19. Those numbers don't matter as  much when opponents realize that the Blazers are neither big nor dedicated to defense inside. When Portland defenders single-covered the Magic shot over or bulled through them. When the Blazers double-teamed Orlando whipped the ball around the interior like the defense didn't exist. Shooting a nice-but-modest 46%, the Magic looked like a juggernaut

Even worse, Orlando squashed the Blazers on the boards tonight, a huge no-no for Portland. The Blazers posted 7 offensive rebounds, the Magic 13.

In short, Portland's bigs got flummoxed early and spent the rest of the game bowing out of the action. Their offensive touches resulted in turnovers. Their defensive stands resulted in buckets or fouls. It wasn't the proudest moment for the Blazers' front line.

All night the Blazers looked like a team divided: bigs vs. smalls. Defensive calls weren't heard. Rotations came late. Portland guards abandoned defense to the tall guys and kept the offense to themselves.

48 of Portland's 73 attempts came from the backcourt tonight. 32 attempts came beyond the three-point arc. The late barrage of triples disguised just how unbalanced the offensive attack was for most of the evening. 19 turnovers tell the story far more than 94 points or 11 three-pointers made.

Nothing was going to disguise the unbalanced defense or limp rebounding effort, though. That's where this game was lost. The Blazers had better regroup mentally before Sunday's game in Miami otherwise the week is going to turn long and tortuous.

Individual Notes

Damian Lillard had 19 points and 10 assists but shot 4-15 from the field, 2-9 from distance, and committed 6 turnovers. Elfrid Payton matched Lillard's 19. The Blazers don't like it when somebody negates their star's production. Orlando's defense was more impressive than Lillard's offense by a long shot.

CJ McCollum scored 27 on 11-19 shooting with 6 assists. He wasn't the target of the Magic watchmen though. Neither was he any more impressive than Lillard on defense.

Mason Plumlee fought his heart out for 10 rebounds but he was awash in a sea of misery. He committed 4 turnovers, missed 4 of his 6 shots, and fouled out of the game after watching Vucevic score like George Clooney at a Tupperware party.

Al-Farouq Aminu hit 5-6 shots, 4-5 threes, but spent the game barely existing otherwise.

Noah Vonleh hit a couple of shots, making himself available in space. Progress.

Allen Crabbe shot 5-11 from the field, 2-7 from the arc for 14 points and 4 rebounds in 24 minutes. He looked like the guy who came in and punched his timecard, staying at the conveyor belt while the world crumbled around him.

Ed Davis did the same, garnering 7 rebounds in 22 minutes.

Gerald Henderson and Moe Harkless look lost...veterans trying to do their thing without space or time to accomplish what they want. They're not producing consistently enough to earn minutes, not earning enough minutes to produce consistently.

Meyers Leonard is just consistently bad right now. The Blazers SO need early-season Meyers back in the fold. He's nowhere to be found. The shot looks tentative, the defense a step slow, and Leonard is bailing out of plays he was making easily in November. To his credit, he's still rebounding. At least that's something. But it's getting ugly now and I'm not sure where salvation lies aside from, "You can do it, Meyers! Now please do so!"

Links and Such

Boxscore

Instant Recap

Orlando Pinstriped Post

Portland faces the Miami Heat Sunday morning at 10:00 a..m. Pacific time. You know how those super-early East Coast Sunday games usually go. Oy veh.

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--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge