The Portland Trail Blazers expected a victory when the talent-impoverished Orlando Magic came to town on Friday night. Not only did they get one, it was never in doubt. Portland opened up a huge lead in the first quarter. Their bench squad tried to give it all back, but a liberal sprinkle of Damian Lillard was enough to salt away the contest with ease, 118-103.
As has been the mode lately, CJ McCollum started this game intense and in gear. He went inside, outside, and every which way in pursuit of buckets. Nikola Vucevic was more prosaic, but still effective early for the Magic. Carmelo Anthony tried to get it going, but his transmission was spilling parts on the floor. When Vucevic started missing, the Magic were, “Et tu, Vuce?” At that point they had nothing. Zero. Zilch. Orlando struggled just to make double digits in the period. A 22-2 run set up Portland’s 31-13 lead after one.
The Blazers’ second unit spent the first three minutes of the second period giving back almost all of the lead. By the 9:00 mark Orlando had cut the margin to a half-dozen points. Yes, you read that right. Yes, I was also disgusted. The starters restored balance, minus Anthony, who went to the locker room midway through the period with a knee contusion. Damian Lillard more than compensated, directing traffic and scoring with relative ease. The Blazers led 57-44 at the half.
Lillard came out in the third looking to put the game away. Orlando had no way to guard him and he kept making the cash register ring. As Lillard approached 30 by the end of the period, the game flew out of reach. A 93-75 score at the end of three put the baby in the bassinet. Any fourth-quarter recap would be redundant.
Credit to the Blazers for making the win easy. They don’t always do that, even against struggling teams.
It’s important to remember that, due to injuries, Portland doesn’t have a bench. Everyone who would have played those low- to mid-rotation minutes has been pressed into high-rotation duty, leaving the third unit as the second. Even with that caveat, the reserves look awful right now.
Unfortunately, neither the schedule nor the opponents care about asterisks. Portland’s starters can’t play 40 minutes, let alone 48. It’s hard to take the team seriously when Orlando’s bench carves them like roast beast and Damian Lillard has to save the day with a scoring tornado.
The Blazers made a concerted effort to pass tonight. After Anthony went down, almost nobody was looking for their own shot to the exclusion of others. Along with increased passing came increased turnovers, 11 in the first half on the way to 20 for the evening.
The best way to say this is that the Blazers look like they’re playing in the first two weeks of the season, trying to find themselves and their game, even though the year is 35% over with the completion of this contest.
At the beginning of the season, we talked about one of the possible positive outcomes for Hassan Whiteside was as a shot-blocking machine. He’s gotten there. Whiteside registered 5 blocks, adding 17 rebounds.
Orlando shot just 36.8% from the field tonight, hitting only a quarter of their three-point attempts. I’d love to say that was Portland’s defense, but that’s all Magic. The visitors scored 52 in the paint and made 18 free throws despite a sad 69.2% clip from the charity stripe. In other words, Portland still did the bad thing on “D”. Orlando couldn’t come close to capitalizing.
After all is said and done, this game still hinged on the starting guards. Lillard scored 36 on 7-13 shooting from the arc, despite his shot looking somewhat flatter than usual. When you’re on, you’re on. When he’s on, opponents quail and Moda Center parties. McCollum backed him up with 31 on 12-20 shooting, 4-8 from distance.
The Blazers host the Minnesota Timberwolves tomorrow night at 7:00, Pacific.