Following an up-and-down six-game road trip, the Portland Trail Blazers finally made their return to the Moda Center and got a gimme, fending off the decimated Orlando Magic 106-97 to improve their record to 13-10.
If the Blazers are hurting with injuries, the Magic are in tormented agony. Aside from Nikola Vucevic, who is having a terrific season, Orlando has been down most of its core rotation in one way or another all season. Aaron Gordon: ankle; Jonathan Isaac: knee; Markelle Fultz: knee; Evan Fournier: back; Michael Carter-Williams: foot. With an injury report that reads like a new game of Operation, the Magic are beyond trying to patch holes in the ship and have moved straight to inflating the life rafts. Vucevic is a load, but after him the depth chart starts getting thin, with big minutes going to guys like Dwayne Bacon and James Ennis III. Hardly world beaters.
Tonight, Orlando even welcomed the return of Al-Farouq Aminu, who hasn’t played since suffering a torn meniscus in November 2019, but the Rip City alum was limited to only five minutes after re-aggravating his knee in the first quarter. And Cole Anthony - son of former Blazer Greg Anthony - found himself getting bit by the injury bug after sustaining a shoulder strain in the second quarter. Things just aren’t going the Magic’s way this season.
What this amounted to was a serious lack of firepower to hang with the Blazers, even on a night where Portland’s offense was mediocre at best. The Blazers built an early double-digit lead in the first quarter behind the hot hand of Gary Trent Jr. and didn’t have to do much better than trade baskets the rest of the way to hold a comfortable advantage. Overcoming a slow start, Damian Lillard didn’t encounter much resistance on his way to a game-high 36 points.
Orlando’s defense would frequently lose Lillard and Trent on the perimeter. There were a handful of possessions where one of them would just be completely forgotten about until their almost dumbfounded beckoning for a pass sent defenders into a desperate scurry. Portland only managed to shoot around 40% from the floor, but 18 made threes and 18-19 from the free throw line (13 of which came from Lillard) essentially balanced out the general lack of efficiency. The Blazers absolutely feasted behind both lines all night.
Picking up the scraps, Carmelo Anthony continued to move his way up the highest pantheon of the NBA all-time scorers list, passing Oscar Robertson into 12th place while producing one of his better games of the season with a season-high 23 points, 3 rebounds and 3 blocks. He came alive in the fourth quarter, where he scored all of Portland’s 11 points while Lillard rested on the bench, preventing the Magic from pulling a rabbit out of the hat. He did it mostly with the three-ball, where he made a season-high five from beyond the arc. When Dame checked back in at just before the 6-minute mark, the icing was all but already on the cake.
The Blazers will get to host the rematch with the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night at 7 p.m. Pacific.