The Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic played a feisty contest on Tuesday night, pouring energy into play that was less than perfect, but entertaining nonetheless. The Blazers featured a balanced attack, with six players in double-figures, led by Anfernee Simons with 19 points on 7-17 shooting and Jusuf Nurkic with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Given the roster make-up after their trades this week, it’s safe to say that the other four are players you’d never expect to hear in the same sentence as “double figures”, which is a credit to Portland’s approach and teamwork.
Despite that, the Blazers only managed to shoot 35.2% from the field. They allowed Orlando 48.9% overall and an even 50% from the three-point arc Despite some moments of good play, that disparity was too much to overcome. Portland lost 113-95, taking their record to 21-34 on the season.
Justise Winslow started off this game by stroking a perfect three-pointer, leading observers everywhere to tap the wall to make sure the Matrix wasn’t glitching more than usual. When the Blazers gave away seven points to the Magic in the next 90 seconds, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Not today, Mr. Merovingian. Not today.
With barely anyone else in uniform recognizable, Portland went through Jusuf Nurkic on almost every possession. This suited Nurk fine. He missed his shots but got fouled and made hay at the free throw line.
After that, though, the Magic started to roll. They outran the Blazers, getting the ball down before the Blazers could set up. Portland, stuck in the halfcourt with not-so-talented scorers, began to brick. Orlando’s easier shots created separation. The Blazers did make the occasional beautiful play. Coach Chauncey Billups’ sets do work when the defense doesn’t react well. But turnovers and general ugliness became the norm.
Towards the end of the period, Orlando cooled off. Portland’s bench played more actively than the starters had, creating a couple easy opportunities of their own. That made the margin tolerable. Orlando led 32-28 after one. Considering the Magic shot 55% in the period and the Blazers 38%, that wasn’t too bad.
A general lack of offense plagued Portland’s comeback attempt at the start of the second quarter. They hit only 2 of their first 10 shots. Layups to jumpers, they struggled through them all. They never got off the brick train, unfortunately, hitting only 7 shots in the period for 19 points. Orlando had no such struggles. They bullied into the restricted area for multiple conversions. They hit almost as many threes as the Blazers hit shots. The result was a 30-19 quarter for the Magic, who owned a 62-47 halftime lead.
Like Old Faithful erupting at Yellowstone, the Blazers experienced their once-a-game hot streak from distance in the third. It’s amazing what 4 of 5 shooting at the arc in three minutes will do for you. The good news: it did shrink the margin substantially. The bad news: after all those deep strikes, they were still down by 8. The hill is steep sometimes.
Portland stiffened the defense in the lane in the third. They crowded inside and slowed the Magic enough to allow Nurkic to block shots. The improvement allowed them to climb within 4, a huge improvement. From there, only minor surges differentiated the two teams. But Portland’s defensive improvement was evident and paid huge dividends...a good lesson. Orlando led only 83-79 after three.
Jusuf Nurkic sat at the opening of the fourth. With him, went Portland’s defense. The Magic began to score inside like crazy. Portland’s shooting also reverted to its ice-cold state. The combination allowed the Magic to extend their lead to 8 again. If they had anybody who could hit a floater, it would have been a million.
When Nurkic came back in, the defense stiffened once more, which might be a clue how the rest of this season is going to go. With Orlando’s scoring slowed, the occasional make from Portland made an out-sized difference, even when they weren’t frequent.
The wheels fell off at the end of the game, though. Hitting threes helped the Magic work around Portland’s defense instead of trying to smash through it. Once the court spread, the Blazers were neither fast nor coordinated enough to stop their opponent. Nor, at this point, are they able to outscore anybody, so that was that.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game coming up soon!
The Blazers have a quick turn-around, welcoming the Los Angeles Lakers tomorrow night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.