Blazers a Step Slow in Orlando
By mikebarrett Posted in: Magic
It's remarkable to think that the Blazers could have weathered a 1 for 16 shooting night from Damian Lillard and still won, but had the defense and rebounding come through just slightly better, that would have been the case. But, surrendering 17 offensive rebounds to the Magic, who were starving for a win, and allowing 110 points to a team that normally averages 94, was just too much to overcome.
Knowing Orlando was returning home, riding a long losing streak, and getting healthier by the day, gave us plenty of reason to be concerned going into this game. But, when J.J. Reddick started tossing in everything he touched, the red flags were flying up all around the Portland bench. When Nikola Vucevic began picking up right where he left off from the last time these teams played, the concerns grew to panic. And, when Gustavo Ayon looked like the most energetic athlete on the floor, it was time to officially circle the wagons and call 911.
Lillard is allowed an off-night once in a while. The super rookie has been so consistent this season, and this team has come to rely on him so much, you would have thought an uncharacteristic bad night by him would be too much for Portland to even stay close. But, despite his 1 of 16 effort, the Blazers hung tough.
What kept Portland in this ballgame, even late, was the fact that the Blazers, minus Lillard's numbers, shot 61 percent. The bench was 12 for 16 from the field. Add Lillard's numbers in and the Blazers still shot 51 percent. They came into this game 9-0 on the season when shooting 50 percent or better.
So, we've established that even with Lillard's struggles, offense wasn't the problem.
Early in this game, energy wasn't the issue other. The Blazers shot out of the gate doing exactly what they wanted, and quickly built an 11-point lead. J.J. Hickson was leading the charge, and was helping keep the Magic thinking this wouldn't be their night once again. But, when Hickson was taken out of the game for a breather, that's when things turned.
The second quarter turned out to be the killer for the Blazers, as that's when Reddick and Ayon started doing their damage. But, even despite that, Portland trailed by only 6 at halftime. Heck, they trailed by 9 at halftime the last time these teams met and still won.
The Magic though were able to sustain their advantage, largely because of their dominance on the backboards. They ended up with a 50-38 edge in rebounding, including a 17-5 advantage in offensive rebounds. That resulted in a 15-6 win in second-chance points, and those are as mentally damaging as physically.
Vucevic, who was involved in the Dwight Howard trade, has been brilliant at times this season, and was again in this game. He ended with 17 points and 19 rebounds, and did everything he could to make life difficult on LaMarcus Aldridge.
Even with the Orlando defense hounding Aldridge, he ended up with 25 points, adding to his impressive totals on this road trip. He's averaged 27 points per game in the four games so far, and has shot nearly 60 percent from the field. Nic Batum, who looks to be slowly getting over a very sore wrist, had 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. And, Wesley Matthews, who scored 24 against the Magic in the first meeting, had 17 in this game, and was 4 for 9 from behind the three-point line.
Then there was the Blazer bench. Along with going 12 for 16, the second unit scored 28 points, and got a huge lift from Joel Freeland, who had 6 points and 6 rebounds in just 10 minutes of action. Normally, a night like this from the backups would be enough for a win. On this night it wasn't.
Lillard was very aware after the game how costly his performance was to the end result of this game. Again, to his credit, he dished out 12 assists and kept fighting. He just could not hit a shot. It wasn't like Jameer Nelson shut him down, the shots Lillard was missing were shots he normally hits. Everyone has nights like this in the NBA, we just haven't seen it from Damian.
There are now two games left on this trip, and the next task is daunting to put it mildly. The Miami Heat are rolling and LeBron James has been brilliant, even by his standards, as of late. And yes, the Heat also will be motivated by their early loss in Portland this season.
I tossed out Portland's all-time record in games played in Miami to coach Terry Stotts the other day. It caused him to raise his eyebrows and say "wow." We probably make too much out of stuff like this, but Portland is 18-5 in this city since the NBA moved here.
It's an amazing mark, and something of note, even if it will have little bearing on what happens Tuesday.
Talk to you then.