Balance Helps Blazers Down Wolves
By mikebarrett Posted in: Timberwolves
Okay, so Damian Lillard had 24 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 and 8, JJ Hickson turned in his 32nd double-double, and Nic Batum posted 12 points and 7 rebounds. None of that is unusual. We're used to that stuff. But, what really helped on this night is the fact that the bench provided 29 points, 15 assists, and 16 rebounds. For perhaps the first time this year, we've got every reason to believe this kind of production from the second unit will continue.
The Trail Blazers led just about throughout in this contest, by as many as 18 points, and beat a shorthanded Minnesota team 109-94. It completed a four-game sweep for Portland over Minnesota (for the fifth time in six years), and gave the Blazers 21 wins in their last 23 meetings with the Timberwolves.
As we said before this game, and probably several times early in the contest, the Blazers haven't always gotten up to play the teams they should beat. The elite teams? Yes, the Blazers always find a way to crank up the intensity meter, and have recorded some very impressive wins against some of the beat in this league.
But, going into this game the Blazers were just 11-11 on the season against teams who came in with winning percentages under 40 percent. If they don't end up being able to scramble back to get in position to strike in the playoff race, it's going to be that record that will be to blame. As Terry Stotts pointed out to me before the game, if you just cut those 11 losses, to teams you expect to beat, in half, Portland is in the top 8 in the west.
In this game, the Blazers did what they were supposed to do. It perhaps wasn't as comfortable late in the game as they would have preferred, but they beat Minnesota, again. They showed they could actually be a front-running team in the process. Meaning, they built a lead, rode it, and were able to put the game away without threatening grandpa's pacemaker. It was just the fifth win of the season by more than 10 points for this team. Yes, the nail-biters are fun, but give me a blow out from time to time please.
Okay, now to the bench. After Wednesday's game against Denver, Meyers Leonard said he was starting to get it, and that the game was beginning to slow down for him a bit. Simply put, he was starting to understand things better. We called that game his best of the season so far. Well, he topped it in the very next game. Against Minnesota, Leonard had 12 points, 8 rebounds, and was 6 for 7 from the field. The only thing that wasn't perfect is that he missed two free-throw attempts. But, he's 87% from the field for the season, so we'll let that slide.
Victor Claver is going to make it in this league. That's big praise for this rookie who has found himself out of the rotation on many nights. Now, he's earned trust from Stotts, and with that comes playing time. Claver, who had 10 rebounds in a game last week, had 10 points against Minnesota, and simply continues to bring energy and continues to produce.
Then, there's Eric Maynor. In just his third game as a Trail Blazer, he posted a career-high 12 assists, and also added 7 points in his 31 minutes. He's getting this offensive system down now, and he's getting more and more comfortable.
What's exciting to see is that we're seeing Maynor and Lillard comfortable playing together on the floor at the same time. I can't tell you how much pressure this takes off Lillard. Everyone has been stuck on how many minutes Lillard has been playing. That hasn't bothered me. What's concerning at times is the type
of minutes Lillard has had to play. Now, with Maynor able to run the offense for stretches, other teams can't simply try and beat Lillard up and pressure the heck out of him for 48 minutes. Damian can play off the ball, score from the wing, and help this team in other ways. Maynor's addition also helps Wesley Matthews, who's been playing a ton of minutes as well, and has been beaten up lately. Matthews only had to play 23 minutes against Minnesota, and believe me, he had no problem with that.
The play of Leonard, Claver, and now Maynor, simply gives Stotts more options, and lets him be more creative with the rotation. That'll be a huge help moving forward.
The Blazers have one more game left on this home stand, and that's Monday against Charlotte. Another of those dreaded "games you should win." But, given what we're seeing in this lineup, the confidence is building once again.
Finally, it was very nice to see Brandon Roy back in the Rose Garden tonight. He got a standing ovation from the crowd when he was shown behind Minnesota's bench, and while that wasn't at all surprising, put a huge smile on his face. It was fun to see him honored, and gave us a sad reminder, again, of what could have been. But, at the very least, it was a good opportunity for fans to thank him for the many memories he did provide while a member of this franchise.
Talk to you Monday.