Defense Comes Alive in Fourth
The longer you play, the greater the chance that the numbers will return to their normal averages. However, for much of the game on Saturday night at the Rose Garden, it appeared the New Jersey Nets were going to continue this out-of-character, red-hot shooting night.
The Nets came into this game averaging 44 percent from the field, which ranks 27th in the NBA. And, even though they, like the Trail Blazers, had played on Friday night and were supposed to be suffering from tired legs, they were scorching hot early. They shot 60 percent in the first half, and center Brook Lopez was doing just about anything he wanted.
Their percentage started to dip in the third quarter, when Portland's defense began to tighten the screws. Finally, in the fourth quarter, with the Trail Blazers facing desperate times defensively, the Nets slammed back to earth, going just 5 for 16 in the quarter. Portland forced five New Jersey turnovers as well, and cashed them in for seven points. After trailing by as many as 13 points, the Blazers were finally able to deliver the dagger, and won the game 96-89, snapping a three-game skid.
LaMarcus Aldridge once again led the way for Portland, and his push to make his first all-star team continues. Aldridge had 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists. But, it was his defense that showed, on this night, that he continues to stride toward being that complete NBA star.
Of those five New Jersey turnovers in the final quarter, Aldridge was directly involved in three of them, poking the ball away twice, and once batting the ball out of the hands of Lopez, as he faced up to start an offensive move. And, because Marcus Camby was in foul trouble, Nate McMillan decided to switch and put Aldridge on Lopez for much of that final quarter.
Lopez, who put 35 points on the Lakers on Friday night, was crusing in this game, and came to the fourth quarter with 28 points, on 11 of 16 shooting. Camby was making him work, but Lopez was just too much. After the move was made to have Aldridge cover him, Lopez had just four points in the fourth quarter, and turned the ball over twice.
Clearly, the defense, led by Aldridge, saved the day.
Portland's offense was fairly solid most of the night. The Blazers shot 46 percent, recorded 21 assists, and turned the ball over only 11 times. Numbers like that almost always result in a Portland win. You wouldn't have expected that New Jersey would outshoot Portland, make two more field goals, and record two more assists, and lose.
Also starring at the offensive end for Portland on this night was Nicolas Batum, who finished with a season-high 23 points, and pulled down 6 rebounds. Batum hit two three pointers, and scored in a variety of ways. This is the Nicolas the Blazers need on a more consistent basis. Andre Miller also had a very good offensive night. After scoring 19 second-half points on Friday at Phoenix, Miller had 19 against the Nets, also dished out 8 assists.
Wesley Matthews, who fought his way to 26 points against Phoenix, was needed more for his defense against the Nets. After Travis Outlaw started the game aggressive offensively, Matthews pretty much took him out of the game the rest of the way.
The Blazers didn't get offensive production off the bench, and relied heavily on the starters to carry the load. The bench was just 4 for 19, and scored just 13. Patty Mills, who has been consistent, had 9 points in 13 minutes. Portland's margin for error is so slim on nights when they don't get offensive support from the second unit, but lived to tell about it on this night.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here
With the win, the Trail Blazers got to the halfway point of the schedule with a 21-20 record. Looking at the Western Conference race, and considering all the Blazers have been through, things could be a lot worse. No one is satisfied with that record, but the schedule will continue to balance out, and I think it's still realistic to think that Portland gets to 45-48 wins. It won't be easy, but it's doable.
After this latest back-to-back set, there won't be much time for rest, as the Blazers host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. They'll be looking to beat the Timberwolves for the 15th-consecutive time. Then, it's off to Sacramento, to take on the Kings on Wednesday night.