Blazers Too Much for Lakers
The Lakers came into Portland on a roll Thursday night. Kobe Bryant led his team to an impressive win on Tuesday night, Andrew Bynum has been on a tear since returning from his suspension, and the national experts were starting to let everyone know that these are the real Lakers and not the team we saw fall at Sacramento on opening night.
If they were trying to convince everyone inside the Rose Garden that they meant business against the Blazers in the first quarter, they did a pretty good job of it. They hit 13 of their first 15 shots, and shot 68 percent in the quarter. By halftime, they were still shooting 62 percent. But, despite their hot play and determination to exorcise their past demons in Portland, they only led by 4 at halftime.
That’s when the Trail Blazers decided to turn up the notch on the defensive end of the floor, get physical, and step on the gas. They exploded on a 22-6 run, and the Rose Garden started rocking, as it has so many times in the past when these teams have done battle.
The Blazers put a 32 spot on the Laker defense in the third quarter, built a 14-point lead, and slammed the door shut late to win it 107-96. After dropping their only game of the season so far, to the Clippers in L.A., the Blazers have now followed that up with wins over Oklahoma City, and the Lakers, and are looking more and more impressive with each passing game.
Could this have been that “complete” game we’ve been searching for during this young season?
The Blazer backcourt really struggled with the outside shot in the opener against Philly (a good team), yet Portland won. They continued to sputter against Sacramento, but recorded a blowout win. Portland turned the ball over an amazing 25 times against Denver, but won. Then, they turned it over 21 times against the Clippers, played really only one good quarter, and lost a game that became tight late.
After turning it over a combined 46 times in those two games, the Blazers have followed that up by turning it over exactly 13 combined in the wins over the Thunder and Lakers. The contributions have come from both the frontcourt, backcourt, and the bench. Roles are being defined, and confidence is on the rise.
Okay, we’re still just six games into the season, and that’s what Nate McMillan keeps preaching. There was no celebrating on the flight to Phoenix following the win over the Lakers, just like there were no high-fives on the plane after the win at OKC. Nate didn’t wire these guys that way. This is an experienced, poised, and humble group. But, this is also an extremely confident group. As I’ve said since training camp, this team has an “it” factor that you can feel. It’s not a swagger, or a cockiness, it’s simply a strong belief and a comfort level with one another. It feels good.
Against the Lakers, Gerald Wallace was simply a beast. As good as he was in the opening two wins, he was better in this game. As active as he was in the win over the Thunder, he was better against the Lakers. Wallace scored 31 “will” points, on 13 of 19 shooting, and once again set the tone for everything Portland was trying to accomplish. His first full season as a Blazer is off to a torrid start.
Portland’s other forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, put together a very solid game as well, scoring 28 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Raymond Felton, who’s been making an effort to run, yet take better care of the ball, had 10 assists and just one turnover. He’s the engine that makes this machine go.
Then, there’s the sixth man. Something Portland was missing the last few seasons- the sparkplug off the bench. They’ve so badly needed a guy who could jump into a game, strike a match, and get hot. Jamal Crawford seemed to be the perfect fit for Portland when they signed him. He’s been exactly that so far.
Crawford played just 23 minutes, but scored 17 points, and did most of his heavy damage in the second half. When the game starts to turn into a grind, you’ve got to have someone who can get his own shot. Crawford doesn’t disappoint, and can carry the team offensive if he has to. He gives McMillan the luxury of giving extra rest to his workhorses, in Wallace and Aldridge.
With Crawford up to his usual tricks early in the fourth quarter, the Blazers were able to leave Wallace and Aldridge down, conserving fuel for the stretch run. That’ll be vital this season.
Credit also goes to Wesley Matthews, who helped Portland weather that early Laker storm. Matthews was 4 for 5 shooting in the first, and hit both of his three-point attempts. If he doesn’t get off to a start like that, L.A. would have been able to build a pretty significant early lead, which could have carried them through a rough stretch in the second half. As it turned out, when Portland went on its 22-6 third-quarter run, the Blazers were able to seize control of the game.
No time for celebrating, as we’ll arrive in Phoenix in the wee small hours. Friday night, the Blazers will to improve upon their Western-Conference leading 5-1 record when they take on the Suns.
-Kobe has usually had good games in Portland, but his regular-season record at the Rose Garden is now 6-24. A remarkable stat.
-The artist formerly known as Ron Artest was beyond a non factor in this game. That could be the worst first half I’ve ever seen him play. He didn’t come close on his three shot attempts, and was moving around like he was walking in maple syrup. He didn’t get any better in the second half. When his spot in the rotation rolled around in the third quarter, Mike Brown went with Devin Ebanks instead. Gerald Wallace’s eyes lit up, McMillan spotted the mismatch, and Portland exploited it.
-Craig Smith is looking like a better acquisition all the time. He’s able to give quality minutes against bigger front lines, and really hold his own. He had five rebounds and an assist in his 11 minutes. He’s a nice asset to have, especially when there are going to be nights where everyone else is worn down.
-We commented about this several times during the Oklahoma City game, but the Rose Garden is by far the loudest arena in the NBA. I know I’m biased, but ask the players- and not just Portland’s players. Jamal Crawford and Marcus Camby were discussing that loudly as they boarded the team plane after the win over the Lakers. And, the Portland fans were the first reason Kurt Thomas gave when he was asked why he chose the Blazers over some other very attractive suitors during the free agent period. Well done fans, as always.
Talk to you from Phoenix on Friday night.