A Step in the Right Direction in D.C.
The Trail Blazers came into Saturday night’s game at Washington feeling the heat, and brimming with frustration over what’s been a very difficult stretch of the season. The Wizards came in with a ton of confidence. They had already beaten Portland, in February at the Rose Garden, and were coming off a big win over the Lakers.
In the end, Portland’s desire to right the ship, and get their first win on this road trip, carried them to a 110-99 victory at the Verizon Center. It’s not a win that solves all that has been plaguing the Blazers, but it at least partially relieves the pressure everyone around this team has been feeling.
As Nate McMillan told me after the game, “it felt like we were connected tonight,” a term he loves to use to represent the good nights versus the not-so-good nights. It simply means the Blazers were playing the right way, were efficient, sharp, and were focused. Yes, it’s just that simple at times.
LaMarcus Aldridge only took 15 shots in this game, but scored 30 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out three assists. After the game, Aldridge said he was happy to get the win, but insisted that this doesn’t change anything. In other words, win and move on to the next one. I sensed the win provided more relief than that.
Following the first two losses on the trip, there were some obvious intermediate goals in this game- get off to a good start, take care of the ball, and get to the foul line. Portland was good in all catagories. They carried a three-point lead to the locker room at haltime, turned the ball over only seven times on the night, and ended up 26 for 27 from the line.
The Blazers were 25 for 25 in the final minute of the game, but Raymond Felton then split a pair the perfect night was over. In the locker room Gerald Wallace joked loudly that Felton owed everyone $20 bucks for ruining the perfect night at the line. Felton shot back that he was owed $20 bucks from everyone because he didn’t commit a single turnover. I’ll go with Felton on that one.
Say what you want about Felton, he’s been much, much better as of late. In this game he scored 21 points (20 in the second half), pushed the tempo while staying under control, and distributed the ball efficiently. Even though Washington’s John Wall scored 25, Felton and the Blazers adjusted well in the second half and were effective in keeping Wall out of the lane.
Most importantly, the Trail Blazers were able to build a late lead and kept this game from getting close in the final minutes. Given Portland’s record in one or two-possession games, no one wanted to see this come down to the wire.
Sunday we’ll head for Indianapolis, and get set to take on the Pacers on Tuesday night. Indiana, one of the elite teams in the east, lost a heartbreaker at Miami on Saturday night, and take on Orlando on Sunday. After the game against the Pacers, it’s New York, Chicago, and Oklahoma City still on this trip. Obviously, it doesn’t get any easier. But, it’s a step in the right direction. And, following the losses in Minnesota and Boston, that was enough on this night.