Oct 31

Blazers Drop Lakers in Opener

By mikebarrett
It wasn't the same Blazer team.  It wasn't the same Laker team.  But, the result was very familiar. Not only did the Trail Blazers make it 12 of the last 14 over the Lakers in Portland, but they also won their 11th-consecutive home-opening game.  Portland led just about wire to wire, built a 19-point second-half margin, and won it 116-106.

The Blazers started with a steady dose of LaMarcus Aldridge, got aggressive play from Nicolas Batum, tough defense from J.J. Hickson, great shooting from Wesley Matthews, and... oh yeah, Damian Lillard put on quite a show in his first NBA regular-season game.

Lillard became the first player since LeBron James to put up 23 points and 11 assists in his first NBA game.  Not only that, but Lillard joins Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as the only players with at least 20 points and 10 assists in an NBA debut.  Pretty impressive stuff for a guy who deferred all the praise, instead heaping it on his teammates for helping the Blazers get a big first win.

What you just saw was the formula that's going to have to be there every night for the Blazers to overachieve this season, something they admit they're going to have to do to meet their own expectations.  They got 103 points from their starting five, dictated the tempo, and used a swarming defense to keep the opposition off balance.

The fearless play started with Batum, and that was very nice to see.  With the weight of a brand-new, very large contract hanging over his head, Batum was ultra-aggressive early in the game.  This is the Batum Portland wanted to see.  He looked for his shot, hit the offensive boards, and got out in transition.  Batum ended with 26 points, 6 rebounds, and shot 9 for 16 from the field.

Aldridge was in charge of getting Portland off to a good start offensively, something he's going to have to do.  He had 12 points in the opening quarter, as the Blazers led by four points after the first 12 minutes.

Matthews, who walked into the locker room on Halloween night wearing an Iron Man mask (after all, he's never missed an NBA game), was sharp from the field, going 7 for 11, and ended with 22.  

And, then there's Hickson.  He's being asked to do things that he was not previously known for- defend and rebound.  We've always known he can score.  Hickson posted a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.  Not bad, considering he was tossed into a cage match with Dwight Howard most of the night.  He played bigger than his size, and he's going to have to do that consistently for Portland to have success.  

There are, of course, concerns about Portland's depth.  As I said, the starters are going to have to do the heavy lifting on this team.  But, rookie Meyers Leonard got tossed into the deep end of the pool in his first night, playing 23 minutes.  He looked like he belonged, and was effective setting screens and defending.

If Sasha Pavlovic has been an afterthought for you, think again.  He's a vet, and he showed in this first game why he's on this roster and why he'll be leaned on to provide relief off the bench. Pavlovic had seven big points, and was brilliant late in the third quarter when the Lakers were attempting a charge.  

Clearly, this was a different Laker team than the one that showed up on Tuesday night in their home opener against Dallas.  Howard is just a beast, and in this game, unlike on Tuesday, he made his free throws.  As simple as it sounds, that will likely be the difference for the Lakers on many nights this season.  Against Dallas on Tuesday, Howard was a dreadful 3 for 14 from the line.  In this game, he was 15 for 19.  If you had simply given me that stat before the game, I would have said the Lakers win going away.  The fact that Portland absorbed that kind of performance at the line, and still won, is another feather in their cap.

Kobe Bryant, very frustrated after Tuesday's loss, was very good in this game as well.  Kobe ended with 30 points, but had to work for every bit of that.  He was harassed into committing seven turnovers, and they were big.

Leading by 19 in the second half, the Blazers did have some trouble slamming the door shut.  It was a late rally, but the Lakers didn't go quietly.  In the end, their rally didn't start with enough time left on the clock, and their chances ran out late in this game.  They are now 0-2 on the season.  They'll get it together, to be sure, but they shot 50 percent in this game, outrebounded their opponent by 15, got 30+ from Kobe and Howard, and still lost.  The Blazers, not the Lakers, were the reason why.  You probably couldn't say that about their loss on Tuesday.

Portland's early-season schedule is brutal.  Their first seven opponents all ended last season with records better than .500.  And, 12 of the first 19 are on the road.  So, enjoy this, because it doesn't get any easier.  

On Thursday we'll hit the road for a three-game trip starting in Oklahoma City.  After that, it's Houston and Dallas, before returning home to take on the Clippers.  

The Blazers were very good on Wednesday night, and that's how they're going to have to play to win games this season, especially early.  There will be a lot of pressure on the starters every single night.  They're not going to win ugly very often this season.

But, we'll worry about all of that later.  Enjoy yet another home win over the Lakers, and get set for a very difficult trip.

I'd love to get your thoughts on this win, and perhaps how it changed your outlook for this year's team.


  1. Hey MB. Score was 116-106. Pretty enjoyable game.

    by Carrite on 10/31/2012 11:31 PM
  2. I've said many times, I'm not a "sports guy." In fact, the last time I really remember paying attention to the Trailblazers, (some of) the names were Drexler, Duckworth, and Vandeweghe. The Rose Garden was just a twinkle in somebody's eye.

    But the excitement, pulse and enthusiasm of the team and the crowd in this game tonight reminded me of what fun basketball in Rip City can be. I've been mildly impressed by the play of all of the players, and although some of my comments to friends about Leonard have been cautious (he still doesn't quite seem to have latched onto the fact that he's playing in the NBA yet - but he looked better tonight than he did all through the pre-season), I think that all of Portland's rookies did a great job. The team all seem to gel well, and there are no apparent "ball hogs" -- everyone of the members of this team seem to want to make it a team effort.

    Lillard is going to be RoY. Meyers will end up being the Blazers' most improved player by the end of the season. The bond and the cohesion of all of the members of the team will continue to grow, and although I won't be disappointed at the end of the season regardless of the outcome, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see us enter at least the first round of the playoffs.

    Can't wait for the Clippers on the 8th.

    Timbers' fans have it wrong. It's not 'Rose City 'Til I Die'. It's "RIP CITY TIL I DIE!"

    by js74 on 10/31/2012 11:40 PM
  3. Hey Mr Mike; a great blog as usual:
    my thoughts on the game is still on the unbelievable side. I thought we could give the Lakers a heck of a run for their money if we pushed the tempo on a back to back against the old legs of the Lakers, and make them play transition defense which they are not good at; but hey that didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out.
    After the Lakers got tossed by Dallas the night before, I didn't really know what to expect from the Lakers, but I knew what to expect from the Blazers; hack a Howard; regardless of him making his free throws, it still was a good idea. Most of the fouls was a auto-two points anyway. and as was said, it still disrupted the Lakers offense. Although after they gave that up and played honest D on Howard, JJ and Leonard played pretty good D on him; it tickled me to see Leonard get under Howard's skin.

    Of course everybody in BlazerFandom knows what a homer I am and how much I defend our players and coaches; and although there is going to be good and bad days ahead from Matthews, Batum and Lillard, they sure lived up to my hopes of them to the extent that I can say I TOLD YOU SO.

    Our coaching by Stotts was great. I was somewhat like Miss Kassandra as being a little skeptical of him and was afraid he would push the three pointer to much.

    My biggest take away from the game was listening to Lillard way back in the summer when he made the statement that he was going to do all he could and the expectations on him wouldn't bother him because this is not a do or die year anyway, but I think he passed all the test. Batum and Matthews may have quieted all the critics for now;

    After one, I am totally impressed, I will shut up for now or Ancientone will be going back for his second helping of Strawberry shortcake.

    Hey Jeff and Yulonda, we got to see what we hoped for.

    Go Blazers.

    by Hg on 11/1/2012 2:20 AM
  4. Love me some Lilliard. His speed is amazing. Energy flew last night.
    Good to see Batum fly as well. Good for Lamarcus to have some guys to play with. Frees him up a bit.

    by mzelena on 11/1/2012 6:19 AM
  5. Great to see a blog from you in the regular season Mr. Barrett :) Love your analysis as usual! Looking forward to the learning curve as the team takes on OKC, Houston, and Dallas

    by SisillaRiann on 11/1/2012 8:41 AM
  6. I was worried when JJ got 3 fouls and Leonard came in and picked up 2 quick fouls. Then he settled down and apparently got in Howard's way until he really got under his skin.

    by Ancientone on 11/1/2012 10:05 AM
  7. MB - I know the NBA is a "players game" but from what I've seen so far, this really seems like a "coaches team". When you sit down to do your next blog, can you factor in some of your insights on how much these guys are buying into this coaching staff? And how far do you think that will take us this season? Thanks for your insights.

    by bigjeff911 on 11/1/2012 11:33 AM
  8. MB - Having watched several of the preseason games, I wasn't particularly surprised by any individual player's offensive performances. What did surprise me was how well the team did collectively on defense. Yes, they gave up quite a few points, but it's the Lakers.

    I was also surprised by how well they held their composure for such a young team. The Blazers of the past couple of years would have folded and settled for jump shots after Hickson got in early foul trouble and Leonard got a few quick ones as well. But not this team. They continued to play with energy and scrap and hustle, kept taking stabs in the lane, and it payed big dividends late.

    I also really like the team focus and the work ethic that Lillard and Leonard have both mentioned in interviews. I don't know how much of that is coaching and how much of that is them speaking for themselves. Either way, as long as they keep that attitude they will both be something very special. And they're guys that I want to see in Blazers uniforms for a long, long time.

    by soulseeker on 11/1/2012 2:36 PM
  9. @soulseeker:
    If we took Raymond and Jamal out of the equation last year the outside jumpers would have decreased last year. Add Damian in place of Raymond, and let Wesley and Batum play their game and you have this years team. Therefore I think it is better chemistry, better coaching for the team we have and the organization, the coaches, and the team is going in the same direction. But like you if they keep the composure, play D, and keep their confidence up, regardless of how many games we win we will be a team to reckon with.

    by Hg on 11/1/2012 2:57 PM
  10. Great blog Mike, and you're right about the bench.
    We all know what the starters can do, but who will come off the bench and give the starters a break? Based on what I saw last night, I hope that person is Sasha. I'm also hoping Nolan can pick up the slack as well. He played good last night, but I hope he can contribute more as the season progresses. I also liked what I saw in Meyers as well. He sure is a solid player. Finally, although it didn't show up in the stats, I liked what I saw in Jeffries. His grit is what this bench needs. It will be interesting to see how Freeland, Claver, and Barton will fit in the rotation.

    by blazerdarren77 on 11/1/2012 3:13 PM
  11. Hi Mike,
    Did you notice how engaged Paul Allen was? All that talk about him selling the team and being disinterested in the Blazers was foolish. Any owner would have been discouraged with the product he floored last year. All he wants is his employees to work hard and put out the effort. He got that last night. He was on the edge of his seat all night. As was the 20,000 other people. It was good to see.
    What did Matthews shoot? About 65%. He played defense with a steel chin. He is everything a Blazer should be to me.
    Nothing to lose. Everything to prove. GO BLAZERS !!

    by Divotking on 11/1/2012 5:30 PM
  12. Great to hear your view on this first game Mike. Sadly, I'm on the East Coast and wasn't able to watch, save a bit on NBA Coast to Coast. But I was looking forward to seeing how Lillard did and I am very pleased to say the least. Do hope he can keep this up, especially during this tough early schedule. I think if he can set that tone, it'll be great for our veteran pieces in LaMarcus, Wesley and Nic. Will be interesting to see how we come out in these games and I don't expect it to be smooth, but do hope to see things improve each game, regardless of the outcome and hopefully, we can get some good bounces along the way. Anyways, had to comment on the first post-game blog of the season. Let this be a start to a successful season! - Dr. Anees

    by Anees on 11/1/2012 5:44 PM
  13. Great article as usual Mike! When it comes to the Blazers I air on the side of optimism even through the down times but this team is what I always wanted in Portland. A TEAM! I don't think we've seen our bench solidified yet and Ronnie Price is going to be huge in shoring it up. I'm one of the few who has wanted Sasha to be on this team and in the rotation from the time we signed him. That guy is a playmaking machine! Anybody who gets his own missed freethrow and puts it in the hoop, then a steal, then a clutch 3pt shot, then and assist for a 3pt shot..wow! Mostly I'm impressed with our core and the flow Stotts has instilled in the game. I liked the tight rotation after all the preseason bench experimenting. Nic, Wes, JJ, LA and Damian played a beautiful game! Jeffries tricked Howard into two quick fouls and never turned the ball over. Our bench players fed the starters and rightfully so as they were the hot hands. Nolan...well, he's a problem for me but he did get a bucket and couple of assists. All in all I like our chances this season.

    by riverman on 11/1/2012 8:12 PM
  14. What impressed me most about the Laker game was Damian Lillard's composure. He got tired near the end and also got a bit tentative, probably a result of trying to protect the lead. Other than that, and a couple bad turnovers, he looked like anything but a rookie. When he's 100% comfortable out there, we could have a monster on our hands! Considering the importance of a top-flight PG in the NBA, he could be the real steal of the draft.

    It was great seeing Nic Batum finally throw off the shackles and play his game! I think Coach Stotts could the best thing ever to happen to Nic in the NBA. Clearly he was underused in McMillan's Clydesdale offense.

    Wessy Wes was terrific as promised. Another gold piece in Stott's team.

    I also loved that Meyers Leonard only had three fouls and did some good work out there against LA's twin 7-footers. I only wish he'd have shot that 18-footer from the left elbow in the 4th instead of trying to complete a broken play. The reason the play was broken is that the Lakers ignored Leonard as a shooter and doubled the cutter. Leonard will learn to make them pay for doing that down the road.

    Now on to OKC!

    by dgpdx on 11/2/2012 2:38 AM
  15. Beat OKC We will see it HG on comcast see you Tuesday

    by jyp300 on 11/2/2012 1:17 PM
  16. Hi, This is Scottie's mom. He is putting writing as a top priority as he fights a disease with no known cure or treatment. He has a column about the Blazers and Stampede on the Stampede website (Speaking Scottish). It's hard to get "seen" on the Blazers blogs...if you could suggest some people read his blogs and comment, it would mean a lot to him. He's under "Bleeding Blazer Red" (terrible, but true, pun). Thanks, Kelly

    by Blazermanialives on 11/2/2012 9:52 PM
  17. Yey jyp300> what a win. I will keep getting better and better.

    by Hg on 11/3/2012 9:09 PM
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