Backcourt Saves the Night
Damian Lillard has played in just 12 NBA regular-season games. That's pretty crazy to think about. He's now averaging 20.2 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds per game, while shooting 47 percent from the field, and 40 percent from three-point range.
Lillard posted a new career high on Friday night at the Rose Garden, scoring 28 points, while dishing out 8 assists, and didn't commit a single turnover. More importantly, he helped carry the load against a very hungry and physical Minnesota team that came in determined to snap a three-game losing skid.
Yes, you're right. I shouldn't have gone two paragraphs without mentioning Wesley Matthews. Because even as the legend of Lillard continues to grow, he probably wasn't the MVP of this game. So, let's just say I'm doing this alphabetically then.
Matthews was just as brilliant on this night, as his team leaned on him just as much as it needed a superstar performance from Lillard. Matthews, like Lillard, delivered big time. Wesley scored 30 points, on 12 of 17 shooting, and recorded 4 steals, while providing the defense and scrap that he always does.
Let's combine their numbers. Lillard and Matthews, Portland's starting backcourt, was 23 for 34 from the field, 9 of 14 from three, with 11 assists. They outscored Minnesota's starting backcourt 58-21.
Best of all, again, they came up huge on a night when the Blazers needed something like this. Portland didn't want to head out on this monster 7-game road trip with a home loss to a division rival. They came from 13-down to defeat the Timberwolves 103-95.
Portland's defense has taken a beating lately, with good reason. And, in the first half a Minnesota team, that isn't known for its offense, was scoring in bunches. The Wolves shot 57 percent in the first quarter, and was still at 48 percent at halftime. But, in the second half, the Blazers buckled down.
Terry Stotts spent the morning shoot around explaining the need for a better game at the defensive end of the court. Matthews even said the coach "called them out," showing them numbers, stats, and the team's defensive ranking in the league. It may have taken a while, but they took the message to heart.
In the fourth quarter, when it mattered most, the Trail Blazers held Minnesota to just 5 of 21 shooting, and 17 points.
It was a good thing. You don't win many games where you're outrebounded 47-33, and outscored at the free-throw line 28 to 8. The Timberwolves ended up with 17 offensive rebounds, which led to a 17-4 advantage in second-chance points. Amazing that Portland was able to weather those numbers and still win. Thanks to Lillard and Matthews, they did.
There was also J.J. Hickson, who sat out the Phoenix game with a sore shoulder. Still playing in pain, Hickson came back for this game, and posted 14 points and 13 rebounds. Minnesota pounded the ball inside, repeatedly in the second half, and Hickson dug in and took the punches.
We've talked a lot about the difficulty of this early-season schedule for the Trail Blazers. They are 6-6 so far, but it's about to get a whole lot tougher. Lillard admitted after the game he's never seen a road trip like he's about to experience. Not many NBA teams have to go through what the Blazers are about to. It'll be 7 games in 12 days, their longest trip since 2008.
We'll head for New York on Saturday, and start the trip off with a game against the Nets in Brooklyn. It'll be a 3 o'clock start (Eastern Time), and it'll seem like a noon tip for all of us. Then, the trip will take us to Detroit, Washington, Boston, Cleveland, Charlotte, and Indiana. Yes, we travel well in the NBA, but trips like this are brutal.
It'll be just another challenge for a young team that's still learning to play together, with a point guard still learning the professional game.