Blazers Make It Four Straight
Yep. It was weird, it was unattractive at times, and it was certainly unconventional. But, it was also a win over a quality opponent from the Northwest Division, and it came on a night the Trail Blazers were playing without their leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge.
Earlier in the season we brought up the fact that there simply is no margin for error with this Portland team. That if and when injuries happen, this team could be in trouble. After all, this team was way too dependent on its starting five. Well, they went 3-0 when Wesley Matthews was down with a hip injury, and Thursday night survived without Aldridge.
Don't look now, but the Blazers have won six of their last eight games, and are 12-12 through 24. All things considered, I'll take that and run.
In what turned out to be one of the stranger games in recent memory, the Blazers led wire to wire and beat Denver at the Rose Garden 101-93. That's back-to-back games that Portland hasn't trailed for a single second of a ball game.
I've tossed this stat out there before, but Portland came into Thursday night's game just 2-11 when they shoot under 45%. We've said time and time again that the Blazers simply won't be able to win ugly. They have to shoot well to win. Even that theory was debunked on this night, as Portland shot just 36% from the field, and lived to tell about it.
So, call it a good defensive effort, or perhaps you could say they came up against the gang that couldn't shoot straight. Maybe it was a little bit of both. Denver missed a lot of contested shots in this game, and they missed a lot of uncontested shots in this game.
Ten days ago the Trail Blazers set a new NBA record by going 0 for 20 from behind the three-point line, but still won. That record was broken by Denver in this game. They went an amazing 0 for 22 from behind the arc to break the record. But, that wasn't the half of it. Denver shot 1 for 32 outside the key. That's mind boggling, I know.
I wasn't even that shocked that the Nuggets scored 74 points in the paint. That's what they do. But, the fact that it took them 47 minutes and 22 seconds to score from outside the key, was amazing. They ended with 74 points in the paint, 17 from the foul line, and two points from outside.
Terry Stotts was back in his office, following his press conference, and we were talking about how odd that truly was. He said he'd never seen anything like it, and I agreed. But, we also agreed that the most important thing was that the Trail Blazers were able to put together enough offense, playing without their leading scorer, to get the victory.
Nic Batum led the way with 22 points for the Blazers, hitting five three pointers in the process. Wesley Matthews, who told me he's still far from 100 percent, scored 20 points, and Damian Lillard had 12 points and 10 assists. It was an off night for Lillard, who was just 3 for 14 shooting, but had a huge three pointer late in the game, and had a highlight dunk in the second half.
And then there's JJ Hickson. After going for 24 points and 16 rebounds against New Orleans on Sunday night, Hickson went for 18 and 18 in this game. It was his sixth-straight double-double, and his 14th of the season.
Portland got another very solid performance out of Luke Babbitt off the bench as well, as he scored in double figures for the third-straight game. Babbitt finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds, and has turned into a reliable option off the bench- something the Blazers badly need.
The Blazer offense wasn't outstanding in this game, but it was good enough. The fact that they shot 36 percent, and went over five minutes without a field goal twice in the second half, and still won, was remarkable.
This home stand, that started with an ugly loss to Sacramento, has now turned into an early-season-defining stretch. We've learned that they can absorb an injury or two, can turn to the second unit for big performances, and can win ugly.
Next up, it's Phoenix on Saturday night. It'll be an opportunity for the Blazers to make it five-straight wins, and a chance to get over the .500 mark. It's unclear whether Aldridge will return for that game. But, this win showed, once again, that the Blazers have other options. That could be the most valuable lesson learned over the past week.