Blazers Finally Figure Out Kings
By mikebarrett Posted in: Kings
This was more like it.
The recent five-game winning streak was nice, but the fact the streak had bookend losses to the Sacramento Kings didn't make the Blazers feel very good. They fell to the Kings on December 8th at the Rose Garden, ripped off five in a row, and then lost in Sacramento on Sunday.
Wednesday night, looking to win a rare season series from the Blazers, the Kings instead ran into a different Portland team- one that got serious on defense. Allowed to shoot 56 percent on Sunday, Sacramento was held to 41 percent shooting at the Rose Garden, trailed by as many as 26, and lost the game by a final of 109-91.
The Trail Blazers coupled that tougher defense with 51-percent shooting at the offensive end, and badly outrebounded the Kings, 53-35. As usual, the Trail Blazers were led in that department by JJ Hickson, who pulled down 14 rebounds and also had 17 points.
This is becoming expected, but don't lose sight of what Hickson is doing. Not since Kermit Washington in 1980, has a Blazer put together nine straight games of double-figure scoring and double-figure rebounding. Hickson has 17 double-doubles on the season, and is now chasing Bill Walton's record of 14 consecutive double-doubles. Any time you talk franchise history and have to go all the way back to Dollar Bill, you know you're doing something special. The fact that Hickson got number nine against the team that had no use for him last season, made it that much more significant (at least to him).
That was one-half of Portland's dominance on the front line in this game. The other stellar performance was turned in by LaMarcus Aldridge, who ended with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Aldridge took just 21 shots to get his 28 points, and that shows darn good efficiency.
Then, there was Damian Lillard, who was the Western Conference Rookie of the Month in November, and they might as well start engraving another trophy for him for December. Lillard came within two rebounds of his first-career triple-double in this game. He had 17 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds, and badly outplayed Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Thomas.
Nic Batum continues to have turnover issues, but that's because he's making such a concerted effort to be a facilitator. He had six miscues in this game, but also had 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. As long as he's close in the assist-to-turnover ratio, I can live with it.
The Blazers were able to win once again without Wesley Matthews, and will likely be without him again on Friday night when they play the Lakers in L.A. I spoke to Wesley outside the locker room after the game, and he just said the hip isn't feeling right yet. Being his desire can never be questioned, I get the impression he's still in a lot of pain. This is becoming a bigger concern, but he simply doesn't want to comeback again until it's feeling better. I think we're all for that. I just don't know when that'll be. The four-game road trip that lies ahead in the coming days will be brutally tough, and I don't want to think about the Blazers not having Wesley for that. So I won't, yet.
The Blazer bench had its moments in this game, and did provide 29 points, but was also a bit shaky near the end. After the Blazers had built a 26-point lead, Terry Stotts pulled his starters and attempted to give them a bit of a rest. But, the Kings quickly chopped that lead in half, and Stotts had to put his big guns back in the game. He didn't want to have to do that, but he also didn't want to take any chances. The starters quickly restored order, and that was that.
Will Barton has earned a lot more trust (and playing time) from Stotts in recent days, and as long as Matthews is out, that'll continue. Barton had a career-high 14 points against the Kings, and was 6 of 9 from the field. He still finds himself in the wrong place too often on offense, and that frustrates Stotts, but he's aggressive when he's in the game, and his ability to rebound and create makes it tough to keep him off the floor. For now, that's all you can ask of him.
Meyers Leonard was also active in this game, posting 7 points and 5 rebounds in his 16 minutes, and just needs to keep showing he can be trusted with time like that.
The win put the Blazers back over the .500 mark, at 14-13, but given the difficulty of the schedule over the next couple of weeks, it'll take a huge effort to stay there.
The Blazers are now looking at 6 games in the next 10 days, with 5 of them on the road. It starts Friday night with a game against the Lakers in L.A., where the Blazers have lost 9 of their last 10. Then, it's home for a game against Philadelphia (who pulled off an impressive and dominant win in Memphis Wednesday night), followed by a trip that'll take us to New York, Toronto, Memphis, and Minnesota. Nothing will be easy about that trip.
But, that's down the road. Wednesday night the Blazers did what they had to do- they beat a team they're supposed to beat at home. And, did it in convincing fashion.