The Trail Blazers weren't wearing vintage jerseys, or honoring anyone from the past on Wednesday night in Indianapolis, but they played like the team we've come to know. LaMarcus Aldridge got the team off to a solid start, scoring the first 10 points of the game, and Brandon Roy took over late. Steve Blake hit a big three to put the game away, and Joel Przybilla was his rugged self inside, scoring 12 points and grabbing 8 rebounds.
Most importantly, the Blazers returned to their winning ways, defeating the Pacers 102-91.
It wasn't as comfortable as they would have liked, but the only time Portland didn't have the lead in this game is when the score was 4-2. Indiana, to their credit, stayed close throughout and even tied the game with just over seven minutes left, but was finally knocked out for good with just under three minutes left.
Aldridge ended the game with 20 points and 8 rebounds, and gave the team a huge boost early. It was his production, using a variety of shots, that loosened things up for the guards. The Blazers always start games trying to establish the inside for this reason. Indiana, which does have a cast of talent, physical players, had no answer for Aldridge early in this game.
Roy was spectacular in the second half, and particularly in the fourth quarter. He was going head to head with a very good defender in Dohntay Jones, but still torched the Pacers for 29 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. His biggest shot came with 2:54 left, and Portland clinging to a 92-89 lead. The shot clock was winding down, and 18 feet away from the hoop, with his back to the basket, wheeled around and canned a fade-away jumper all but closing the doors on this game.
As expected, every Blazer in uniform (that would be nine, of course) played significant minutes, and everyone had at least two field goals. Andre Miller had 15 points off the bench, Dante Cunningham provided a couple of big buckets and give the team physical play, and Juwan Howard and Jerryd Bayless were solid again.
Even though Portland's injury trouble has made news around the NBA, the players have agreed that it doesn't do any good to talk about it anymore. To quote Hickory coach Norman Dale (when he decided to play only four players, just to make a point)- "my team's on the floor." Brandon told me as much after the game, saying "this is what we've got, and this is what we are. We're moving ahead."
You can make the argument that Indiana has been struggling, and didn't have leading scorer Danny Granger in this one, but no one really cared to hear that after this game. They had lost five in a row, and were back home desperate to get a win. And, it was a road win. It doesn't usually matter how you get those, just that you get them.
Following a roller coaster flight, in 55 mile per hour headwinds and snow all the way, we're in Cleveland. Thursday will be a light practice for the Blazers and a chance to rest. Friday night the road trip continues with a game against the suddenly-struggling Cavaliers. The Cavs lost in Memphis on Tuesday night, and then lost in Houston on Wednesday. Add the loss earlier in the week at Charlotte, and this team is going to be out to send a message. Don't expect the Blazers to back down. And I've already heard some of the players recalling last year's game in Cleveland, where the Blazers played without Aldridge, and took the Cavs to overtime before falling.