Blazers Scratch Out Win in NOLA
So nothing from this game will make this week's Top 10 Plays, okay? But, when you're on a six-game road trip, and have dropped the first two, a victory is all that matters. Style points finish a distant second to that. Yes, that's cliche, but it's also very true.
The Trail Blazers had chances to blow this game open, but ended up slugging out a win over the New Orleans Hornets on Monday afternoon, 85-77. They led by as many as 17 in the second half, but never really were able to let their foot off the gas until Nicolas Batum hit a three pointer with 2:25 to go that made it 82-71.
The Hornets struggle to score, and we all expected Monty Willams to do his best to ugly up the game and turn it into a half-court contest. While the Hornets were successful at that in the first half, the Blazers came out in the third quarter and went to work.
Because of the way the Trail Blazers started the third quarter, with a noticeable change in intensity, we speculated that Nate McMillan must have done a little screaming at halftime. But, instead of doing that, he says he simply empowered his players to self-police. McMillan said before the team took the floor after halftime they met as a group, just the players, and challenged each other to turn up the heat.
They ended up putting together a 27-point third quarter, which was actually impressive given how low scoring this thing was all night. LaMarcus Aldridge got busy at the offensive end, and the Blazers went back to scoring in the paint. They scored just two points in the paint in the second quarter, but scored 12 in the paint in the third.
It wasn't only Aldridge, who ended the game with 22 points, on 10 of 17 shooting. Nicolas Batum, coming off a 29-point game in Houston, backed it up with a very nice game in New Orleans. A big step for him as he tries to become more aggressive on a consistent basis. Batum had 19 off the bench, and added six rebounds.
The shooters continue to struggle for the Blazers, and that can't last forever. Raymond Felton was just 1 for 8 from the field, but recorded 12 assists and three steals. Jamal Crawford was just 2 for 8, but added 7 assists. They also need Wesley Matthews to get back to being himself from the outside. He was better in this game, shooting 4 for 10, but isn't launching the deep balls with much confidence right now. Again, that'll change.
Then, there's Kurt Thomas. If you don't watch basketball much, nothing Kurt does will blow you away. In fact, you probably don't even notice him much of the time. But, it's those little things, the dirty work, that makes him so valuable. Ask the Chicago Bulls how important he was to them last season. Thomas was a +18 against the Hornets when he was on the floor. That's a huge number, and isn't a coincidence in this case. Thomas had 8 points, 7 rebounds, and countless hustle plays in his 26 minutes.
As mentioned above (and by a lot of you I'm sure), this thing wasn't a beauty offensively. But, the Trail Blazers did have 25 assists on their 34 makes. That's a very good ratio, and a positive sign that the ball is moving and the team is being unselfish.
We're now in Atlanta, and the team will go through a light practice on Tuesday before taking on the Hawks Wednesday night. It's a big game, not only because Atlanta is good, but because this is the opportunity to turn a so-far disappointing trip into a chance to have a very positive trip. We knew the tougher games on this trip were at the beginning, and if you can come out of the first four with a 2-2 record, things could get good on the back end.
After all, there are only two long trips for the Blazers in this compressed season, while a winning record on an extended trip would be nice, this team is after more. Let's hope they show that in the first half against Atlanta on Wednesday.