Batum Lifts Blazers over Memphis
We've made a lot of Portland's inability to win close ballgames this season. It started very early in the season, and after a while it can mess with your confidence. Not only did they come into Thursday night's game against Memphis just 2-10 in games decided by five points or fewer, the Blazers haven't shown the ability to come back when trailing after three quarters.
Before the game at Chicago last week, Portland was 0-21 when trailing heading into the fourth. Now, just days later, they are 2-22. Not yet something to do backflips over, but certainly a sign that the team's belief is under repair.
Actually, getting off to a good start hasn't been a trademark of this team either. Perhaps that's also improving. On this night, Nic Batum was a big reason why the Blazers put the Grizzlies on their heels in the opening minutes. It was the aggressive Batum- the one we need to see a lot more of.
Batum had nine points in the first quarter, and likely would have done more damage, but picked up two early fouls and had to come out. Still, he took eight shots in his seven minutes of action, and that's what this team needs him to do, especially when LaMarcus Aldridge is being mobbed every time he touches the ball.
Following Tuesday night's game, Brandon Roy made a trip through the Blazer locker room, and then hurried off to the weight room to wait for the players to wrap up. He also wasn't ready to face the media yet, and knew his presence in the locker room would dominate everything.
I talked to Brandon for a few minutes, and Batum happened to be in there with me. Nic was frustrated with the loss to Milwaukee, and was frustrated he wasn't much of a factor. He presented himself to Brandon in a way that said, "you have any advice?" Roy started in, and I headed out of the room. I don't know exactly what was said to Batum, and am not going to sit here and say it was groundbreaking advice, but Batum seemed like a new man early in Thursday's game.
I can't tell you how much the guys respect Brandon, especially the younger guys, like Nic, who spent so much time around him. Roy has such a presence, and is the alpha male this team has been missing this season. People forget that amid their frustration and questions about "what the heck is wrong with this team?" Anyway, seeing Batum getting a pep talk from Roy brought all of this back to me in a big way, especially because I was standing in the room.
Back to the topic of this win over the Grizzlies.
It was not only Batum, it was the sparkling play of Portland's backcourt, again, that helped the Blazers down the hungry Grizzlies. Memphis had tossed the "must-win game" thing around before this one, and played like it. The Blazers simply outplayed them. Memphis, remember, is fighting for home-court advantage in the west right now.
Wesley Matthews has fully snapped out of his shooting slump, and has done it being assertive in other areas (amazing how that always seems to go hand in hand). He had 18 points and 9 rebounds in this game, and was being hounded by Tony Allen, a great defender. During a recent four-game stretch Matthews hit 1 of 17 shots from behind the three-point line. Now, back in the starting lineup following the Gerald Wallace trade, Matthews has put together a blistering 18 for 26 stretch from long range.
Raymond Felton has also turned things around. He's now put together four-straight very solid games, and last night had 13 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, and didn't commit a single turnover. He's back to pushing the tempo and creating for teammates.
Oh by the way, the Trail Blazers were amazing at the free-throw line in this game. They went 25 for 25, and Jamal Crawford was 10 for 10. That was the main reason this went down as a close win, instead of another near miss.
Their confidence got a boost from that win, but the task now is even bigger. They take on the NBA's best home team, the L.A. Lakers, at Staples. The Lakers are rolling right now, and are coming off a dismantling of the Mavericks in Dallas.
Back to work. Talk to you tonight.