Trail Blazers vs Sixers Saturday, 12/29/12 AT 07:00PM

Trail Blazers Grind Out Win Against Sixers

12/30/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    Nicolas Batum had a monster line of 22 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to help lead the Trail Blazers (15-14) to a hard-fought 89-85 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers (14-17). JJ Hickson had a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds. The win helps put the Trail Blazers over .500 once again before they head on the road for a four-game road trip, which begins in New York City under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden against the Knicks.

    This game was a grind fest. Things didn't come easy, the pace was slow but the Trail Blazers were doing a nice job separating themselves from the Sixers. But that would only last for spurts as any time the Trail Blazers would jump out, the Sixers would inch back into the game. They played at their comfortable slow pace (25th in the NBA in pace) and Portland, although they don't play at a fast pace, wasn't able to get out and run.

    "Philly does a nice job of dictating their tempo. It's hard to get out and run. We tried rebounding and transition, but we can only dictate half the possessions of the game," Stotts said. "What we have to do is, when a team is slowing down their side, we can't let that affect what we do offensively."

    The Trail Blazers were able to play their offensive game, although it was a little different. Nicolas Batum began to assert himself offensively in the third quarter after the Sixers took the lead after Jrue Holiday started pouring in three-pointer, hitting shots in the post and doing basically whatever he wanted. Batum hit a couple of threes as the quarter closed and score eight points in that third quarter on his way to 22 points. He's averaged over seven assists in the past eight games but even he admits he was "overpassing" sometimes and he took what the game gave him tonight on the offensive end, which included scoring more. Batum knows the uptick in his assist numbers did not go unnoticed and now that passing ability has opened things up for him.

    "Now when I drive, people know I'm going to pass the ball, so I'm open now," Batum said.

    "In the beginning of the season, it seemed like he was trying to score a lot. Now, when he has 8 assists, it used to be a career high and now nobody thinks anything of it," Terry Stotts said of Batum's offensive game. "Now it's blending them both and doing what the game dictates. Again, I think he's doing what the team needs, whether it's facilitating or scoring or rebounding."

    However, Batum's offensive efforts would have been all for nothing had Batum not played the way he did defensively against Jrue Holiday. Holiday exploded for 13 of his 29 points (nine assists and nine rebounds) in the third quarter but Stotts made the move to put Batum on him like he has done against Tony Parker and Chris Paul before him. Batum's length as well as his ability to move his feet makes him a nightmare for opposing players, especially point guards who are dwarfed by his size. Holiday only scored two points in the fourth quarter and was a non-factor after Batum switched to him.

    "The reason to put Nic on him is he's our best perimeter defender. Like we've done in the past, when there's a player going, Nic usually ends up on him. Nic with his athleticism and length, makes it difficult," Stotts said.

    With nine minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Trail Blazers up by eight, Meyers Leonard suffered an ankle injury that took some of the life out of the Rose Garden crowd. The crowd gasped after seeing a replay that looked very ugly. However, x-rays on the ankle came back negative but Leonard will not be traveling with the team to begin the road trip. Despite losing their center, the Trail Blazers had to hold it together to weather the storm of a Sixers comeback.

    Damian Lillard had a great game shooting ball, going eight of 18 and scoring 20 points including some big threes down the stretch. However, Lillard didn't record an assist for the first time in his NBA career, which is only 29 games long. Lillard did make big plays down the stretch when the team needed him to. He scored eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter including a couple of big threes. The execution on the final possessions for Philadelphia just wasn't there and Portland's defense bothered them enough.

    December and now the year of 2012 has come to an end for the Portland Trail Blazers as they will embark on a new month and a new year in New York on Tuesday. The Trail Blazers went 8-4 in the month of December and went 7-1 in their eight home games. Before their last road trip, the Trail Blazers got a big win in an fast-paced and hard-fought game against Minnesota. This one was hard-fought, but the mood was different. It seems that this time around, the Trail Blazers have more of a level head about them and Lillard believes that the month of December and their good play during that month has helped their confidence level.

    "We had a bad record going into that road trip," Lillard said.  "We dropped some games and we were just down. We were desperate for a win,  it was tough every night. Now, we won a few games, had a win streak. We have more confidence going into this one."

    They are more confident amid more uncertainty than they faced on the last road trip. Wesley Matthews' health will continue to be a question mark and without Leonard they could be missing two players who were big parts of the rotation earlier in the year. The Trail Blazers weathered the injuries in the month of December, mostly due to a home heavy schedule. Now, they must face those uncertainties in unfriendly places perhaps a greater challenge than the seven-game marathon they had at the end of November and beginning of December. It won't be any harder than when they go to play the East's second best team in the Knicks in the most famous arena in the world on New Years Day.

    That game will be at 4:30 PM in Madison Square Garden and will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

    Don't miss these highlights from Wheels' call of tonight's game: LaMarcus Aldridge with the spin move to the rim and JJ Hickson gets the offensive board in traffic and scores the putback!

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