Returning to the Moda Center to regain control of their place atop the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers (27-9) looked to take their recent frustrations out on the Orlando Magic (10-25) and continue their sheer dominance on struggling Eastern Conference foes. Last night in Sacramento the Blazers fell behind as many as 19-points in the fourth quarter but ultimately lost to a more energetic Kings team, despite Damian Lillard setting a new career-high 41 points.
It was almost certain up until the fourth quarter that the Blazers were looking at three consecutive losses. They were playing like zombies in a pickup game, lazy on defense, hesitant to shoot and allowed the Magic to gain confidence and build a lead as big as 12. Portland snaps out of it just in time behind 36 points from LaMarcus Aldridge as the Blazers win 110-94. Tonight also marked CJ McCollum’s debut as an NBA rookie as well as Nicolas Batum’s fourth career triple-double.
Everything was looking peachy right from the opening tip as Aldridge got to work and took advantage of Orlando forced to play small without center Nikola Vucevic. Portland goes up by eight early but the Magic respond quickly, taking an 18-17 lead with 3:15 left. This marked the time that McCollum also stepped onto the Moda Center court to get his first minutes as a pro to an ovation from the crowd. He finished the first quarter with one turnover, but everything is tied at 24.
McCollum banks his first basket at the elbow at the start of the second but it was slow, ugly offensive sets for both sides for a solid three minutes. Neither team could take a lead until Portland began to get neglectful on defense, allowing guys like Glen Davis to hit midrange jumper after midrange jumper and Arron Affalo to chalk up 18 first half points. The Blazers’ shooting percentage went ice cold from all ends of the floor and Damian Lillard had yet to get on the board. Turnovers and second chance points for the Magic gave them a good feeling heading to the locker room they had something rolling as they were up 51-45.
With this lead, Orlando figured they could simply cruise to victory and let Davis take any shot he wanted, he opens the second half 0-4 from the field and the Blazers go back to what was working before: feed Aldridge. He ties the game at 53, but just like that the Magic go on an 8-0 run. Portland drops to 39% from the floor and fall behind nine again. Lucky for them, they were playing against the Magic who couldn’t stomp on Portland’s throats to build any sizable lead, as it was only 66-61 halfway through. A Lillard three ties the game and Tobias Harris responds with one of his own, and the Blazers are still down 75-71 going into the final period to make something happen.
The fourth quarter spark saw contributions from just about everyone: Wesley Matthews, who was owned in the first half by Affalo, goes on a tear and hits a couple three-pointers to regain the lead at 76. Thomas Robinson comes out instead of Meyers Leonard and goes full beast mode energy-wise with Joel Freeland and the Blazers are making defensive stops. Shots are falling, Mo Williams is making fading three-point baskets in the corner and WHAM – Portland was outscoring Orlando 21-7 and was up by ten and really never looked back.
Who Was Hot
- LaMarcus Aldridge carried the team tonight with 36 points, nine rebounds, three blocks on 16-25 shooting to a point where once he left the floor, Portland’s offense halted. He wasn’t doing anything we’re not used to seeing, taking advantage of the small Magic lineup and did what he does best.
- Wesley Matthews was getting stuffed by Affalo the entire first half and bad enough when his shot wasn’t falling. That all changed in the second half when he was stink on a gorilla and didn’t give Affalo any easy looks for the rest of the game. He took charge in the fourth and finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists.
- It’s safe to say that Nicolas Batum is feeling better playing with that broken finger. He never looked comfortable in Sacramento but got used to playing with the splint, and from looking at his stats tonight: 14 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists (new career-high), one steal and a block, you would never know he’s playing WITH A BROKEN FINGER.
- Have to give some credit to Thomas Robinson here. Sure his six point, three-rebound 11-minute stint isn’t attractive, but he gave the Blazers energy when it wasn’t there tonight. Completely different team stepped out on the court with 12 minutes remaining. He had to show he deserves those minutes than Leonard, and he did.
- CJ McCollum completes his first NBA game as a professional with four points, two rebounds, one steal and a turnover in 14 minutes on 2-5 shooting. He missed both attempts from three but he sure is quick, his hustle in transitions is something I look forward to later down the road.
Who Was Not
- Damain Lillard had an “okay” game: 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists but give credit to Orlando’s guards for shutting him down for most of the game. He had nothing really going and thankfully the rest of the team stood up to carry the load. He had one bad trip where rookie Victor Oladipo simply blocked the crap out of him, which showcases how athletic Oladipo is as seen below:
- The Blazers end the game shooting 47% from the floor and 9-30 from three-point land. Go back to the early start of the season and the Blazers offense was smooth as butter, early in the shot clock, brimming with confidence. Tonight was a totally different story as everyone looked uncomfortable taking the shot, pump faked like crazy and hesitant which lead to bad shots and/or turnovers when the shot clock was ticking down.
Enjoy the next couple days off as the Blazers will host the Boston Celtics at home on Saturday, but a lingering road trip of Dallas-San Antonio-Oklahoma City is lingering on the horizon.