Now that feels better doesn’t it? The Portland Trail Blazers (1-1) were on the road again in the Mile High City to face divisional rival Denver Nuggets (0-2) on Friday night for the Nugget’s home opener at the Pepsi Center. Previous history for the Blazers on the road in Denver wasn’t so great, their last win came in 2007 and with the loss on Wednesday, they were on a 14-game losing streak stretching back to last season after laying a fat egg in Phoenix.
After going through a tough workout and hours of studying video tape to pinpoint the flaws of their performances against the Suns, the Blazers found their offensive stroke for the first three quarters, building a 26-point lead and withstanding a late Nugget rally to win 113-98 for their 24th overall win in Denver and their first win of the season.
The first big improvement was Nic Batum who did most of his damage in the first quarter, scoring 12 points very quickly and nailing 3-4 three pointers. This continues a good shooting streak for Batum against Denver who uses his height to his advantage while the smaller Nugget guards, Ty Lawson and Randy Foye, leave Batum wide open and he made them pay. Scoring just seven points in Phoenix, Batum had 15 points and was simply dominating Evan Fournier on both ends of the court. However both teams were locked in a shootout, neither one playing that much defense and the quarter was tight as Portland took a 24-23 lead after one.
The Blazers’ bench of Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland saw some extended minutes tonight and each contributed, Freeland and Robinson were on hand to get offensive rebounds and Wright nailed a couple three-pointers in the corner. Notice how Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge have not been noted yet? With Batum owning the first and the reserves holding on their own, Lillard and Aldridge saw some nice resting time on the bench. They both came back midway through the second to join in on the hot shooting, Lillard connected a handful of three’s and Aldridge taking former teammate JJ Hickson to school hitting some fading shots right in Hickson’s face. Portland’s shooting percentage climbed to 57% and the Nuggets tried to respond but threw up wild shots, shooting themselves in the foot and watched their percentage take a sky dive. Portland headed to the locker room up 64-50, scoring 40 points in the second.
Denver came out of halftime determined to get the home crowd into the game started aggressively slashing to the basket and getting to the foul line. It was Wesley Matthew’s turn to get hot and doing so scored 12 straight points, mostly from outside, thanks to Freeland nabbing some important offensive rebounds. The hot Portland shooting helped them build a 20-point lead and the thin air was all but taken out of the Pepsi Center as the Blazers were all but sure to fly back to Portland with a blowout heading into the final quarter.
Newly acquired guard Nate Robinson and his streaky shooting showed up at the start of the fourth as he connected for a handful of much-needed three pointers. The Nuggets chipped away at Portland’s 26-point lead and cut it down to single digits as the Blazers’ shooting percentage sunk quickly to 36% as neither the starters or reserves could find easy shots going in. With four minutes left and momentum swinging in Denver’s favor, Matthews hits a big three from the top of the key to put Portland back up by ten. They also gave the ball to Aldridge who steadied the ship with some clutch late game shots and led a 14-2 run to put the game out of reach for good.
Who Was Hot
- Aldridge took awhile to get things going but he was there to put the team on his shoulders late in the game and hit shots when it mattered most: team-high 25 PTS, 9 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK on 12-26 shooting. He had the luxury of guarding the undersized Hickson and simply dominated him all night.
- Matthews was a perfect 4-4 from three-point range and set a new career high in rebounds with 12 to go with his 21 PTS and 3 AST on 7-13 shooting.
- It was finally nice to see Batum kick some butt offensively and look to score after second guessing himself against the Suns. He did most if not all his damage in the first quarter alone, ending with 21 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 BLK and 5-8 from downtown.
- Lillard had his hands full guarding the quick Ty Lawson and got into some early foul trouble but put in a very respectable 18 PTS, 7 AST, 4 REB and 3-4 three’s.
- Have to give a nice shout out to Joel Freeland who played quality crunch time minutes after Robin Lopez got into foul trouble and was the key offensive rebounder to find Matthews and Lillard out for the open three and continue the double digit lead. Tonight was probably Freeland’s best game as a Blazer: 5 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST, and 1 BLK in 22 minutes.
- Portland 25 – Denver 14 on assists
- Portland 39 – Denver 35 on defensive rebounds, both tied at 55 total
- Portland 7 – Denver 5 on steals
- 14-22 three-pointers
- The Blazers had 5 blocks, 3 on Hickson alone
Who Was Cold
- Lopez was better tonight on the boards but battled the Denver bigs and got into some unnecessary foul trouble. He finished with 2 PTS, 5 REB and 2 BLK in 23 minutes.
- Mo Williams needs to stop trying to sprint up and down the court and throw up wild shots because it’s not working. He did have 11 PTS and 3 AST but on 5-13 shooting and still has yet to made a three-point field goal.
- We all know that JJ Hickson wanted to prove something to his old team but he fell flat all night and was literally a non-factor: 5 PTS, 9 REB on 2-13 shooting in 22 minutes. Yikes, nice seeing you JJ.
- Denver gets 50 points in the paint compared to Portland’s 30 but that’s expected. There were a lot of shots that the Nuggets took that simply were halfway down the cylinder and popped right out. The game would’ve been much closer had those gone in.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Dorell Wright had a monster one-handed put-back slam on a missed William’s three attempt.
Tomorrow is the big day, the Blazers play their very first home game at the Moda Center against the reigning Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs. They will be without Tim Duncan and are also playing on a back-to-back, visiting the Lakers tonight. I’m sure the Blazers are looking forward to playing in front of their home crowd and look to get two quality wins in a row.