Can you say, ‘I’ll take it’?
That’s about the best way to summarize Saturday night’s thwomping of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Blazers didn’t have to do anything particularly special, they didn’t have to do anything particularly well, they just did anything. Throw is some reasonable defense and nice performances from LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum, and you have yourself the recipe for beating the 2009-10 T-Wolves. The final product tastes a little like seafood gumbo.
To say that this game was ever truly competitive is probably an overstatement. Aldridge came out and hit four consecutive jumpers because apparently Minnesota’s scouting report had him down as a threat off the dribble, and the game was over from there. Sure, Al Jefferson had things going and the Wolves survived for awhile based on some offensive rebounding, but it always felt like survival on their end, never that they were competing with execution of their offensive system. It was mostly a bunch of individuals trying to keep the score close — just 19 assists on 36 buckets — and if you have your sports cliches in order, you know that individuals don’t win games.
Though Jefferson scored 13 points in the first quarter, it’s worth highlighting Aldridge’s defense of both him and Kevin Love. Aldridge might not be the shotblocker that the Camby’s and Oden’s and Przybilla’s are — making it seem as though he is less effective — but tonight his feet were perfectly in tune with the movements of the attackers. He cut them off when they wanted to drive, and he almost always had a hand up for the shot. Furthermore, he was efficient with his movements and rarely appeared to be playing catch up, which might, we can hypothesize, make it seem like he is putting less effort into his defense than he really is. As with the rest of the game, you can drop the “It’s Minnesota” label all over the performance, but if you can play straight-up defense on Jefferson and Love while picking up a mere two fouls, that’s a successful night for anyone.
That said, the rebounding was far from perfect, as Jefferson picked up six on the offensive end, but at least Al was the only person to really hurt Portland on that end. This is a discussion for another day, but Aldridge’s problems aren’t always because he is in poor position (ie. boxing out) but because he isn’t using his body properly within the confines of that position. If you let your man jump freely, whether he is behind your or not, the best rebounders are going to find a way to maneuver an appendage or two around you to the ball.
The real story, of course, was Nic Batum emulating the great Tom Berenger and sniping his way to five threes and a career-high 31 points to go with seven assists and seven boards. It was an excellent performance and one that makes you all the more excited about his future, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it special. Part of that is because Minnesota treats defense like Leslie Nielson treats dramatic roles, and part of it, like Aldridge, might be because Batum makes things look so effortless, but never was he dominating, and by that I mean never did I think there wasn’t a team in the league that couldn’t stop him from what he was doing in that third quarter.
What Batum did do was bring a Moonraker laser to a mid-range jumper fight, position himself well, make good decisions with his passing and take advantage of Minnesota’s blah-ness with some well-timed cuts to the hoop. The assists numbers were inflated a little by Aldridge’s jumpers — though that find on the secondary break was sweetness — but other than his shooting, Batum showing an ability to create for others might be the most encouraging thing about his future.
And by that I mean, there is nothing, nada, zilch, zero that we can, without question, say that Nic Batum cannot do, and someday do well. Whatever he wants to become, he can.