There are going to be many times throughout the course of this season when we’ll want to look back and pick out which moments can be considered the high points amid the range of low points. We’ve had a few already: back-to-back wins against the Utah Jazz, beating Orlando. Sunday’s victory might not register on the level of those achievements at first blush, but let me come out and say it: Sunday’s was as big a win as this team has had all season.
Here’s why. Houston is not a great team, and if records are anything to look at to determine greatness, neither is Portland. One game, in fact, was all that separated these two teams record-wise prior to tip-off. But throughout the course of Sunday’s victory, the difference between Portland and Houston was cavernous. It was the Rockets that were settling for jump shots, failing to establish or control a tempo, having trouble attacking inside. It was Portland that built a lead, kept a lead, and then, finally, created the distance necessary to give LaMarcus Aldridge some much needed, and well deserved rest in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a perfect game, start to finish, but it was the kind of game that makes me believe that Portland is better than their record, and could possibly make 2011 a pretty memorable year.
Portland was able to keep Houston away from the hoop all night. The Blazers won the battle inside, outscoring Houston 46-to-28 in the paint. This meant a few things. Houston was only able to go on runs when hitting jump shots, and when Portland’s J’s weren’t falling they could confidently dump the ball inside for easy buckets.
The Blazers inside scoring didn’t come only from LaMarcus, who continues to play incredibly well, but from a range of Trail Blazers. Dante Cunningham and Rudy Fernandez are starting to attack the hoop without the ball with remarkable regularity. In fact, it seems that LA’s desire to attack the hoop has rubbed off on everyone in a Portland jersey. The Blazer that has made the biggest strides with an attack first attitude? Patty Mills. For all that Patty brings to the floor, his jump shot can sometimes leave a little to be desired. In Portland’s home win against Utah, Patty was being left open over and over, and over and over he failed to hit open jumpers. I know that Patty is still adjusting to life as an everyday player, but he needs to bury open shots, period end of sentence. Sunday he looked to attack, if not first than at least second, and he showed that he can score on the run and at the rim.
Let me devote a few seconds to Patty Mills before moving on. I wasn’t sold on Patty at first. I didn’t think he was going to sink that team when he moved off the end of the bench and into the second-string PG role, but I was unsure that he was going to be any better than Armon Johnson. It’s pretty amazing the way Patty has developed, and in such a short amount of time. Patty’s quickness is astounding at times, his hustle is commendable, and he has what seems like an innate ability to play within himself. Patty set career highs Sunday in both points and steals, and he was the spark during Portland’s exciting second quarter. With Patty on the court the tempo goes up, the crowd gets excited, and when all goes well the Blazers build and extend leads. There is almost nothing more that a team needs from a back-up point guard. I’m pretty sure nobody said that about Patty when they first heard he was being promoted. I know I didn’t.
Apart from a big nights from Patty and Nicolas Batum, who scored a season-high 21 points, Portland looked almost ho-hum at every other position. And that’s a good thing. Marcus Camby can grab 13 boards in his sleep. Twenty-five points and 11 rebounds is no longer a shocking performance from LaMarcus Aldridge. This is why Sunday’s win was so big. The Blazers are starting to find their groove, and guys like Patty, DC, and Rudy are starting to really come together. With the West the way it is at this moment, big gaps between the top four and the bottom four, Portland has every right to feel good about where this season could be heading in the new year.
Portland hasn’t lost at home in eight games. The Blazers go on the road for a back-to-back with Dallas and Houston and then a date in the north country with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Portland’s home winning streak will be tested when they return to the Rose City to face the Miami Heat one week from Sunday.
Because it’s Sunday and it’s late I’ve only got a quick personal thought before I go:
- Tonight I was in the Rose Garden in the 300 level, not on the third auxiliary press row with the rest of the esteemed Blazer blog core as I sometimes am, and though I’ll spare the Canzano, tired and true, “it’s better in the nosebleeds,” human interest piece, I will say this: It’s nice to be able to cheer for your team with other people that are also cheering for your team. Also, from high up, it is also possible to see plays develop. I was very impressed with the way Portland was cutting through the lane all night, and the 300’s is easily the best place to see that happen.