I don’t know if it’s just me, but this afternoon I felt that Friday’s game in Toronto against the Raptors might be the first game of a new season. Sloan leaving Utah, Brandon coming back, Marcus Camby coming back, LaMarcus Aldridge proving that his string of good games isn’t a fluke. All those things combined, and Portland all of a sudden looks like they might be in good shape coming down the stretch. Of course, though, they still have to play the games.
Winning on the road has been tough for Portland. Winning on the road against bad teams has seemed almost impossible for the Blazers this season. All wins and all losses are created equal, but a loss to the Raptors to start out a road swing isn’t what anybody wanted. I take that back, there was at least one guy that started 2010-11 as a Blazer that wanted Portland to lose Friday night. That guy, of course, was Jerryd Bayless. In case you forgot, Bayless was dumped to New Orleans for nobody back in the preseason when it looked like Armon Johnson was the back-up point guard of the future. Bayless didn’t last long in New Orleans, getting shipped to the Raptors in October. Friday night was Jerryd’s first match-up against the Blazers as a Raptor.
Bayless didn’t score a basket in the first three quarters, but he started scoring at just the right time. Jerryd drilled four threes in a row in the middle of the fourth quarter, putting the Raptors ahead 85-78 with less than seven minutes to play in the game. After each three you could see Bayless getting more and more hyped to be sticking it to his old teammates, talking trash to the bench and Nate McMillan, but chest beating wasn’t keeping the Blazers from scoring. By the time Bayless took and missed his fifth three of the period, Portland had made big buckets and stops, and the Raptors would have held their final lead of the evening.
The final five minutes of Friday’s game showed the difference between Portland and Toronto, and the difference between a player like Bayless and guys like Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge. Toronto couldn’t maintain possession of the basketball, and couldn’t get good looks. Portland got the ball to LA, and when they couldn’t do that they relied on Andre Miller getting to his spots and hitting his jumpers. The NBA is full of players and teams that can put together runs. The key to being a winning team is maintaining energy, and overcoming spurts and lulls. Portland stopped Toronto’s offense with offense. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as it gets done.
Friday night was a fantastic night for both Rudy Fernandez and LaMarcus Aldridge. Rudy got his early, and LA got his late. Against a team like Toronto that turned out to be just the right formula for success. Rudy has been hot as of late, but he was on fire Friday. Rudy’s numbers were pretty unbelievable: 8-of-11 from the field, 6-of-8 from three, 23 points in 33 minutes. Maybe Rudy sees Brandon Roy coming back, and wants to stay fresh in Nate’s mind so his minutes don’t get cut too badly. Whatever it is, it’s working. Rudy hit six straight threes, racking up 20 points in 12 minutes. When Rudy’s scoring dropped off, LaMarcus stepped in to pick up the slack. LA finished with 37 points, and Toronto simply had nobody that could stop him.
Friday wasn’t all good for Portland, Wesley Matthews struggled, and the Blazers had a lot of trouble holding on to the ball early in the evening. Portland travels to Detroit and Minneapolis to face two teams that will be a lot like the Toronto Raptors. They will likely be the kind of games where five minutes one way or the other will be the difference between a blowout and a loss. The Blazers need to take advantage of the games leading up to the All-Star break, and can start by playing 48 minutes of basketball that leads to a comfortable win.
Portland takes on the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday.
Just a quick thought:
- As I write this, the Cleveland Cavaliers have broken their losing streak by beating the Los Angeles Clippers 126-119 in overtime. There was a time this season when it looked like Portland was a doomed franchise that couldn’t buy a win. Yes they still have a lot of work to do, but all things considered, it could be worse for the Blazers, a lot worse.