Two words. Five syllables. Ni-co-las Ba-tum. Saturday’s game included a lot of highlights, defensively, offensively, execution-wise. But there’s only thing that anybody is really going to remember when they look back at Portland’s impressive and important blowout victory of Denver at the Rose Garden Saturday night. And of course, that’s Nicolas Batum.
In my preview I mentioned that the play of Nicolas Batum would be key, especially since he’s missed the last two. However, I did say that he needs to come back and attack the basket, mentioning that his jumper is nice and all but he shouldn’t fall in love with it since it might not always be there for him. Let me apologize for the last part of that. In Nic’s last game before going down, he shot 80% from three and 57% from the field. Nice percentage number for sure, but just a preview of what he was going to bring Saturday night.
Nic’s career night included the following: 11-of-19 from the field, 33 points, +19, and 9-of-15 from three. That’s right, NINE three pointers from Nicolas. I still believe that Nic shouldn’t focus too much on being an outside shooter, he has too much length and athleticism to not go to the hoop, but when he shoots the way he did Saturday night, he should just let it fly.
So Nicolas had a phenomenal game, as did LaMarcus Aldridge, as did the entire Blazer team. A full team effort is what this team needed, and it’s what they got, and it resulted in yet another blowout at home, this time against a very good team. I know that Saturday’s result is a good salve for the last two road collapses, but to me it just adds to the frustration.
Portland has shown, by handily defeating the second or third best team in the Western Conference, that they can execute a game plan. They’ve also shown that they can push it into a second gear and turn a competitive game into a run away. So this team’s problems aren’t in those areas. Which means the Blazers’ problem area, or areas, are all mental. When Portland plays like they did Saturday, moving the ball well, committing to defense, taking smart looks, they will be able to beat anybody, given that the game is being played in Portland. That’s a problem. The Blazers need to find a way to transfer the energy they showed Saturday to road games. Otherwise, wins at home, even big ones against Denver or the Lakers or the Clippers, are rendered basically meaningless. A 20-point win against Denver is worth the same as a three-point loss to Sacramento.
Couple of quick things:
- Portland put on a three-point shooting clinic Saturday night, hitting a season-high 15. The Blazers were +10 from the line, Denver shot a pretty feeble 5-of-22 from deep, and numbers like that will really help this team win games going forward. At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, there is certainly a downside to all that bombing. Gerald Wallace, for instance, shot 1-of-6 from three. When all the three balls are going down, everybody wants to get involved. That’s not a terrible thing, guys should shoot when they’re open, but in close games, Portland needs to go inside first, either off the dribble or by passing the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge, then look to hit outside.
- LaMarcus Aldridge was robbed of an All-Star spot last season. If he doesn’t get selected this year the OED might have to invent a new word for super robbery. Nene is another guy, like Paul Millsap in Utah, who has been mentioned as a possible ASG selection. LA’s line Saturday night: 13-of-18 from the field, 3-of-3 from the line, 29 points, nine rebounds. Nene’s: 1-of-5 from the field 2-of-2 from the line, four points, two rebounds, -18. Nene is good, one of the best front court players in the West. LaMarcus is an All-Star.
- Marcus Camby isn’t an All-Star, but Saturday he picked up his third 20-rebound game of the season. Marcus doesn’t really register on the league rebounding leaders list, but against a team like Denver he can be something of a difference maker. Not only can he basically out-rebound an entire team, he can block shots and create turnovers. The Blazers missed Nicolas Batum’s bench and late-game scoring, but when Marcus went down, Portland went without a middle presence that kept guys out of the lane and limited second chance points. I would say that’s just as important.
- Minutes Watch: 24:44 for Nicolas Batum. Thirty minutes is the sweet spot for Nic, but that might be because he chooses not to shoot. Nicolas can improve his efficiency. He’s not going to get nine threes every night of the week, or probably any other night of the week ever again, but if he can get 19 good looks in 25 minutes that might lower that threshold for amount of time on the court needed for Nic to be successful. In case you missed it, nine threes from Nicolas Batum set a franchise record.
- Standings Watch: I don’t have the Playoff positioning from before Saturday’s game, but I think Portland was outside of the top eight spots. Following Saturday’s win the Blazers have jumped to the sixth spot. Right now the West is a nine-team race for seven spots. Oklahoma City has established itself as the top team in the conference and is unlikely to give up that spot anytime soon–although they did lose to San Antonio Saturday night–so the number one spot is accounted for. Spots two through eight, however are separated by two games. Add Houston and Memphis to the mix, in the nine and 10 spots respectively but very much part of the overall picture, and if you feel lucky the Minnesota Timberwolves–who reached .500 for the first time this season with a against Houston Saturday–and you’re looking at 10 teams within three and a half games of the second spot in the Western Conference.
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**NOTE: I apologize for the lateness/lack of quality of my last recaps/previews. I’ve spent the last four days driving to and from Los Angeles, California. I’m back now, so it’s back to normal.**