You’re up 20. Pull Aldridge.
— Sean Highkin (@shighkinNBA) November 14, 2012
So, we’ve found yet another reason to complain about Portland’s bench. In the early days of 2012-13 we’ve seen the Blazers’ non-starters give up at least a couple leads, not contribute the one or two buckets that would have meant a win instead of a loss, and seem almost totally over-matched every single time they are on the floor. Tuesday night showed that Portland’s bench is so thin, head coach Terry Stotts will not insert them into a 20-point game until it’s scientifically impossible for his team to lose the game.
Coming into Tuesday, Portland’s starting five had been racking up the minutes. So far, so good considering that nobody had gotten injured. In the fourth quarter at home Monday, LaMarcus Aldridge took a tough spill, landing on his right wrist in the process.
If you watched the broadcast you heard Mike Barrett constantly remind his audience that LA didn’t look totally comfortable on the court. It’s hard to not let that kind of talk color your own perspective, and although I think LaMarcus didn’t think LA looked that bad, he was clearly in some obvious pain.
I’m sure by Friday LaMarcus will be fine, but getting him rest whenever possible is absolutely imperative. LA is going to log a lot of minutes this season, minor injuries or no, and Tuesday was a missed opportunity to ease a little of his burden.
But Tuesday was also about getting a win. Trust me, if Portland would have lost Tuesday, starters in or starters out, against a Kings team that struggled to execute all night, we’d be talking about blowing it up for good, and we’d be talking about it seriously.
I know it might not feel like it, but that’s really how important this game was. Portland is going to finish near the bottom of the Western Conference. A good stretch of wins depending on when it comes could get them as high as nine or 10; a fruitful trade…well let’s not go there. To make sure the Blazers finish 10th in the west and not 14th, they have to beat the teams that will finish below them. Sacramento is one of those teams.
Yes, I know that in the world of projecting into next season and building for the future finishing 10th is probably the worst thing this Portland team can do. But in the world of two teams of professionals playing basketball it’s about winning games pure and simple. The ping pong balls, the records, all that stuff will end up where it ends up.
Tuesday was ugly from start to finish, but an ugly win still counts. Not only that, there were actually a few things Blazer fans might be made to feel positive about coming out of Sacramento. How about 19 points from the bench? Sure most of the real scoring was done by Portland’s starters, but having the ball go down for guys like Ronnie Price and Sasha Pavlovic isn’t a totally awful thing.
Also, Portland out-rebounded Sacramento 44-33. J.J. Hickson did a lot of the work, but Nicolas Batum grabbed seven rebounds and Ronnie Price contributed six rebounds in 20 minutes. Keeping opponents off the glass is a great way to sustain runs, build leads, and put teams away. How do you feel about 20 assists on 35 made buckets? That means Portland is moving the ball around. What about 14 made threes? I know the deep ball can be the worst kind of fool’s gold, but on this night I’ll take. How about holding a team to under 50% shooting and less than 100 points for the second night in a row? Yes Sacramento is bad, but still like the threes and the bench points, I’ll take it.
After all that though, the real story, more important than the bench scoring and way more important than the LaMarcus minutes situation, Tuesday night was Damian Lillard. Dame struggled against the Hawks, and although he’s lived up to and exceeded the growing hype, he still hasn’t sparked Portland to that many wins. Tuesday he came out on a mission, making his first three shots and leading the Blazers’ early charge. He wasn’t done though. After Portland’s bench let Sacramento back in, it was Damian’s play in the second half that helped extend the Blazers’ lead and finish off the Kings.
Post game, Mike Barrett corralled Damian Lillard for his on-air interview. Lillard made an interesting statement when asked about if he came out aggressive as a way to make up for his performance Monday night. Damian said that it’s not about him, but that he is trying to be more aggressive. I like Lillard’s attitude and his intention when he says it’s not about him, because he’s right, it’s not really about him. But he is the future of the franchise. LaMarcus Aldridge is this team’s All-Star and this team’s present. LA might be the future, but we don’t know what’s going to happen when it comes time to deal with his contract and all the stuff that comes with that can of worms.
Damian was aggressive Monday night, but not super effective. Part of that, I think, was because he was working to hard to get to the rim. A good rim attacker, somebody like Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has a whole range of ball handling tricks at their disposal to turn a defenders head and twist them into knots. Damian is great on the ball, and he creates space very well, he’s just not at the Kyrie level when it comes to breaking guys off. Monday he was taking very tough shots at the rim, often contested by two or three big bodies.
Tuesday was different. He was shooting threes and jumpers, and he was scoring in the lane but not at the rim. Relying on the three isn’t the most sustainable offensive plan, but if Damian establishes that he’s a deep threat, it’s going to be easier for him to attack the rim. If Lillard begins games shooting, and knocking down, threes it will open up the floor for him the rest of the night.
That being said, regardless of how the scoring comes, when Damian takes control of the offense and starts being aggressive, even if it means focusing on himself a little more, it won’t be too difficult for him to take that next step.
Portland is back at home to face James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Friday. No doubt Houston will be looking for revenge after giving up their home opener to Portland in overtime. On the other side of that equation, though, is a Blazer team that is always talking about taking care of home and have already lost three games at the Rose Garden.
Just a couple things:
- Sacramento was without DeMarcus Cousins and Isiah Thomas Tuesday. They also lost Aaron Brooks after the first half. Even with such as thin roster, Travis Outlaw couldn’t get on the court.
- Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton were Sacramento’s most effective offensive players, and both guys came off the bench. Fredette hasn’t had consistent minutes in his career. Thornton is a stone-cold gunner. If Portland is looking to ad a bench contributor, either guy might fit the bill.
- Meyers Leonard played nine minutes Tuesday.