December 1, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum (88) moves the ball against the defense of Los Angeles Lakers small forward Xavier Henry (7) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers Drain Los Angeles Lakers 114-108

The Blazers built a 17-point lead, blew it, then built a 20-point lead, blew that, and survived being outscored 34-20 in the fourth quarter to beat the Lakers in Los Angeles, 114-108. It was a tale of two units for both teams, making for some odd matchups down the stretch: the Blazers’ starters were an average +14.2, their bench -10.2; the Lakers’ starters were an average -16.4, their bench +10.4.

It was the Blazers’ first win in L.A. since 2010, and the Blazers are now the only team in the league with 8 road wins, not to mention the current conference standings (see below).  By virtue of a tiebreak with San Antonio, the Blazers are the owners of the Western Conference’s 2nd-best record, and should be ready to face the NBA’s best in the 16-1 Indiana Pacers at the RoseModa GardenCenter tonight at 7pm.

Player notes:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge was the man for the Blazers on offense. He shot 11-19 for 27 points and 9 boards. He was kept out too long during the second-quarter run that largely deflated the Blazers’ first big lead. When the Blazers need to restore order, they just ran the offense through him, and it worked.
  • Damian Lillard shot poorly, but was aggressive and made his way to 26 points on 7-19 shooting, 4-9 from deep. He also added 9 assists and 5 rebounds. He continues to drive into traffic, often drawing contact but less often getting the call. Kudos to him for staying aggressive.
  • Nicolas Batum again flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 9 points, 9 boards, and 9 assists. It’s always fun to watch him go out and impact the game in other ways when his shot isn’t falling.
  • Wesley Matthews loves the three. He was 3-5 from deep and had 17 points.
  • Robin Lopez was his usual disruptive self, but for some reason couldn’t figure out Robert Sacre. RoLo smashed his way to 12 points and 12 boards.
  • Mo Williams and the bench stank. No two ways about it. Freeland stank least, but the Blazers would have won by 20 if they could have played their starters 48 minutes.

NBARankings

Recap:

The Blazers set the tone with some gorgeous ball movement for an Aldridge jumper (pow). Then Lopez posted up Pau Gasol, wary of getting his second foul, and he hooked it in (biff). The Blazers unleashed a fury (pip pop slap bap bam), and the Lakers’ wide-open mid-range jumpers just wouldn’t fall (clank clunk clonk clink). The good guys found themselves up 19-2 with 6:30 left in the first

But we’d seen this before, hadn’t we? The Blazers were up 16 on Phoenix and allowed them to crawl back into the game. Blazers fans were on high alert, hoping the same thing wouldn’t happen again. The Lakers went on a mini-run at the end of the quarter, capped by a Steve Blake buzzer-beating three to pull the Lakers within 8, and Blake had Mo Williams fly by him twice on one possession and buried the three to get it within 5 to start the second.

At this point, all of the signs of the Phoenix game were there: the ball movement that afforded the Blazers great shots was gone, and their defense crumbled in the face of renewed Lakers energy.

The Blazers were getting some offensive boards, but were unable to get much of anything to fall. Combine that with the Blazers’ inability to rotate to three-point shooters like Steve Blake, and the game was quickly reeled back in and knotted at 38 with 6:30 left in the half.

Like the Phoenix game, Aldridge was out for way too long as a Blazers lead was crumpled and thrown away. LMA sometimes takes a while to heat up, and leaving your best player on the bench as your lead evaporates is not the best idea.

The Blazers took a 53-50 lead to the locker room at the half.

The second half was a lot of back and forth and a lot of missed Aldridge shots, but the thing about Aldridge is that he’s a steadying force even when the shots aren’t falling. He’s such a threat that he can single-handedly open the floor for everyone else, and that created a few well-timed shots, some of them from hustling for offensive boards, and the Blazers were back up by double-digits with 6:00 left in the third.

Some more back-and-forth kept that lead static, but positive developments included improved ball movement, especially to get themselves out of broken plays. The Blazers should remember: when it doubt, throw it out! Trying to go it alone and dribble your way out of a broken play might be okay for Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony (or heck, even Brandon Roy), but it doesn’t suit this Blazers squad.

The Blazers had to eventually rest Aldridge and Lopez, and they did. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they had to rest Blake, who was their only true ball handler left after Jordan Farmar left the game earlier with an apparent hamstring issue, and of course still without the services of Steve Nash.

The result: the Blazers decided that ball movement was their friend, zipping it tither and thither, and Batum’s three and a crafty move by Lillard to draw the foul with 3 seconds left in the quarter had the Blazers up 20 points, 94-74 heading into the fourth.

A 41-point third quarter is one good way to beat your enemies into submission, so the Blazers’ challenge in the fourth was to not give any large part of it away. Naturally, just for the challenge of it, the Blazers decided to give 95% of it away in a fourth quarter that afforded them no points in the first 6 minutes, and only 3 points in the first 8 minutes. The lead was chipped away, little by little, and Robert Sacre’s bucket with 3 minutes left pulled the Lakers to within 1.

The Blazers then did more or less what they should have been doing the whole game: going straight up at he rim and staying in passing lanes on defense, feeding Aldridge on offense, and letting the chips fall where they may otherwise. It got scary at the end, the Blazers’ lead at just 2 with 18 seconds left, but Mo Williams shot just his 10th and 11th free throws of the season, hitting both. Lillard also played passioned defense on Jodie Meeks, stuffing his three point attempt solidly and cleanly, and the Blazers walked away winners.

Observations:

  • The Lakers in-arena announcer, in stoic baritone, offered that the Lakers were now 9-9, and the Blazers were now 14-13. No word on how the Blazers snuck in 10 extra games, all losses, but we’ll break to it as the story develops.
  • Xavier Henry was hit with a technical after staring down Freeland following Henry’s breakaway dunk. Freeland didn’t contest the dunk, and Dorell Wright misses the technical.
  • As the fourth quarter collapse was in full swing, Lillard got the everloving everything blocked out of him, a two-handed against-the-glass rejection by Wesley Johnson that sent the ball nearly to half court, leading to a fast break layin by the Lakers.
  • Blazers had a LOT of fouls called on them in the paint, but the Lakers didn’t, and that can heavily impact a game, not only in points but in confidence and deciding whether or not to take it because either, a) you won’t get a call, or b) you might get hurt because there are no fouls being called and defenders are extra aggressive.
  • The officiating in general was… odd. One case in point: Matthews was shadowing Nick Young as the shot clock ran down. Matthews poked the ball away cleanly, but the whistle was called anyway. Another: Aldridge was called for an offensive foul fighting for position with 2 minutes left. And another: Matthews was called for a shooting foul when Jodie Meeks ran into him full speed with 40 seconds left. Anecdotes don’t make for believable evidence, but that’s how it looked to me.
  • Aldridge, on defense, is not good at determining whether his teammates had made it over the top on a screen. The result is that Aldridge is stuck following the opposing ballhander rather than sticking to the screener, leaving wide-open jumpshot opportunities for the opponent.
  • For much of the game, the Blazers were unable to stop Steve Blake’s dribble drives to the paint. Lillard’s defense was often looking worse than feared, getting straight burned by Jodie Meeks after getting too close on the perimeter without checking to see if he had help behind him. He did have that gorgeous block near the end of the game, though.
  • During Laker runs, the Blazers were forced into an uncomfortably fast pace, and their defensive rotations were atrocious. Even the simplest of screens were as vexing as a monochrome puzzle. The Lakers were getting open threes from, and while they didn’t hit all of them, they got more than their fair share of looks.

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Tags: Damian Lillard LaMarcus Aldridge Portland Trail Blazers

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