Mar 1, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard (11) and small forward Dorell Wright (1) contest a shot by Denver Nuggets center J.J. Hickson (7) in the first half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers Mine Denver Nuggets, 102-96


The Portland Trail Blazers matched the Denver Nuggets’ frenetic energy, but trailed only very early in the first quarter and kept it out of reach after that to win 102-96 in Portland. With the win, Portland has swept the season series with Denver for only the fourth time in franchise history. The Blazers have also won 5 in a row; their fourth win streak this season of 5 or more games. Those four streaks match the most in any season since 1999-2000. Finally, the Blazers sit at 41-18, and are a season-high 23 games above .500

This game was bizarre. If you had been watching without the benefit of a scoreboard, you probably would have thought there were dozens of lead changes instead of just three (all very early). One part of that may have been re-incorporating leading scorer and rebounder LaMarcus Aldridge, who’d been out for the last five games nursing a groin injury. Another may have been that Denver had just suffered a huge loss to the Brooklyn Nets in Denver, and they were seeking revenge.

Whatever the catalyst, there was so much urgency and so many full court presses and so many forced turnovers that Denver and Portland seemed less like two teams on totally different season trajectories, and more like the 4 and 5 seeds meeting in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite having the intensity of a close contest throughout, the Blazers were ahead by somewhere between 6 and 12 points pretty much the whole time, allowing Denver to match shots when the lead could have been pushed out further, but never allowing a big run that would have put the game into serious question.

Another oddity: the Blazers’ leading scorer was none other than Robin Lopez with 18 points, 8 of those coming from the line where he was a perfect 8-8. A whopping nine Blazers had 7 or more points, and as a group the bench contributed 34, more than twice their season average of 14 (worst in the league).

The uber-balanced scoring meant that the Blazers didn’t need huge offensive night from Damian Lillard (17 and 5 with 3 steals), Aldridge (16 and 7 with 3 assists, a steal, and a block), or Wesley Matthews (8 points).

What they DID get was a career rebound night from Nicolas Batum, who mentioned in the postgame interview that the Blazers’ coaching staff had specifically pointed out rebounding as something to work on since the last game with the Nuggets when JJ Hickson went off for 25 rebounds. In this one, Hickson had but 5, while Batum snagged 16 to compliment his 9 points and 6 assists .

And while Mo Williams (9 points) and Victor Claver (2 points) produced what was more or less in line with their expectations, Will Barton (2-2 for 7 points), Dorell Wright (8 points), and especially Meyers Leonard (8 and 5, coming off an ankle injury)  took advantage of their newfound rotation opportunities.

Notably absent from this game was CJ McCollum, who has struggled a bit recently, save for his 11 points in the 44-point blowout of the Nets.

All in all, this game had a very different feel than the heart attack-inducing contests we’ve grown to expect. Instead, we were treated to a polite, yet entertaining game in which the result was never really in doubt. Blazers fans, and the Blazers themselves, deserve more games like these.
The 41-18 Trail Blazers take on the 20-39 Los Angeles Lakers at 7:00 p.m. Monday, March 3rd at the Moda Center




Tags: LaMarcus Aldridge Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers

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