One of the adages thrown around the NBA by every guy in the league that has ever spoken to a reporter is that to have success in the League you need to have a short memory. With games almost every night of the week, there is no time to despair about loses or to celebrate wins. Every night is a chance to undo the good done the night before, build on a victory, or erase the memory of an embarrassing loss. What the Blazers needed to do Tuesday night was get beyond their first loss of the season, one that came in the form of a thorough beat down, and for all intents and purposes that is what they did by dispatching the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the Eastern Conference playoff teams from a year ago that could be in the fight for a high playoff seed this time around.
Tuesday’s game ended 90-76 in favor of the road team, the Blazers largest victory in Wisconsin since 1997, but it didn’t begin as a blow out. For the second night in a row Portland came out flat both offensively and defensively. The Blazers let Milwaukee establish their offense early, a runner by Carlos Delfino at the 6:46 mark of the opening period putting the home team up 16-4. At this point, although it was early, it looked like another long night for Portland, and it looked like a road trip that started so promising with wins in LA and NYC was going to finish on a low note. But miraculously things changed. Portland started hitting shots, but more to the point, Portland started playing defense. Stringing together stops and hitting shots, the Blazers took their first lead 40-39 with 4:22 remaining in the half on a jump shot from Brandon Roy. Portland closed the first half ahead 47-45.
The second half belonged to the Blazers, and mostly due to defense. Milwaukee scored 17 points in the third quarter and managed only 14 in the final quarter with the majority of their starters on the bench. With Tuesday’s win, Portland helped to get over Monday’s loss, but also erased last season’s double-overtime loss at Milwaukee. The Blazers finished their first extended road trip 3-1, and will return home Thursday night at 4-1.
A few brief thoughts about Tuesday’s game:
- Wesley Matthews had a break-out game, which made sense because Tuesday was somewhat of a homecoming. Matthews played his college ball at Marquette in Milwaukee. Matthews did much of his offensive damage in the first half, but provided a ton of defensive pressure in the second half, helping the Blazers seal their most complete win of the season.
- Armon Johnson followed up a 10 point performance at Chicago with another 10 point performance Tuesday night. Johnson hit every single one of his four field goal attempts including two three-pointers. I said before that Johnson’s learning curve will be steep, the guy seems to learn at break neck speed. Johnson provided one of the night’s highlights on a feed that Dante Cunningham finished with a reverse dunk. Andre Miller was waiting at the scorer’s table during Johnson’s offensive run. At the timeout Dre told Nate McMillan to leave Armon in the game, and he did. How’s that for a vote of confidence.
- LaMarcus Aldridge and Roy were steady on both offense and defense. LA blocked a career-high five shots and scored 14 points in just under 44 minutes. Roy grabbed five steals and scored 17 points. Its nice to see that neither of the Blazer’s stars had to go crazy on offense for Portland to get the win.
- Dante Cunningham hasn’t gotten a ton of positive ink so far, and had an up and down road trip. Tuesday night, though, he looked like he did more good than bad. Cunningham has shown that he can knock down jump shots and that he will hustle all over the court. If he can limit his mistakes and stupid fouls he will continue to get minutes and continue to be one of the Blazer’s most important hustle guys.
- The three ball was non-existent in the loss at Chicago, and it looked rough on Tuesday too, but it fell a little more regularly. Portland finished 7-of-24 from deep, far from great numbers, but an indication that even after missing 14 threes the night before, the Blazers are not afraid to go back out and jack up the long balls.
- Rampant speculation has followed the last two games as to what’s the deal with Nicolas Batum. Nic is no longer a rookie, but his minutes in the last two games have been spotty. Batum played only slightly less than 18 minutes against Chicago and less than 14 minutes on Tuesday. The questions that have been thrown out is whether or not Portland is wasting Batum’s talents by limiting his minutes and leaving him on the bench. I prefer to look at it this way: Portland is loaded, some nights will be Batum’s night, some nights will belong to Armon Johnson and Wesley Matthews. If that changes, then we can talk about Nic being used incorrectly or not enough. The idea is to win, who’s on the court when that win happens is, for better or for worse, irrelevant.
Portland won the second most road games in the Western Conference last season. Going 3-1 on their first road trip is a good sign. Winning games where they haven’t played excellent top to bottom is probably an even better sign. This team has a ways to go before they are clicking on all cylinders, but if and when they get there, they will be something special.
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