Portland Trail Blazers: 5 takeaways from opening night

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 5: Damian Lillard
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 5: Damian Lillard /

The Portland Trail Blazers open up the season with a win against the new LeBron-led Lakers, 128-119. Here are 5 takeaways from the game.

First game down, first tally in the win column. While the game remained close throughout, the Portland Trail Blazers ultimately came out victorious over the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James and the Lakers torched Portland in the paint with their fast-paced offense, but a flurry from Nik Stauskas and a spirited fourth quarter performance from Damian Lillard put the Blazers on top in this one, 128-119.

Here are five takeaways from tonight’s game:

Stauskas is the GOAT.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But Nik Stauskas might’ve been the best Blazer out there tonight.

At the end of the first half, he had hit six of his eight shots, including four of six from three, for 16 points.

He ended the game with 24 points, two rebounds, and two assists, and was part of an important closing-unit that pulled away from LA in the fourth.

Of course, Stauskas won’t put on this type of performance every night. But his game tonight could add some confidence to his stroke. If he can reliably produce half of what he did tonight, he will be a solid contributor for this Portland team.

Jusuf Nurkic must be a better rim protector

The Lakers had a field day in the paint tonight. Of their 31 points in the first quarter, 26 came from inside the paint.

They ended with 70 points in the paint, accounting for 58.8 percent of their total points.

This wasn’t all Jusuf Nurkic’s fault.

A lot of the Lakers’ dominance inside came from their ultra-quick pace, putting pressure on a slow-to-set Blazers’ defense whether it be off misses or makes.

But, as the starting seven-foot center who lacks the mobility to cover ground around the perimeter, Nurkic needs to better alter shots. The defense never seemed to fear him, and he never made himself into stopper – instead, he seemed flimsy inside.

All of the Blazers big men need to be better at defending inside. The Lakers shot 15 three-pointers until they hit one late in the third. Had the bigs been able to put more pressure on driving opponents, Portland may have been able to put the game away early.

There was a lack of the ball-movement we saw in preseason

In the preseason, the Blazers looked determined to run more plays in the half-court with more actions around the court.

Tonight, there were a lot of high pick-and-rolls. And no, this isn’t inherently a bad thing. But the team looked very 2017-18 Blazers-y.

I’m curious to see if they continue running the same free-flowing offense they’ve rolled out for the last few years, or if they’ll go more into what their offense looked like in preseason when the games are lower-profile.

Evan Turner looked solid

I’m a big fan of playing Evan Turner as the backup point guard this year. He looked good in this role both as a facilitator and creator for himself.

He finished the night with 13 points on five-for-eight shooting with six assists.

He seems to be both more deliberate and aggressive when attacking the basket. Rather than look for post-up opportunities, he seemed only took one this game when he saw Lonzo Ball had been switched onto him.

When driving to the basket, he used his big body along with some crafty dribbling to create space for himself under the rim.

And with Turner now running the point guard as opposed to playing in the starting lineup, he can take the playmaking responsibilities off of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Rip City duo was able to rest together and play more as a tandem rather than a staggered tag team thanks to Turner.

I look forward to watching if Turner can ride this momentum.

The Blazers do well closing the game with Zach Collins at center

Although the game stayed neck-and-neck throughout, the Blazers finally pulled away late in the fourth thanks to some incredible plays from Lillard and good team-defense.

Zach Collins finished the game rather than Nurkic. While he was “meh” in the first half, he came alive in the second as a reliable defender and even hit a couple tough baskets in the post. He finished the game with six points, six rebounds, and six blocks, along with a team high +24 box plus-minus

His mobility and shot-blocking ability make him a perfect replacement for Nurkic against fast-paced teams like the Los Angeles Lakers in crunch time. He can retain the same rim-protection while adding better perimeter defense and perimeter shooting.

It will be interesting to see if Collins closing out games is merely situational, or a consistent look from Coach Stotts.

Next. The Blazers won't be a top 10 defense again this year. dark

Coming up next, the San Antonio Spurs travel to Portland to take on the Trail Blazers this Saturday at 7:00 P.S.T.