Wallace, Aldridge steamroll over Lakers, continue rise in the West

Unfortunately for the Portland market, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers kept the cameras of TNT on the Heat’s triple overtime comeback against Atlanta, and had Rip City in total blackout mode for the entire first half. You can blame Bosh for that new three-point shot he’s been working on, you can even blame the clock problems during 2OT that progressed things even further. But blame Time Warner and TNT for not letting other television venue to be there to broadcast and simply not being smart in the event that games aren’t shown in their entirety. As it was bad enough, it was a pretty entertaining opening quarter in Portland as the Los Angeles Lakers (4-4) came into the Rose Garden hot and on target hitting 10-11 shots, but with Wesley Matthews and Gerald Wallace keeping the Blazers (5-1) in the thick of things only to trail the Lakers 31-27 after one.

Matthews and Wallace already had 10 points each after one with Matthews 2-2 from three and Andrew Bynum with 10 points for LA as he has started his season campaign on a high note. LaMarcus Aldridge shot pretty well at first hitting 3-4 from the field, Kobe Bryant with 8 points on 4-6 shooting but that was only of things to come. Portland manage to bring themselves back to tie things at 35 apiece and answering every Laker statement. Bryant quickly races to 17 points and 8-11 shooting to give LA the small lead 56-52 at the half. TNT still had not shown anything of this game up until this point.

Bynum starts the third quarter hitting his eighth straight hook shot with 17 points and was going for ninth but misses his first shot with nine minutes into the third. Every Laker possession went into the hands of Bynum as he was the number one scoring option, or while the Portland defense collapsed, he would kick it back to Bryant for the jumper. The Blazers claw their way back into the lead as Wallace bulldozed over Bryant on the fast break and finishes a monster mini-widmill slam to propel Portland to give them the largest lead of the night at 70-66. This would be the last time Los Angeles would be in contention.

One of the many positives things to take away from this was how much of an improvement Portland has made on pace. The playing style and pace of last year of constantly milking the clock, fighting the clock and dragging their feet is no more. The pace is frantic, everybody in a white jersey is pushing their bodies up and down the court on transition, it’s almost an exact replica of the Oregon Ducks football on offense. Fast and wound up, Portland barely fight the shot clock and ware down the Lakers as the game progresses.

Defense only gets better on Bynum as a timeout collects the guys together to remember to shut down around him and force him to take hard shots on near triple-teams surrounding him. On the other side of the court, Matthews and Jamal Crawford put an exclamation point on the quarter with threes as Crawford connects a beastly three-pointer that almost seemed to be from 20 feet away, as it puts Portland up 84-74 and the Rose Garden is rocking.

There was still 12 minutes left for Los Angeles to stage a comeback of their own and it seemed possible. Steve Blake and Devin Ebanks try their hardest to keep the Lakers from drowning in the rowdy noise of the RG, Blake keeps things interesting as he connects from deep in the corner with a fling-and-prayer three with 1.8 left on the shot clock, but it wasn’t enough. The zippy Portland tempo race to a 6-0 run and while the Lakers feel the game is going out of control, they stop feeding Bynum the ball and hands things back to their commander in Bryant, who for his age, can still hit the hardest looking fadaway jumpers, even with Wallace’s hands in his face. A few fouls and free throws later against LA, and Portland overcome a hot start by the Lakers and wore them down the rest of the way, winning 107-96, improving Portland to a 5-1 record (best in the Western Conference) and beat the Lakers at the Rose Garden 11 out of the last 13 times. The Blazers with their 5-1 record is the best start since the 1999-2000 season and sit alone at the top, finally getting some national attention, Charles Barkley quoted as saying “They’re tall, they’re athletic, they’re deep. They’ve got a terrific coach in Nate McMillan. They are the best team in the West I’ve seen so far.”

Just like the Oklahoma City win, everyone on the Blazers roster contributed tremendously and simply rocked. Gerald Wallace displayed his dominance for the national television audience with 31 Pts, 5 Reb, 2 Stl on 13-19 shooting and a dunk over Bryant (not to mention he was the Chalupa man for the night). LaMarcus Aldridge won the battle over Pau Gasol and follows suit with 28 Pts, 10 Reb and if he could average those numbers each night, there’s no stopping him. Raymond Felton had only 8 Pts, but check this: 10 Ast and 1 turnover and continues to improve on his ball handling. Wesley Matthews started hot like he did against the Lakers last year and completed his game with 16 Pts and 3-4 from three with one early in the fourth to help but away the game for good. Jamal Crawford’s fan base is still growing here in Portland as he has become the go-to man to score with the second unit, that sick crossover continues to give him just enough space to do damage; he collects 17 Pts, 3 Ast and 6-15 shooting including that three that was so remote it took Marv Albert by surprise.

The Blazers out do Los Angeles in most categories for the night: steals (5-2), blocks (7-6), points in the paint (46-38) and points on the fast break (11-4). Two statistics to look over were how well Portland held onto the ball, turning it over 4 times compared to 14 by LA, and keeping LA from hitting a single three-pointer all night, 0-11 while Portland hits 5-12.

Kobe Bryant led his team with 30 points as well but the right wrist is obviously hurting him, a few times he was shown grabbing and holding it, it’ll be decided how much longer he can manage; Bryant faces another loss at the Rose Garden with 8 Reb, 3 Ast and 4 turnovers on 13-24 shooting. He was hounded all night by Wallace and Matthews who kept a hand in Bryant’s face and a body on him, making sure he didn’t have too much space to breathe. The young and rising star in center Andrew Bynum had the hot hands in the first half but was stopped once Portland really getting into his face. Starting 8-8 from the field, Bynum scored 21 Pts, 12 Reb and 3 Bks. Pau Gasol averaged his usual numbers with 19 Pts, 7 Reb on 7-10 shooting. Metta World Peace (aka Ron Artest) who is routinely the thorn to Portland’s thigh in most matches was stopped with zero points and had 3 turnovers. The Lakers shoot the ball equally with Portland at 46% but started the game nearly at 90% and out rebounded 47-39, thanks in large part to Bynum.

It’s such a shame that TNT couldn’t manage to broadcast this game on a sister network, pushing the tipoff to as late as 7:50pm, as the final buzzer rang at 10pm. What’s worse, Portland can’t soak in the fabulous win for long as they hop on the plane to fly to the desert and battle Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns tomorrow night on a back-to-back, only to start a brutal length of playing seven games in ten nights.

photos courtesy of nba.com/blazers