Blazers begin 2012-13 season with 116-106 win over new-look Lakers
Halloween night at the Rose Garden couldn’t have been the perfect scenery for Opening Day between the Portland Trail Blazers (1-0) and the Los Angeles Lakers (0-2) as the Blazers handed the purple and gold their second straight loss in a 116-106 shootout.
In front of a rowdy sell-out crowd, dressed in costumes and ready to see what the young guns that make up a completely revamped Portland roster could handle their own against the Lakers who lost their first game of the season by the hands of the Mavericks the night before and bolstered this offseason by adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
From the moment of tip-off both teams came to play with fire in their bellies and engaged in an all out scoring spree, Portland answering each Laker basket while keeping an eye on Howard in the paint.
Portland led 30-26 after one-quarter and led by as many as 19 points, in large part to timely shots, pressured defense and making LA pass and look for someone. The key was the battle between the second units. While Portland’s bench is seen to many as flat and quite frankly, not very good, they sure looked ten times better than what LA had on their side.
Everyone on the Blazers roster contributed to runs and kept the Lakers from mounting a comeback as the game was done by the third quarter and the fans were awarded free Taco Bell by the beginning of the fourth quarter.
LaMarcus Aldridge started his campaign by hitting his money shots and hit his first five shots, most mid-range jumpers over Pau Gasol. He finished with a modest 19 points and was quiet during the second half, letting the rookies and other guys do work.
The biggest surprise of the night, out of many, was the competitive play of Nicolas Batum, started the game off with two offensive rebounds (what?) and had no problem taking shots. He hit some threes, convert on fast break dunks/power layups and was giving Kobe Bryant a hard time on defense as well. Batum would actually lead the Blazers in scoring at the half (19 points) and finished the game with 26 points, six rebounds and three steals.
Then there’s Damian Lillard. I saw little sprinkles of Brandon Roy-esqe plays and he looked simply fantastic for his first official NBA game of his very bright career. Consider that his final stat line; 23 points and 11 assists was the first for a rookie since LeBron James in 2003 in their official debuts. Holy cow. Lillard held his own against Nash in the first half and got some breathing room during the second when Nash left the game completely to an ankle injury and did not return. He made plenty of reasons for pundits to mark Lillard on the national radar. Hope he keeps it up.
Los Angeles meanwhile looked confused on offense, slow to get back on transition and simply got outplayed. If you didn’t watch this game and just looked at the stat line, Bryant and Howard each with 30 points look like a brilliant game but it wasn’t. Most of Howard’s 30 points came courtesy of the free throw line. Coach Terry Stotts conducted his take on the Hack-a-Howard game, but somewhere between arriving in Portland at 3 a.m. to game time at 7:30 p.m., Howard worked on his free throws and made 15-19 all night.
Aside from that, the Lakers bench looked awful and were forced to play extended minutes thanks to a beat down by the Mavericks the night before. Bryant would still make some baskets that only he could make, but ended up being frustrated at the end and was begging for technical fouls to come his way.
Otherwise, there was simply nothing better than watching this Blazers team run and gun to a victory, and over the overhyped Lakers on Opening Night. Will we get this kind of production every game? Not likely, but it was sweet.
photo courtesy of oregonlive.com/blazers