The Portland Trail Blazers opened the season last night hosting their longtime rival, the Los Angeles Lakers. The crowd fed the Blazers energy early on and carried it throughout the night. A happy Halloween it was for Rip City as the Blazers held on for a 116-106 victory.
A big key to last night’s game was the aggressiveness of the Blazers. I saw little to no hesitation in these players.
It was Nicolas Batum, in particular, that caught my eye. He was everywhere – whether it was crashing the boards, getting to loose balls, creating shots and taking the open ones, or getting to the rim – he was there. He had a great game. This is something the Blazers need to see in a consistent form. If he can, then he is living up to that lucrative contract the organization was forced to match in order to retain him.
I have to give credit to Terry Stotts for the way the Blazers played last night. Stotts had a game plan and the Blazers knew exactly what that game plan was. I have to say that they were well coached in that aspect.
The Blazers were aggressive on both ends of the floor, wreaking havoc on the Lakers all night. Stotts had his team playing well. Everyone knew their role. All the starters scored in double digits. J.J. Hickson and Damian Lillard both had double-doubles. Hickson’s came from 13 points and 10 rebounds and Lillard’s came from 23 points and 11 assists. Mathews played great on both ends. LaMarcus didn’t dominate, but he didn’t need to with the way the other starters showed up. As I previously stated, Batum had a great night as well.
The whole team had a tough task ahead of them in last night’s game. They had to go up against Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta (You know what? I still call him Ron Artest), Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard.
I say that Hickson had the toughest task of all by going up against Dwight. Early on, they seemed to play the Hack-a-Howard game, or as I like to call it – the ‘Wrap Dwight Tight’ game. Only one thing wrong with that is that Dwight actually made his free-throws. He went 15-19 from the charity stripe. Much improved from a day before where he went 3-14.
Even though Hickson found himself in early foul trouble, he was able to come into the second half and play with the same aggressiveness. But he did this more so on the offensive end. This, in turn, got Howard into foul trouble and changed the game. Howard had to spend a little extra time on the bench.
Covering Kobe is no easy task by any means. Matthews did a great job guarding him in the opener. He played very physical and played him tight up until the last second. You could tell Kobe was frustrated as he turned to the official after every play to whine for not getting his way. He did this more and more towards the end as Matthews turned up the heat. He helped force Kobe into 7 turnovers on the night.
Lillard had a great performance. His 23 points and 11 assists are definitely rookie of the year type numbers. Steve Nash left early in the 2nd half with a left leg injury. He obtained the injury towards the end of the 1st half and was unable to play on it in the 2nd. From that point on, it was all systems go for Lillard as he didn’t need to conserve energy for defense while now playing the likes of Steve Blake. The energy that he played with led to a 16 point lead heading into the 4th quarter. Of course the crowd continued to get into the game as well. I could hear the crowd chanting “Beat L.A.” as the third quarter was winding down. From that point on, the Blazers never looked back.
This was a fun team to watch. A team that fans will love. This is just the beginning. I sure hope they keep it going and keep building. The Blazers have so much potential to be great.