Originally written November 04, 2012 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
Fear The Beard? Not PDX The Portland Trail Blazers have impressed early in the 2012-13 season, and that trend was no different on the road against the Houston Rockets. Both teams are now 2-1 on the season, but only the Blazers escaped Saturday night with a hard-fought victory. The final score was 95-85 in Portland’s favor, and there were a handful of key elements to the victory that the team must implement as their road trip continues against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. Matthews had a clutch defensive play against Harden last night. Photo: AP Defense The Blazers played their first exemplary defensive game on Saturday, as they held the Rockets to just 85 points after they’d averaged 107 per game early in the year. Portland recorded eight blocks in the victory, which was outstanding compared to the 2.5 per-game-averaged they’d posted in the first two games. James Harden entered the game averaging a league-high 41 points per contest, and while the 24 points he scored against Portland is nothing to scoff at, the team’s defensive effort is what kept him so far below his early-season average. Nicolas Batum had his first patented chase-down block of the season against Harden, and Wesley Matthews made yet another clutch defense play with his quick hands. Starting Lineup You always want to rest your starters whenever you can afford to do so, but in an overtime battle against a potential playoff squad, sometimes you’re just not given that chance. J.J. Hickson played the fewest minutes of any starter with 36, but the rest of the crew was on the floor for 40-plus minutes throughout Saturday night’s contest. Nicolas Batum played the most minutes of anybody on the team with 45, while nobody else in the starting unit played less than 42. This starting lineup is proving to be as exciting as it gets in the NBA, but despite their youth, you have to wonder how far into the year they’ll be able to handle playing so many minutes per game. The bench was once again a non-factor for the Blazers, so if the team is hoping to rest its starters as the season progresses, they must see more production from the reserves moving forward. All-Star Performance After having a relatively quiet season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, LaMarcus Aldridge broke out against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, and then yet again on Saturday against the Rockets. The big man finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, all while contributing on the defensive end with two blocks. LaMarcus Aldridge’s performance is the reasonDamian Lillard was able to take advantage late, as the Rockets were forced to double-team the All-Star instead of focusing on perimeter defense down the stretch. Aldridge is the leader of this team, and no matter how much attention Damian Lillard, or anybody else on the roster gets, he will remain the go-to option the entire season. Lillard showed poise during Saturday night’s road contest against the Rockets. Photo: Russ Isabella/US PRESSWIRE Damian Lillard’s Poise Although it’s a small sample size to say the least, Lillard’s historic start to his NBA career has to alleviate the concerns of most who didn’t believe in the rookie from Weber State. Lillard played yet another complete game en route to the Blazers’ road victory, as he recorded 20 points, nine assists and six rebounds. He also showed his long-range shot on 3-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. If there’s anything to critique the youngster on so far, it’s that he did turn the ball over three times against the Rockets—but so did half of the other four starters—and his shot selection isn’t always the best when he gets too excited. That being said, Lillard has continued to enter the history books. With this performance, he became the first player since Grant Hill in 1994 to score 20 points in his first three contests, as well as just the second player ever to post at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first three career games—Oscar Robertson is the only other player to do so. Clutch Play The Blazers first overtime game of the season was a successful one, and it had everything to do with their ability to simply outplay the Rockets in the final five minutes of the contest. Portland held Houston to just four points in the overtime period, and the young players on the team took advantage from the tip off. Lillard showed that he has the clutch gene inside of him, as he scored or assisted on all 14 points in the extra period. The rookie had two big three’s to extend the lead, and the emotion he showed late in the game is something you love to see if you’re a fan watching from afar. There’s no denying that this is a young team, but their desire to win is apparent when they put together a performance like this one. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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