It's an Important Question for the Last Two Dudes on Earth!
We're LIVE at the RoseModaGardenCenter, where the home team has proven they're not merely a figment of this fair city's Rose-colored imagination.
Everyone is rushing to call the Blazers "for real" (or "fo reeeeeeal" when you're this pumped) now that Portland has stormed out to the best record in the Western Conference nearly 1/4 of the way through the season. And why not? They're only topping power rankings, impressing vaunted pundits (twice) and generally making this arena a fun place to watch competitive sports again.
But now that everyone's paying attention, can Rip City stay red-hot and it rollin'?
They'll have a fine chance to do so tonight against a young Utah team that already trails first-place Portland by 12.5 games out West. The Jazz have four wins this year and haven't exactly shot the lights out: They're last in the conference in scoring and worst in the Association in road point-gathering (technical term). Exposed by a rough-and-tumble schedule of late, Utah appears to be easy pickings for an upstart Portland squad that's stood up to the likes of San Antonio, Golden State, Indiana and—most recently—Oklahoma City.
Hey, the Blazers are good again! And it's too frigid to go outside! So go ahead and snuggle up to the warmth of your laptop and click past the jump for all the action—on and off the
Utah (4-16)—Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward on guard. Richard Jefferson and Derrick Favors up front. Enes Kanter at center.
On the bench: John Lucas III, Diante Garrett, Alec Burks, Andris Biedrins, Ian Clark, Brandon Rush, Rudy Gobert, Mike Harris, Jeremy Evans.
Portland (16-3)—Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews on guard. Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge up front. Robin Lopez at center.
On the bench: Dorrell Wright, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, Earl Watson, Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, Allen Crabbe, Mo Williams and Thomas Robinson.
PREGAME: Aldridge was on the floor when I walked in 50 minutes before the tip, shooting jumpers, spinning and generally looking particularly adept at being tall. He's getting MVP chatter—AND AGAIN, why not? The seventh-year (old-man sigh) center is averaging career highs in points (23.5) and rebounds (9.7) and has been in a "phenomenal groove" especially of late—shooting nearly 60% in the last three games.
A moment of silence before the anthem for Nelson Mandela as the fans file in. A bit of a late-arriving crowd, which is understandable because roads that once had snow on them might still be slippery. Or something.
The arena five minutes before tip:
11:45—We're underway, which is to say Utah has turned it over on its first possession.
10:34—Lillard with two 3-pointers out the gate. Both open looks, both nothing but net. Blazers up 6-3.
9:01—And now Lillard has all eight of his team's points. This time he drives the lane and goes left-handed. On the other end, rookie Burke hits a confident jumper.
8:10—After Hayward banks one in, Portland works the offense through Aldridge. He hits that fading, this-is-pretty-much-impossible-to-guard shot and Portland leads by two.
7:06—Jazz will take a timeout after Batum hits from 3. Portland on a 7-0 run and Utah coach Tyrone Corbin wants to talk it over.
5:53—Lopez jams one home after Matthews buries a 3 and all five Blazer starters are in the scoring book. Blazers on a 12-0 run and they're spreading the love.
4:39—Mo Williams will come on for Lillard, and the former gets a nice ovation from the crowd. And just like that, Batum lobs one from out-of-bounds to Matthews, who alley-lays it in and draws a foul. Matthews misses the throw, but Portland leads 26-14.
3:51—Batum follows a Matthews miss with a put-back and everyone in a Blazers uniform is pretty much ballin' out of control right now. A near-perfect start.
3:06—Right on cue, Freeland backs down Rush and hits a little jump hook in the lane, because of course he does. Blazers are only shooting 70% from the field. They lead 30-16 and will take a timeout.
2:14—Williams with a nifty floater in the lane one a feed from Lillard. This one feeling like a mismatch.
0:00—Utah misses a 3 and Portland goes on the break. Williams finds Lillard, who spots up on the wing and banks in a 3 right in front of the Utah bench. Yeah, I'd say things are going well for the Blazers. Portland leads 39-22 and this one has all the makings of a real laugher.
From Blazers PR: Portland's 39 points and 17-point margin (39-22) are both new season highs for the first quarter. Lillard leads the way with 13 points.
11:40—Wright comes in and hits a 3. Blazers lead by 20. They can do no wrong.
10:04—Jazz turn it over for the sixth time and Lillard makes 'em pay right away. He hits another 3 and Portland leads 45-26.
9:10—Burks leads the break and takes it strong, but Freeland goes up stronger and blocks it off the glass. It's called goaltending and Burks has nine straight for Utah.
8:23—Timeout on the floor after another 3-pointer by Portland—from Wright. Blazers lead 48-33 and I hope everyone hear likes McMuffins (in theory, anyway).
7:36—Burks with another lay-in and the second-year guard from Colorado looks like he means business. A possession later, Garrett shows the same with a 3-pointer right in front of Portland's bench. Utah cuts the lead to 10.
7:05—The Jazz showing some life! Kanter with a 10-footer and suddenly Utah is on a 16-2 run and Portland's lead is down to single digits at 48-40. Stotts doesn't like it, and the Blazers take a timeout.
6:46—Williams comes out of the timeout like a veteran and hits a veteran jumper like a veteran.
5:34—Hayward with a jumper from the baseline and suddenly Utah can't miss. They started slow, but are now shooting 57%. Portland still leads, 52-44.
5:07—Williams with a local-Emmy-esque performance to draw a charge on Kanter. That's a veteran for ya.
4:09—Evans drives and Williams fouls him hard. That should be a flagrant—he wasn't really making a play on the ball (veteran move?). Indeed, it's a Flagrant 1. Evans hits both to pull the Jazz within single digits again, 54-46.
2:45—Lillard hits his fifth 3-pointer of the night. Hey guys, this kid might be pretty good! Burks returns the favor with a trey of his own on the other end and Utah will take a timeout. Blazers lead 59-50, but this one is much more of a game than it appeared to be in the first quarter.
2:13—Matthews backs Burks down and draws a foul. A very animated Corbin shows his disapproval on the sideline: He looked like Free Throw Guy stomping in anger. Matthews hits both and Portland is re-building its lead.
0:33—Burke with a double-clutch jumper from the elbow with Batum all over him. That's why he was the college player of the year last season.
0:20—Matthews answers with a 3-pointer to put Portland back up by double digits.
HALFTIME: Portland leads 67-56. Lillard leads all scorers with 21 points, while Matthews joins him in double-digits for the Blazers with 10. Burks has 13 points to pace the Jazz, who persevered through a near-perfect Portland start to pull the game within respectability. Both teams are shooting well: Portland at 60.5% and Utah at 54.5%.
SECOND HALF: Blazers will have it to start...and we're back at it.
11:46—Aldridge to Batum to Aldridge to Batum and the Frenchman finishes on the baseline. Nice give-and-go there by Portland out of the gates.
10:29—Batum hits the Blazers' second 3 of the half and they lead 75-56. Portland only shooting 80% from long range tonight. Only.
9:48—Now Lopez flips one in. Shades of the first half here as Portland takes its biggest lead of the game with a 10-0 run to start the third. Blazers up 77-56 and Corbin wants to talk it over.
7:13—Lopez hits another one in the lane on a dish from Lillard. Blazers looking like they might want to put this one away early. Aldridge then with a jumper to give himself a double-double. On the next possession, it's Matthews hitting a shorty. Blazers up 83-57. And this could get ugly.
6:32—Aldridge drives on Burks and scores it, plus the foul. He converts the free throw amid chants of "MVP!" Blazers up 86-59.
5:51—Batum with a step-back 3 from the corner to put Portland up 30.
4:32—Aldridge draws a foul on Evans, his fourth. LA hits both free throws and Portland leads 93-61.
3:59—Matthews drives the lane and scores and that'll bring another timeout from Utah. Portland leads 95-61 and I'm wondering if the fans here should get Big Mac coupons if the home team reaches 100 in the third quarter.
1:48—Burkes goes up for a tomahawk dunk over Aldridge but gets rim-checked. Blazers on the break and Matthews drills a 3 to put Portland up 102-65.
0:00—Blazers with a 40-point quarter capped a fallaway 3 by Williams and an Aldridge tip-in with two seconds left. Portland leads 107-69. Next!
FOURTH QUARTER: Blazers emptying the bench. Hello, Mr. Leonard. You know how I know the Blazers are much better this season? Because Leonard is only playing in situations like this.
10:56—Crabbe comes on for Wright. Blazers can go scoreless in this quarter and probably still win.
9:33—Robinson brings it inside and banks one home. Nice strong move from the big Kansan. Blazers up 109-73.
8:55—Timeout on the floor, delaying the inevitable.
7:53—Robinson with a big ol' dunk there. Head nearly hit the rim on that one with his old-school-Mike-Tyson haircut.
7:02—Crabbe with another Blazers 3, and that ties a franchise record for long-range hits (16). Blazers up 117-78.
6:19—Barton with a fadeaway and Portland leads by 41. Yeah, this was totally a trap game.
5:01—Crabbe with another 3. Franchise record 17th for Portland. Well then.
3:50—Barton with a lovely no-look dish to Crabbe, but he can't finish. Leonard with the rebound and draws a foul. He hits both and Portland leads 126-87.
1:50—Utah takes a timeout as a pass goes through Gobert's legs. Blazers lead 130-90 and the fans are streaming to the exits.
1:00—Golbert with a two-handed dunk as the Blazers third-stringers have shifted into a lower gear here.
FINAL: Portland wins 130-98. Jazz with a nice little run at the end of the game TO LOSE BY 32. The Blazers win their fourth straight and this one was no contest. Burks leads the Jazz with 16 points, followed 10 each from Hayward, Evans, Lucas and Harris.
But this one was all Portland. Matthews ends up leading Portland with 24 points, followed by Lillard's 21 and Aldridge's 20. Batum and Robinson each added 13.
Stotts talked about the Blazers' record-setting 3-point shooting at his postgame presser: "We're good shooters," he said. "You don't expect to shoot that well, obviously...when those guys are taking open 3s, there's a good chance they'll go in."
He added that he liked his team's "urgency" and smooth transitioning from offense to defense.
"It's the first time we put a team away relatively early, but it's nice to do that once in a while," he said.
He added it was nice to sit some regular starters for the second half of a back-to-back. Speaking of, the Blazers host the Mavs tomorrow night—and I'll be here, same blog-time, same blog...uh...address. Tip off's at 7 p.m. See you then.