The Blazers regular season opener showed us all the good and the bad that is possible with the current squad. There were outbursts of hot-shooting, fast-breaking and that “scrappy” defense that coach McMillan loves to rave about. There were also periods of inconsistency, missed wide-open shots, untimely turnovers and poor late-game freethrow shooting. What this made for was a game that felt sloppy at times and yet was led wire to wire by the Blazers with a lot of scares along the way, particularly when the Sixers started flinging in threes with rapid pace in the closing minutes of the game. Still the Blazers held on for the victory and left themselves with some positives and room to improve.
LaMarcus had his stroke going early before gassing in the fourth period. If he was in mid-season form this is an easy 35 points and 12 boards, despite his 4th quarts wind issues he ended up with 25/7. Ray Felton also had a strong game despite some late-game miscues, including missed foul shots and a couple of turnovers, ending up with 6 boards, 8 assists and 12 points. Crawford and Batum helped off the bench with 12 and 10 points respectively.
Being at the game the unease some of the crowd had with Jamal’s game, and their unfamiliarity with how he plays was evident. In the early going his shots weren’t falling at all, but then he got hot, contributing to a 10 point run and upping his FG% to 50. Fans will need to get used to this as he is is a streaky shooter. You’ll still want him with the ball in his hands and a chance to win on the final shot; he has ice in his veins at those moments. Nicolas looked tentative and frustrated with the officiating, though he contributed late in the game and seemed to turn things around. I’m not sure if he is adjusting well to being a bench player after leading the French Team.
The two saviors of the game came in the obvious, Gerald Wallace, who was all over the place tonight with energy and “scrap” and the less obvious in Marcus Camby who clogged up the middle with solid defense, 13 boards and 6 assists, two of which were those patented alley-oops to LaMarcus. Wallace hustled his way to 21 points on 8-13 shooting and 9 rebounds (his double-double stolen away by teammate Camby). McMillan had said he would let Gerald loose and he kept good on his promise. Gerald roams in the offense picking his spots without disrupting the flow, and it worked well.
Tonight the Blazers will take on Sacramento, who are fresh off a win against the Lakers (now 0-2, a sweet sound to the ears of those in the Rip City). Sacramento is playing with toughness and energy, but they don’t have enough to keep up with the Trailblazers if they can get out in transition and run. If the Blazers play as they did against Philadelphia it could be a bit of a nail-biter, but if they play up to their potential, this is a win by a comfortable margin.