A few games ago, after a frustrating loss to the Lakers, Coach McMillan snapped at me a bit when I tried to gauge his frustration. Once the press had filed out, I told him, “it’s not like I’m trying to get your goat—it’s just that these past few games really have been emotional.”
“I know man,” he said. McMillan tapped me on the stomach and walked out. Tonight’s game, a 108-101 Portland victory in Phoenix, was every bit as emotional as the rest. By all accounts today was kind of like that day as well. Word is that Kevin Pritchard was approached earlier by members of the team who asked that he not make any trades.
Last night I wrote that the Blazers needed a new perscription—something to enhance their energy, mood and confidence. No one expected they would find it Phoenix, a place they’d lost their previous eight straight games. The elixir was one of the following (and perhaps a bit a little bit of both):
Either Portland, after facing two lock-down teams, were unshackled by the Suns atrocious defense. Or, the admittedly tired Blazers team found extra energy and motivation in proving to Kevin Pritchard that he really doesn’t need to make a trade.
Whatever the cause, the effect is a jubilant Blazers squad—one who enters the All-Star break having played the most games of any NBA team. Yet on the second night of back-to-backs, Portland is a staggering 10 and 3.
Instead of falling behind early, as the Blazers have been wont to do lately, the Blazers instead threw Phoenix into a 10-2 first quarter hole. From there on out it was all Portland, who shot a whopping 58% from the floor.
In the final seconds of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, Phoenix went on a 15-0 run and whittled a 22 point deficit down to seven. The Blazers responded with eight straight points on consecutive threes from Steve Blake and Nicolas Batum, and a fast-break lay-in by Dante Cunningham.
It was just one of the many plays that place Wednesday’s performance among the best of Cunningham’s short career. In just 21 minutes the rookie had 14 points on six of seven shooting, plus solid defense, a terrific block, and a dunk that belonged on SportsCenter’s Top Plays. But you can see it right here:
Despite laying eggs since the beginning of February, Steve Blake got the start, presumably to guard Steve Nash. But it was to be Blake’s night on the other end—he scored a season-high 20 while still managing to dish out 12 assists. This was Blake’s highest point total since March 23rd of last year.
Both Andre Miller (20 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge(22 points), had fine games as well, and once again Aldridge found himself the center of defensive attention in the final quarter. The starting lineup, who all scored in double figures, was rounded out by Martell Webster and Juwan Howard, who each finished with 10 each.
And while Webster and Blake, who’ve both been particularly horrible in the last two games, found their stroke, Rudy Fernandez continues to fail (and I don’t mean flop, although surely he’s doing that too) on offense. Fernandez played a season low 6:31 and missed his only shot attempt, yet still managed two turnovers.
So with the exception of Fernandez, the Blazer players all manage to enter the All-Star break with a much needed win and a great final impression in the mind of Pritchard, who’ll no doubt be fielding a number of calls in the coming eight days (the trade deadline is February 18th). And even though Rudy wet the bed against the Suns, something tells me he too will be back in Portland next week.