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BLAZERS GRADED: Phoenix 118, Portland 113

Thursday, January 22, 2015


For one of the rare instances this season, Nicolas Batum had it going. He was not only asserting himself on offense, but making three's. On his way to a season-high 27 points (his most since January of 2013), the Frenchman drilled 6-of-8 tries from beyond the arc. 

Wednesday was shaping up to be his best performance of the year, and Blazer fans were salivating, hoping it signaled that Batum was finally ready to break out of what's been a season-long slump.

Then, with :15 seconds remaining in regulation and the Blazers down two, Batum stepped to the free throw line. He made the first.

And bricked the second.

Though the Blazers would have another chance (in which Steve Blake sailed the inbound pass and Damian Lillard landed out of bounds) the loss will likely hang over Batum, who has struggled with confidence. For most everything he did well Wednesday, he choked it all away at the line.

It was heartbreaking loss for Portland, who fell in a gigantic hole early. During a span of the first and second quarters, the Suns outscored the Blazers a staggering 32-to-4. After trailing by as many as 25, Portland battled back, and even took a few small leads in the game's final minutes. 

Indeed, with momentum at their backs, the Blazers had their chances. Rather than being resoundingly beaten down the stretch, the Blazers instead allowed victory to slip through their own fingers.

Portland were without LaMarcus Aldridge, who is nursing an injured left thumb. (Although he has undergone one MRI, it was inconclusive, and another has been scheduled. No further word has been given as to the severity of the injury.)

In Aldridge's absence, Wednesday's was a game of the guards, and Phoenix's had their way. Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green ran roughshod, around and over the Blazers, scoring at will. Led by Bledsoe (33 points) and Thomas (27) Phoenix's backcourt foursome scored 88 of their 118 points.

The Suns' bench outscored the Blazers' second unit 54-13.

And while Batum and the Blazers took an emotional blow, fumbling away what would've been their best comeback of the year--especially considering they were playing without Aldridge--there exists a more tangible effect: Portland's core rotation logged a lot of minutes, and Wednesday's was the first game of a back-to-back. Following the loss, the Blazers got back on the plane to fly to Portland--where the Celtics are waiting.


Starting in place of Aldridge, Wright played big minutes (35) and made the most of them. He scored 15 points, nailed 3-of-6 from downtown, dished five assists, grabbed three boards and forced two steals. Certainly more rebounds from the power forward spot would be nice, but it's just not Wright's game.

This would've been an 'A' grade all the way had Batum made the game-tying free throw. Instead, he's likely sulking, dwelling on it, rather than feeling unshackled and ready to go. Even if he had, though, one game does not reverse a season-long trend of atrocious shooting. Despite scoring 27 points, grabbing 10 boards and dishing five assists, Wedenday, Batum still has plenty to prove going forward. And, in his comments to the Oregonian's Joe Freeman, it sounds like he knows it:


Kaman, with 14 points and six boards, was fine, though he played only 21 minutes. One one hand it's good to see that he's not going to be ground to the bone, being overworked during Aldridge's absence. On the other, one wishes he could just do more. 

Despite scoring 22 points, this was one of Lillard's worst outings of the season. Sure, he had a stretch in the fourth quarter where he scored seven-straight points and put the Blazers back in it. But he also missed a really good look at a corner three that would've likely put the Blazers over the top. Over the last three games, Lillard's been in a bit of a shooting slump, making just 21-of-67 tries from the field (31%). He's been worse from three, making just 7-of-29 (24%). On Wednesday, aside from being scored on at will, he also gave up five turnovers.

The Suns were good about sticking to Matthews like glue on the three-point line, limiting him to just five attempts (of which he made two). Still, he did damage on the post, finishing with 22 points to go along with six rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Essentially guaranteed more minutes with Aldridge out, Robinson performed admirably, hustling, playing defense and generally juicing up the Blazers' energy. He didn't shoot a lot, which is fine--they need more as a rebounder, defender, and stout interior presence. But what he did shoot, he made. Robinson made all three of his attempts, Wednesday, finishing with six points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes. Performances such as these should earn him more.




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