What a difference a game makes. The Blazers brought it against long time rivals the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night at the Rose Garden, ending a six-game losing streak with a convincing 113-103 victory.
Led by Juan Dixon’s 27 points and six assists, Portland made up for lost time and proved that they can compete with anybody in the NBA when they want to. Trading in selfishness and wishful thinking for teamwork and tenacity, the Blazers were on fire from the opening tip. Shutting down everyone on the Lakers besides Kobe Bryant (41 points), Portland combined intense defense with a well-executed offense, bringing a smile to the face of head coach Nate McMillan.
“You see your team play one way, like we did the other night against Miami, and then you see what we’re capable of doing,” McMillan said. “We outplayed that team tonight. We out-hustled them.”
The Blazers had five different players reach double figures in scoring. Along with Dixon’s 27, Ruben Patterson had 21, Zach Randolph contributed 17 with 14 boards, Steve Blake came up with 19 and nine assists and Theo Ratliff had 10 points. Portland also out rebounded Los Angeles 42 to 33 and won the assist battle 21 to 19.
“I thought our shot selection was better tonight,” McMillan said. “We moved the ball around well. We set screens and allowed the shooter to have good, open looks at the basket.”
McMillan’s right. For the first time in over two weeks, Portland played McMillan-ball.
The Blazers fought hard on defense, denying Bryant both in the paint and from downtown (Kobe was only 3 of 13 from beyond the arc). Randolph had 10 rebounds alone in the first half. And the center-tandem of Ratliff and Joel Pryzbilla contested every inside shot that they could get in the way of.
On the offensive end, Portland often looked like a mirror image of the San Antonio Spurs. The Blazers used pinpoint passing, with the ball sometimes touching five different sets of hands before it made it to the basket. This allowed the Blazers to keep the Lakers off-balance and prevented Los Angeles from ever fully opening up its running game.
With the Blazers record now at 11-24 on the season and a winnable home game against the Orlando Magic on Friday, McMillan both wants and needs to see more of the same.
“We’ve had other good games this season,” he said. “But yeah, this might have been our best one. We needed to show what was really inside of us. We talked about it: do we really care about the team, the game, the fans? We needed to come out and prove it. And tonight, we did.”