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Without Aldridge, Trail Blazers Rally For 4th Straight Win

12/20/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    Without their All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the Trail Blazers had to make due. In a total team effort, the Trail Blazers (12-12) were able to beat the Denver Nuggets (14-13) 101-93. Nicolas Batum led the Trail Blazers with 22 points as well as six rebounds and three assists. JJ Hickson was a monster for the Trail Blazers finishing with 18 points and 18 rebounds. The Trail Blazers' victory gives them a four-game winning streak, their longest of the season and their longest since March of 2011.

    The Trail Blazers have faced adversity multiple times throughout this home stand. After a rough loss against the Kings at home where they lost both Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews to injury, the Trail Blazers have rattled off four straight wins despite missing a starter or two in all of those games (I'm not counting Wesley Matthews' 3:30 against New Orleans).

    "We can enjoy it until Saturday," said Stotts about the four game winning streak.

    Stotts talked about how pleased he has been with the different Trail Blazers stepping up. The Trail Blazers confidence has started to grow and one reporter asked Damian Lillard if the Trail Blazers are starting to develop more of a swagger over the past few games.

    "Yeah, I think we are because we've had some adversity. Two of our best players sat out a few games, our best player sat out today and we've still been able to find ways to win games," Lillard said. "I think guys are just starting to believe."

    To talk about how the last few games have gone, with the Trail Blazers, there is no definitive answer. Tonight, the Trail Blazers shot 36 percent, allowed 74 points in the paint and not only did they win the game by eight, they were in control from the opening tip. Much of that had to do with the play of JJ Hickson, who had a tough match-up against Kenneth Faried, which Hickson dominated on his way to a sixth consecutive double-double.

    "Just playing hard and trying to stay consistent. Like I've been saying all year, that's something I've been working on throughout my whole career and it's finally paying off," Hickson said on his double-double streak.

    Kenneth Faried, who had some choice comments about the Trail Blazers leading into this game had a relatively pedestrian performance with six points  and eight rebounds while going three of 10 from the field.

    The game was not without it's drama. The Trail Blazers were in control for much of the game and despite the fact that the Nuggets had a historically bad three-point shooting night (0-22 an NBA record for most attempts without a make), they were still in the game in the fourth quarter as they cut the lead the Trail Blazer lead to as low as three. In addition to that, the Nuggets only made one field goal outside of the paint, an NBA record.

    The Trail Blazers got big contributions from their bench again when they needed it. For the third consecutive game, Luke Babbitt scored in double figures off the bench with 14 points and he was also big on the glass for the Trail Blazers snagging eight rebounds before fouling out after playing 27 minutes. Meyers Leonard had seven points off the bench and Ronnie Price brought energy and a sequence where he got a steal and took the ball coast-to-coast for a dunk. That steal-to-dunk sequence happened after Price assisted on a three.

    Lillard said that the injures, haven't been "a blessing in disguise," but that it has helped some of Portland's other players assert themselves.  

    "It gave us a chance to grow. Luke coming in and making shots, rebounding the ball, he's been big for us since Charlotte," Lillard said.

    With Matthews (four threes) and Batum (five threes) back in the line-up together and Babbitt (four threes) being given more time, the Trail Blazers were getting open threes and made a season-high of 14. Matthews helped the Trail Blazers get started early with 10 points in the first quarter and finished with 20 points.

    The Trail Blazers were able to hold their own in a fast-paced game against a team that plays at one of fastest pace's in the league (fifth in pace). The percentages and the record that was broken by the Nuggets would give the impression the game lacked excitement. It may have been confusing at times, but it didn't lack entertainment value.

    "When you look at the shot attempts-98 and 92, it was a high possession game. I thought there was a lot of energy on the court," Stotts said. "We didn't shoot the ball well, but I didn't think offensively we were as bad as our shooting percentage."

    In the post game, Stotts again reiterated that the Trail Blazers are a team that aren't defined by box scores and statistics. If the two wins that bookend this winning streak can tell you anything, with the Trail Blazers being on both sides of record setting three-point incompetence and winning both times, it's that this team will never be one where you can look at a stat sheet and say, "I've got it!"

    They play hard, they fight, they're athletic and they are finding ways to win, even if those ways are different.

    "Like I always said about Gary Payton or Jason Kidd, they found ways to win games, whether, it was a rebound, a shot, an assist, a steal, a deflection, a loose ball, whatever it was. Stats don't matter most of the time, it's how we play," Stotts said.

    Tonight, they played well from start to finish. After playing what was likely their most complete game a week ago against the Spurs, they did played a full 48 minutes tonight, injured All-Star and all.

    Give the first and second half highlights from Wheels a listen.

    The Trail Blazers next game is against Phoenix on Saturday at 7PM as they will be trying for their fifth straight win. That game will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

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