Blazers find a smooth rhythm in dismantling Pacers

PORTLAND — With the calendar turned to March and a long NBA regular season starting to wind down, the Trail Blazers’ playoff push has begun in earnest.

Coming off a strong 4-1 road trip, Portland faced a depleted, uninspiring Indiana team Wednesday in a contest that could have easily been a trap game.

The Blazers did not just avoid the trap — they leapt straight over it.

Playing smooth, efficient basketball that prized passing and defense as highly as scoring, Portland easily dismantled the lowly Pacers, 102-79, at the Rose Garden before a sold-out crowd of 20,623.

“I thought our guys (were) business right from the start,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “A 48-minute quarter. We won every quarter, and both units, I thought, played well.”

Brandon Roy scored a team-high 22 points to lead Portland (37-27), while LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. Rudy Fernandez poured in 16 points and knocked down a season-high five 3-pointers for the Blazers, as five players reached double figures in scoring.

Aldridge said Portland is starting to find its rhythm, now that Roy, Nicolas Batum and Marcus Camby have become fixtures in the starting lineup. And by having a wealth of talent finally healthy and on the court, the pressure has been lifted off the shoulders of the Blazers’ star duo.

“It definitely helps when teams can’t key in on myself and Brandon,” Aldridge said. “Now, they have to worry about Nic; they have to worry about (Jerryd) Bayless coming in; Marcus is good going off the dribble. So, now they have something in the game to
focus on, and we can kind of play one on one more.”

With the victory, Portland improved to 5-1 in its last six games. The Blazers are tied with San Antonio for seventh place in the Western Conference, and Portland holds a four-and-a-half-game lead over ninth place Memphis.

“It’s going to be a tight race,” McMillan said. “For us, our focus is on us. We’re in the driver’s seat, regardless of what they do. If we take care of our business, we’re going to be OK.”

Danny Granger topped the Pacers (20-41) with a game-high 30 points.
Portland’s bench outscored the Pacers 44-26, while the Blazers won the rebound battle 45-32. A swarming, hands on Portland defense played a major part in Indiana’s 18 turnovers.

“(Granger) had a good game,” Indiana coach Jim O’Brien said. “We turned the ball over too many times. That’s a credit to Portland’s defense. They really got under our chin and we didn’t respond to that.”

McMillan spent a portion of his pregame interview discussing the
Blazers’ disturbing tendency this season to start slow and fall behind on their home court. Portland did just that Wednesday, trailing 14-6 while Granger punished a Blazers team that initially
gave little attention to defending the perimeter.

But the Blazers soon settled in and found their mark. Aldridge and Andre Miller combined for 18 first-quarter points, and Portland held a 32-26 advantage at the end of the period.

Then the Blazers’ reserves took over. Consecutive baskets by Fernandez, Bayless and Juwan Howard pushed Portland’s lead to 45-29.

“I like what the second group did tonight,” McMillan said.

Granger never lost his touch, though, recording 21 first-half points. But Indiana’s one-man show could only do so much.
An energized, aggressive Blazers team playing with scrappy passion took a 53-41 margin into halftime.

“It’s a good sign to move the ball, set screens and (not) ball fake an open man,” McMillan said.

The third quarter was all Blazers. Roy, Aldridge, Fernandez and Batum took turns punishing and picking apart the Pacers. A 3 from the right wing by Fernandez then stretched Portland’s lead to 79-59.

“We’ve got guys who can put the ball in the basket,” McMillan said. “Once we understand our spacing … then you’re going to have open shots, and it’s up to us to knock them down.”

Portland scored at least 100 points for the sixth consecutive game, the team’s longest streak since Feb. 4-17, 1998. … The Blazers made 34 consecutive free throws dating back to Feb. 27 at Minnesota, before Aldridge missed a pair with 5:16 left in the second quarter. … Bayless finished with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and a career-high six rebounds in 17 minutes. … Martell Webster recorded six points. Since tying a career high with 28 points Feb . 16, Webster has been held to eight points or less in his last eight contests.

Best Blazer: LaMarcus Aldridge scored 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds.
Big numbers: Portland’s bench outscored Indiana 44-26, led by 16 points and a season-high five 3-pointers from Rudy Fernandez.

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