Road Takes: Blazers rise to Mile High occasion

Other Columbian obligations caused us to watch the game late tonight. 

After a disappointing showing in the opener where it seemed like all of the progress in preseason and the defense the Trail Blazers were so proud of was meaningless, Portland bounced back.

Tonight the Trail Blazers showed the type of team they can be when things are clicking. They can be very good on offense and they got stops frequently to win by 15 points in a place the Trail Blazers have lost 18 out of their last 19 games. It was their first win there since December of 2007.

The Blazers did it together tonight.

The Blazers got Nicolas Batum going early on and even though he missed his first shot, his aggression is usually a good sign as he tends to drift in games. As Batum got aggressive, he started hitting from deep and used his off-the-ball abilities, handoffs and screens for jumpers.

He scored 21 points in the first half and as Aldridge was Aldridge and Lillard was Lillard, the Blazers took a 14-point lead into halftime.

It helped the Blazers that the Nuggets didn’t show a lot of discipline on defense. They did play good defense on opening night, but with Portland’s constant motion with Stotts’ flow offense, Denver players found themselves out of position often.

Portland showed the type of team they can be by winning with their defense. Behind Batum, they shot 61 percent from three but they won this game because they held the Nuggets to 36 percent shooting.

Denver cannot spread the floor in the same way that the Suns did and Portland was really able to make things tough for Denver when they got in the paint.

It also helped matters that one night after the Suns shot over 50 percent from midrange, the Nuggets were 5 of 24 (20.8%) from midrange, according to

What really helped separate the Blazers from the Nuggets aside from Batum’s hot start as well as spurts of excellence from Lillard, Matthews and Aldridge, was the great play of their bench units.

In particular, Joel Freeland deserves a lot of credit. The Blazers didn’t fall off at all when Freeland came in. In fact, the two best line-ups used in the game, as far as +/-,  were ones featuring Freeland.

Freeland, Aldridge, Batum, Matthews, Lillard: +/- of +11 in six minutes

Freeland, Aldridge, Batum, Mo Williams, Lillard: +/- of +5 in five minutes. 

Freeland was everything the Blazers needed and something they’ve missed on their bench. He was doing all of the dirty work he pledged he would do and doing a great job of contesting shots at the rim including a great block on The Manimal.

Stotts has talked about how serious he is as far as wanting to be a defensive team and he’s walking the walk by playing Freeland as his back-up center.

Freeland was 1 of 7 on the night and the best line-ups were still ones with him at center.

Denver certainly misses the defensive presence of Andre Iguodala as well as the active Corey Brewer as well as injured players Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.

But on the perimeter in particular, none of the Blazers perimeter players struggled finding a rhythm. Randy Foye and Nate Robinson won’t quite strike fear into the eyes of an opposing offense quite like the long arms and athleticism of Iggy and Brewer, no matter how much the former pair can score.

Wesley Matthews caught fire in the second half as he’s done many times before and Portland was put together for most of the game. Denver cut the lead down to seven but the Blazers got stops and a big shots from Matthews and a couple from Aldridge to put the game away.

After Wednesday’s defensive debacle and the lack of help for Aldridge and Lillard, Portland played a team game with everyone on the team playing their part, on both ends, from the stars to the supporting cast.

Up next for the Blazers, it’s the team that refuses to change with the hands of time, the timeless San Antonio Spurs.


-One night after Robin Lopez logged 34 minutes, he and Freeland almost split the center minutes evenly. Keep an eye on that.

-Dorell Wright had the best play so far this season with this put-back jam

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for The Columbian. He's a graduate of the Allen School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in addition earning a degree in Spanish. He's covered the NBA for four seasons. You can also occasionally find his work on's NBA section for their TrueCities series. He also fist-bumped with Kanye West once. Follow @BlazerBanter on twitter for more Blazers and NBA news.

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