Trail Mix: Blazers 104, Bucks 97
The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 104-97 Wednesday night at the Moda Center.
Thomas Robinson, getting 15 points and 16 rebounds in his first career NBA start, was the story of the game.
It was a little bit surprising. Robinson said he was trying to not get too excited with the prospect of playing more following the Lopez injury at Tuesday’s practice.
But while Robinson was the story on Wednesday, it remains to be seen what the story will be going forward.
And for the Blazers to succeed they’ll need to have the type of performances that they got from their dynamic duo tonight. And perhaps even better ones especially with a tough Western Conference road trip coming up against elite teams and players.
Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 49 points on 20-of-37 shooting to carry the Blazers offensively.
With a road trip coming up against four tough opponents in five nights, the Blazers needed the win tonight against a precocious Bucks squad threatening for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
- Lillard was active and accurate as he has been in a few games from the 3-point line against the Bucks. Lillard hadn’t attempted more than three 3-pointers in the previous two games but launched seven tonight, making four. He also continued his excellence around the basket. The Aldridge pounded the glass, grabbing 15 rebounds, shooting efficiently despite the facts that Bucks took his post-ups out of the game. The Bucks doubled aggressively and changed their defensive looks often on Aldridge to try and keep him out of his post-ups. “They did a nice job taking LA out of his post ups, but when we got the ball to the weak side, I thought we had a lot of opportunities at the offensive end.” Aldridge and Lillard both took what the game gave them. Lillard’s shooting seemed especially important tonight. Head coach Terry Stotts had mentioned a “by-committee” approach when it comes to replacing Lopez with the rest of the back-up bigs. Others, like Robinson did tonight, will have to step up. It may not be always in scoring, but Portland’s stars are going to have to play better, too. The Blazers count on them heavily without Lopez but this isn’t an easy situation. Tonight they both stepped up when the Blazers needed them too. For Portland to succeed, everyone is going to have to do more but the stars are included in that discussion. That will be especially true when Portland heads West.
- Robinson was deservedly the story of the game, but Stotts says he hasn’t decided what he will do against San Antonio or in the future. He said that the starting line-up wasn’t set on Tuesday and for now, he’s sticking to that. “We’ll see against San Antonio,” Stotts said. I assume Duncan will probably start and Splitter may or may not start. I can’t say today that we will stay with the same line-up.” The Robinson was excellent and the Bucks were truly the perfect type of team for Robinson to play against. “I won’t say it turned out better (than expected), but when you look at his line, I wouldn’t have predicted that kind of line, but he brought the energy I expected.” Especially without Lopez, Stotts is forced to be more flexible and creative with what he does. Mixing his line-ups may be a small advantage. But the Blazers need any advantage they can get during this time without Lopez.
- There were worries in the fourth quarter that the Blazers had lost yet another key cog. Nicolas Batum took nasty fall after a dunk. Replays showed he was slightly pushed by Larry Sanders, who was assed a flagrant 1 after a replay review.
- “I knew it was going to hurt,” Batum said. “I tried to stay on the rim and the fall was pretty bad. I’m sore everywhere in my body. I landed on my ribs first, my stomach. So I couldn’t take a breath for like 5-10 seconds. I stayed on the floor cause I couldn’t breathe for 10 seconds. The trainer Geoff (Clark) just said ‘take your time, stay on the floor.’ After I get up I just try to feel where I was sore. Knee. Wrist. I hurt my wrist. It’s hurting right now so we will get some exams right now.” The fall looked like he hit his face on the ground. “I don’t remember,” he said when asked if he face hit the hardwood. “That’s what people say. But my face okay. So, that’s what the coach said. ‘Is your face okay?'”
- Batum said he wasn’t mad with Sanders’ involvement in the play. He didn’t think it was a cheap shot. “I don’t think so.” Batum clarified that it was his right wrist and left knee that were sore. Batum had a right wrist injury that caused him trouble two seasons ago. The Blazers did not update on Batum’s condition moving forward. There’s a lot of things that are hurting Batum right now. Here’s a photo of Batum in pain grabbing the foot of Damian Lillard from Associated Press photographer Don Ryan
The spot of the floor where Batum fell was the scene of another injury that looked ugly but proved to not be severe. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was playing very well in the first half, sprained his left ankle in the second quarter. It looked pretty scary and the entire Bucks team and staff got off the bench to check on him. “I want to play with my team but with everything that happened, we just have to protect me,” Antetokounmpo said after the game.
- Robinson’s game was certainly fun for the fans. “I love these fans. I love it here in Rip City. They was for some reason they got attached to me since last year. I love doing things to make them crazy.” But Robinson, now in his third season and in a contract season, knows he needs to focus on the little things and blending in. He’s great at standing out but Stotts told him before the game to blend in. “I did what I do best. I was effective without having the ball. I did that, I blended right in. There’s still some things that I don’t do right now so I have to go back and make sure I clean those up so I don’t put worries in coach’s mind.” Robinson’s free-throws became a focus late in the game but it’s more the plays, or making quicker reads in Portland’s offense, that he needs to work on most. “If free-throws is my worst concern, then I got a bright future,” he said.
- Robinson is now the third different Blazers to come off the bench and start this season along with Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard. It’s not exactly Spurs-esque but it shows growth in the depth of Portland’s team. Sure, the Bucks aren’t great but they take teams out of their comfort zone and work hard on defense. Portland has flexed more depth this season, mostly because its had to. “It’s not only five, seven guys like people say,” Nicolas Batum said. “We got 15 guys that can play. Like Allen Crabbe when I got hurt. He step in and play. Like Thomas tonight. I mean those guys keep even though they don’t really play or get playing time, they keep practicing because they know when their name going to be called. They got to be ready. AC show it. Thomas Robinson show it. Thomas, the coach call his name, he’s ready. Everytime he’s ready.”
- Here is where you see the influence of having a player like Earl Watson on last year’s squad on Portland’s young players. Watson played sparingly and set an example for Portland’s young players to stay ready. Last year, the Blazers were fortunate to have good health for most of the season. After seeing an example hard work of the Blazers’ younger players have produced winning results.
- But while the spot starts has been a net positive for the Blazers this season, the Spurs are one to turn nice stories into nightmares. They just lost a 3OT thriller against the Grizzlies Wednesday and will be hungry for a win. Aside from the defending champs, here are some of the players the Blazers have to face in their next four games: Anthony Davis, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant. The performance of Portland’s young players has been a positive so far. But they are facing their toughest stretch of road games so far this season. With Lopez, this would have been extremely tough. Lillard knows the Blazers can’t go halfway with the stakes being as high as they are in an air-tight Western Conference. “We’re all there in that bunch together,” Lillard said. “So we got to be ready to go out and fight. We got to really lock into this trip and go out and compete. We can’t be half way doing, half stepping into games. We have to go out there and compete. We have to go out there and prove it. We have to prove we are a 20-6 team and not just expect to win games.” A string of losses could see the Blazers slip into the bottom half of the playoff picture. And with the Oklahoma City Thunder charging and looking seemingly unbeatable their 7.5 game division lead would look more reachable for Durant, Westbrook and co.