It's hard to overstate how important it is to get a good start on a long road trip. A few weeks ago, a win going away in Orlando set the Trail Blazers up for what Nate McMillan has described as one of the best road trips of his tenure as Portland head coach. And now today, the Blazers, lead by the no-longer-slumping LaMarcus Aldridge, go into the Palace at Auburn Hills and get a 96-85 win against the Pistons to start this five-game east coast swing off right. Talk about your huge wins.
Aldridge took it to Rasheed Wallace, consider by many to be Aldridge's elder doppelganger, early and often, scoring 13 of his 27 points in the first quarter (the Pistons as a team only score 13 in the first). It's the third-consecutive game that the Blazers have come out and built a double-digit lead in the first period, and you can see how loose they play when they have success early.
The Pistons first unit was as bad (a combined -83) as the second unit was good. Guys like Rodney Stuckey and Amir Johnson got Detroit back into the game, but the Blazers, despite their youth, never panicked. They kept grinding it out and eventually went on to win by 11.
Brandon Roy, who continues to prove himself as one of the up and coming superstars in the NBA, finished with 19 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds and described the effort better than I ever could.
Said Roy: “It was a good win for us. We’ve really struggled on the road against good teams this year but tonight we had a really good focus and we’re able to close the game. Even when they made a run to get the game close, we did a good job of staying together and getting what we wanted offensively. I think that is a sign of us maturing offensively, not a lot yet, but we are getting better."
And you can't talk about this game without mentioning Greg Oden. G.O. pulled down 8 rebounds in that all-important first quarter, eventually finishing with a career-high 13 boards and 11 points for another double-double. But more importantly, Oden finished the game +26, which was the second best +/- of all players behind Nic Batum. Batum also finished up a great effort with 7 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in over 30 minutes, which is double his minutes per game average.
I've talked a lot during the podcasts about the Blazers winning the games they should win, but not yet having won the games that they shouldn't. Despite the recent success we've had in Detroit (save the beating they put on us in their house last season) I would not have penciled this game in as a win. But they got it, and to me, that's tangible proof that this team is well on their way to becoming an elite NBA squad.
By the way, that's four in a row.