LaMarcus Aldridge dropped 27 points on former mentor Kevin Garnett and Wesley Mathews added 24 more as the Portland Trail Blazers made the gimpy Nets feel their age and secured their seventh straight win. The Trail Blazers, now 9-2, are the NBA’s biggest surprise this season beginning the year with their franchise’s best record since 1999.
The Trail Blazers are only a half of a game behind the perennial favorites, San Antonio and Indiana, for the best record in the entire NBA. However, despite their fast start many are questioning the sustainability of the Trail Blazers.
The biggest question mark for the Trail Blazers right now concerns their schedule. So far this season they have posted only two wins against teams with winning records (the Nets are 3-7). The Trail Blazers are not listening to those who claim they have merely stumbled upon an easy stretch.
Mathews acknowledged that there are definitely critics who think Portland will soon start a losing streak after winning seven straight, and begin looking like last years team again. Last year’s team was a franchise headed downhill, having missed the postseason for two consecutive years. Mathews added, “They’ll say we’re taking too many shots, were taking too many 3s, we’re too aggressive and all that other stuff.” He also stated that he and his teammates are unfazed by the criticism and will keep playing as they have been.
As they should. For all the talk about Portland’s schedule and their opportune meeting with an injured Net’s team they are putting up some undeniably impressive numbers. Portland is currently one of the premiere three point shooting teams in the league, raking in the fourth most 3-pointers (10) but also shooting with the fourth best percentage (.422).
Mathews is more than hot from three point land, an already historically good 3-point shooter, averaging 40 percent per season; he is currently making 53 percent of his attempts. In the locker room his playful nickname “Ballot” is in reference to his being left off the All-Star ballot last season. The snub has Mathews playing with the underdog attitude the rest of the Trail Blazers have adopted as well.
“He’s playing angry right now,” says Aldridge. “He’s upset about the ballot. He’s next level angry.”
The Trail Blazers are also seeing five different players average double figures, while both Aldridge and Damian Lillard are looking like sure All-Stars in the early going. It is a formula every team looks for in today’s NBA, exceptional star performers, balanced with a deep bench.
“The NBA game is getting more and more about having playmakers… So when you have two guys who can make plays for other people and themselves it makes our offense more effective,” said head coach Terry Stotts.
Unfortunately the good news starts and ends with the offense in Portland. The Trail Blazers are ranked 17th in overall defense putting more and more pressure on their ability to shot the three pointer. Still, although you can question their defense and schedule Portland is currently the only team that has defeated the Spurs and they are an impressive 5-1 away from home this year.
The Trail Blazer’s seven-win run is sure to come to end in time, but high scoring teams that win away from home (on offense or defense) can find sustained success in the NBA.
By Nick Manai