Intelligence is an underlying reason for the Blazers' early success

Intelligence is an underlying reason for the Blazers' early success
January 6, 2012, 5:17 pm
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First off, let me say I thought Thursday night offered one of the best Trail Blazer efforts in recent seasons.

Consider that the Los Angeles Lakers came out on fire in this game. They hit nine of their first 10 shots and seemed fully capable of running the Blazers out of their own gym. But Portland never blinked and, I think, was able to turn its intensity level up to match the Lakers.

For the entire first half, these two teams were like a pair of premier heavyweights, throwing haymakers at each other. It was an incredible display of back-and-forth, well-executed offense. The Lakers were determined to make Portland stop Andrew Bynum inside and it was a chore. Kobe Bryant was deadly from the outside. Pau Gasol was mostly unstoppable.

But that was the first half and Portland survived it, trailing by just four.

And back came Gerald Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge in the second half to dominate the Lakers up front. Matt Barnes, Metta World Peace or whomever else Los Angeles tried at small forward had no chance against Wallace, who was a Tasmanian devil of a matchup problem.

The Blazers eventually broke the Lakers' will. Gone were the attempts to take advantage of Gasol and Bynum inside, lost in a flurry of Bryant and Steve Blake missed three-point attempts.

Portland was solid from end to end in this one. And I'll tell you a big reason why this team has gotten off to an impressive start:

Smarts.

This team has a very nice collection of intelligent basketball players who seem to have good instincts and are able to make very wise decisions on the run. These guys understand favorable matchups and waste no time getting the ball to the right person when such mismatches occur.

They are pretty smart on the break and know when to pull the ball out and when to challenge the basket. Gone are the days when this was a "young" team that was easily rattled. This is a mature bunch ready to handle all sorts of situations. I think that's the thing I enjoy most about watching them play -- they play smart.

But here is a cautionary note: They're only six games into a season that's got 60 left. The schedule is going to create a lot of ups and downs. There will be nights when that schedule simply dictates they can't win. It happens.

So far, the Blazers haven't had a rough go in that regard. But it's looming on the horizon, a time when games will mount up and injuries will surely do the same thing. The seriousness of those injuries and the depth of the bench will have a lot to say about how Portland handles those times.

It's been a surprising start, I'd say. This team is playing a lot better than expected -- particularly in the last two games following a disaster against the Los Angeles Clippers. But there's a long way to go.

And now, before you get on with your day, I advise you to go here and check out Kobe Bryant's reaction to a question from the Portland Tribune's Stephen Alexander about his shot selection. And then, well, just try to get over it.