Wesley: Road trip was a wake-up call
MINNESOTA -- If you were capable of predicting the future and told a member of the Portland Trail Blazers that they would embark on a four-game road trip and return 3-1, you’d think they would be satisfied with that outcome.
Well, not quite.
After dropping the final game of this trip to the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-109 after storming back from a 32-point deficit, guys weren’t just displeased with tonight’s game. They were dissatisfied with the entire trip.
“It’s a mad 3-1 [record], for me,” Wesley Matthews said after scoring 16 points in a losing effort. “There’s so many ways that you can be better. The fact that we allowed ourselves to get down 32, the fact that we made the Detroit game and the Cleveland game tougher than it needed it to be. It’s frustrating. But it’s also encouraging. And that’s almost the scary part, because we still got within six after being down 32.”
With this loss, Oklahoma City moves ahead of Portland in the top spot in the NBA standings.
Damian Lillard single-handedly tried to will his team back by putting up 26 of his game-high 36 points in the second half, in which included a barrage of three-pointers, seven to be exact. The deficit was eventually cut to six after a Nicolas Batum three with 46 remaining in the game.
However, the Timberwolves (13-13) finished the game out on daggering 6-0 run.
“This time he (Lillard) tried,” Matthews said “but down 32 is tough to come back on.”
Portland (22-5) has done an excellent job of not buying into all the praise and attention they have been receiving for their surprising start to the season. LaMarcus Aldridge has continually kept egos in check and consistently reminds them that they have accomplished nothing.
No issues there. But the tendency to get complacent can often creep in unexpectedly if not truly paying attention. If that was the case, Matthews made sure he warned guys after tonight’s debacle.
“We have to grow up and continue to play like the hunted,” Matthews continued. “…People are getting up to play against us and we have to rise to that challenge. We have to embrace the fact that our record is what it is and not just expect to win every game.”
Kevin Love was flirting with his first career triple-double midway through the second quarter. He was picking the Trail Blazers’ defense apart from the elbow as he found backdoor cutters and made entry passes to Nikola Pekovic who dominated to the tune of 30 points on 14-of-19 from the field.
After 36 minutes of action, Love ended the game with 29 points, a game-high 15 rebounds and nine assists.
“He (Love) was looking like George Gervin passing the ball out there,” Aldridge said. “He definitely played great, he led his team tonight.”
Matthews and Aldridge seemed like they clearly took this loss to heart. Maybe it had something to do with Aldridge going seven-for-22 and Matthews four-for-13. That’s why these two are the vocal leaders of this group. What they say matters. If they feel like something is slipping, then maybe it is.
Still in all, 3-1 isn’t anything to sneeze at, especially if it was four games in five nights.
“Yeah, I think the fourth game in five nights, fatigue is always a concern,” Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. “I don’t think anyone wants to use that as an excuse. We had a lot of energy in the second half. That’s part of the NBA.”
Lillard, who is climbing that ladder of the top point guards in this league, said tonight was just one of those nights, noting that he missed four free throws, something he’s never done in the NBA.
It’s only one loss. And it’s only five losses total for this group. There’s no need to panic.
“It’s not a big deal,” Lillard said of the loss. “What we talked about at the half, we fixed. We just dug too big a hole for ourselves to climb out of.”
Aldridge recorded his 16th double-double of the season after scoring 15 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Batum registered 20 points and six rebounds and Wesley Matthews contributed 16 points and five boards.
Matthews and Aldridge called this trip a “wake-up call,” acknowledging that they could have easily gone 1-3 on this trip. This is not the same Trail Blazer group from a year ago. They expect to win every single night.
It has gotten to the point where getting a win isn’t good enough. They want to win the game within the game and get the victory, if you follow me. Point blank: they’re being greedy, the signs of a special team developing.
The culture sure has changed in a hurry. And they’re not through.
“We’ve gotten away with some wins by not playing defense like we should and tonight was one of those wake-up calls for us in the first half,” Aldridge said. “They ran like a little clinic. It was like one of those better basketball videos out there. We were giving them backdoor after backdoor. We definitely woke up after the second half, but we got some work to do.”