MILWAUKEE — It seems as though some are waiting for the other sneaker to drop when it comes to the better-than-expected start of the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers. And perhaps it eventually will. But it would not be Wednesday night, as the Trail Blazers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 91-82 to extend their win streak to eight games.
“We don’t have to win every game,” said Damian Lillard, who finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes. “Probably the second we lose a game they’ll say ‘They’re not like what everybody thought they was.’ But we’re not trying to live up to what other people say we are or what they think we are right now. We’re playing well, we’re finding a way to win games. It’s going to come a time when we might lose a game, we’ve just got to focus on the next one after that. It’s still early and we understand that but we focus on every game. We’re going to continue to do what we’ve got to do to win games.”
With the victory in front of a sparse crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Trail Blazers swept a road trip of at least four games for the first time since January of 2003.
“To finish a road trip undefeated and to do it with the defense and energy that we had the second half is great,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “There is no question that it was a solid win. I believe it’s the fifth game where we’ve won a game shooting under 44 percent and I think that is something we take pride in as well.”
Portland is now 10-2 on the season and have won six road games, something they didn’t accomplish last season until Jan. 4, 2013.
Despite entering the game with a 2-7 record and playing without starters Brandon Knight and Larry Sanders, the Bucks were able to hang with the Trail Blazers for most of the night. At times it felt as though the contest had the makings of a trap game for Portland, though they were mindful from the opening tip that they’d need to bring enthusiasm, if nothing else, to avoid losing their first game since Nov. 5.
“In the huddle before the game in warmups, you could just hear everybody say we’ve got to bring our own energy,” said Lillard. “There wasn’t a lot of people here, that has nothing to do with what we do on the floor. So I was just happy to see we were able to go out there and get it done.””Every team in this league can win and we respect everybody — I know it’s cliche,” said Stotts. “It’s important that you come into the game and after a game like Brooklyn where you’re playing against Hall of Famers in New York City and all that, I liked our mindset, coming in and taking care of business in this game.”
Portland led by as many as 11, but the victory never seemed sure until Damian Lillard scored five straight points with just under three minutes to play to put the Trail Blazers up 89-78. Portland would miss their next four shots and Nicolas Batum would miss three-straight free throws, but the Bucks were unable to capitalize on Portland’s mistakes late, resulting in the Trail Blazers escaping with a nine-point victory.
“I think we’re better at finding ways to win games,” said Lillard. “At the start it was like we were shooting the ball really well and our confidence was high because of that. On this road trip we’ve had spurts where we shot the ball well and some games where we didn’t. Regardless of how we were shooting the ball, we was able to find ways to win the game and that says a lot.”
The “way” the Portland was able to avoid an upset was on defense, particularly in the second half. The Trail Blazers held the Bucks to just 13 points in the third quarter and forced six turnovers, which allowed Portland to shoot just 32 percent in the quarter and yet still add four points to their lead.
“I think we realized in the first quarter we were doing a lot of things right,” said Robin Lopez, who had eight points and eight rebounds on the night. “They were beating us to the loose balls and that was really giving the second-chance opportunities and I think that’s what was keeping the game close. We realized (that) at halftime. So we came out in the second, decided we had to be the aggressors on defense. We had to get on the floor, do whatever it took to secure the ball, because we were playing okay defense in the first half, just not securing the possession.”
LaMarcus Aldridge led all scorers with 21 points on 10 of 22 shooting to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. Nicolas Batum added eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Wesley Matthews, playing in front of a number of family and friends in attendance, did much of his damage by scoring all 15 of his points in the first half. He would also tally three rebounds and three assists to help the Trail Blazers get their first win in Milwaukee since 2011.
“We’ve played good teams, we’ve played quality teams. That team was tough,” said Matthews. “This is a tough place to play, it’s a different atmosphere. I don’t care about the big name stuff. They get paid just like we do.”
The Trail Blazers now return home to the Moda Center to host the Bulls Friday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
“It’s very satisfying, no question,” said Stotts. “You go out on a road trip and you sweep a road trip, that doesn’t happen very often. We’re proud of that. We’ll enjoy the flight home, take tomorrow off and we’ve got our eyes set on Chicago.”