LOS ANGELES — The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 49-27 on the season and 22-18 on the road with a 124-112 victory versus the Los Angeles Lakers in front of 18,110 at Staples Center Tuesday night.
“Probably more than anything else I liked our defense in the third quarter,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We got our hands on a lot of balls, we were very active. They made a lot of shots in the first half, a lot of jump shots but I thought our activity defensively was really important, got us playing in transition a little bit.”
With the victory, Portland remains two games ahead of of Golden State for fifth and are just one and a half games behind Houston for fourth in the Western Conference standings. The Trail Blazers have now had six winning streaks of at least four games or more this season for the first time since the 1999-2000 campaign.
The game was close for the first two quarters, with Portland holding a 29-27 lead after the first 12 minutes of play despite shooting 35 percent from the field. The Trail Blazers improved 10 percentage points from the field in the second quarter, but Lakers guard Nick Young shot even better. The freewheeling guard out of USC who goes by the nickname “Swaggy P” went 7 of 8 from the field for 18 points while playing all 12 minutes in the second.
“I just got in the zone,” said Young, who finished with 40 of L.A.’s 112 points. “I got out there and played my hardest and we still keep fighting.”
But while the Lakers were forced to rely on Young to do most of their scoring, the Trail Blazers had both Aldridge and Damian Lillard to carry the load. Portland’s All-Star duo combined to score 23 points on 7 of 12 shooting while going a perfect 9 of 9 from the free throw line to largely negate Young’s performance and take a 63-61 lead into the intermission.
“It was a two-point game at halftime because (Young) got it going,” said Stotts. “He kept them in the game.”
Portland would take control in the third quarter by holding the Lakers to 28 percent shooting and Young to six points.
“Second half I thought we guarded better,” said Aldridge. “We tried to take away tendencies, we tried to give up less easy shots. I felt like Nick Young had a lot of easy shots in the first half. He’s a good scorer so he’s going to score, but I think we did a better job of making his shots harder.”
Along with doing a better job defensively, the fluid ball movement that has been integral in Portland’s success recently but was missing in the first half Tuesday night returned in the third quarter.
“At halftime I brought it up again about just moving the ball,” said Aldridge. “I felt like guys thought they had great one-on-one game but I was like, with this team, if you move the ball we’ll go from having a really good shot to a really great shot. So I thought guys listened to that and I thought guys made great reads in the second half.”
That ball movement would continue in the fourth quarter, with the Trail Blazers going on a 19-6 run midway through the final quarter to take a 23-point lead, their largest of the night. Portland would score just once in the final three minutes, but had more than enough of a margin to coast to a 12-point victory.
“In the first half they made a lot of midrange shots,” said Stotts. “They didn’t have a lot of points in the paint, they made a lot of their midrange and I think that kind of came back to us in the second half.”
“I knew it was a big game for us,” said Lillard. “Coming in, some said it could be a trap game with a team not in the playoff race. We knew coming in that they were a dangerous team, since they came to our place and shocked us, so I just wanted to come out aggressive, and do whatever it took to help the team a win. A lot of guys put their best foot forward, and we were able to do it.”
Lillard also added eight assists, three steals, two rebounds and a monster dunk in the nationally-televised game on TNT.
“I came off the pick-and-roll and I seen Pau (Gasol) standing straight up,” said Lillard of the dunk. “I exploded around him and I saw him get off balance a little bit and then I just rose up. I knew that he would be trying to play catchup and he had already blocked one of my shots because I had kind of like tried to lay it up, so I just wanted to go punch one. Just go try to finish strong and I was able to get through there.”
With Tuesday night’s performance, Lillard joins Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James as the NBA’s only players with at least 1,600 points and 400 assists this year.
Aldridge shot 12 of 20 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free throw line to finish with 31 points while pulling down 15 rebounds and handing out 6 assists in 33 minutes. He’s the first Trail Blazer since Clyde Drexler in 1990 to have Trail Blazer with at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists in a single game.
“You try to get a little bit low to take the contact and then as soon as he hits you he turns the other way and shoots it way high and fades away,” said Lakers center Chris Kaman of guarding Aldridge. “It’s just hard to get to. He is an exceptional shooter. Just one of those players that are unique and have a special gift that not a lot of players have.”
With their performances Tuesday night, Aldridge and Lillard are n0w the first Trail Blazers teammates since Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells in 2002 to score at least 30 points in the same game.
“LA was great on the block and Damian made shots — he was aggressive going to the basket,” said Stotts. “But I thought it was a lot of the other things. Defensively, Damian was very active throughout the whole game, got his hands on a lot of balls, got us out in transition. LaMarcus, he and Robin together were very good defensively in protecting the paint. The other thing Damian did on LA’s postups, he was setting some screens, occupying people and I thought that allowed for good spacing for LA’s postups.”
Robin Lopez, playing on his 25ht birthday, got yet another double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes. Nicolas Batum finished with 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes. Wesley Matthews struggled through a 4 of 12 night shooting to finish with 10 points, though he also added six assists and four rebounds.
Next up, the Trail Blazers get two days off before hosting the Suns at the Moda Center in a game with significant playoffs implications. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.