PORTLAND — Asked about starting the season with back-to-back games, Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan pithily responded: “Welcome to the NBA this season.”
Appropriate answer. And Tuesday, Sacramento served as Portland’s welcoming mat.
Stomping all over the Kings, the Blazers cruised to a 101-79 victory to improve to 2-0 on the year. One night removed from almost blowing a late double-digit lead, Portland left no doubt this time, nearly doubling Sacramento’s point total in the fourth quarter.
“I thought the defense picked up. We got to our tempo,” McMillan said. “We started to get some stops defensively, then we started to get out and run.”
Of course, in this case, McMillan was referring to Portland’s second half. Because through those first 24 minutes, the Rose Garden seemed to feature a completely different home team.
Lethargic, fatigued, and at one point trailing by 12, the Blazers collectively resembled a weightlifter struggling to get the barbell off of his chest. Then, Gerald Wallace rushed in to spot them.
Providing energy his teammates would emulate in the third in fourth quarters, the forward posted a game-high 25 points while adding eight rebounds and five assists.
Wallace also hit 8 of his 11 field goal attempts, and at one point, plopped down next to a fan in the front row.
About 10 seconds later, he stood up — probably because he realized that he was the guy courtside patrons most wanted to see.
“He (Wallace) came out and played big for us tonight. He carried us tonight during tough times,” Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “When we had dead moments, he made something happen.”
The Rose Garden crowd would acknowledge the 29-year-old’s efforts near game’s end, chanting “Ger-ald Wall-ace!” when he was subbed out with less than two minutes to play.
But while Wallace no doubt deserved Tuesday’s curtain call, Portland’s ensemble cast also warranted an ovation.
The Blazers held Sacramento to 23.7 percent shooting in the second half as the Kings went just 9 of 38. Offensively, Portland connected on 20 of 40 shots in the second half while leaning on their usual sources of production.
Aldridge finished the game with 24 points and eight rebounds while going 10 of 15 from the field. Fourteen of his points came in the second half, in which he missed just one shot.
Nicolas Batum added 15 points, and while he didn’t start, was part of the Blazers’ game-closing rotation that literally stood heads and shoulders above Sacramento (1-1).
For most of the fourth quarter, Portland’s lineup featured Jamal Crawford at point guard, Wallace at small forward, Batum at shooting guard, Aldridge at power forward and Marcus Camby in the middle. Respectively, those players stand at 6-foot-5, 6-7, 6-8, 6-11, and 6-11.
Part of this had to do with McMillan thinking that Raymond Felton looked fatigued (plus, Matthews came out of the game in the first half with a minor back injury that he would return from). But it also testified to the depth the Blazers hope will sustain them through what might be the most frenzied season in NBA history.
Seven players logged at least 22 minutes for Portland, while big man Kurt Thomas added 17. Additionally, Craig Smith, the 6-foot-7, 265 pound forward nicknamed “the Rhino,” made his Blazers debut.
“I felt like I needed some beef out there, so I put in the Rhino,” McMillan said.
Before the game, Aldridge opted to take an ice bath in hopes of reviving his aching muscles. In retrospect, he said it probably wasn’t the best idea. And when it was relayed to him that Camby wanted to play a third straight game on Wednesday, Aldridge replied “He can play by himself.”
Fortunately, Portland does not play again until Thursday, when it will host former Blazer Andre Miller and the Nuggets. And if they can control Denver’s offense the way they did Sacramento’s, the Blazers could be looking at a 3-0 start.
DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings with 16 points but shot just 7 of 18 from the field. And while the much ballyhooed Jimmer Fredette hit 4 of his 10 shots en route to 10 points, it didn’t seem easy for him to get open looks.
“They’re very long and very athletic,” Fredette said. “They’re a very good basketball team.”