Greg Jayne: Season-opening victory gives Blazers some hope
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
It is tempting, yet perilous, to read too much into the first game of an interminable NBA season.
There are, after all, only 81 more to go.
But in the wake of the Trail Blazers' 116-106 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, one conclusion can be drawn with near certainty: The Blazers have faced a Mike Brown-coached Lakers team for the last time.
But enough about the unfettered mess that is the Lakers.
For in this season of low expectations, in this year of diminished hopes, the Blazers delivered for their fans what likely will stand as one of the highlights of the season.
They were aggressive. They were sharp. They were the best team on the floor -- which probably says more about the Lakers than it does about them.
There will be darker days in Portland, for sure. It's not every night that Damian Lillard will be gifted with being guarded by Steve Nash and Steve Blake.
But gifted he was, and gifted he is. And Lillard accepted the Lakers' gratuity to the tune of 23 points and 11 assists.
"I just wanted to come out and be aggressive, make Steve Nash play both ends of the floor, make him work," Lillard said after the first game of his NBA career.
Make no mistake -- Lillard is for real. Oh, he might not be 23-points-11-assists-every-night real, but he's for real. To think that with the No. 6 pick, the Blazers might have gotten the steal of the draft.
Need proof? The last NBA rookie to have as many as 21 points and nine assists in his first game was LeBron James. Not that Lillard will be the next LeBron, but he likely will spend several years being compared with elite company.
And while the Blazers were thoroughly satisfying in their first game with a new roster and new coaching staff and a new general manager, questions linger.
Portland remains a donut of a team -- there's a hole in the middle. That is not a criticism of starting center J.J. Hickson, merely an acknowledgment that he is being asked to play out of position.
The Lakers took advantage of that by incessantly, insistently dumping the ball inside to Dwight Howard, who finished with 33 points and made 15 of 19 free throws. And while it might have been a conscious decision given the makeup of the Blazers, it also turned the Lakers into the least interesting team since, oh, about the time that George Mikan was lumbering up and down the court.
But enough about the Lakers. Because while Los Angeles was managing to make a team with Nash (who was injured and left the game in the second quarter) and Kobe Bryant look dull, the Blazers were eminently interesting.
There was Nicolas Batum, slashing and shooting his way to 26 points. There was Wesley Matthews, giving fits to Bryant defensively and scoring 22 points on his own. And there was the aforementioned Lillard.
Portland played an entertaining brand of basketball, which will be the more important standard in a season that doesn't promise to have a lot of victories. The Blazers played hard and they played fast and they managed to beat a team that right now is less organized than the Keystone Kops.
Portland doesn't face L.A.r56 again until late December, and the guess is that the Lakers will have a new coach by then. Here's hoping the Blazers are still entertaining come that time of the season.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne