(DON RYAN / The Associated Press)
PORTLAND — And away they go.
The Trail Blazers completed a brief home stand on Saturday night with a 112-101 win over the Detroit Pistons. In the closing seconds, four of the starters walked off the court to a thankful serenade from the sold-out Rose Garden Arena — the response for a job well done and a bon voyage for a five-game road trip that starts Monday in Philadelphia.
Pulling from his grab bag of tried-and-true quotes, forward LaMarcus Aldridge described the upcoming week as a “make or break trip” — he admits he keeps using that line. But before the charter flight, the Blazers can enjoy their current two-game winning streak at home that improved their record to 31-34.
“Yeah, it’s good for us to get two wins before we go on this road trip,” backup point guard Eric Maynor said. “Because we’re going to need it. … You can call it a head start right there.”
Or a running start provided by the Blazer starters. All five reached double figures with various highlights on their stat sheet.
Nicolas Batum had the all-around effort with 17 points, six assists, five rebounds, and three blocks, while J.J. Hickson had 18 points and 15 rebounds — his 36th double-double this season.
Even reserve Joel Freeland, with a surprise appearance, popped off the bench early for an encouraging stint: eight points, four rebounds and an assist.
But the night belonged to the man whom Freeland replaced in that first quarter. Though Aldridge picked up his second foul at the 7:13 mark of the first quarter, he finished strong with 31 points, showed a deft shooting touch (13 of 21) and pulled down 12 rebounds.
“Remarkable,” coach Terry Stotts said, describing Aldridge’s performance. “I told him he needs to get two fouls early more often.”
Aldridge joined LeBron James and Kevin Durant as the only NBA players this season with 1,300 points and 500 rebounds.
“I was just feeling it. I thought I had a really good rhythm going,” Aldridge said. “I saw Dame a little tired, a little off tonight, and I was trying to pick it up.”
Lillard, who missed nine of 12 shots but finished with 14 points, wasn’t the only Blazer in the doldrums. The team had another one of those slow starts and struggled to stop Detroit (23-45).
“Needless to say,” Stotts said, “I was very disappointed with our defense in the first half.”
The Blazers — never a team to simply come out and act like the bullies they should be. As usual, they made things interesting against the team with the longest active losing streak in the league. And the Pistons, who hadn’t generated a win in seven straight, cooperated in Portland’s compliance — hitting three of four 3-point tries in the first half and giving the ball to Rodney Stuckey, who had his way against the Blazer backcourt.
Stuckey came in averaging about 10 points a game this season, but had reached that total before the two-minute mark of the first quarter.
Also, Jose Calderon did not miss a shot during his shift (3 for 3 and two 3-pointers) and the starting Piston guards combined for 18 of the team’s 30 points in the first quarter.
Even when the Blazers opened the second half with a 9-0 run, the searing start did not blow away the Pistons.
Throughout the third quarter, Detroit stayed around like annoying houseguests.
More of the same — a Calderon 3, promptly followed by another one by Stuckey from near the same spot. They might not have won a road game since Feb. 27, but the Pistons seemed awfully comfortable in the Rose Garden on Saturday night and trailed 77-75 entering the fourth.
“I don’t think it’s effort,” Stotts said about the defensive issues. “My main concern is probably focus. We’re making mistakes that we know better.”
Through 36 minutes of game action, not much had separated the Blazers and the Pistons. The teams shot similarly from distance and from inside the paint but the Blazers possessed one thing the Pistons did not — an All-Star with an unstoppable mid-range game.
Portland kept it simple in the fourth quarter — give the ball to Aldridge on the wing and clear out of his way. Working against single coverage, Aldridge arched in jump shot after jump shot — from 19 feet, then another a couple feet in, and another falling away from his favorite spot.
On the fourth straight possession that featured Aldridge, finally Piston forward Jason Maxiell just copped out and fouled him. Aldridge made both free throws for eight straight points as the Blazers opened the 85-81 lead that swelled to a 13-point advantage midway through the quarter.
But again, it would be too easy for the Blazers to pull away. They like the drama. So when Detroit connected on consecutive 3-point baskets and Stuckey drove in for a layup with only 2:11 remaining, the Blazers’ double-digit lead had been discounted to just 102-99.
This time when the Blazers needed a bucket, Aldridge had to work for the ball.
In the possession, Lillard attempted but could not convert on two deep shots from beyond the arc, but Aldridge grabbed the second miss, spun around and scored over Maxiell. The Blazers went back up by five points and definitively dismissed the Pistons with an 11-2 run before several of the starters exited the court to rousing ovations. Now, on to Philly.
“Make or break trip,” Aldridge said. “We’re right there, and I think if we take care of business on this trip, anything’s possible.”