PORTLAND — Damian Lillard continued to his great stretch of play to start the season Friday, finishing with 21 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 104-91 win over the Sacramento Kings.
Lillard did not have a great night from the field going five for 13, well below his season average, but he got to the foul line eight times and made all of his attempts from the charity stripe.
LaMarcus Aldridge, too, had his moments. Aldridge had a very solid game, scoring 20 points on 10-of-20 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds and a couple of turnaround jumpers to put the game away late.
The duo is averaging over 46 points combined through five games and Lillard said that he and Aldridge need to be at the same level of the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin or San Antonio’s Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.
“We know we need to be,” Lillard said.
While Aldridge and Lillard were once again the catalysts, the team had even scoring and also took care of some things defensively, mainly in transition and on the defensive glass, that have been hurting them this season.
“We focussed on it a lot the last few days,” said Lillard of the transition defense. “We did a couple of drills in practice that were harder than transition defense would be in a real game.”
Head coach Terry Stotts was happy with how his team responded to the extra emphasis on the team’s recent flaws.
“The encouraging thing tonight was the things that we had emphasized the last couple of days — our transition defense, our defensive rebounding, points in the paint — I thought we were all very aware of that, and we did a good job with that for most of the game.”
The Blazers had been giving up 13.3 offensive rebounds a game before Friday — was 26th in the league — but only gave up eight offensive rebounds as they dominated the Kings on the boards, 47-31 overall.
The Blazers also surrendered 10 fewer points than they had been giving up on fast breaks to a team that was averaging the eighth-most fast break points in the league.
The Trail Blazers put together another balanced performance on the night with six players scoring in double figures. That included all of the starters, and Thomas Robinson scoring 10 points against his former team.
The Blazers were in control of things for most of the game as they were able to continue their good three-point shooting, going 9 of 22 from deep. They were shooting better than 40 percent from deep coming into the season.
Entering Friday’s game, Lillard was averaging 24.3 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 48.5 percent on threes. He was 4 of 9 from deep Friday.
DeMarcus Cousins had a big game for the Kings, scoring 35 points and grabbing nine rebounds, and proving to be the talented force the Blazers expected. He had his mid-range jumper going early, which Stotts said needed to be pressured a little bit more, sparking his big night.
The Blazers now have to face this same Kings on Saturday in Sacramento, and Batum said that the rematch should be different.
“It’s going to be a different game,” Batum said. “It’s going to be at home for them. We beat them tonight, so they will try and give us a little payback. It won’t be easy tomorrow but we need this game.”
• Joel Freeland made his return to the lineup after sitting out Portland’s last game on Nov. 5 after initially injuring his left hip on Nov. 2 against the Spurs. He had two points, two rebounds and one spectacular block on Travis Outlaw in six first half minutes.
• Wesley Matthews commented that one reason Portland could be allowing a league-high in field goal attempts within the restricted area could be that the Blazers perimeter players are closing out too hard on three-point shooters.
• Coach Terry Stotts illustrated that while he is happy with how his team is defending the three-point line, that the challenge is two-fold: “Here’s two parts of it. We have to get them off the three, I thought Houston did a nice job of recognizing that and going on to penetrate. The reality is our half court defense and our pick and roll defense has been very successful in preventing shots at the rim and open threes.”
• Damian Lillard became the second player in NBA history to hit three or more three-pointers in each of his teams first five games.
• Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds in the first half.
• Wesley Matthews lead the Blazers in scoring with 12 points at the half.