Quite a rarity to see someone other than Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge lead the Portland Trail Blazers in scoring, but desperate time call for desperate measures, and Wesley Matthews filled the points void left by the hobbled Nicolas Batum, leading the team to another road win as their chances of somehow making the NBA playoffs remain intact, aided by some other results around the league.
While Matthews has had some impressive performances this season, it’s his consistency problems that are hurting and denying him from becoming the 4th Blazer who is separated from the rest of the sorry bunch that fills the floor while the top dogs take a short rest. Matthews scored 28 points for the second time in three games in another impressive downtown shooting night, making 5 of his 8 shots, making it 15-24 over the last three games (62.5%).
And it wasn’t like Aldridge and Lillard were taking it easy in the 104-93 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Lillard was also hot from the outside (4-5), finishing with 22 points, averaging 22.3 in March as the Blazers improve to 33-36, now putting them and the Dallas Mavericks 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers at 8th in the Western Conference. LaMarcus Aldridge also scored 20 points, adding 13 rebounds and a couple of blocks, as the Blazers are going to need a constant flow of points from at least three players, probably combining for 65-70 each game in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.
That was a quality road win against a very good playoff team. I was very pleased with our defense, particularly in the second half. With back-to-back wins like this on the road against Chicago and Atlanta, I’m very proud of my team. We’re going to keep on fighting until we’re mathematically eliminated. This team never quits playing, whether during a game or during the course of a season.
After dominating the Bulls the previous night, the Blazers came into Atlanta and this time saved their best for the final quarter, which is usually when the Hawks fall apart in tight games. They kept the Hawks at only 17 points during the last 12 minutes, and in general did an excellent job on defense all night, as the Hawks kept looking for answers on the outside with 7-24 from beyond the arc. The Blazers made life extremely difficult for Al Horford, who did score 15 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, but finished with only 7-18 from the field, while the Blazers did a very good job in keeping Atlanta off the offensive glass, limited to only 6.
So is there hope? Nicolas Batum is becoming an almost non-factor when it comes to his shooting, scoring only 5 points, taking only 5 shots. He did add 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals, but not having him to contribute means the Blazers need to hope Matthews and even J.J. Hickson step up their game for the final three-four weeks of the season, with 13 games left to play, without a single easy one in them – twice against Oklahoma City; twice against the Utah Jazz; twice against the Warriors; the Rockets, Lakers, Mavs, Denver and Brooklyn as well. A finish that will need all guns firing, and even then it might not be enough, when they continue to get close to nothing from the bench.