Seeing the Portland Trail Blazers play well and return to their good form isn’t surprising. So their win over the slipping Atlanta Hawks, coming quite easily, is mostly expected. But watching Nicolas Batum becoming their best player on the glass? That’s a bit more unexpected.
Batum finished the game with 14 points and 18 rebounds, helping us focus on his numbers instead of LaMarcus Aldridge’s horrendous night with 1-of-13 from the field, which didn’t stop the Blazers from running all over Atlanta en route to a 102-78 win.
Batum is averaging 6.9 rebounds per game this season, but over the last three games it’s been 16.3, including two consecutive double doubles for him. Robin Lopez was left to grab only 5 rebounds and score 12 points, as the Blazers continued to focus on shooting from the outside, despite the Hawks’ problem in the paint.
Because there’s an identity to Portland, and they’re not moving away from it. They can fix their issues on defense to an extent (something Batum also has a big part of) and can try to change a bit of their rotations so the moments without Lillard and Aldridge don’t look so bad. But they’re not going to become a team that relies on scoring inside all of a sudden.
Robin Lopez is their interior player, but he’s rather limited in his moves, and doesn’t do much but catch and dunk or get points off second chances. Aldridge, Matthews, Lillard and even Batum are shooters more than anything else, and that’s going to be the ticket the Blazers ride into the playoffs, hoping it doesn’t fall apart for them there.
Speaking of shooters, Kyle Korver had his 127 games with a 3-pointer streak come to an end. There’s no real worry about anyone catching up with him at the moment: Dana Barros has 89 games, and he comes second with the longest streaks, so it’s going to be quite some time until someone is able to put on such a formidable outside shooting run.
Did we learn anything new about the Blazers? Probably not. Blowout games offer time for bench players, but there’s so much garbage time it’s hard to know what is to be taken seriously. We did see a good game from Mo Williams with 15 points, while both C.J. McCollum and Will Barton had nine points each.
But a sign of consistency from this bench, a lot better on paper than it was last year, is something the Blazers desperately need heading into the final month or so of the regular season. McCollum was thought of as a potential starter before this season began, but the injury has slightly ruined his rookie progress, coming a bit too late and not in the way he and others expected.
Dorell Wright might be the only non-guard that people actually expect something from on this bench unit, and not much either. Portland will live and die by Aldridge and Lillard’s scoring outputs, but their success will be determined if the rest of the group can step up for a few games in a row and not just from time to time.