We're LIVE at the Rose Garden with glasses firmly against brow—four eyes to follow each of the NBA Draft Lottery picks we'll see tonight when your Portland Trail Blazers welcome the New Orleans Hornets.
The top pick meets the top player in the 2011 Draft class, as Anthony Davis (yes, he of unibrow fame) and Damian Lillard share an NBA floor for the first time.
Davis has shown his skillset in limited action, leading all rooks with 2.2 blocks per the nine games he's played. Lillard has done nothing short of dazzle all season, averaging nearly 19 points and six assists per game while earning praise from even the most curmudgeonly of coaches.
"I think he's a wonderful player," said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who watched Lillard reach season highs in points (29), assists (7) and rebounds (6) during Portland's "thorough" 98-90 win over the Spurs on Thursday. "His skills are obvious, but I like his demeanor as much as I like his skills. He really plays within himself, he's not afraid of contact and he really understands how to take advantage of situations."
Portland's situation tonight involves a NOLA team that's dropped six straight, hasn't won away from The Big Easy all month and may change their mascot to...a Pelican. A better idea? Click past the jump and follow along as I deftly describe the action, on and off the floor.
Officially, ahem, "for real," the Blazers look to make it three straight victories tonight. Face 'o the franchise LaMarcus Aldridge is making a bid for an All-Star berth, riding a five-game stretch averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds per. But don't sleep on JJ Hickson, who's being called "Mr. Double-Double" (by the Blazers' media guide, at least—I'll put forth a suggestion of "Animal Style") after recording his 12th of the season against the Spurs.
New Orleans (5-17, 15th in West)—G Greivis Vasquez, G Austin Rivers, F Al-Farouq Aminu, F Ryan Anderson, C Robin Lopez.
Portland (10-12, 11th in West)—G Damian Lillard, G Wesley Matthews, F Nicolas Batum, F LaMarcus Aldridge, C JJ Hickson.
Matthews is a late addition to the lineup and he hears it from the crowd after being deemed "questionable" with a left hip flexor strain and left hip contusion. Guard Sasha Pavlovic had been on the scoreboard as the starter until about 15 minutes prior to tip. For NOLA, Rivers—the 10th pick in the draft—enters averaging eight points and just under three assists per game. The other Lottery winner is Portland reserve Meyers Leonard, who's just getting his NBA legs under him averaging a shade under five points and four boards per game.
A nice ovation for former Blazers assistant Monty Williams pre-game. He's in his third season as head coach in New Orleans after spending five years in Portland.
There was a moment of silence for Connecticut school-shooting victims prior to the national anthem. There was also a bit of extra security at the media entrance off Drexler Drive: In the loading dock area with at floor level (where players/buses park), a guard wielded a metal-detecting wand for the first time I've seen this season.
11:25—Matthews drains a 3 from the left corner as the Blazers strike first. Nice start, but Matthews is definitely laboring a bit as he runs back down the floor. His hips don't lie.
9:47—Lillard with nice vision to find Hickson in the lane all alone. Blazers jump out ahead 7-2 and Hickson has scored four straight for Portland.
9:01—Lillard finds space as Aldridge is double-teamed and LA finds the rookie on the left wing for a wide-open 3. He drains it and the Blazers jump out to a 10-4 lead. Over and out.
7:48—Blazers miss their first shot and Anderson nails a 3-pointer from a full stride beyond the 3-point line. New Orleans leads the league in triples (but hasn't done much else offensively), and Anderson shows why.
6:55—Davis checks in for NOLA. Almost on cue, Lillard goes full Summer League, crossing up Rivers then taking him strong to the hole before drawing a foul.
5:57—Timeout on the floor as Portland leads 14-9. Blazers shooting 57 percent from the field in the early going, and Lillard leads all scorers with five points.
5:46—Davis with his first bucket, a running two-handed jam without much company. That might be the easiest bucket of his 10-game NBA career.
4:12—Babbitt drills a wide-open 3 from the left wing, and cue the Star Wars theme. The Force, I get it. Portland up 19-15.
2:00—Thomas goes strong to the hoop and flips it in to score the Hornets' 14th point in the paint. A media timeout brings Santa hat-clad Blazer Dancers, and Portland leads 21-17.
0:00—Blazers lead 25-19 as a streaking Will Barton can't convert a full-sprint layup-like attempt as the quarter closes out. New Orleans now 45 percent to the Blazers' 40, but Portland is 3 of 5 from beyond the arch. Aldridge leads all scorers with eight points.
12:00—Meyers Leonard checking in for the first time tonight.
11:27—Rivers with a nice drive through the lane for a layup. Quick first step and nice finish by the rookie.
10:11—Rivers attempts a lob to Davis, but NOLA's Lottery connection doesn't quite have it worked out as Davis brings the ball down out of bounds. That's eight turnovers for the Hornets.
8:51—Blazers take their biggest lead of the night as Pavlovic drives and follows his own miss to put Portland up 31-22. On the other end, Pavlovic steals one (NOLA's 10th turnover of the night) and draws a foul before Williams takes a timeout.
8:31—Lillard with a step-back 3-pointer and he's the first player to double-figures. Blazers lead by a dozen.
6:13—And just like that, the Hornets cut the lead in half. Lopez cleans up a sloppy New Orleans possession with a two-handed jam and we have a timeout on the floor. Blazers lead 36-30 and the Hornets continue to dominate the paint, outscoring Portland 26-14.
4:20—Batum with an inbound lob to Hickson for a two-handed flush, just like Stotts drew it up. After a Batum steal on the other end, Nicolas runs the floor and finds Aldridge streaking down the lane for a bucket. After another fruitless NOLA possession, Batum hits a 3 to pout Portland up 43-32.
3:04—Timeout on the floor after Hickson follows a Pavlovic miss with a tip to give Portland a 47-35 lead. Hickson with eight points and five boards.
1:28—Pavlovic with a nice dish in the lane for Hickson, who lays it in uncontested. On the other end, after a big Aldridge block, Vasquez drives to the hole +1 to pull the Hornets within 10.
0:38—Lillard called for his third foul, his second in the last minute. Tough to avoid that one, as Vasquez gets the rookie off his feet.
Halftime: Blazers lead 54-43 after shooting 50 percent from the field in the first half. Aldridge leads all scorers with 14 points, while Hickson has 10 points and five rebounds. Vasquez leads the Hornets with 11 points, followed by nine points each from Anderson and Davis.
12:00—And away we go ... Blazers start with the ball.
10:37—Victor Claver hits his first 3-pointer as a Blazer. On the other end, Anderson hits his fourth triple of the night to pull the Hornets right back within 11.
9:28—Anderson with another step-back 3-pointer. He has 16 points off 5-of-6 shooting from beyond the arch. Hornets within nine as Anderson begs to be guarded.
8:31—Hickson hustles for a rebound off a botched lob attempt and finds Lillard for an open 3 at the top of the key. Lopez and Vasquez then show the Blazers how the lob is done on the other end, as they hook up for an alley-oop to keep it within single digits.
7:14—Lopez gets up in the air and hooks Hickson by the neck and an arm, and JJ goes down hard with a quick somersault in the paint. The slow-mo replay doesn't show particular grace on Lopez's part, and it's a flagrant-1 foul. It didn't look overly malicious and Hickson hits both his free throws. The free possession ends with an Aldridge jam on a pretty Claver dish. Blazers up 67-53.
5:49—Aldridge really working to get inside here. Some nice ball movement for Portland ends with a Hickson quick-step to the rim and dunk attempt. He's fouled on his way to the hoop and after hitting both free throws, Portland has its biggest lead of the night, 69-53.
5:11—Batum with a lob to Hickson and JJ j-j-jams it home. Batum with his season-high eighth assist and the Blazers may be on the verge of breaking this one open.
3:30—Babbitt enters for Hickson, who gets a big ovation from the crowd. He has 21 points and 11 rebounds in 21 minutes.
2:32—Batum is getting pretty good at this whole lobbing thing. This time he finds Aldridge on the break, and Portland leads 75-60 running away.
0:03—Blazers on their way to going scoreless down the stretch of the third quarter, but New Orleans can't do much more to take advantage. They've scored a single point in the same stretch. Batum is called for a flagrant foul on Davis, who hits both free throws.
0:00—Blazers lead 75-63. A runaway third quarter fizzles out a bit at the end, but behind 21 points from Hickson and 18 from Aldridge, Portland leads. One reason? The Blazers have drawn even in the paint—each team has scored 32 inside. Anderson leads NOLA with 18 points.
11:27—Blazers start the quarter in a zone and Mason finds the wrinkle with a 3-point shot from the right wing. NOLA pulls within single digits.
10:58—Batum answers with Portland's ninth triple of the night. Portland's lead is back to a dozen.
9:19—Oh my, Batum with a gif-worthy full-sprint-down-the-baseline dunk over Davis, but New Orleans is scrapping hard on the other end. They score on consecutive second-chance baskets on their first two possessions and pull within seven points on a Vasquez runner in the lane. Blazers up 80-73, but the Hornets aren't going away. Monty won't let 'em.
6:59—Blazers back up to a 10-point lead as Babbitt drains one from the left wing. On the other end, Anderson answers with his sixth 3-pointer of the night.
6:08—Batum looks like he has his second block in as many Hornets' possessions, but the whistle blows and Davis will go to the line. Already with a season-high 10 assists, Batum is showing some grit on the defensive end—sorely needed with Matthews sidelined.
5:08—Davis rips Hickson under the hoop and jams it home to bring the Hornets within five. New Orleans has never led, but they have the momentum at the moment as the Blazers hold tight to an 87-82 edge after leading by as many as 16.
4:00—Lillard misses a step-back 30-foot attempt and Vasquez makes him pay on the long rebound. He gets to the hoop and scores to bring the Hornets within four.
3:22—Anderson drills his SEVENTH three and New Orleans pulls within a basket, 90-87.
2:13—Timeout on the floor as Portland clings to a 90-87 lead. The Hornets are winless when trailing after three quarters this season, but you wouldn't know it tonight. They're hanging in there.
1:57—Nobody blocks out Thomas, who follows a Vasquez miss with a rebound and layup. Hornets within a point.
1:04—Aldridge shrugs off an Anderson flop on the baseline and drains a step-back 12-foot jumper to put Portland up 92-89. It's been pretty touch-and-go for Portland since late in the third—will that J calm the Blazers down? Crowd on its feet after a timeout.
0:50—Rivers nails a three from the top of the key to tie it up at 92. Here we go.
0:25.8—On the other end, Lillard misses a 3 and going for the rebound, Aldridge goes down in a heap and comes up hobbling. Uh-oh. It looks like he might have turned that left ankle after stepping on Anderson's foot. And now Aldridge is being walked back to the locker room. Not a good sign for Portland, who has to gather itself sans All-Star and finish this one out.
0:11.3—Vasquez drives to the hoop and misses, and Davis knocks it out of bounds on the rebound. They'll review it, but it's obviously last touched by the lanky rookie. Blazers will have the ball with a chance to win.
0:04.2—Vasquez called for foul on Lillard, and Portland will call a timeout. One 20-second TO left for each team, but Portland figures to take the final shot here.
0:00.3—LILLARD FTW! The rookie nails a 3-pointer and is mobbed by teammates. Lillard inbounds to Babbitt, gets it right back and dribbles off a screen to get an open look from 28 feet. He drains it and the place goes nuts. Shades of Brandon Roy, right there. They put 0.3 seconds on the clock, but that'll likely do it, since there's not enough time for a catch-and-shoot. The best New Orleans can do now is tip it in on a prayer. Blazers lead 95-92, but what a finish we've just witnessed. Lillard's first game-winner, and with poise like that, it won't be his last.
FINAL: Blazers win it, 95-94 after the last third-second inbounds pass is tipped in by Thomas. No matter—we've seen another bit of Lillard magic, and Portland wins its third straight behind five double-figure scorers.
Here's what the game-winner looked like from where I was sitting:
What a huge night for Hickson, who has 24 points and 16 rebounds to lead the way for Portland. He's quickly become a fan favorite, and it's easy to see why—hustle. Aldridge has 20 points, while Lillard adds 16 and Babbitt chips in 10. Batum with another impressive do-what-it-takes kind of night, scoring 11 points and dishing a season-high 10 dimes. For New Orleans, Anderson leads the way with 26 points, while Vasquez adds 23 points and 11 assists and Davis makes a case for a starting gig with 12 points.
The Blazers are back in action on Thursday, when they host the Nuggets.