Opening night adrenaline? Wanting to prove the doubters wrong? Whatever the reason, the Blazers came into tonight ready to roll. Once “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” started ripping pre-game, it was on. White shirts for all? Check. Light up glow sticks? Check. Cool new LED tunnel for the player intros? Check. Thank the old gods and the new, basketball is officially back.
Portland’s off-season was defined by who they lost, but the kids are alright. This team is more than just a gaping LaMarcus Aldridge-sized hole, one of the Plumlees (who knows which?!), some castoffs, and a Chris Kaman. There is talent and potential on this roster, and if tonight was any indication, the Blazers will be quite a bit better than most people expected.
And if they aren’t? Ah well. This is a likeable squad that will be easy to root for. Win or lose, this season is shaping up to be a whole hell of a lot of fun.
Poor Anthony Davis. He is superhuman, no doubt, but because of crippling injuries New Orleans is giving rotation minutes to Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson, Alonzo Gee, and Ish Smith. In 2016. That’s a real thing. If mean mugging counted for points then maybe Perkins would be a viable option, but as it stands these dudes shouldn’t be anywhere near a basketball court.
So yeah, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s temper that excitement just a bit. I’m pretty sure I could beat Kendrick Perkins, and my basketball skills consist of falling down a lot and not being able to touch the rim.
CJ McCollum seemingly didn’t touch the rim all night either, but that’s because his shot was so wet it was hitting nothing but the bottom of the net. So I guess last year’s playoffs weren’t a fluke, huh? CJ is the real thing. Can someone check on Steph Curry and make sure he wasn’t Freaky Friday-ed?
The talk pre-season was trying to figure out who else would be able to put up points besides Damian Lillard. Small sample size, sure, but it looks like McCollum is ready for that secondary role. He looked calm and comfortable with the ball in his hands, willing to take whatever shot was available. He even showed some flashes of emotion, urging the crowd to get into it after converting on an early four-point play.
McCollum opened the first quarter by dropping 22 points, including 5-5 from deep. He capped it off with a bouncy, off the dribble three right in the face of his defender as the quarter drew to a close. The Blazers jumped out to a quick 43-18 lead after one and it was easy sailing from there. The Pelicans and their shortened rotation, on the second night of a back-to-back, never really had a chance.
McCollum would finish the first half with 28 points, a career-high set in just 24 minutes. Things were flowing so well for him that, come the fourth, the Pelicans were trying to trap him up top to get the ball out of his hands. No, really. McCollum earned himself a damn double team beyond the arc. The play ended with a wide open three from Lillard, which somehow was the lesser of two evils tonight.
For a brief minute things got tight in the fourth, with three triples from Anthony Davis trimming a comfortable thirty point lead down to just eight. Anthony Davis with a three-point shot?! And that is fair how? Adding that to his game should be illegal, especially when the Portland bigs had to drop so far down to help cover Lillard’s defensive deficiencies on the pick and roll.
After a couple of ill-advised Lillard jumpers, you know who was there to right the ship? Yep, CJ freaking McCollum. Three straight buckets, some barking at the New Orleans bench, and that was that. Game over, man.
It was McCollum’s night, but the rest of the new-look Blazers did their parts as well. Ed Davis looked springy on defense, holding his own against The Brow for most of the night. Mason Plumlee looked comfortable around the basket, both as a shooter and a passer, starting the game off with a pretty behind the head pass to Al-Farouq Aminu in the corner for three. Aminu chipped in with a little bit of everything—blocking shots, hitting the glass, grabbing loose balls, falling down a bunch.
It’s a long season, and there are going to be many bumps ahead. Make no mistake, this is still a lottery team. But for tonight, with a record setting fifteenth straight home win to start the season, the Blazers looked damn impressive. The future is bright.