Blazers respond to 'wakeup call, 'overhaul Magic
If only Knute Rockne could have heard Terry Stotts -- and LaMarcus Aldridge -- at halftime Wednesday night at the Moda Center.
"The coach had some big words for us," Portland's Nicolas Batum said. "L.A. did, too."
After losing back-to-back games to NBA non-powerhouses Philadelphia and Sacramento, the Trail Blazers were trailing 51-45 to an Orlando team going without center Nikola Vucevic, arguably its best player.
What was said was direct and meaningful.
"It was like, 'That's enough of that,' " point guard Damian Lillard said. "We've been kind of messing with the game and playing in spurts. It was time to fix it. We're a lot better than what we were showing.
"We want to find that level we need to play at to control games. We were able to do that the fourth quarter."
The Blazers, staring at a 78-75 deficit after three quarters, outscored the overmatched visitors 39-19 in the final period to win going away 110-94.
Taking it back a little further, Orlando led 73-66 late in the third quarter. Over the final 13 minutes, the Blazers won the battle 44-21.
"That's a good ballclub over there," Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn said. "They brought a winning approach in the fourth quarter. But I'm proud of my guys. We fought hard tonight."
Batum gave some credit to the motivation provided at intermission by the coach and star player.
"It was like a big wakeup call," said Batum, who notched his fourth career triple-double, and second of the season, with 14 points, a season-high 14 assists and 10 rebounds. "We had to play like we can play. For too long, we let (the Magic) stick right there with us.
"It all changed in the fourth quarter. When you play good defense, you get your rhythm back and shots fall."
The Blazers wouldn't have won without Aldridge, who scored 36 points -- 21 in the first half -- and collared nine rebounds in an impressive 35-minute show. The All-Star power forward sank 16 of 25 shots, many of them from the perimeter against Glen "Big Baby" Davis.
"L.A. was the only one getting it done in the first half," Batum said.
Lillard never got it going. A night after bombing in a career-high 41 points at Sacramento -- 26 in a you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it fourth quarter -- the second-year point guard scored 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. He didn't make a basket until late in the second quarter.
Was Lillard weary after being leaned upon so heavily late in Tuesday's loss at Sacramento?
"I was, a little bit," he said. "But Nico was making a lot of plays tonight. That's what was working for us, having him in pick-and-rolls situations and handling the ball.
"The most important thing was to win this game. We did what we needed to do."
Wesley Matthews scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter after starting the game 1-for-7 from the field.
"L.A. said it after the Brooklyn game (on Nov. 18)," said Matthews, who finished 6 for 17. "You have to find a new level of angry, a new level of mad. Not to say I'd toned it down, but over the course of the season, I might have lost a little bit of it. Had to get it back."
Playing for the second game with a splint on a middle left finger he fractured Saturday night against the 76ers, Batum was the facilitator.
"(Tuesday) night in Sacramento, Nic looked tentative early in the game," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "As the game progressed, he looked more comfortable with it. Tonight, he was aggressive. He played like it wasn't affecting him.
"He's versatile and has a knack of being able to do a lot of different things. I like running the offense through him. He sees the court well. When he stays aggressive, he can do a lot of damage."
Batum said he felt more comfortable with the splint.
"I'm used to it now," he said. "I've practiced with it. But I try not to think about it."
Portland also got a late lift from Thomas Robinson, the second-year forward who had fallen out of the rotation but saw a little action Tuesday night at Sacramento. Robinson had six points on 3-for-3 shooting and three rebounds in the final period Wednesday, including one important sequence that typified his night.
As Orlando's Davis did a 360 move to the basket, Robinson came from off the ball to block his shot. Robinson hustled to the other end, where he sank a left-handed hook to give the Blazers a 90-82 lead.
"Thomas gave us nice energy in the fourth quarter," Stotts said. "He was ready to play. When he brings the energy he did tonight, he can really impact the game."
Said Batum: "I told Thomas, 'You're stronger than anybody on the court. Nobody can push you around. Go ahead. Get rebounds. Set good screens.' We all know what he can do."
With the Blazers' status as one of the winningest teams in the league, they have to be ready for inspired performances by the opponent every time out.
"If we were going to get every team's best shot before, we're definitely going to get it now," Matthews said. "Having dropped games to two sub-.500 teams, teams we're supposed to beat, every team now will come in and think they can get a win. We have to rise to the occasion."
Stotts agrees, to a point.
"Teams get up for everybody," the coach said. "But it's important for us to play with an edge -- to play like we have something to prove. That has to be our calling card."
Portland's next action is Saturday night at home against Boston.
The Blazers had lost four of their last six games. "We needed this one," Stotts said.
Arron Afflalo scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half for the Magic (10-25), who lost for the fifth straight game.
Orlando was without its No. 2 scorer and No. 1 rebounder in Vucevic, who suffered a concussion in the third quarter of Monday's 101-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
Portland rookie C.J. McCollum, who had missed the entire season while rehabbing from a broken foot, saw his first action, scoring four points on 2-for-5 shooting in 14 minutes.
"It felt good to finally get in there and play an NBA game," McCollum said. "A lot of fun. Glad we were able to come away with a win. I was just trying to get into the right spots, trying to defend well. I thought I did OK. Trying to not do too much right away. Just trying to play a role."
Batum joins Boston's Rajon Rondo (five), Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Miami's LeBron James (four apiece) as the only players with as many as four triple-doubles over the past two seasons.
Stotts left Batum on the court with four reserves late in the game to allow him to pick up his 10th rebound. He did, with McCollum stepping back from a missed shot to allow Batum to complete the triple-double.
"I gave him his first NBA bucket (an assist on a jump shot), so we're even," Batum said, smiling. "He owed me that rebound."
Veteran forward Dorell Wright, a member of the rotation for the first 34 games, sat for the second straight game.
"If you ask me what I'm going to do (with the rotation) in the future, I'm not sure right now," Stotts said. "It's going to depend on the game and the match-ups and how things are going."
Portland reserve Mo Williams had a four-point play in the third quarter on his way to a 12-point, four-assist night in 30 minutes.
The Blazers are a league-best 7-2 on the second night of back-to-back games.
Portland improved to 13-0 when holding an opponent to fewer than 100 points.