Boffo backcourt lifts Blazers
The NBA game is trending toward smaller and more athletic units.
Boy, did the Trail Blazers look trendy Wednesday night at Moda Center.
Guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Shabazz Napier combined for 69 points as Portland defeated Orlando, 99-94.
Lillard scored 26 points, McCollum 24 and Napier a season-high 19 for the Blazers (8-6), who went with the three-guard lineup to close both halves.
"They went smaller than we were," Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. "We're small, but they went even smaller. It hurt us with penetration and the 3-ball."
Portland won the game at the 3-point line, sinking 14 of 27 attempts while Orlando was going 11 for 29. The Blazers shot .400 on 2-point attempts and .519 from beyond the arc.
"I guess we need to shoot more 3's," said McCollum, who was 8 for 16 from the field and 4 for 7 from 3-point range. "That's where the league is going. It's tougher to finish around the basket. If we're not going to finish in the paint, we ought to shoot more 3's."
Lillard was 9 for 21 from the field and 5 for 10 from the 3-point line. He also had a season-high 11 rebounds and seven assists while Napier came off the bench to go 5 for 5 from 3-point range and register three steals in 27 two-way minutes.
"Napier killed us," Vogel said. "He played a terrific game."
Orlando led 38-24 early in the second quarter, but Napier scored 11 points in the quarter — nine on three straight 3-pointers — to go ahead 51-47 at the half.
"Me and CJ both played well offensively, but the biggest difference was 'Bazz,'" Lillard said. "What he did off the bench got our energy going. He gave us a punch by scoring, getting his hands on balls defensively, (picking up) the pace of the game. He changed the game in the second quarter."
Napier played 23 minutes in Portland's season-opening win over Phoenix, then saw only 23 minutes of action in the Blazers' next nine games. He joined the rotation in a Nov. 7 loss to Memphis and, in the last four games, has averaged 12.5 points on 18-for-30 shooting, including 7 for 9 from 3-point range.
"When I get in the game, my mind-set is to be a spark whichever way I can — defensively or offensively," Napier said. "It's important for me to be ready, to prepare myself.
"I'm never the type of player who makes mistakes and looks at the coach. You just go out there with a free mind and enjoy it."
How did Napier like the three-guard lineup?
"It was cool," he said. "We got a lot done. CJ played some great defense and Dame made some big shots. I'm a smaller guy so it seems like we were small, but we got a lot of heart in the three of us."
Orlando jumped to a 13-3 lead in the game's first three minutes. The Magic, sinking 9 of their first 11 shots from the field, took a 33-24 advantage into the second period. Their edge was 47-34 midway through the second quarter when Portland finished the half on a 17-0 run to take a four-point lead into the break.
The Blazers increased the margin to 66-55 midway through the third quarter, but the Magic didn't go away. Evan Fournier's 3-pointer pushed Orlando in front 81-80 with 6:47 to play, and the Magic were still within 89-86 after Elfrid Payton sank a 3 with 2:58 left. Napier and McCollum answered with back-to-back 3's to make it 95-86 with 1:43 remaining. Orlando never got closer than five the rest of the way.
Portland's 3-point shooting was the difference, "but it was still a close game," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "We made some tough 3's, but we moved the ball well to the weak side to have some open 3's as well."
The Blazers' schedule looks promising the rest of the week, with back-to-back games Friday and Saturday against Western Division patsy Sacramento. The Kings (3-11) lost to 3-12 Atlanta 126-80 on Wednesday night.
Portland closed out an 11-game stretch — with 10 of the games at home — with a 6-5 mark, ending with wins over Denver and Orlando. After the two games with Sacramento, the Blazers go on a five-game road trip that begins Monday at Memphis.
"There are a few games in this home stretch we wish we'd closed out and gotten the win, but we're proud of the kind of basketball we played in the last two games," Lillard said. "Sacramento is a very winnable game. Then we come home and we'll get prepared for that road trip. We have to take advantage of the opportunity in front of us. We want to get as many 'W's' as we can before we go out on the road."
NOTES: Portland has won five of its last six at home against Orlando. … The Blazers rank among the NBA's top teams in many statistical categories, including rebound percentage (first, .539), free-throw percentage (second, .831), offensive rebounds per game (second, 11.46), 3-point percentage (sixth, .382), blocked shots (5.62, sixth), opponents' scoring (fourth, 99.0), opponents' field-goal percentage (third, .433), defensive rating (third, 99.2) and opponents' 3-point percentage (third, .321). Orlando is among the best in 3-point percentage (second, .399), assists (third, 26.31) and opponents' 3-point percentage (second, .317). … Vogel, asked why the Blazers' defensive rating has risen so high this season: "They don't give up 3's and they don't give up free throws. You do those things, you're going to have a high rating. Coach Stotts has them working on that end of the floor." … Stotts, on the Blazers' improved defense: "It's been a goal to be more focused and put in more effort at the defensive end. We've shored up a lot of different areas. Individual defense is better. For as much criticism as Damian has gotten for his defense the first five years, it should be noted how well he has played (defensively) this year."
Orlando center Nikola Vucevic entered the game having averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds against Portland in his seven-year NBA career — better than against any other team. Vucevic finished with 11 points and 10 boards Wednesday night. … Orlando power forward Aaron Gordon is an early candidate for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. The fourth-year pro is averaging 17.8 points and 7.7 rebounds and shooting .528 from the field and .500 from 3-point range. Gordon came into the season shooting 28 percent from beyond the arc. "I've never seen a guy improve his shooting like he did overnight — and I realize it's not overnight," Stotts said. "He put a lot of time into it. To go his first three years and shoot 28, 29 percent from 3, and then to shoot 50 this year — that's not a fluke. He's very comfortable doing multiple things. He's a versatile 4 who can put it on the floor and shoot. He has gotten off to an outstanding start." Gordon had a poor offensive game against Portland, making 4 of 10 shots and finishing with 12 points and five rebounds. … Stotts said he prefers the more open, 3-point-dominated NBA game from the post-oriented emphasis of previous eras. "When they changed the rules to create more freedom of movement in 2001, one of the side benefits was to add more skill to the game," the Blazers mentor said. "I like the way the NBA has gone — 3-point shooting is a skill. The game is about athleticism and skill and not necessarily brute strength. The game has opened up, and I like it."
Portland forward Evan Turner contributed $50,000 to the American Diabetes Association to support local initiatives such as "Let's Play Portland." Before Wednesday's game, Turner met with Noah Barnes, 11, of Key West, Florida, who is walking across the country to raise funds for diabetes. "Both of my maternal grandparents have diabetes," Turner said. "I may be facing it some day since it runs in my family. It's cool what the kid is doing. He's been traveling for 10 months. That's dope. A big commitment for that family. I'm proud of that kid." Barnes was honored by the Blazers during a first-quarter timeout Wednesday night.