Well that couldn't have gone much better for Portland.
The Trail Blazers tipped off the 2012-13 season -- one of major changes for the team -- with a 116-106 victory over the All-Star-laden Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night in L.A.
And as far as I'm concerned, the only way it could've gone any better for the Blazers is if rookies Joel Freeland, Victor Claver and Will Barton had managed to get some playing time.
But that's being nit-picky, because really, the fact that the Blazers beat an NBA heavyweight, and looked good doing it, is a major positive to start the season.
True, the Lakers are 0-2 already and looking a bit out of sync, but I can't take away from what Portland managed to do on Wednesday night, getting big contributions from all five starters and enough of a boost off the bench to wind up with a game that wasn't as close as the final score might indicate; Portland led 102-83 at one point in the fourth quarter.
I liked what I saw from each of Portland's five starters, particularly J.J. Hickson, who is stepping into the role at center despite being a true power forward. He had 13 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, and got some help off the bench from rookie Meyers Leonard in terms of trying to guard Lakers center Dwight Howard.
Howard did, of course, come up big for L.A., with 33 points and 14 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant scored 30 but the Blazers were good enough to get the win in this one.
I've been expecting big things from Nicolas Batum this season, and he didn't disappoint on Wednesday, scoring a team-high 26 points with six rebounds and three steals. He was one of three Portland starters to top 20 points, as rookie point guard Damian Lillard scored 23 and Wesley Matthews had 22.
I've been really impressed with Lillard ever since the Blazers drafted him sixth overall in June, from his play in summer league on through the preseason. Wednesday's opener was no different; he had 11 assists to go with those 23 points, and showed the type of leadership and playmaking ability that Portland mostly lacked from the point guard position last season. Lillard was 7-for-17 from the field and hit all eight of his free-throw attempts. I'd like to see him cut down on those six turnovers, of course, but the guy's a rookie and he's going to make a few rookie mistakes here and there.
Consistency from the shooting guard spot is a big key for the Blazers this season, as far as I'm concerned, and on Wednesday, at least, Matthews delivered that. He can be an erratic shooter, but he can also light it up at times, and against the Lakers, he was hot, going 7-for-11 from the field, including 4-for-6 on 3-point attempts, with 4-of-6 free-throw shooting. Matthews also had four steals.
All this and I haven't even mentioned Portland's 2011-12 All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 19 points on 9-of-20 shooting. It felt like a quiet night for Aldridge, despite those 19 points, but he did have a couple of blocks despite grabbing just three boards and getting to the line only once.
As far as the bench goes, I was impressed with Leonard's play, and I liked what Sasha Pavlovic contributed, showing some hustle while putting up seven points in 18 minutes.
New coach Terry Stotts only used four reserves -- Jared Jeffries and Nolan Smith were the others -- as every starter except Hickson played at least 35 minutes (Hickson played 25, with Leonard getting 23 off the bench to help guard Howard).
It was a great debut for the Blazers, who now hit the road for a tough three-game trip that starts on Friday night in Oklahoma City, followed by a Saturday game against James Harden and the Houston Rockets, and a Monday contest at Dallas.
Adam Sparks has followed the Portland Trail Blazers since the early 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.
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