The Portland Trail Blazers they beat Orland Magic 112-105 on Friday, sadly slim. Anything short would have been a disaster, with Orlando grooming everyone but the arena and technical staff after essentially shipping the top third of his roster yesterday at the trade deadline. Jusuf Nurkic made his long-awaited return. Robert Covington was great. So was Enes Kanter, returning to his substitute position. But that’s not what we’re here for today. Like a child receiving a forgotten Christmas present in July, all eyes were on the Blazers’ shiny new wing toy.
Despite not having had practice time with the team, Norman Powell, who was just a daily commute from the freeway where he transferred to his old team in Tampa, made the walk and got directly into the starting lineup instead Damian Lillard, who missed the game due to a “bruised left knee,” which hopefully reads closer to “well-deserved rest against a downtrodden opponent.”
Powell played 36 minutes and it was as advertised, scoring 22 points on 7-13 shots, including 5 triples to accompany 2 steals and a block. With CJ McCollum struggling through a tough 8-26 shooting night, Powell nearly saved the day for the Blazers. What a debut.
Portland’s new lineup didn’t take hold right away, at least on defense, as the almost-forgotten members of the Magic roster were “Island of Misfit Toys” on the Blazers for most of the opening period. Orlando played with an almost cliche level of confidence with nothing to lose, throwing the ball at a rate close to 80% for most of the quarter before returning to Earth. CJ McCollum, playing the lead role, was the point of attack, but mostly settled for 3s en route to 11 points. Powell completed Garth very well with his Wayne, scoring 8 points and it seemed like he has been a fixture of the offense all season. It didn’t take him long to recognize the tools he brings to the table: shots from the outside, particularly from the corners, and a deadly dribble-drive. The Magic had a lead of up to 6, but Portland held on to attacking distance and finally took the lead in the final minute. Blazers led 35-32 after one.
Portland began to build up the defensive pressure and Orlando suddenly couldn’t buy a bucket. With the Magic throwing lineups of guys who have probably never shared minutes on the court together outside of practice, much of the action was impromptu, leading to questionable shot selection. For example, Mo Bamba is 28% off 3-point shots this season, but that didn’t stop him from trying 6 tonight, of which he only made 1. The Blazers were happy to let Orlando shoot out of the game seemingly and only had You step on the water to push your advantage further. Anfernee Simons returned to the rotation and immediately found her shot hit, scoring three from the outside on an extended run. Portland had a 10-point lead heading into the break at 65-55.
With the game in relative control and a comfortable victory seemingly on the horizon, it all fell apart for the Blazers in the third quarter. Rather than save the game, Portland suffered a disastrous nearly 5-minute stretch in which they ran out of touchdowns and allowed the Magic to come back and tie the game. This included an especially frustrating sequence in which Nurkic had back-to-back turnovers on sloppy passes on the open court, one that led to an Orlando bucket. The drought ultimately ended with a three from none other than Powell, because rescuing his new squad from ridicule and shame on the first day on the job is apparently something he brings to the table. Who knows? There was still work to be done, but the Blazers held a small 80-77 lead heading into the final draw.
The final 12 minutes were stressful as Portland came out of its offensive slump, but now it also had to deal with an inspired Magic squad with nothing to lose. Powell continued to fuel the offense alongside McCollum, but Dwayne Bacon became a proverbial thorn in the side and helped keep Orlando close the rest of the way. A three by James Ennis midway through the quarter tied the game at 94, but the Blazers were able to maintain their composure and score seven straight points that ultimately became the decider.
Nurkic’s return was great to watch, but it was probably filled with more moans than cheers. He got into foul trouble early and never seemed to find a rhythm on offense, but his trademark size and physique were present in several defensive possessions. There will probably be guys with bruises in the locker room. The sequence of bad passes wasn’t forced and sloppy, and he then looked at an open Powell in the corner for a missed three-point attempt. Some rust is to be expected, so you will get a pass here, let’s just hope it recovers.
The Blazers will have a day off before facing none other than Gary Trent Jr. and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday afternoon at 4pm Pacific.