Dec 2, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) blocks the shot of Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) during the fourth quarter of the game at the Moda Center. The Blazers won the game 106-102. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers Are Legitimate Title Contenders


Dec 2, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Wesley Matthews (2) celebrates after hitting a three point shot during the fourth quarter of the game against the Indiana Pacers at the Moda Center. The Blazers won the game 106-102. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Monday night is usually reserved for the NFL, but tonight the NBA fanatics out there had one game circled — Pacers vs Blazers. Disappointing, underwhelming, boring and uneventful are certainly NOT adjectives one would use to describe what went down at the Moda Center late Monday night.

Terry Stotts had a plan going into the game and were it not for the heroics of Paul George, this would have been an even bigger margin of victory for the Blazers. Stotts’ plan was to run, run, run and keep the Pacers out of the half court where scoring on their vaunted defense is like breaking into Fort Knox. Pacers are first in the NBA in defensive rating sitting at 92.6 (points per 100 possessions) and they are allowing a league-low 86.5 points per game to their opponents.

The plan was great — it just didn’t work. The Pacers took 88 shots on the night; the Blazers only put up 76 shots and only 13 of those were from beyond the arc. The Pacers outscored the Blazers by 12 from distance, so where did the extra points come from you ask? Free throws. Pacers only went 15-17 and the Blazers outscored em’ by 14 hitting 29-33 from the charity stripe. Even more impressive — the Blazers beat the Pacers at their own game. Sure the score was higher than normal in a Pacer game, but the Blazers were able to score on them in the half court. How? Two stars in their primes, hitting on all cylinders.

Two Stars Are Better Than One

Paul George tried to pull his best Reggie Miller impersonation, but came up just a bit short. Still George put up a new career high with 43 points on 16-of-30 shooting and an impressive seven 3-point makes! Roy Hibbert had 16, David West had 12, and Luis Scola and C.J. Watson both chipped in off the bench for 10 apiece. Don’t get me wrong, this team might be the most complete team in the NBA; but on nights like this where it’s a grind it out type of game, it helps to have two go-to players instead of just one.

LaMarcus Aldridge was fantastic yet again, finishing with 28 points and 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double on the season. Damian Lillard turned it on late and had 26 points, six rebounds and two assists. Lillard’s assist numbers are a little down this season and I have been critical of that early, but all his other numbers are up and his turnovers are down as well so I might be nit-picking a tad. These two had plenty of help as Wes had his usual 15 points and Mo Williams was huge off the bench with an invigorating 13 points (not often you hear that phrase). Depth reared it’s bountiful face yet again for the Blazers but on this night where only four Blazers reach double figures it was undoubtedly the two-headed monster of young point guard and power forward in his prime that did the trick.

So, on this thrilling Monday night the Blazers were able to beat the NBA’s best and prove that they belong in the conversation as one of the teams in the upper echelon this season. The season is very, very young but the Blazers are the ONLY team with wins over both the Spurs and Pacers who have a combined record of 31-5 through the first 18 games. They lead the league with eight road wins already (8-2) and their depth will only increase once C.J. McCollum comes back from his foot injury.

Get ready — it’s going to be a wild ride in the West this season and Portland is showing that they have the staying power that almost everyone questioned coming into the season. Can they vie for the coveted NBA Title — time will tell.

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