A win is a win, so rather than spend too much time on the fact that Portland escaped against a Memphis team that was missing one of its best players, let's just focus on the fact that the Blazers overcame a tough challenge to nab a rare road victory.
For this young Portland team, which came into Friday night's game in Memphis with a 5-11 road record, any victory away from the Rose Garden is a plus right now.
So even though Zach Randolph sat out with an illness, Friday's 86-84 win over the Grizzlies was a sweet one for the Blazers, who bounced back from a rough showing against the Raptors in Toronto on Wednesday to win for the ninth time in their past 12 games and improve to 2-1 on the current four-game road trip.
A game against the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday night closes out the trip for Portland, which returns back home to face the Orlando Magic on Monday.
The Blazers will head into Saturday's game against the T-Wolves with some momentum, having buckled down defensively late to hold off Memphis at the end. The Grizzlies might have missed Randolph in crunch time, but his replacement in the starting lineup, Marresse Speights, did plenty of damage, turning in 22 points and 13 rebounds.
It wasn't enough to overcome Portland's starters, who were led by 21 points from Wesley Matthews. Double-doubles from J.J. Hickson -- 19 points, 11 rebounds -- and LaMarcus Aldridge -- 15 points, 12 rebounds -- were key for the Blazers, as were the 11 points each from Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, who also had eight assists.
What I keep seeing from this Portland team is an impressive ability to bounce back from struggles -- like that 102-79 blow from the Raptors two nights earlier -- and a starting unit that continues to jel and produce better and better as the season goes along.
That last part is key for the Blazers, because there's still not really any bench production. Coach Terry Stotts is beginning to rely on a few key reserves with a little more consistency -- namely Meyers Leonard (who missed this one with a sprained ankle), Luke Babbitt and Will Barton -- but the scoring production from the bench remains incredibly low. Babbitt and Barton combined for nine points on Friday, and that was it for Portland's reserves, with Sasha Pavlovic, Ronnie Price and Joel Freeland each playing between 8 and 10 minutes but not scoring.
That puts an awful lot of pressure on the starters, of course, but on this night, they delivered. The first five went 9-for-20 (45 percent) from 3-point range and 29-for-67 (43 percent) overall from the field, while Memphis hit 39.5 percent as a team, including an 8-for-21 night from Rudy Gay.
As far as bench production goes, Portland simply needs more time to develop its younger players. The talent is most definitely there. In the meantime, if the starters can continue pulling out victories the way they did on Friday night, so much the better.
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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