ATLANTA – The indoctrination of Enes Kanter into the Portland Trail Blazers’ system continued Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks and it went very well.
First, the Trail Blazers thumped the Hawks 118-98 for their sixth straight win. Second, Kanter, again starting in place of injured Jusuf Nurkic, had perhaps his most-complete game yet for the Trail Blazers.
The former backup center scored 14 points on 7-11 from the field, had eight rebounds and a blocked shot in two seconds shy of 25 minutes on the court.
And he looked comfortable in the pick-and-roll with Damian Lillard, something we hadn’t seen a lot of prior to this game.
In fact, hadn’t seen a lot of it in Kanter’s career. He’s been a post-up, low-block player through most of his time in the league, but when you put him with Lillard, there’s instant chemistry.
“When you have Dame – they said Nurk and Dame was the best pick-and-roll in the league, so Coach told me, ‘Hey, we have the best guy so just go set a pick and he’s going to make the shot.’
“So my thing is, from Day One they were telling me to go set a good pick for Dame and that’s my focus every game. He’s going to score the ball and make everyone else better.
“This is the first time I’m actually running this much pick-and-rolls. But when you have a guy like Dame, I mean he’s just making everyone around him better. The game becomes so easy and everyone is comfortable out there.”
Lillard, of course, carried his usual heavy load with CJ McCollum home recovering from his knee injury and Nurkic out with a broken leg.
Lillard made 13-of-25 shots, including 4-10 from three-point range, had seven assists, a blocked shot, only two turnovers and 36 points in 32:04.
And he was taking on Trae Young, the latest of the young point guards to try to take Lillard on and prove something.
Young held his own in the first quarter, getting an 18-18 draw with Portland’s All-NBA point guard. But for the game he was only 1-8 from three-point range and needed 25 shots to score 26 points.
Portland Coach Terry Stotts liked his team’s defense.
“From a defensive standpoint, Atlanta had been on a roll, scoring 120 or something since the All-Star break,” he said. “So to hold them under 100 says a lot for our defense.
“First quarter, we probably didn’t defend as well as we needed to but after that it was pretty good. Damian was terrific again -- scoring, passing. Enes did a nice job in the lane, offensively and defensively. So, anyway, against a team that’s been playing pretty well lately it was a good win. They just beat Utah and Philadelphia and I think that speaks enough (about how good Atlanta is).”
Stotts continued his tinkering with lineups and ran out a group in the first half that included no centers at all.
“I mean Chief (Aminu) is long,” Stotts said, “He’s not a typical center but I think it’s something we have to look at, Whether it’s having Chief and Mo (Harkless), or Rodney (Hood) or Jake (Layman), Even (Turner) – we’ve got good length on the wings, so I don’t know how much we’ll do that but it’s something we have to look at and see how it goes.”
Stotts talked about the pick-and-rolls with Kanter.
“Our first five pick-and-rolls with Enes were scores,” he said. “Whether it was him or Dame, he set good screens, he’s rolling. The way the game started, him and Dame in pick-and-rolls worked pretty well.”
Porltand got balanced scoring, with 17 from Al-Farouq Aminu, 12 from Seth Curry and nine from Zach Collins.
The Trail Blazers get no rest on Saturday. They meet the Pistons in Detroit on the second of back-to-back games before finishing the four-game trip at Minnesota against the Timberwolves Monday night.