It was one of those supposed-to-win games.
The Portland Trail Blazers met the Phoenix Suns Saturday night in Moda Center and the fact that the 15-52 Suns are the only team to have defeated the Eastern-Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks twice this year meant nothing.
As far as most people figured, this was a game the Trail Blazers were supposed to win. Period. No excuses.
And they did, by the score of 127-120. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t efficient. But it went into the win column, just the same.
“I just go out there and hoop,” said CJ McCollum, who had an 11-14 shooting night en route to a game-high 26 points. “I don’t worry about who we’re playing. They have capable players, guys who are capable of beating you. You have to be ready to play.”
And the Trail Blazers managed to get a few positive things out of the game.
For the first three quarters, Portland was all over the Suns, leading 102-77 heading into the fourth period, shooting 50.7 percent from the field and a spectacular 52.4 percent from three-point distance. All while holding the Suns to 35.9 percent shooting.
That didn’t last, of course. Coach Terry Stotts cleared his bench in the final quarter and Portland was outscored 43-25 over the final 12 minutes.
But the fact is, the Trail Blazers gave a lot of players a chance to knock the rust off and get a good run. And as long as you win the game, you can always laugh off the final quarter.
“Really good, solid win,” Stotts said afterward. “For three quarters. I thought we got a lot of contributions from everybody, just up and down the lineup. Everybody who played in the first three quarters just did a nice job.”
And along the way, little things were being done to improve the situation. The most apparent was the obvious attempts by the Trail Blazers to set up new backup center Enes Kanter -- who finished with 12 points on 5-7 shooting in 16:34 -- on the block. And Damian Lillard, who has done such a great job with starter Jusuf Nurkic in that regard, is doing the same thing with Kanter.
“I think it’s something we have to do,” Lillard said. “Him coming in off the bench with that second unit is a great option. He provides scoring and when all else fails, to have somebody you can just drop the ball down into and get a quality possession.
“He’s a handful. I just try to give him those early opportunities to have the kind of game that he can.
“Nurk is much bigger. He covers more space. He delivers blows to people. He moves people around. But Enes is actually really good in those (postup) situations.
“It’s just a matter of him getting more and more comfortable in where he has to be. It will get better as time goes on.”
It’s probably more important to get Kanter more offensive opportunities because he is not the defender Nurkic is. You want to maximize what he does best, which is score and rebound.
“You know what he can do for you, offensively, so you have to give him those opportunities,” Lillard said. “Defensively, I think when you go to a new team, our principles are different than the last team he played for. We do stuff differently. There’s a lot on his mind trying to figure out what he’s supposed to be doing, remembering what we call our coverages and where he’s supposed to be in the coverages, the tendencies of the player he’s supposed to be covering.
“It’s a lot to think about, so you’ve got guys who are great defenders who just figure things out and you’ve got offensive guys we lean on knowing the plays. That’s the kind of situation he’s in – knowing our principles and where he’s supposed to be.
“Once he does that, he’ll be sharp from there.”
Ahead on the Portland schedule are more of these games against teams below it in the standings. At Los Angeles against the Clippers is the next one, followed by road games at New Orleans and San Antonio.
They’re supposed to win those games, right?