Trip-ped Up

Aldridge, Hickson’s robust double-doubles send Pistons home 0-4

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

White Hot – Even without Brandon Knight in the lineup, missing his second straight game since spraining his left ankle earlier in the week at Utah, the Pistons got terrific production from guards Rodney Stuckey (a season-high 32 points), Jose Calderon (13 points, five assists) and Will Bynum (23 points, four assists). Bynum led a late 10-0 run that pulled the Pistons within two points with just over two minutes to play, but Portland got a big triple from Nicolas Batum and pulled away for a 112-101 win. The loss was their eight straight and sent them home with a 0-4 record on their weeklong West Coast road trip. The Pistons led 52-41 late in the first half, but a 20-5 Portland run that ended with a 9-0 start to the third quarter swung momentum to the home team.

BLUE COLLAR – Portland big men LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson kept Portland close in the first half with offensive rebounding and both finished with double-doubles to key their team’s comeback from a double-digits deficit. Aldridge’s offensive rebound and conversion with 1:45 to play put Portland up by five points after his scoring outburst early in the fourth quarter helped Portland take a 12-point lead. Aldridge finished with 31 points and 12 rebounds, hitting 13 of 21 shots. Hickson added 18 points and 15 rebounds.

RED FLAG – Over the first half of the season, the Pistons exhibited significant defensive improvement from a season ago, but that progress has faded since, especially in the absence of Andre Drummond. Over the first three games of the West Coast road trip prior to Saturday’s loss, the Pistons had allowed opponents to shoot 57 percent and average 112.3 points. They enjoyed one of their best offensive first halves of the season at Portland, shooting 58 percent and topping 25 points in each quarter, yet still led by just five points at halftime. All four Western Conference opponents scored more than 100 points on the road trip and Portland was the only one that didn’t make better than half of its shots.

PORTLAND – On a list that also must include David West and Luis Scola, count LaMarcus Aldridge as a power forward who bedevils the Pistons. Aldridge did it again Saturday night, opening the fourth quarter by scoring on each of Portland’s first four possessions on his way to another monstrous night at Detroit’s expense.

Aldridge scored on increasingly tough jump shots on Portland’s first three trips of the final quarter, after the Pistons had lost an 11-point first-half lead but were still squarely in contention. On the fourth trip, Jason Maxiell, already giving Aldridge precious little breathing room, got too close and fouled him, and Aldridge drained both free throws.

“As great a job as Jason Maxiell was doing on him, he made two or three shots that I don’t even know how he made them, quite honestly,” Brian Hill said after Portland’s 112-101 win. “He hurt us in the second half.”

Aldridge finished with 31 points and 12 rebounds, making 13 of 21 shots. He scored 21 in the second half when he missed just two of 10 shots.

“I thought we played well enough to win,” said Kyle Singler, playing his first NBA game in his native state before a large contingent of family and a youth group from Medford, his hometown, of nearly 100. “We didn’t come up with plays at the end of the game to win. Portland played well. They’re a tough team to guard when Aldridge is playing like he did tonight.”

For all of Aldridge’s fireworks, the Pistons might have won on the strength of deadly offensive efficiency from their backcourt even without Brandon Knight available, but not when J.J. Hickson matched Aldridge’s double-double with one of his own.

The asterisk, indeed, is how well Rodney Stuckey played on the trip, especially in the past two games, scoring a season-high 32 one game after dropping 22 against Golden State. All that despite coming out in the third quarter with a gash over his right eye, courtesy of a Damian Lillard head butt.

“Just being aggressive. Just playing basketball – that’s it,” Stuckey said before being whisked out of the postgame locker room to take four stitches. Later, he got poked in the eye. “That’s my game, to attack and create for my teammates. I’ve just been given the opportunity to do this the past couple of games. It’s been working in my hands, even though we lost – that’s the most important thing. We lost. We’ve just got to come out and get more defensive stops. That’s what hurt us tonight.”

To be sure, neither team will submit the videotape for consideration in defensive instruction. The Pistons gave up 112 points a game on their winless four-game, weeklong West Coast trip and only Portland (48 percent) failed to make at least half of its shots.

Lillard, Portland’s dynamic rookie, didn’t put up big numbers (14 points, seven assists), but the Pistons allowed too much penetration in general and those breakdowns created the openings that allowed the Trail Blazers to do so much damage inside (54 points in the paint) and beat the Pistons up on the offensive glass (45-33 overall, 12-7 on the offensive end, leading to a 17-6 edge in second-chance points). Hickson was the ringleader, scoring 18 points to go with 15 boards, five of them offensive.

“He hurt us,” Hill said. “He hurt us on the glass and with stick-backs. There were some drives down the lane and on the baseline that we didn’t rotate quick enough to help on. That’s where we really have to clean up our defense.”

Portland coach Terry Stotts would say the same thing about his defense, which was routinely punctured by all three Pistons guards. Jose Calderon was really good with 13 points, five assists and only one turnover, but he didn’t play at all in the second and fourth quarters because Hill couldn’t take Stuckey and Will Bynum out. Bynum augmented Stuckey’s 32 with 23 on 10 of 14 shooting, plus four assists, in 28 minutes.

“They did a great job,” Hill said of what will likely again become the backup backcourt when Knight returns, which could be a soon as Monday night when the Pistons host Brooklyn. “As soon as Will came in the game, the way they were defending our pick and rolls, immediately we were able to exploit it, either with his penetration or hitting the roll on the weak side. Rodney, we wanted him in attack mode all night and he did that. He looked to attack the basket and push it at every opportunity. Those two guys basically kept us in the game.”

Bynum led the last charge. The Pistons led by 11 late in the first half, but a 20-5 Portland run that spanned the second and third quarters put the Blazers in control. Aldridge’s early fourth-quarter spurt kept them ahead and they looked to be ready to win going away, leading by 12 with 4:31 to play, when Bynum led a 10-0 run. That ended on a Nicolas Batum triple, but a Stuckey layup at 2:34 again made it a one-possession game. The final Portland push started on a play that symbolized the game: an Aldridge offensive rebound and a put-back fueled a 10-2 closing rush.

“Our guys came out and really got us off to a good start,” Hill said. “We had high energy. We were focused on our game plan and we did a good job defensively. We fought our way back in, but then Batum hit a big corner three and we gave up two big offensive rebounds, which opened it back up again. But as far as character and the work of our guys, I thought they played their hearts out tonight.”