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Big first night for Batum, Lillard, Blazers

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSOTT - LaMarcus Aldridge is excited about the way the Trail Blazers are playing in their 116-106 season-opening win at home Wednesday over the Los Angeles Lakers.The first regular-season look at the 2012-13 Trail Blazers was an eye-opener.

There was very little not to like in Portland’s resounding 116-106 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night at the Rose Garden.

Yes, those Lakers — with future Hall-of-Famers Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the team many expect to square off with Miami in an NBA finals showdown next June.

The Lakers — who fell 99-91 at Dallas in their season opener Tuesday night — are a long way from being that kind of powerhouse. But the Blazers may be better than the one few predict to make the playoffs this season.

Nicolas Batum scored a team-high 26 points, Wesley Matthews had a terrific two-way game and cool-breeze rookie Damian Lillard made an historic NBA debut as the Blazers gave the Lakers a pretty good beating.

“A huge win for us,” said Matthews, who scored 22 points and made Bryant work like the dickens for his 30 points. “We have a lot of doubters against us, a lot of people writing us off.

“This isn’t going to silence them, but it should certify our belief in ourselves.”

Portland shot superbly — .506 from the field, .450 from 3-point range and .821 at the free-throw line — committed only 12 turnovers and played enough to defense to help force 25 Laker giveaways. All five Portland starters scored in double figures, Batum leading the way on 9-for-16 shooting.

“I can’t say I’m surprised, especially with the play of our starters,” first-year Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “That group has played a lot of minutes together. They’re very good players and a competitive group.”

The Lakers got big numbers from Dwight Howard, who went for 33 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, and Kobe Bryant, who also six rebounds and three assists.

Howard — 3 for 14 at the free-throw line at Dallas — made 15 of 19 gift shots Wednesday night as the Portland big men fouled him whenever he got the ball in scoring opportunity in the paint.

The Blazers led 30-26 after one quarter and 62-57 at the half. The Lakers closed to within 79-76 late in the third quarter when the Blazers — fueled by seven straight points by reserve forward Sasha Pavlovic — went on a 13-0 run to take a 92-76 advantage into the fourth quarter.

Portland’s lead was 18 with eight minutes remaining before the Lakers began to chip away, although they drew no closer than eight the rest of the way.

“The way we finished the third quarter was great,” Stotts said. “(The Lakers) had their bench in, and we were able to take advantage of that.

“I would liked to have finished the last three or four minutes better, but it was a solid win from start to finish.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Portland forward Nicolas Batum finds a path through the Los Angeles Lakers' defense.Batum was aggressive early, scoring 19 of his points in the first half on 7-for-11 shooting while grabbing four offensive rebounds.

“He made timely shots,” Stotts said. “He plays a game that kind of flows. I run some plays for him, but he finds open spots. I played him a lot of minutes (40), and he had some tough defensive assignments.”

“I tried to be aggressive and bring it on offense and defense,” Batum said. “I know I have to bring it every night. People are focused on (LaMarcus Aldridge) so much this year as our go-to guy. Nobody respects guys like Damian, Wes, J.J (Hickson) and me. We have to show them so we can free up L.A. a little bit.”

This season is about development of young players as much as victories for Portland, but Lillard — taken out of Weber State with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft — was all about production Wednesday night.

The 6-3 point guard scored 23 points, dished out 11 assists and gave more than he got from Laker veterans Nash and Steve Blake. Lillard joined Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as the only players in NBA history with at least 20 points and 10 assists in his debut.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Damian Lillard had a double-double in his NBA debut as Portland's starting point guard.“Damian called the offense and made shots when he had to,” said Aldridge, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the first quarter. “He had a double-double — that’s always big in this league. He played great tonight.”

“He can score, pass, play defense, shoot 3s, penetrate — the balance of his game is really good,” Batum said.

“He was the engine,” said Matthews, who made 7 of 11 shots from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range. “He pushed the tempo, and we all fed off that. And there were times when he fed off us.”

Lillard — who was 7 for 17 from the field and 8 for 8 from the line — saw it that way, too.

“It’s a lot easier when L.A., Wes and Nic are making shots,” he said. “I got to give them credit. They made shots, and everything came easier for me.

“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive, make Steve Nash play both ends of the floor. I wanted to make him work and try to make plays for my teammates.”

Nash — in his second game after signing a free-agent contract with the Lakers — lasted little more than a half. He exited early in the third quarter with a left leg contusion and didn’t return, finishing with two points, four assists and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

“I got kicked in the lower leg and got a nasty little contusion,” Nash said. “I thought it would be OK, but I couldn’t push off or decelerate laterally.”

Lillard had half of Portland’s dozen turnovers.

“We still have to work on that,” Stotts said. “There were a couple of possessions where he tried to do too much.

“But on a whole, for him to have 23 and 11 in a game like that? That was pretty impressive.”

Four Blazer starters finished with 19 or more points, and the fifth — 6-9 center Hickson — had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He collected 11 points and seven boards in a whirlwind second half.

“J.J.’s energy was terrific in that second half,” Stotts said. “That was a big factor for us.”

Stotts also paid homage to Pavlovic, a nine-year veteran acquired in July from Boston in a three-way trade in which the Blazers gave up former second-round draft pick Jon Diebler.

“That little stretch by Sasha (in the third quarter) opened it up for us,” Stotts said. “That sequence energized our team when we were kind of wobbly. It turned the game at that point.”

It was a grand coming-out party for the 2012-13 Blazers, with 10 new faces from opening night a year ago.

“We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things, a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket,” Matthews said. “That’s what happened tonight. Everybody got in a rhythm. There was no selfish basketball.”

The Blazers now embark on a three-game road trip beginning Friday at Oklahoma City.

“We want to be a surprise,” Batum said. “We want to do something this year.

“It was a good first win. Eighty-one (games) remaining. It’s a long season. We put it behind us now. A big game in OKC in two days, so we have to bring the same intensity, the same energy.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Wesley Matthews and the other starters all had impressive nights at the Rose Garden. Now the Blazers head to Oklahoma City to begin a three-game trip on Friday.NOTES: Lillard’s 11 assists were the most in an NBA debut since Jason Kidd had 11 in 1994. ... Portland’s 116 points were its most in a season opener since scoring 121 against the L.A. Clippers in 1994. ... Portland has won 12 consecutive home openers. ... The Lakers shot .500 from the field and outrebounded Portland 45-30. ... The first two shots of Lillard’s NBA career were 3-pointers. He made both — but the first was disallowed because he stepped on the sideline. Lillard’s first assist came on a left-handed behind-the-back bounce pass to Aldridge, who drained a 15-footer.

The Blazers have won 17 of the last 21 and 31 of the last 39 meetings with the Lakers in Portland dating to 1993. “Everyone wants to say the Blazers have a rivalry with the Lakers, but shoot, the Lakers have a rivalry with everybody,” Laker coach Mike Brown said before the game with a smile. “Everybody says we’re their rival. The crowd here is really into the game, and when that happens, it’s tough. And (the Blazers) have been good, too. it’s a tough environment to play in.”... Matthews played in his 231st straight game. Matthews has never missed a game in his four years in the NBA. ... Portland backup point guard Ronnie Price (ankle) did not dress. “He had decent workouts the last two days, and he’s moving around, but he’s not game-ready,” Stotts said. ... The announced crowd of 20,401 marked the Blazers’ 193rd straight sellout. “It was everything I expected,” Stotts said. “It was great. This is one of the best, if not the best, homecourts in the league. They were into the game from the opening tip. We’re a relatively young team, and we fed off their energy.”