After Tuesday’s blowout of the Clippers there was plenty of talk about needing to get over it quickly and move on to the next game. Thursday’s game, the second of Portland’s seven game preseason, was the opposite of Tuesday’s win. At times it was the Blazers playing the part of the team getting blown out on Thursday. Portland built two strong comebacks but neither was enough to get the win.
Thursday’s final score, 100-96 in favor of the Jazz, was closer than the game was, although optimistic Blazers fans can take pride in the fact that Portland never gave up, and fewer turnovers and more made jump shots in the first quarter, and this thing could have gone their way.
The Blazers entered Thursday night’s game having lost all four match-ups to the Utah Jazz in 2009-10 and both games at Energy Solutions Arena in 2008-09. The short story; Portland hasn’t won in Utah in quite some time. Although its preseason, there was no reason to believe that the Blazers wouldn’t have liked to walk out of the gym with a win in Utah. The new look Jazz, minus Carlos Boozer and (of course) Wesley Matthews, had yet to play a preseason game, and there were still some lingering questions about new addition Al Jefferson in the middle.
Skeptics say Jefferson can’t run the pick-and-roll, and everyone knows that defense isn’t his strongest attribute. Thursday Jefferson attempted only four field goals in just under 26 minutes, finishing with an underwhelming six points and six rebounds. Because the game wasn’t televised, there was no way to see how Big Al looked running the pick-and-roll, but it didn’t really matter. When Jefferson was on the floor, Derron Williams was on the floor, and when he was in the game Utah dominated.
Williams finished his debut with 15 points in 24 minutes, and helped the Jazz to a 31-15 in the first quarter. At that point the game sounded like a runaway. The Utah second unit was another story. Portland made this a game by coming back in the second quarter and the fourth quarter by taking it to Utah’s second string. The Jazz starters dominated the plus/minus category, Williams finished +23, Jefferson +21, the lowest plus/minus for a Utah stater came from Raja Bell with +17. Utah’s bench players were the exact opposite rookie Gordon Haywood, Kyrylo Fesenko, and Ronnie Price finished -12, -17, and -13 respectively.
As for the Blazers, it was not a great night for the starters. Brandon Roy struggled for his second straight game, finishing with four points in almost 25 minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge did a little better, adding 15 points in nearly 27 minutes. Back-to-back strong showings for LaMarcus should be at the top of every Blazer fan’s list of preseason positives. Three Blazers stood out Thursday, two that have shown their value in spades in the first two preseason match-ups, and one that might have to be ready to embrace a larger role going forward from Thursday night.
Wesley Matthews led all scorers for the second night in a row, third if you count FanFest which you should. Matthews tallied 21 points and handed out five assists against his former team. Rudy Fernandez turned in his second straight high-level performance going 4-of-5 from deep and finishing with 15 points. Matthews and Fernandez kept Portland in the game for long stretches, and have solidified their places as anchor of the second unit.
The player whose role may have just increased was Dante Cunningham. Portland’s back-up center Jeff Pendergraph went down early with a knee injury early in the first half, leaving Portland with only Dante Cunningham and Marcus Camby to fill the center position. Pendergraph’s injury is reportedly not “major,” but the second-year player will return to Portland and not play on Friday in Denver. Cunningham embraced the increase in minutes, finishing with a career best 18 points. Cunningham did have a stretch where he turned the ball over three times, and if Pendergraph’s injury has any long term implications, Cunningham will have to adjust to playing more minutes in a hurry.
Portland had chances late in the game, but a failure to finish doomed the Blazers to their first loss of the 2010-11 season.
The Blazers are back in action tomorrow against another division rival the Denver Nuggets.
Updates from Blazeredge on Jeff Pendergraph
Beyond the Beat’s take on the loss of Pendergraph