Nate McMillan had the observation of the evening Thursday night during his post game press conference. When asked to sum up the preseason, which finished in uplifting fashion with a Blazers win 90-83 over the Denver Nuggets, Sarge had this to say: “It’s over.” A better summation of the past few weeks, I could not supply. Portland came out Thursday looking to get its rotation players solid minutes, get the offense flowing naturally, and all together play like the game meant something. Of course the game didn’t mean anything, and there were more than a few times that Portland could have given the thing away, but they didn’t. With solid play from a returning Marcus Camby, some truly inspired minutes from Andre Miller, and a so-so but resurgent Brandon Roy, this team may actually be ready for the regular season, which is good because it starts next Tuesday.
News was passed down over the last few days that Raymond Sykes and Steven Hill would be let go, paring the roster down to 16, which meant that Portland’s big men would include only LaMarcus Aldridge, Dante Cunningham, and Marcus Camby. With Camby still recovering from a hip injury, and rumored initially to be unavailable, Thursday looked like it was going to be small ball for the Blazers. However just hours before tip-off it was made known that Camby would be in the lineup, and what a difference having Camby in the center made. Easily the X factor in Thursday’s win, Camby collected 17 rebounds, helping the Blazers out rebound the Nuggets 47-to-35. Camby will be called upon in the early going to shoulder some serious minutes in the paint for the Blazers. He looks ready, and everyone should be happy to see him back on the court.
Here are some thoughts I had about the evening:
- Andre Miller carried the Blazers in the early going, a part of the game that briefly saw Portland trail by eight points. Miller finished the first quarter with eight points, making 4-0f-5 field goals. Miller also provided some offense in the closing minutes. Thursday’s fourth quarter was the closest we’ve gotten to a regular season atmosphere. Carmelo Anthony drained a three to cut a five-point lead to a two-point lead with under five minutes left to play. Miller pulled down a rebound after a defensive stop on the next Denver offensive and finished a one-man fast break with a lay-up, putting Portland back on top by four and effectively shutting the door on a Denver comeback. Miller looked ready to go for the first time in the preseason. I’d say it’s probably due to the haircut.
- Brandon led all scorers for the first time this preseason. His 26 points did come on 20 field goal attempts, but he got to the line enough times to make up for his poor shot selection. Brandon still doesn’t look great, he forced a lot of bad shots in the first quarter, but he’s working hard. Post game he said he wanted to put up a lot of shots tonight, and he did. I would bet that come Tuesday, Brandon will be wanting more than anyone to prove that he’s ready to play. I can also guarantee that if Brandon doesn’t have a great game come Opening Night, there will be plenty to talk about. Brandon also spent the majority of the night checking Anthony. Probably not the greatest defensive match-up for Roy, but he held Anthony to 21 points on 6-of-23 from the field.
- Like I said before, Camby was a difference-maker. With Camby in the middle Portland is in pretty good shape, even without a legit second unit guy. Post game, Camby talked about teaching LaMarcus how to tip-out loose balls to keep offensive possessions alive. With that kind of mentality, there is no way that Portland cannot be a stronger team inside than it was last year.
- Nicolas Batum put together a nice evening, after beginning it with a couple sloppy turnovers. The highlight of the evening came when Batum forced Chauncey Billups into a back-court turnover that led to a monster throwdown. Batum left the game in the third quarter with an injury to his neck. The first thing he said post game was that it wasn’t his shoulder that was hurt, the same shoulder that had been operated on over the summer, and that there’s nothing to worry about.
- Armon Johnson played 5:13 and Luke Babbitt clocked 1:16. Johnson got out on the break a few times, and Babbitt didn’t even attempt a shot. I hate to be all gloom and doom, but we might not see either of these two guys on the court for awhile.
The Birdman was unavailable for the Nuggets Thursday due to injury, but his newest ink was on full display in warm-up.
Post game the Blazers were in a hurry to get out of the locker room, and be done with the preseason once and for all. Who can really blame them. It’s a tricky thing the preseason. If the Blazers go on to have another playoff season, winning in the neighborhood of 50 games, their 3-4 preseason stand will be but a memory. However, if Portland takes a dive, finishes below .500 and is a lottery team in 2010-11, people everywhere will point to an uninspired, at times lethargic preseason as the beginning of the end. How fair is that?
Portland begins the regular season 2010-11 at home against the Phoenix Suns next Tuesday, October 26th.
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