Preseason Game 1 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz

Last season Nicolas Batum turned in one of the best plays of the year at home against the Utah Jazz. Hopefully he'll do it again to start 2011-12. Photo courtesy of OregonLive.

Blazers: 0-0

Jazz: 0-0

Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSNW. Radio: KXTG (750 AM).

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8”, France), PF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11″, UMass)

Projected Utah Starting Lineup: PG Devin Harris (#5, 6’3”, Wisconsin), SG Raja Bell (#19, 6’5”, Florida International), SF C.J. Miles (#34, 6’6”, Skyline High School Dallas, TX), PF Paul Millsap (#24, 6’8”, Louisiana Tech), C Al Jefferson (#25 6’10”, Prentiss High School Mississippi)

Whether you like it or not, the preseason is here, and don’t blink,  because if you do I guarantee you’ll miss it. Portland plays their first of a home-and-home mini-preseason tonight at the Rose Garden against conference rival–and nearest non-California franchise–Utah Jazz. This should be interesting for a number of reasons, the top reason being that two pretend games before the real games start isn’t much time to iron out the kinks.

Utah underwent some major changes last year. Head coach Jerry Sloan, who had been roaming the Jazz sidelines before the parents of a few of the younger players in the NBA were born, stepped down prior to the departure of franchise point guard Deron Williams. Last season the Jazz finished with a 39-43 record and missed the Playoffs for the first time since 2005-06.

Utah’s in a weird place at the present moment. As one of the league’s more historically relevant franchises, it’s unlikely they’ll be a doormat in the West for very long, but as a small market team it’s going to be difficult for them to build through free agency. Right now guys like Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, and Devin Harris are going to have to play at or above their best every night for the Jazz to be winners. Jefferson is a noted underachiever, Harris has never really reached his potential. Millsap is the odd man out, continually being mentioned as one of the league’s best and most consistent inside players.

After those three the Jazz roster gets thin in a hurry. C.J. Miles can kill a team–he’s done it to Portland–but those games don’t happen all that often, Raja Bell is mostly on the court for defense, second-year guys Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward have the skills to be real players, but neither is there just yet. Mehmet Okur is coming off a season in which he played only 13 games. Josh Howard hardly played at all last year either.

Winning and losing in this first preseason game is pretty irrelevant, so here are a couple of things to watch for:

  • Who plays and how much: Portland has trimmed their roster, so now we’re down to the guys that will be in uniform for most of the season plus probably Earl Barron. That means that as much as we want to see Jeff Foote in real game action, if you missed Fan Fest you missed your chance. It also means that this game might feature some of what will actually be seen in the regular season. But it may not. Two preseason games aren’t going to be enough to get into game-shape, that’s going to have to happen during the season. It’s also enough game time to get hurt. Expect Nate McMillan to play his starters at least a little (minus LaMarcus Aldridge who is still recovering), but my guess will be that some guys are going to get the luxury of not playing all that much. I’m hoping that Chris Johnson, Elliot Williams, and Nolan Smith get a lot of time. They’re the players that are going to need it the most. Plus a lot of minutes for CJ will basically be confirmation that he’s the last dude to make the team.
  • Jamal Crawford: Neither Jamal Crawford nor Craig Smith played in the Fan Fest scrimmage. For the most part we know what Craig Smith is going to bring, a big body and hopefully a lot of rebounds. Crawford we know too, but his talents are a little less consistent. Hopefully he’ll come out scoring and he won’t stop. In 08-09 the first home preseason game was against the Kings. That night Rudy Fernandez and Greg Oden made their debuts. Crawford’s first night in black and red probably won’t be greeted with the same fanfare, but it should be good.
  • What the game-ops folks do: The real festivities are most likely going to be on hold for December 26th’s regular season home opener. Having said that, we are coming off a lockout, and Portland needs to be on their A-game to get fans back in the seats. Fan Fest’s turnout wasn’t great. Probably that has to do with the fact that it wasn’t hyped months in advance as it often is, also Fan Fest is usually at the end of September, not the middle of December, and people are busy with holiday stuff. There’s a pretty good chance Monday will have a great crowd. Even if there isn’t, the Blazer game-ops guys should probably treat Monday’s game like a Playoff game, not a preseason game. It’s going to be a whole season of winning back fan support, it’s never to early to start.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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Tags: Al Jefferson Blazers C.J. Miles Chris Johnson Derrick Favors Devin Harris Earl Barron Elliot Williams Gordon Hayward Jeff Foote LaMarcus Aldridge Marcus Camby Mehmet Okur Nolan Smith Paul Millsap Utah Jazz

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