That was fun, wasn’t it. It was nice to be back in the Rose Garden, it was nice to hear the familiar voice of PA announcer Mark Mason, it was nice to see some real basketball played by professionals with the skill and polish that distinguishes them from all the thousands of other people that play the game and don’t get paid to do it.
Ok, so that last part wasn’t exactly true. Yes they were professionals on both teams, but the play looked just a little less than amazing. You know what, that’s fine with me for right now. There are two ways to look at preseason. First: The end of days method. In this scenario, the sloppy play, bad communication, poor shot selection, and general disarray that so often comes with exhibition games is not an indication of a team developing and struggling to find its rhythm its first time out. No, its a sign that your team is hopelessly lost, and if you’re lucky, they’ll win ten games all season.
The second method is a little more sunny. Easy baskets, lots of steals, highlight dunks. Your team is going 82-0 (or in the case of 2011-12, 66-0). An up and down whooping of your opponent the first time out means that that scenario will be replayed every night of the season in every gym in the country. Who needs practice, these guys are game-ready, and the league better take notice.
Let’s try to avoid both of those scenarios when looking at Monday’s game against a pretty hapless Utah squad. The Blazers had a ton of great moments. They played active and effective defense, causing Utah to turn the ball over a lot. They moved the ball around to find open shooters. They attacked the hoop. All pluses.
They also did some things not so well. They missed open shots, they didn’t get to the free throw line more than the Jazz, sometimes they attacked the rim using out of control drives that ended in a prayer heave off a back foot. The good can be built on; the bad can be improved. Now head coach Nate McMillan has seen his guys play at game speed, and he knows what needs to happen. Unfortunately, there’s only one more of these games that doesn’t count before the games start that do count.
Fortunately, whether you think it’s a bad idea to read too much into one preseason game or not, Portland does look at least a little ahead of the curve. A lot of the positives were things that come from playing team ball, making the extra pass, passing up a good shot to get a great shot, moving the ball into the key then out to the perimeter to try and stretch the defense. And on the other side, some of the negative stuff can be fixed with more court time and games, things like missing open jumpers etc.
The Blazers won’t get to play Utah every night, although they will travel to Salt Lake and take them on for their final preseason game on Wednesday, but there are going to be a lot of teams that have more work to do than Portland (the Los Angeles Lakers). If you want to take anything of value away from Monday night, my suggestion is do so lightly–there’s a good chance when these two teams meet again Portland will be the one getting blown out, that tends to happen in the preseason–but take away the fact that these guys look like they can and will play as a team. That’s something that can take a whole season to achieve. With only 66 games to play before the Playoffs, not having to work through a month or two before coming together is definitely not a bad thing.
Just a couple of quick notes before I let you go:
- Chris Johnson played the second most minutes of anybody in a Blazer jersey Monday night (26:31, four seconds less than Gerald Wallace). Earl Barron was the only guy on Portland’s roster who didn’t get in at all. CJ had a pretty decent night, scoring eight points, grabbing six rebounds, and blocking two shots. Post-game I asked him about the possibility of getting that last roster spot. He said he wasn’t thinking about it, he just wanted to play hard and make plays for the team. In fact, he said he didn’t even realize that he’d played as much as he had. McMillan said in his post-game remarks that Wednesday would be much of the same. Whether that means 27 minutes for Chris Johnson, he didn’t specifically address. Maybe he switches it up and goes with Barron, there’s no reason not to at least give the guy a look. However, it is safe to say that if CJ plays 20+ on Wednesday and Barron is the team’s only DNP CD, Chris Johnson will be the Blazers’ 15th man.
- All of Portland’s newcomers played very well. In fact, as the ever vigilant Aaron Grossmen noted, they to a man managed to knock down their first bucket. Kurt Thomas looked smooth with his mid-range jumper, Nolan Smith and Elliot Williams played with a lot of composure and confidence, Jamal Crawford showed a lot of flash and a bit of rust, and even Craig Smith got involved, treating the crowd to a couple of nice post moves at the end of the evening. Crawford is going to be a big minutes contributor to this team. Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams, and Craig Smith won’t be everyday players, and Kurt Thomas will get some minutes here and there. Regardless of what happens in the long term, it’s good to see them all contribute their first time out.
- Speaking of Nolan Smith and Elliot Williams. Elliot didn’t play in the first half, Nolan didn’t play in the second. They are rookies, although Elliot is actually in his second season with the team, and it is going to take some time for them to get consistently plugged into the rotation. Nolan looked ready to play, and I was impressed that Nate had him running both the one and the two guard positions. Nolan played well off the ball; his ability to do that will come in handy. Elliot Williams is going to one to watch all season. some people are going to complain if he doesn’t get minutes, others are going to complain if he gets too many. Monday, all of his minutes came in the fourth quarter. In a regular season game it would have been garbage time, but since it’s preseason, that distinction is pretty meaningless. Elliot went 5-of-7 from the field, 3-of-3 from deep, and finished with 13 points. I said when talking about Fan Fest that defense will keep him on the court. Monday his mid range and deep jumpers were falling, if that happens during the regular season, that too will keep him in games.
- Pregame, Paul Allen spoke to a selection of media, addressing a wide range of topics. Blazersedge has a full transcript. Jason Quick has a blog post about it.
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