LaMarcus Aldridge looked good in his first and only preseason game, although he was a little rusty and Portland lost. Photo courtesy of the AP.

Preseason Game 2 Recap: Jazz 92, Blazers 89

Last season Portland had to play 81 games to get to a game that didn’t matter. They lost that one too. Things could have been a lot worse than they were on Wednesday. There aren’t going to be many times a team can shoot 35% from the field and only lose by three.

The Blazers’ problems Wednesday night were primarily missed jumpers. There was some poor execution, but mostly Portland missed shots. Sure some bad or at least questionable calls down the stretch didn’t help, but if the Blazers knocked down some of their more open looks in the second half we would be talking about an undefeated preseason, and how that usually translates into an undefeated regular season and a direct route to the NBA Finals.

I’m exaggerating, of course. Two wins against a clearly inferior team would have been nice. But a loss in their first road game in one of the toughest gyms in the league against a team they played basically one day before in a game that means nothing isn’t exactly the end of the world.

It actually can be seen as a positive. Imagine Portland comes out on Wednesday and wins by 20 for the second time. There’s a chance that some of the problems that always arise in the exhibition season can be overlooked. There are most certainly some issues that the Blazers need to address. Losing gives head coach Nate McMillan a tape to review that can highlight some of those problems.

And what are those problems? In my mind there’s basically one. Portland needs to make jump shots when they’re open. Wednesday the whole Blazer team couldn’t hit, but nobody hit less than Jamal Crawford. Jamal is the kind of player that loves to shoot, and he should love to shoot because he’s really good at it. But some nights his shots just won’t fall. Wednesday was one of those nights. Jamal shot 3-of-16 from the field, and missed all five of his three-point attempts. Like I said, he is going to have those kinds of nights. It is going to be up to the rest of the Blazers to identify when it’s going to be that kind of night, and hopefully pick up the slack.

Wednesday Wesley Matthews game into the final period of the night and did close the gap. It wasn’t too little too late, but it wasn’t enough for the Blazers to get the win. As far as jump shooting went, actually, Matthews was the lone bright spot hitting 4-of-7 from the field and 3-of-5 from distance.

To be effective Wesley is going to need to put up more than seven shots, and that’s another problem Nate’s going to have to address before Boxing Day. Who is going to take the bulk of the shots? Wesley can definitely carry the offensive load from time to time, as can Jamal, as can Gerald Wallace, or Nicolas Batum, or maybe even Raymond Felton. The thing Portland is going to have to figure out is which guy to get the ball to and when.

One guy who is going to see the ball a lot, and also wasn’t very good from the field Wednesday, is LaMarcus Aldridge. LA was a late add to Wednesday’s lineup, and he looked good in spurts. One thing he looked for sure was rusty. He’s not one to fall short on his jumper on most nights. Wednesday, everything was short.  That’s mostly indicative of not playing in training camp. He’ll get over it, and his low post game will open up perimeter shooters. But that just loops back to Portland needing to knock down jumpers.

One thing that went away with Brandon Roy’s knees was a reliable rim attacker. Crawford, Matthews, and Batum can and do attack the rim. It’s not their best look, although Crawford is pretty good going to the hole, and they’re going to have to get more consistent in that regard.

There is one guy though that should attack the rim every time he touches it, and that’s Gerald Wallace. Wednesday Crash was 1-of-6 from the field 0-of-3 from three. Not much to say there, except that I would rather Wallace goes 1-of-9 from the field and passes up on those threes.

So Portland splits the preseason, and we move on. The Blazers have a couple days off before hosting the 76ers at home on 26th to get things started for real. There are good things to take away from both Monday and Wednesday, and Portland should zero in on those things. There are bad things too; the Blazers will do themselves a favor if they just forget about all those things. Focusing on the positive is what the preseason is all about anyway.

A couple of quick thoughts:

  • A lot of preseason previews have dropped in the last day and change. Portland falls somewhere in the middle of the Western Conference in most of them (Point Forward hass the one I would recommend). The Blazers are a strange team to handicap this early in the season. It’s a hard sell to say that a middle of the road team loses it’s franchise player and gets better. I’m not going to come out and say that, but what people need to remember is that Brandon wasn’t at his most effective last season. There is a good chance that Portland’s offense in 2011-12 will be much more open, without one scorer dominating the ball the way Brandon did. The key to the Blazers getting out of that middle group will be the new parts coming together. Luckily most of the guys Portland added are vets that have been around the league with a number of different teams, and know that to be effective they’ve got to get on the same page in a hurry. It’s doable. I don’t write about the rest of the NBA, so I’m not an expert, but I think the Blazers just might be better than they’re currently being billed.
  • Speaking of new pieces gelling, and new parts being integrated, Nate McMillan didn’t play much of  a preseason rotation. Apart from Kurt Thomas starting for the injured Marcus Camby, what we saw Wednesday is likely to be what we’ll see for most of the season. I liked the rotation, especially towards the end of the fourth quarter when the five on the floor were Ray Felton, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus, Jamal Crawford, and Gerald Wallace. Wesley Matthews makes that group a final six. Wesley, Felton, Crawford are the interchangeable back-court. I personally like the combo of Crawford and Matthews, but it does help having a true point guard on the floor.
  • With the rotation basically set, the short end of the minutes stick went to the young guys. Elliot Williams clocked three minutes forty-five seconds of game time, Nolan Smith 6:02, Chris Johnson 9:30. There’s a good chance that in close games that’s the kind of minutes they’ll see. They all played effective minutes–although Elliot did have a three attempted that he should have knocked down and Nolan passed up an open jumper to try an airborne pass that turned into a jump-ball situation–and contributing in limited minutes will be what they can offer this team this season. Chris Johnson benefited from Camby not playing, but I expect that on most nights he will probably get some kind of run. Elliot Williams and Nolan Smith are right there too, they just need to limit their mistakes.

Box Score

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Tags: Blazers Chris Johnson Craig Smith Elliot Williams Game Two Gerald Wallace Jamal Crawford Jazz Kurt Thomas LaMarcus Aldridge Nicolas Batum Nolan Smith Preseason Raymond Felton Wesley Matthews

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