I held off on writing a season preview for a number of reasons, but for one reason that stood out above the rest: I had no idea what this Blazer team was going to look like. With the shake-up last season and the almost 100% turn-over personnel-wise, I didn’t feel like I could come up with a prediction for 2012-13 that wasn’t going to be either shameless and baseless optimism or equally baseless and fatalistic pessimism.
Following tonight’s sound(ish) victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in their opening game of the preseason, I still can’t really say what the rest of the season is going to be like. However, I can say that regardless of winning percentage, 12-13 is probably going to be a lot of fun to watch.
Preseason, as I said in my preview and as every NBA fan should know, is basically meaningless. Wins and losses don’t matter. Most teams have their rosters and rotations already set and the position battles are mostly academic. Offensive and defensive schemes are only overhauled with the introduction of new coaches. So there’s no reason to dwell on how good Portland looked at times in their offense, just as it’s pointless to mention that the Laker team the Blazers dispatched in Ontario did not include Kobe Bryant or Dwight Howard.
What we can talk about though, and what might have an impact for Portland in 2012-13, was the demeanor with which the team played Wednesday night. They played like a bunch of guys with something to prove. And that’s what they are. Damian Lillard needs to prove he could be a franchise level player. Nicolas Batum needs to prove he’s worth his enormous new contract. Nolan Smith, Joel Freeland, Ronnie Price, Jared Jeffries, and Luke Babbitt need to prove they con be contributors. Adam Morrison, Sasha Pavlovic, and to a lesser extent Victor Claver need to prove they belong on an NBA team.
When you have a team where every player has something to fight for, they are going to fight. That’s good for Portland because when the regular season starts, when the Lakers suit up Kobe and play Steve Nash more than 25 minutes, they are going to have to fight for every inch.
As for the actual game? Like I said, it didn’t matter. The win was nice. It was nice to see Portland not give up when they slumped in the second quarter. It was also nice to see that a second quarter slump turned into a third quarter offensive explosion. But still, none of it mattered.
The Blazers have two more road games and three home games before the regular season starts. Those games will probably be a lot like Wednesday’s with a lot of different lineups and a lot of minutes for guys that won’t see time, or a paycheck from Portland, during the regular season. They’ll probably be fun to watch too. And they will be equally as meaningless.
So there you have it. The Blazers’ season has started. In no time at all there will be plenty of things to talk about, plays to break down, All-Star ballot boxes to stuff. I should say enjoy this victory. I’m not going to say don’t enjoy it, but enjoying a great win (what some might even consider a BIG win) would run counter to the obvious fact that preseason is meaningless.
Portland goes to Phoenix to play the Nash-less Suns Friday.
Here are a few notes:
- There are a few players to watch closely throughout the course of the season. No two Blazers will be watched more than Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum. So, with no further ado: Lillard Watch: 24 minutes, 6-of-11 from the field, 2-of-5 from three, five rebounds, seven assists, two turnovers. Not a bad debut. Batum Watch: 22 minutes, 5-of-12 from the field, 2-of-3 from three, one rebound, two assists, two steals, 12 points. Also, not bad.
- Along with Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum, two guys to watch are Adam Morrison and Sasha Pavlovic. These are basically the two guys fighting for Portland’s last roster spot. Morrison and Pavlovic are going to be spot minute guys at best, but they’re both playing like their professional lives depend on how these preseason games shake out. Here are their lines: Morrison: 12 minutes, 4-of-6 from the field, 1-of-2 from three, one rebound, one turnover, nine points. Pavlovic: 15 minutes played, 1-of-5 from the field, 1-of-3 from three, two rebounds, one assist, two steals, three points. Morrison looked confident and wanted to shoot. Pavlovic had a more complete game. For what it’s worth, Pavlovic finished +5, Morrison was an even zero. At this point, my money is on Morrison, but there is a very good chance, because of where Portland is deep and where they aren’t, Pavlovic gets that last roster spot.
- Meyers Leonard has been a bit of a forgotten man with all the hype around Lillard and Kim Hughes saying he’s be struggling a bit in practice. Wednesday the Blazers’ newest rookie center wasn’t as dominant as his PG counterpart, but he had himself a nice night. Eighteen minutes, 4-of-4 from the field, 2-of-3 from the line, five rebounds, 10 points. Leonard did have four fouls and finished with a -1 in the plus/minus. That being said, if Meyers can get some solid minutes against second units, meaning J.J. Hickson can hold his own as the starting center, it will be sooner rather than later that he is ready to be the center of the future this franchise needs.
- My stat of the night. Tied for highest plus/minus of the night: Jared Jeffries +15. Tied with LaMarcus Aldridge.
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