Damian Lillard started out slowing Monday night, but finished with 20 points after a strong second half. Photo courtesy of the AP.

Pre-Season Game 3 Recap: Blazers 100, Kings 117

The above tweet represents how I’m sure most Blazer fans felt tonight. I know it’s pretty accurate as far as I’m concerned. I had planned on listening to the local radio call, but opted for a game cast as to not interrupt my dinner. I felt like I’d made the right choice, as the Blazers slipped behind by as much as 20 in the early going, but then Damian Lillard got hot in the second half, the deficit began to shrink, and I felt an obligation to find a way to watch the game.

Hat to @blazerbanter (no longer run by @Matt_Calkins but a must follow for Blazer fans all the same) for turning up a live, albeit strange, video feed. This half video/half radio feed gave me a chance to watch the last 24 minutes of a game that was ultimately a disappointment but might end up being a valuable stepping stone for the development of this Portland team.

Here’s why Monday’s game is probably more important than some. If you want to look at a good team to compare the 2012-13 Blazers to0, and a good franchise to compare Portland with, look no further than the Sacramento Kings.

Like Portland, Sacramento is a small market. Like Portland, Sacramento has had its moments as a top-level franchise, a game or two and a player or two from a Championship. Like Portland might become, Sacramento seems to be in a perpetual state of rebuilding. This group of Kings has some of the things this group of Blazers hope to have: promising rookies, a fun style of play, plenty of League Pass Alert potential. This group of Kings, or at least the group of Kings on this Sacramento roster who were also on the roster in 2011-12, also has some of the things Portland is hoping to avoid: guys who play up or down to their competition, waxing and waning interest and intensity, potential franchise players who are known as much for how they behave between plays as how the play when the clock is running.

The Kings are a work in progress, but they seem to be heavier on the progress. Portland is also a work in progress; right now they are mostly work.

All that being said, Monday’s loss wasn’t all bad. As I’ve said in both of my preseason recaps, winning and losing at this point in the season doesn’t mean anything. What matters are things like intensity or elements such as visibly learning from mistakes. Portland made plenty of mistakes Monday, but they didn’t give up. The Blazers had a lot of terrible offensive possessions, but that didn’t stop them from trying to run their offense.

This team is going to face a lot of adversity going forward. They are going to be nights when shots aren’t falling, when veteran heavy teams are getting all the calls and running out to 30-point leads. There may be nights when the Rose Garden is half full, and the only cheers come at the end of a 20-point blowout when in garbage time Luke Babbitt (or some other Blazer) hits a three to put Portland over 100 on the scoreboard.

To avoid the fate of a team like Sacramento, a team who has been in a holding pattern for much of the last decade, Portland will have to keep fighting. They will have to keep getting better. They might lose to the Kings in the regular season. They might lose to a lot of teams in 2012-13. But a rebuild, a real rebuild, isn’t about one game. It’s not even about one season. Hopefully losses in the preseason and losses in the regular season will turn into learning opportunities. Hopefully the cornerstones of the franchise won’t get overly frustrated and bail on the team.

Hopefully at some point in the next 100 games or so the Blazers will stop having to think about playing transition defense and will start actually playing transition defense. Maybe they’ll also figure out a way to score points when threes and mid-range jumpers aren’t going down. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll stop turning the ball over like crazy too.

Defense, scoring, and ball management aren’t the easiest things to improve, but they’re also not the hardest. Portland has the personnel to be fun team to watch in 2012-13. Given the right circumstances, they’re probably only a couple of players away from getting right back into the Western Conference mix. The Blazers have a long way to go before we decide whether they are more like the Sacramento Kings of the last few years or the Sacramento Kings of some future date where everything breaks in just the right way.

Monday didn’t really do a whole lot for Portland in either direction, what with it being preseason and all, but at least we know have a comparison point.

Portland is home for the first time this season Wednesday for a date with the Denver Nuggets.

Just a couple of quick things:

  • Lillard watch: He started out slow, but then got hot at the beginning of the second half. Damian led his team in scoring, with 20, and was a very solid 7-of-14 from the field and 4-of-8 from three. One thing that is very clear about Lillard is that he plays best when things get a little loose and he has the opportunity to freelance a little bit. One major problem with getting loose in a game like Monday’s is that Portland couldn’t keep up with Sacramento’s back-court. In a half court game, the Kings’ guards aren’t great. In a full court, running it up and down the floor type game, guys like Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, and Aaron Brooks absolutely thrive. It’s not Damian Lillard’s fault that when he plays his best his team is most susceptible to giving up a lot of fast break points and points in transition, but he will have to get better at playing a slow-down, half court game when the situation calls for it.
  • Leonard watch: Meyers didn’t get the start Monday. He struggled early, picking up a lot of early fouls. At the end of the second half when Portland was making a run, Meyers got totally abused by Demarcus Cousins. The good thing, though, was that Leonard kept playing hard. A lot of guys are going to go after Meyers Leonard, especially guys like Cousins who had to take their licks as lottery bigs and are probably ready at this point in their careers to return the favor to the next generation of big men. Leonard needs to get tossed around a little. He needs to get banged up and he needs to bang right back. Leonard will see Cousins four times a season. My guess is that Cousins will get the better of him the first few times out. My other guess is that Leonard won’t always be on the receiving end.
  • The battle for the 15th spot continues. Sasha Pavlovic logged the most minutes of any of the potential players that could get that roster nod. Adam Morrison saw his PT dip well below 10 minutes. Justin Holiday, Portland’s newest signing, came in the game’s final minute, so there’s a chance he won’t be a factor in who makes the Opening Day roster. There’s a pretty good chance the Terry Stotts and his staff will run their regular starters and rotation in at least two of the upcoming home games. After that, there will probably be two solid games of end of the bench guys playing to get on Portland’s roster.
  • Marcus Thornton had a huge game, especially at the end as Sacramento put Portland away. Thornton, like Demarcus Cousins, can be seen as a microcosm of the Kings as a whole. Thornton has a huge upside, but has yet to succeed in his professional career in a winning environment. Sacramento has committed a lot of money to Marcus Thornton over the course of the next three seasons. If Thornton can prove to be worth the investment, the Kings will be able to climb out of the basement. If he ends up being not being worth the money, Sacramento’s long-term building projections could be in serious jeopardy.
  • Portland took 29 threes, and made nine. They also got to the line 26 times and converted 23 of those attempts. The free throw numbers are good. The three numbers aren’t awful. The Blazers do need to get better at taking good threes, or they at least need to decrease the number of possessions that end in an ill-advised deep ball. Also, knocking down open looks when they come is important.
  • Joel Freeland played only 13 minutes in his first start. He finished with two points, and missed his only field goal attempt.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

J.J. Hickson was back in the lineup after sitting out Portland’s second preseason game in Phoenix. Photo courtesy of the AP.


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