Coby Karl provided the spark off the bench Portland needed to defeat the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night. Credit: Steve Dykes-USPRESSWIRE

Preseason Game 4 Recap: Blazers 97, Nuggets 80


What’s the purpose of a preseason game really? Is it to get your starters on the floor to run through sets and figure out a way to gel in preparation for the grind that is the 82-game NBA regular season. Or is it more of an extended try-out for the fill-in players that every NBA team needs and who sometimes come down to being the difference between a Playoff berth, or even a Playoff win, and the Draft Lottery?

If you’re in the camp of the former, the group of people who insist that preseason should be used to sharpen the rough edges and get the top six or seven guys in game shape, I can understand if you were a little bit disappointed in what was probably Portland’s most spirited preseason game of 2012-13.

No major rotation player logged more than 23 minutes. Damian Lillard wasn’t even on the court. Nicolas Batum had a pretty atrocious outing. Neither J.J. Hickson nor LaMarcus Aldridge got within spitting distance of the rim in the half-court offense. Way too many possessions were taking down to the final ticks of the shot clock only to end in a contested long- or mid-range jumper. Not the kind of play for the Blazers’ top guys that will engender much in the way of hope from the faithful.

However, there is another camp here with opinions that probably should be represented. Those are the people who, rightfully so, think preseason is a time for lower-roster or non-roster guys to get some run. A time for the Coby Karl’s of the basketball profession to get their shot at making an NBA team. Those people cheer for the guys who come October 31st will either be in Europe, Boise, or on some other NBA team. The efforts of these players doesn’t have any bearing on where this Portland team will finish in 2012-13, but they are applauded just the same.

For those types, Wednesday was the perfect kind of preseason game. Wednesday’s victory included Victor Claver hoisting and draining a prayer three after fumbling with the ball on his first possession of the night, chucking up at least one air ball, looking a little bit like he was moving in slow motion, and then capping the evening with a three-play sequence that featured a corner three, a fast break dunk, and another corner three. Wednesday night also featured Adam Morrison, in very limited minutes, hitting a three from at least two full steps behind the top of the arc that brought the Rose Garden crowd to its feet.

Wednesday also featured the aforementioned Coby Karl. Playing in front of his pops, Denver head coach George Karl for the uninitiated, Coby took full advantage of the double injury, Lillard and Ronnie Price, that effectively made him the back-up point guard. Nolan Smith, who started in lead all players in minutes with 31, struggled early. He wasn’t looking for his shot, he wasn’t attacking with intent, and he wasn’t able to provide the spark on offense that Portland needs from the one position.

With 2:49 to play in the opening frame, Smith made way for Karl with Portland trailing 19-14. It took Coby a minute to get acclimated, but when he did, he was able to do all the things Nolan couldn’t. Two plays at the end of the first quarter went a long way to establish what kind of night was waiting for Coby Karl. With 55 seconds to play, Karl hit a three while getting absolutely plowed over by the always over anxious JaVale McGee. Coby converted the free throw for a solid four-point play (something we might think about calling the Coby Karl this season and not the Jamal Crawford as some of us might have called four-point plays last season) and cut Denver’s lead to one. Two possessions later, Coby Karl turned a Will Barton steal into a Meyers Leonard dunk, one Terry Stotts will be able to see on TV tonight and that Blazer fans will get to see in highlight reels probably for most of the season.

After the Leonard stuff (and flex) Portland led by three. Following one tie at the start of the second quarter, the Blazers would not trail again. It wasn’t all Coby Karl, but he did a lot. Post game, coach Stotts said he believed Karl belonged on an NBA roster. He didn’t say if that roster was Portland’s, but he did say Coby belonged in the league. Watching him run Portland’s offense Wednesday night, it was hard to disagree.

And as for all those people who could care less about Portland’s 15th man? Well, it’s hard to say what their takeaways from Wednesday night might be. This tweet from Matt Moore encapsulated my feelings in a lot of ways.

For the cautiously optimistic, Wednesday was a sign that under the right circumstances and given the right kind of mojo on the right kind of night, Portland can compete with and maybe beat teams such as Denver, a team picked by some to finish at the very top of the Western Conference.

For the cautiously, or outright openly, pessimistic, Wednesday showed that beyond an All-Star at the power forward, a possible Rookie of the Year at the point, and two big huge question marks at the wing, the Blazers have nothing. In fact, this team is so bad, this person might say, that to get any wins at all Victor Claver is going to have to score 13 points in 13 minutes and Wesley Matthews is going to have to go super nova over the course of the first half. Those things can happen, but they aren’t going to happen every night.

My suggestion, if you’re interested, is enjoy this victory. It’s the kind of game a guy like Claver needs to build his confidence up and contribute in an actual game. It probably netted Coby Karl a non-guaranteed NBA contract (although it’s unlikely it will be in Portland). And beyond the feel-good confidence-building BS that somebody might try to lay on thick in an attempt to make fans care about games that very literally mean absolutely nothing, Wednesday gave guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum a chance to see that although there is a long way to go before this team is able to compete and win games on a regular basis, there are at least elements from which a team, a good team, can be built.

Portland hosts Golden State on Friday in the second of their three home preseason games.

Just a few things really quick:

  • Sasha Pavlovic played 6:24, all in the first half: Adam Morrison play 8:53 all in the second. Morrison hit one three: Pavlovic missed his only field goal attempt. Although many fans will probably be saying Coby Karl earned a roster spot with his play Wednesday, I feel like if I were to bet on who gets that final spot, I would bet my money on Sasha Pavlovic. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with play. Sasha Pavlovic’s salary for 2012-13 is already being paid by the Boston Celtics. In a sense, he is a free player. Who ever is given that final roster spot, whether its Karl, Morrison, or Pavlovic, will very likely not play hardly at all. (I would say they’ll get into games in garbage time, but since this is going to be mostly a rebuilding season, Terry Stotts might want to abandon the idea of garbage time.) That being the case, from a strictly financial stand-point it makes more sense for Portland to fill a roster spot that won’t be used by a player they won’t be paying.
  • Danny Nowell made his first appearance on press row Wednesday night, representing the venerable Portland Roundball Society. Follow him on Twitter, if you don’t already, because he is a solid dude. And read his stuff because it’s great.

Box Score (the Yahoo box was being weird so here’s the ESPN box)

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

Coby Karl hugs his dad Nuggets’ head coach George Karl following Portland’s win over Denver. Credit: Steve Dykes-USPRESSWIRE


Tags: Blazers Coby Karl Meyers Leonard Nuggets Victor Claver

  • Charles Bogle

    Nicely written as always, Mike.