Friday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors was a telling example of the evils, both necessary and unnecessary, of the preseason. Not this preseason, but the preseason as a thing in general. Not quite sure what I’m talking about? Ask a Golden State fan right now, and I bet then can tell you. For those who don’t know a Golden State fan well enough to call them up at around midnight on a Friday, watch this:
Blazer fans know what it’s like to lose guys to injury early in the season. And a lot of the hopes for Golden State rest on the shaky ankles of Stephen Curry and the back et al. of Andrew Bogut. Curry left Friday’s game following this incident and didn’t return. No MRI was called for, though, and the hold-out was deemed for precautionary reasons only. That being said, Curry is at or near the All-Star level when healthy, and he has struggled seriously to stay healthy.
And thus we reach the evils of the preseason. In Curry’s case, I’ll call it an unnecessary evil. Here’s why: Simply put Friday’s game doesn’t matter. Golden State knows that Curry can go down at any minute, why risk him at all? I understand that he needs to get his reps, but I feel like he can get those in practice and then build into game shape in the early regular season why at worst you lose a guy in a game that has a meaningful outcome.
Sidelining a guy for an entire preseason just on the off chance he gets injured might seem like a harsh call and it might seem a bit paranoid and crazy. But you know what else is crazy, losing your best guy in a meaningless game, also thinking that anything about the preseason matters. Case in point? The Lakers are 0-5. The Lakers. They’ve yet to win a game in 2012-13. They’ve also yet to play Dwight Howard, but still, they are 0-5. Is there anybody on earth that thinks LA misses the Playoffs? Is there anybody that is paid to cover the NBA that doesn’t think the Lakers are at least in the top five in the West? No and no. The preseason only matters when a key guy goes down. As of Friday, it matters for Golden State. It didn’t have to.
As for the necessary evils, while those are a little more fun and a little less doom and gloom. Friday was a winnable game. Golden State, like Phoenix and Sacramento two teams that have beaten Portland so far, is going to be one of those teams right in the Blazers’ wheelhouse. The group at the bottom half of the Western Conference will most likely consist of Portland, New Orleans, Houston, Sacramento, Phoenix, and Golden State, also maybe Minnesota and Utah, possibly Dallas depending on how the new team gels and how long it takes Dirk to get fully healthy (for Minnesota just substitute Kevin Love for Dirk and you have basically the same projection). It will be nice for the Blazers to get wins against top-level conference opponents. I predict they get at the very least a half dozen solid wins in 2012-13. However, if Portland wants to finish this season feeling good about what they’ve accomplished, they have to consistently beat the teams that are on there level.
So, like I said, Friday was a winnable game. Portland lost, because winning doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is managing minutes so guys don’t wear themselves out/get hurt, and giving bench players and rookies a chance to get out and show what they’re made of. A win means nothing. Because of that, Nolan Smith played 17 minutes of horrible basketball. Because of that, coach Terry Stotts elected to go with a line-up of Smith, Will Barton, Luke Babbitt, Sasha Pavlovic, and Joel Freeland to close out a two possession game. Because of that, Nicolas Batum, who struggled a lot in the first half, got yanked in the third quarter just as he was starting to get going. All things no Blazer fan really wants to see, but all part of getting the most out of preseason. Like I said, a necessary evil.
There’s not a whole lot else to say about Friday. Unlike Wednesday’s tilt against the Nuggets, this game didn’t feel like a preseason game, at least not until the end. Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson elected to keep most of his main guys on the floor to finish the game. The Blazers dipped deep into their roster, but Luke Babbitt didn’t get on the court until the fourth quarter. Adam Morrison didn’t get it.
If it had been a regular season game, the story would be poor execution on the final few possessions when Golden State was practically begging Portland to steal a win. The failure to execute had more to do with the personnel on floor for Portland than anything else, though, and since coach Stotts won’t be finishing too many games with set plays for a quick three from Sasha Pavlovic, that is if he wants to keep his job, there isn’t any real reason to talk about it.
So the Blazers have a home and home with the Utah Jazz to close out the preseason. Following Friday’s game, coach Stotts said he might think about stretching the starters’ minutes. He also said his core group looked better on Friday than they had at any point in the previous preseason games, and I agree. Giving his starting five more time together is probably a good thing. Although, the outcome next Monday and Thursday will still be meaningless, and I would take a healthy first unit over anything on Halloween night.
Utah rolls into town Monday.
Couple of quick things:
- Lillard Watch: Damian Lillard made his first appearance in the Rose Garden Friday night. He looked good, and compared to Nolan Smith, he looked like a god. In 31 minutes, Damian scored 15 points and handed out seven assists while only turning the ball over one time. Lillard is going to have to find a way to get into top gear from the tip, though. He’s not been super amazing at starting game. As I said in my preview, Stephen Curry was a good match up for him. He didn’t take advantage of his size though, and Steph only played 12 minutes. Lillard had a lot of success against Jarrett Jack though. It would have been interesting to see how Damian handled himself and the offense if coach Stotts would have elected to go with his starters down the stretch.
- Leonard Watch: Meyers Leonard didn’t have as great an outing as Damian Lillard, but there was still a lot of good in his game. I think that at least for the early going, it is going to be important for Blazer fans to not judge Leonard’s night in and night out performances on stats. Some nights he is going to pick up a lot of fouls and play sparingly. Other nights, he’s going to fill up the stat sheet (at least in the rebounds line). What Portland fans need to watch for is how hard he plays and how often he makes the same mistake more than once. Meyers is a smart kid. He’s also an intense kid. Apparently he has a reputation for being a bit of a joker, so I thought I might ask him a lighthearted question in the post game. Two nights in a row, Meyers has been dinged for hanging on the rim. Both times to my eyes it looked like he was having trouble timing his jumps. I asked him what was going on with that, assuming he might laugh about it. The opposite happened. He got very serious and said he’d made a mistake and that he needs to work on it. I followed up that question by asking him if the pro game was faster than the college game, and his answer was an emphatic no. He takes himself seriously. He takes his work seriously. Those are good things. If he can continue to have that attitude all season, the numbers and the improvement will come.
- Will Barton might be Portland’s forgotten rookie, but he isn’t Twitter’s forgotten rookie. Barton played 18 minutes and finished with four points, but as soon as he got in Twitter took notice. The undisputed stat guru of the NBA Kevin Pelton threw down this tweet late in the game in response to a nice put-back dunk by Barton. Remember, Pelton is a guy who drives from Seattle to Portland AND BACK to watch Blazer games a couple of times a year. Barton has a chance at being a special player.
- No Morrison, as I said before. Pavolvic logged 15 minutes, hit a big three, and missed a big three. Start writing your farewell letters to the Stache, because I just don’t think it’s going to happen for him.
- Portland had a shot at Chalupas for the first time this season. Luke Babbitt let Nolan Smith have the honors. Nolan’s heave barely reached the rim. Just kind of that night for Nolan unfortunately.
- Had a chance to talk a bit with Erik Gundersen who will be working as an intern this season with the Blazers’ web folks. Follow him on Twitter if you don’t already, and check out his official team write-ups. Solid dude, as I’m sure you all know. Plus Blazer interns are known to go onto illustrious careers once they’ve finished their time with the team, and it’s good to say you were on to them before they got huge.
@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]