Before I get into the recap and my thoughts on tonight’s game, let me say one or two words about the Memorial Coliseum. First off, the place is old. Second, the glass windows are pretty much the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time. In the Rose Garden it is virtually impossible to know which side of the city you are facing. Before tip, I could look up from where I was seated and see the very top of the U.S. Bank building in downtown, that’s pretty cool. Of course that effect went away once it got dark, and really to highlight the uniqueness of that feature a team using the space would have to play all their games in the middle of the afternoon. It’s been a long time since I was in the MC, and it will probably be another year before I’m there again. So, there you go. Those are my feelings about the place where Portland won their single NBA title, on to the game.
There is something interesting about the preseason. The games don’t matter, but at the same time they do matter. Tonight’s final score was Utah 109 Portland 100. The game was close and hard fought, and in the third quarter both the home and away team’s played like they likely will two weeks from now when the games begin to actually count. If this had been a regular season game, Coach Nate McMillan probably wouldn’t have pulled Brandon Roy for Jerryd Bayless early in the fourth quarter with the Blazers finally looking like they were getting in rhythm and the crowd had finally come to life. That’s the part of preseason that doesn’t matter. The result is meaningless, what matters is getting players minutes, reps, and in game shape. Bayless is going to play a key role in the strength of the Blazer’s bench and the teams overall depth. He needs the minutes, and its good that he got them.
I’m not saying that the Roy for Bayless sub, which sparked a 10-2 Utah run and basically put the game out of reach, was to blame for Monday’s loss. I’m just saying that when the game counts, Roy stays on the floor. Taking out your star player in the middle of a heated comeback and not putting him back in is where the preseason doesn’t matter. Where it does matter is to the players. Good luck to anyone who told these Blazers that the preseason doesn’t count.
Coach McMillan was visibly none too pleased with the night’s outcome, pointing to the Blazer’s paltry 11 assists in four quarters. McMillan stressed defense, and we’ll see if going forward the Blazers can tighten the screws on the defensive glass. Monday, the Jazz outscored the Blazers 17-to-4 on second chance baskets. Utah also scored 50 points in the paint to Portland’s 40. Both those stats indicate that Portland needs to play better D inside. Chalk some of that up to being down to only a single real center, Steven Hill notwithstanding, but there were plenty of times when a blocked shot by the Blazers was followed up by a Jazz layup. Not the preferred way to finish a defensive play.
Wesley Matthews reflected McMillan’s attitude following the loss. Matthews was upset, summing up his feelings pretty clearly:
"I know it’s preseason but I hate losing period. You just got to come with that right mentality right from the jump."
Matthews was the energy guy for most of the evening, helping Portland to get back into the game in the third quarter and into the fourth. He led the way on defense, setting the tone for the home team. If every Blazer played with Matthews intensity, fight, and hustle Portland would run teams out of the gym on a regular basis.
Let’s hope that once the final three pre-season games are over the level of play will go up. You can excuse the team not playing to win when wins and losses are irrelevant, and hopefully the Blazers will be able to change gears when the regular season starts.
Here are some brief thoughts about the game and individual players:
- LaMarcus Aldridge had a solid outing, leading the Blazers in scoring with 22 points. LA hit 5-of-10 from the field and made 12-of-14 free throws. If LaMarcus can get to the line with regularity that could be the difference between Portland being good and being great. One thing I wanted to see was LaMarcus taking Kyrylo Fesenko to the hole. Fesenko is built like a small mobile home, and he is a daunting figure standing under the hoop, but I guarantee his lateral movement doesn’t match LA’s
- Brandon Roy got off to another slow start, finishing the first quarter without a field goal, but he was one of the keys to Portland’s comeback effort. Roy hit a fall-away jumper at the third quarter buzzer. That’s a great sign of things to come.
- The other key to Portland’s second half success was Matthews. I won’t say much about Matthews, he finished with 16 points, except to ask if four games is enough time to stop being surprised by what this guy does and just expect him to be solid and glad that he plays for our team now. Matthews also ran the point for a fair amount of time in the third quarter, and ran it well.
- Speaking of back-up PG minutes: Bayless was on the court for stretches with both Matthews and Armon Johnson, and both times those two guards did much of the ball handling.
- Portland’s rookies didn’t get in the game until the fourth quarter, and didn’t do much. The game was pretty sloppy at times, and the sloppiest play of the evening came with the rookies on the floor. Elliott Williams threw a lazy pass at mid-court that was easily picked-off by Utah’s Ronnie Price. It looked like an easy two for Price, but he blew the wide open dunk. The ensuing defensive rebound was tossed ahead to Williams who promptly air-balled a three attempt. The whole possession made everyone left in the MC that much more hungry for the regular season.
Portland is back in action Saturday night at the not ancient Rose Garden, an arena with such amenities as a Jumbotron and Hustle Board, and isn’t quite as drafty as the almost 50 year old Memorial Coliseum.
Check out Purple and Blues for all the Jazz info.