Portland’s preseason campaign has so far been one of highs and lows. The highs have come in runaway wins against inferior opponents, the L.A. Clippers in the opener, and Saturday night at home again against the Golden State Warriors. The lows have basically been everything that has happened in between the Blazers first win and their second win. Tonight, though, was about the highs, and there were plenty of them. Plenty of moments where it was possible to overlook some of the obviously underwhelming play of Brandon Roy and the uneasy feelings that we could be headed for another injury plagued season.
The Blazers went through stretches Saturday when they played like a team, moving the ball around the perimeter, finding guys open under the hoop, turning defensive stops into fast break buckets, and overall the attitude and offensive execution were almost enough to wipe away some of the creeping feelings of dread that many of the faithful may have had after two losses to the Utah Jazz and one to the Denver Nuggets.
Portland put six guys in double figures, knocked down nine three-pointers, and basically outplayed Golden State at every position on the floor on their way to a 118-105 victory.
Here’s what Coach McMillan had to say following the win:
"The offense was good, the defense was good. Tonight we did some adjusting as far as how we wanted to defend these guys. The first group did a good job of coming out and building a better rhythm defensively and offensively, and then the second group, they came in and brought a lot of energy, lot of scrappy play and the tempo just went up."
Nate talked also about Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge’s play, highlighting their abilities on both ends of the floor. Nate had this to say about LaMarcus, one of the most consistent players in this preseason:
"LaMarcus has unbelievable talent. He has the potential to not only dominate offensively but dominate defensively, and just be a monster rebounding and blocking shots."
Portland still didn’t look like a team that’s firing on all cylinders, but Saturday’s game felt a little like a turning point. All five starters logged more than 20 minutes, the offense ran more smoothly than it has in earlier games, and a few players looked like they were really getting at it. Two preseason games remain, at Golden State and home against Denver, and then its the real deal. The attitude still seems that once the games start to matter the switch will be flipped and the intensity and poise will start to flow. I’m not ready to say that’s not going to happen, but I know I would feel a lot better going forward if Portland builds on this win, and finishes out the preseason like a team that wants to win no matter what the circumstances.
Here are some brief thoughts:
- LaMarcus played great, and is easily the bright spot among the starting five. In one stretch LA put down two lob feeds from Rudy Fernandez that basically sealed that fate of the Warriors. In the third quarter LA hit all six of his shot attempts, and three of his four free throws, finishing the quarter with 15 points. Aldridge led all scorers with 25 points. He’s ready to play, and everyone should watch out.
- Speaking of Rudy, he put in another great game. Here’s his line: 14 points, 5 assists, 2 steals, 4-of-8 from deep in 28 minutes played. Rudy was basically automatic for awhile.
- Injuries were a topic pre-game, with the loss of Marcus Camby due to a hip injury, and Wesley Matthews was the newest injury victim. Matthews left the game after just over four minutes played with soreness in his achilles tendon. Post-game, Nate said he noticed Wesley wasn’t running very well, and he pulled him as a precautionary measure. After the game, Matthews was upset but understanding about being held out. It’s likely that Matthews might be benched for the Warriors game or maybe for the remainder of the preseason, but his injury isn’t something to worry about.
- Saturday night’s most interesting wrinkle was Armon Johnson. Johnson logged 17 minutes, scored 14 points, grabbed five rebounds, all without turning the ball over. Nate praised Johnson’s effort on defense, and said there’s a possibility that he’s playing himself into the rotation. As said before, the back-up point guard job belongs to Jerryd Bayless, but Johnson is going to make him work to keep it. Bayless had a nice night too. He finished with 8 points and 4 assists in 23 minutes.
- On the Warriors side, this is likely going to be a team that will be fun to watch in 2010-11. Stephen Curry is already a top-flight guard. Curry finished with 17 points, including a four-point play. Without Don Nelson running the show, it looks like Golden State might be able to actually run an offense. They’re probably not going to win too many games, they’re just not that deep and a lot of their scorers are going to have to log big time minutes, but they’re going to give some people fits, that’s for sure.
Roll over to Blue Man Hoop to check out all the Warriors info.
Portland travels to Golden State for a game on Monday night, before returning to the Rose Garden next Thursday to wrap up the preseason.