One team on the Rose Garden court played like a unified group ready to embrace the new season and the possibility of making a deep run in the playoffs. The other team was the Portland Trail Blazers. One team played like it was coached by a legit Coach of the Year candidate. The other team looked like it hasn't been paying attention to anything Nate McMillan has been preaching. One team looked like it believed in, and played off of, its All Star quality leader. The other team drifted aimlessly around Brandon Roy.
Sure, one team, the Utah Jazz, also started their starting front line, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, while the other team, the Portland Trail Blazers, played Juwan Howard and Joel Przybilla in place of an injured LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden. But there's no two ways about it: one team was ready to play, running out to a 20 point lead and doing it with ease. The other team was pressing throughout the second half, desperately throwing out a 2-1-2 three quarters court trap to try to keep the final score respectable.
The Utah Jazz stomped out the Portland Trail Blazers in the Rose Garden Tuesday night, plain and simple.
Sure, both teams dealt with some horrific officiating, which hit its lowest point when one referee assessed a timeout to the Portland Trail Blazers, only to be gently reminded by the scorekeeper that it was actually the under 6 minute timeout.. Sure, the Blazers might have gotten a slightly rawer deal, whistled for 33 fouls to Utah's 28, with Joel Przybilla and Howard both arguing their way into technical fouls. The Rose Garden's famous "These refs suck!" chants were heard in the game's closing moments and at one point during the second half I was worried that the fans would start throwing things on the court. It got heated.
But if there was one thing worse than the officiating Tuesday night, it was the disorganized, unmotivated, out-of-sync Trail Blazers themselves.
Have a beef -- any beef -- with the direction this club is heading? Tonight is the night to get it out of your system. Blake and Roy in the starting lineup together didn't work. Andre Miller airballed two jumpers. The team shot hesitantly and poorly (just 2 of 15 from distance). Jerryd Bayless crossed himself over going to the hoop and the ball wound up in the third row. Martell Webster was all over the place, and not in a good way. Carlos Boozer took Travis Outlaw down to the block and took it to him. Dante Cunningham looked too small to play 4 in the NBA. Ime Udoka looked a step and a half slow on defense. Jarron Collins was a rag doll.
After the game, Nate McMillan admitted that he believes "some of us think we can flip a switch and that it's all of a sudden going to happen when the 27th comes." As if to prove Nate's point, Brandon Roy downplayed yet another lackluster performance from both the team and himself by stating, "I don't panic quickly, I don't panic too quick, we'll be alright."
I'm not saying it's time for Roy to panic, but it is now officially time for him to step up. His 15 points, 0 rebounds, 5 assist might not look much worse than Deron Williams' 27 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists but there was a significant talent gap between the two players tonight. And for the first time I can remember, that gap favored Williams.
After the game, McMillan stated simply that Williams "did what he can do. He's great with the ball, aggressive with the ball, he broke our defense down, he was able to get to the paint. Basically, just set the tempo for them." Indeed, Williams set the tempo in a way that I haven't personally witnessed. End the debate and the discussion: this man is an All Star. It's not even close.
Asked whether Williams took a step up over the offseason, Roy stated smartly that "he looked like an All Star for the last 3 years." But Roy also seemed to take the question, and the thought that Williams was the best player on the floor tonight, a touch personally. "I thought he was a little too comfortable tonight. He was having a little too much fun. He didn't act like anybody was guarding him."
So what needs to change? "We need to take that a little more personal next time," Roy said, "[Williams] was out there cruising, shooting any shot he wanted. He kind of toyed with us a little tonight. I take that personal."
Good. This team just got its butt kicked. Exhibition game or not, with or without a number of key players -- Oden, Aldridge, Batum, Fernandez -- the group as a whole should take that loss, to a divisional rival, personally.
Better to take it personally now so they can get started flipping that switch as soon as possible.
Nate's Postgame Comments
Thoughts on the game.
Um, not good. I liked the unit at the end of the game scrapping. But we didn't establish ourselves early in that ball game. Establish that we could run an offense, we had 7 turnovers in that first quarter. Right now, I think some of think we can flip a switch and that it's all of a sudden going to happen when the 27th comes. We've gotta get to work.
Haven't shot well. Causes?
I think we're getting some looks, we've got to knock down those shots. We know we can shoot the ball. You gotta put the ball in the hole when you get that opportunity.
The way the guys are feeling.
I think some of that is going to take some time. We do have some new guys, Martell is out there, Miller is out there, with our groups, Bayless is out there. These are guys that haven't played a lot together or played with a unit. You're going to see some of that. It really doesn't make a huge difference, if you've got 5 guys they know what they're supposed to do. And the execution. But the effort that's got to be picked up. Early in that game we were going through the motions on some of our sets. Some of the things that we were trying to do.
Can you talk about the defense?
No. No. I mean, again, when you're not scoring what ends up happening is you're taking it down to the defensive end of the floor. If you commit to the defensive end of the floor, you don't worry about the scoring. I felt like tonight we were worried about not how we were going to score and the fact that we weren't scoring, and on the defensive end of the floor we didn't commit there.
What was message to team?
What I'm telling you: we've got to pick it up. We're getting two types of effort. I saw a group the last quarter, guys who are trying to get in the rotation and make the team, scrap. I saw a group early kind of give in to the physical play and not work themselves out of that, like I saw in the Denver game, in the fourth quarter of that game.
We didn't have the total group there. Howard was there. It wasn't LaMarcus. We were missing some guys. We haven't had that group. I think that is important. Guys being familiar with each other. Knowing what to do, what to run, where each other is going to be.
He got his hip, he hit his hip. He was pretty sore so we just sat him out.
[Note: after the game, Nic Batum told me in the locker room that he is unsure whether he will play in Thursday's game against the Phoenix Suns and that he will receive treatment on his hip tonight.]
LaMarcus Aldridge's Status
I was planning on playing him, the doctor said right before the game he felt we should hold him. That we shouldn't take a chance on playing him tonight.
Are you concerned about LaMarcus?
We feel it's going to be ok. They just felt let's give it another day or so and take a look at that. He was planning to play. But the doctor basically said we need to hold him.
Greg Oden's status
I don't know. Tomorrow we'll see if he can run a little bit. See who is available for Thursday's game.
It is preseason . That's the key. The big thing, the important thing is, it's still preseason. You expect these things. We have to work it, we have to work it out.
He did what he can do. He's great with the ball, aggressive with the ball, he broke our defense down, he was able to get to the paint. Basically, just set the tempo for them.
-- Ben (email@example.com)