Sorry for the late game recap, I hit a wall after a long day yesterday and that two part marathon live blog. Going back through the tape this morning it was funny to hear Nate say the guys looked like they had heavy legs because they haven't had any time off. It's been roughly 10 days straight with either camp practice, scrimmage or a game. I've got the heavy fingers. Knowing that most of you were not able to watch or hear the game last night, this post will be more like a practice report than a real game recap.
The Blazers won 98-86, their home fans booing when the team decided to inbound the ball in the backcourt and dribble the clock out like professionals rather than run up the score in the last 5 seconds so everyone could go home with a Chalupa. The game turned early in the second half when the Blazers brought Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldrige and Greg Oden into the game out of the halftime break. Thanks in large part to Miller, the Blazers built a comfortable double digit lead and cruised through the fourth quarter, where the end-of-bench guys like Ime Udoka were able to get some run.
What we Learned
Miller played great last night, going for 16 points and 5 assists in 25 minutes. One stat to keep an eye on: 5 of 6 from the field. There's been a lot of talk about how Miller pushes the tempo and creates easy baskets for others. Let's not forget that pushing the tempo can also lead to easy baskets for himself. Most of his looks were layups, although he had a nice back-him-down turnaround jumper over rookie Tyreke Evans from the post, a shot reminiscent of the extra post work he puts in after practice that I described earlier this week.
More than anything, Miller simply attacked, attacked, attacked, causing big-time problems for Sacramento's team defense, which couldn't keep him out of the key in the halfcourt set and couldn't keep him bottled up coming out of transition. At one point he broke both of Andres Nocioni's legs with a truly vicious, hesitation through-the-leg dribble. Maybe John Canzano can email Cheri Hanson and have the Rose Garden cleaning crew get together today and help Nocioni find his dignity. I'm sure it's lying around out there somewhere.
Miller also had 3 turnovers, which is not unexpected but will be a crucial number to keep an eye on when it comes down to who Nate selects as his starting point guard. If there's a consistent aspect of Miller's turnovers so far, it's been throwing lead passes to players who leak out after turnovers that don't quite find the mark. Either he hangs the ball up a little bit too long or puts a little bit too much mustard on them, allowing the defense to scramble back. Should this type of turnover become less common as the season goes on? Probably.
One other thing with Miller: He really got his Juwan Howard on last night, feeding Greg Oden a number of times in various locations in the post. I can't say it better than Brandon did on media day: Miller threads the needle fearlessly, getting the ball in to players when and where it needs to be, something no one on last year's roster can come close to matching.
Based on the body of work from training camp through last night, I would start Andre Miller on opening night and not think twice.
I know the highlight film package is out there and it heavily features Oden, so you're finally able to see the face-up jumper and a few of the other moves that the media has been describing from the Practice Facility. That brings a smile to my face. Let's share this together.
Oden looked great last night.
Everything you could want in a performance from him. And no numbers were more important than the 10-12 from the free throw line. The Kings threw everything and the kitchen sink at him, but it didn't much matter. The Kings' bigs, May, Thompson and Brockman, combined for 14 fouls and if Greg had played more than 25 minutes and the game had actually mattered, it would have been 18.
One of the most promising signs from Greg last night was his passing out of the double team, and that's one of the first things Brandon Roy noted about Greg's performance during the postgame session. Greg wasn't always doubled, and he wasn't always doubled from the same location, so even though it was the Kings it was definitely a step up from training camp in terms of difficulty in making the proper reads. Throughout the night, he was consistently on point. At worst, he made a safe pass. At best, he made a great kick out to Miller who was able to swing it across court to a cutting, wide-open Roy for an easy layup. No box score juice for Greg on that play but it was the prototypical hockey assist a dominating big man can rack up in this league.
Despite leading his team in rebounding with 9 boards tonight, I think Greg got a wake-up call on the boards. The Kings' bigs, particularly Jason Thompson, brought the ruckus, especially on their offensive glass. The Blazers uncharacteristically gave up 16 offensive rebounds which led to 16 second chance points. I'm sure that's not what Nate McMillan had in mind earlier this week when he suggested that he trusted his personnel on the defensive side of the ball. Those numbers will get you beat.
All things considered, Greg Oden has to be your opening night starter at 5.
Another guy who should not be let off the hook for the team's rebounding woes was LaMarcus Aldridge, who pulled down 5 boards - all defensive - in 27 minutes. Although he led all scorers with 20 points on an efficient 8 of 11, and looked to be the Blazer in the best rhythm, he was a little careless on the glass. Do we kill him for not maxing the effort on opening night? No. But he is in the middle of some contract negotiations so it might be in his best interests to get his Birdman on.
Speaking of that, fans during the first half chanted, "Cut the check! Cut the check!" when Aldridge stepped to the free throw line. Soapbox: if you believe the Blazers should sign LaMarcus Aldridge prior to this year's deadline, I encourage you to make that fact known during the Blazers' next preseason games and the first two home games, October 27 against the Rockets, and October 29 against the Nuggets. I sense hesitancy from many media members to touch the issue after the way Brandon Roy's negotiations played out. Public pressure, although not a be-all end-all solution, is better than nothing. I can see advantages to letting Aldridge enter restricted free agency but I know many of you don't feel that should be an option. If that's the case, be vocal at games and let the organization know about it.
A sentence or two on everyone who played so you can get a sense for where they are.
Nic Batum: After looking like the best player during the Fan Fest, Batum played just 9 minutes last night and was a relative non-factor. Nate said he rested Batum not due to any issue with Nic's shoulder but to give him a breather after his long summer and to see more of Martell Webster.
Joel Przybilla: Joel was Joel, an efficient 6 and 6, although he took a nasty knee from Francisco Garcia to his baby maker and writhed around in pain on the floor for a few minutes. Nate McMillan reports that Joel will be alright but may see limited playing time tomorrow.
Brandon Roy: A 3 for 11 stinker that left Roy asking McMillan for more minutes tomorrow night out of a desire to find his personal rhythm, which he told me after the game that he hasn't found yet this season. During the second half, Roy was shaking his head at one of the replacement official's phantom calls (overall, I thought the officials were inconsistent but not terrible, although the Blazers shot 46 free throws so... um... it was a long night). After the game, Roy said this to me about the officials...
Um, they did the best they could. (laughs). I think it was somewhat earlier in the game that threw our rhythm off. I think both teams wanted to play up and down a little bit and the foul calls kind of slowed the tempo. Those are our officials so we have to do the best we can to play well.
Steve Blake: Blake had a relatively unremarkable night and saw most of his action in the first half. He flew by Kings rookie Tyreke Evans at least twice, which surprised a number of observers, and used that penetration to dish out 4 assists.
Rudy Fernandez: Drew huge cheers from the Rose Garden but didn't deliver on them. I don't know whether it's fatigue or what, but his shot looked particularly off. He went 0 for 3 - all from distance - and was a non-factor.
Jerryd Bayless: Was outplayed by Sergio Rodriguez. There I said it.
Ime Udoka: Made a nice driving layup on the first possession after he checked into the ballgame. Not much of note to draw out of the garbage time play other than to verify that he still has a pulse.
Travis Outlaw: Outlaw had a few heady plays, particularly when it came to leaking out after the defense caused a turnover. He seems a prime target for Miller's long, looping push-the-tempo passes. Unfortunately, Outlaw also had one of the ugliest shots I've ever seen, described here.
Martell Webster: Look at the box and it tells you Martell struggled to go 2 for 7 and wasn't that productive in the other categories during the 30 minutes he played. But this was an important game for Martell and he had a huge smile on his face afterwards. The highlight of his night was collecting the ball after a busted play and attacking the defense, drawing attention before dumping the ball off to a wide-open Andre Miller for a gift layup. The play was quick, spontaneous, intelligent, well-timed... everything you hope to see from someone who is returning from a long-term injury. Nic Batum is your opening night starter at 3.
I hope you saw this: the Rose Garden Garage was charging $40 for valet parking for a preseason game yet the team still could not bring itself to televise the game.
Perhaps the recession is hitting the organization worse than we've previously assumed.
Nate's Postgame Comments
Oh, that's a great film for us to teach from. We needed that game to look at ourselves and to see where we are at. We have a lot of work ahead of us. One good thing is that we got to the free throw line 46 times. But other than that we got some work. They beat us to the ball, offensive rebounding, we didn't react as quickly as we needed to. We'd force them to miss but 16 offensive boards, and that's been an emphasis during this training camp.
You just saw him direct. I thought he did a good job of quarterbacking and directing. Basically running our counter sets whenever the defense make some mistakes he just played basketball and made some reads. He went into the post a couple of times and he felt like he had a matchup there. Delivered the ball, had a few skills. He's the one guy who is communicating and talking on the defensive end of the floor.
Second Half Lineup different from Starters
I'm going to look at combinations during training camp. Go with different lineups. I told the guys before the game that this is what I was going to do. Change the looks, some different combinations of players together.
Got deep post position, scored, did some good things. Looked pretty good out there when we were able to get him the ball, allow him to make some decisions. I thought he had a pretty good game.
What to address?
No, I wanted us to come out with a little bit more energy, scrapping, having some fun. I thought we kind of slugged it out. I thought we had heavy legs. Our guys haven't had a day off and it kind of looked that way tonight. They found a way to pull it out and win it. It's a great teaching tape, a lot of things that we did as far as our defense, our shadow, we'll see ourselves standing and watching them rebound the ball. We did get to the free throw line which is a guy for us every night. We get there 46 times. You're playing pretty aggressive basketball, I'd like to see more flow. I think we could have gotten more flow if we had rebounded the ball and been able to get out in transition.
The team is playing with more energy from Andre?
It's the first preseason game. To be sharp right out of the gate you hope for that, but you also know that you need this game to get a feel so that they can see and we can see what we need to do and what we didn't do.
Lineups For Tomorrow?
Yes. No, no, not right now. I'm going to talk to Jay and see where guys are at. But those guys that didn't play tonight, Howard, Collins, Ime played a few minutes, I really want to give Nic and Rudy some time off and not play them a lot of minutes. So we'll see tomorrow.
Nic Batum's Status
No, not an injury. Nic and Rudy have been playing all summer so I'm going to try to limit their limits. The guys I really want to see are Martell and see Miller with different combinations.
Who might rest tomorrow?
I talked to Joel, we may not go with Joel, we may go Greg and Collins. Brandon wants to play and get some minutes. We maybe look at Joel and LaMarcus.
Joel was injured?
No, I think he's ok. I think he's ok.
-- Ben (email@example.com)