Blazers Vs. Clippers Preseason Opener: Five Things To Watch

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With no television or internet distribution plans for the preseason games announced yet, we are collectively found in the awkward position of not being able to cover and discuss tonight's preseason opener between the Portland Trail Blazers and the the Los Angeles Clippers to the degree that we would desire. But we'll still give it a go.

FYI: Tip off tonight is at 7 p.m. If you're not at the Rose Garden or able to listen on 95.5 FM, I'm afraid you won't be able to see/hear what is going on.

Of course, all of the standard "it's only preseason!" disclaimers apply, but there is plenty to be learned from tonight's action. Here are five things I will be keeping an eye on.

  • Whose head is spinning? For the younger players and new additions, the preseason opener combines: 1) a first look at live competition against guys with different skillsets than the players they've been matched up against for the last week, 2) the first real participation in offensive and defensive sets, and 3) the first "pressure" of an NBA-like atmosphere, complete with nervous energy, their coaches getting amped up and all the rest of it. With that in mind, I'll be watching Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams and Armon Johnson, especially on their early touches, to see how things are going. Are they tentative, assertive or aggressive? Focused, overwhelmed or timid? Tonight will serve as an early mental readiness report card for the three rookies.
  • Backcourt chemistry. It's unlikely that Nate McMillan will fully tip his hand rotation-wise (because it's doubtful he's settled the matter in full yet) but tonight will serve as a good first look at which guards play well with which other guards. McMillan talks ad nauseum about "combinations," it's one of his favorite words, so keep an eye on how Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum play together, how Jerryd Bayless and Matthews play together, who plays well next to Brandon Roy, whether the rookies line up side-by-side, etc. Also, keep an eye on which backcourt pairs never share the court tonight. That could be telling too.
  • Jeff Pendergraph's foul trouble. It's been an issue every step of the way so far during his NBA career. No player on the roster has the potential to gain more during Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla's absence than Pendergraph. The stakes -- in terms of his league-wide reputation, potential future salary, and position on the frontcourt depth chart when everyone returns healthy -- are all up for grabs. But Pendergraph is no longer exclusively a bit player to start this season nor will he be allowed 10 fouls per game like he was at Las Vegas Summer League. If he cannot play adequate defense while avoiding foul trouble that will have big repercussions for himself and the rotation.
  • A minor thing: will Dante Cunningham see any time at three or will he be exclusively a four given the front court injuries? DC on the perimeter can be aesthetically pleasing and it would be nice to see him there for a few minutes, but I fear it could be all four, all the time, for Cunningham.
  • Defensive match-ups. Last week, I talked about Portland's increased versatility on the perimeter thanks to Brandon Roy's offseason skill development, the addition of Wesley Matthews and the improvement of Nicolas Batum. Hand in hand with that increase in versatility comes an increase in interchangeability and flexibility defensively. How much experimenting, cross match-ups, switching or trapping will we see when the first unit is in the game? Will we get a peek at new ways of using Nicolas Batum?  Will Portland ever go ultra-small and use four perimeter players (Miller, Roy, Matthews, Batum, for example) plus Aldridge? And, of course, how is the intensity level?

That's what I'll be keeping an eye on tonight. That, and the t-shirt cannon, so that I don't nearly get decapitated like during one of last year's preseason games (some of you might remember that from the live-commenting in the game thread).

Chime in below with what you'll be watching/listening for tonight if you'll be there in person or listening on the radio and also what you think I should be watching for that's not listed above. 

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

PS Be sure to swing by tonight to participate in the Gameday Open Thread.

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