Random Impressions from Preseason Game #1: Blazers 110, Jazz 90

The Portland Trail Blazers' return to the court contained plenty of cheer-worthy moments. For those looking to be entertained this year the Blazers probably won't disappoint. Team camaraderie was near universal, hustle only slightly less so. This is going to be a team you can love. That much was evident tonight.

That said, extrapolating much from tonight's score will lead you astray. The Blazers played happily and well. The Jazz should be scouring the waiver wire for Sherlock Holmes because they haven't got a clue. Portland's experience and veteran talent told the tale early and Utah never seriously threatened after that. This wasn't indicative of likely regular season results...assuming, of course, that the Jazz aren't on the schedule 66 straight times. Portland's attack was spirited but flawed. They'll need to show much more, and against better teams, before 20-point wins seem anything but an anomaly.

Here are a ton of observations from the game for your amusement:

  • At their best the Blazers play opportunistic defense, pressuring and stealing. When it works the energy level goes sky high. Portland has the horses to do it too, with Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Gerald Wallace providing the spark.
  • Other than that the Blazers still seem to rely on switches too much. In a sense it works, as most of these players are interchangeable defensively. But communication is spotty and rotations still miss, leading to too many open shots. When the Blazers aren't opportunistic they're pedestrian...maybe a notch above that against the Jazz but better teams are going to carve them up.
  • Without Marcus Camby there's no interior defense to speak of. This could become a huge issue. I'm circling that key in red ink if I'm a Portland opponent.
  • I'm also worried about Portland's transition defense with some of the guards. Many of them seem too young, too slow, or just not quite interested. Maybe that's the 20-point lead talking but I'm sweating a little.
  • It's disturbing how easily and frequently the main rotation players drift into a perimeter game. In the first part of the contest--the part where everything looked most normal--the Blazers didn't score anywhere but from the outside. If that doesn't change--and keep in mind that the Blazers aren't suiting up a true post player right now--the offense is going to go through huge droughts and that transition defense is going to get tested.
  • The starting lineup (tonight sans Aldridge) did rebound well. That was a great sign.
  • The Blazers seem to set screens better tonight than we've seen them do for years as a team. Maybe that's Utah's defense talking but I hope not. Portland has been begging for solid picks from multiple positions for years and making do with Joel Przybilla and a bunch of half-hearted efforts around him. These guys know what they're doing, seem to know the value of a good screen, and the guards know when and how to shoot coming off of a solid pick.
  • Nicolas Batum had an active game...much more noticeable than he's been in the past. His early rebounding was particularly nice. He also drove a little as the game passed. He looked more assured than we're used to seeing...a great sign for the Blazers.
  • Wesley Matthews still doesn't have a drive in his repertoire but he excelled everywhere else, scoring 17 on 7-10 shooting for the evening. His defense was nice, as always.
  • Raymond Felton knows where to be on the court and how to get a pass off. Andre Miller did too but you pretty much knew when and where Miller was going to try and score. Felton looks more dangerous from more places while possessing much of Miller's brainpower. The caveat here is that he's playing so far beneath the rim right now he needs SCUBA gear. Part of that is his natural game and part of that is extra weight. I fear a Felton-Matthews combo for the lack of drive finishing power, though.
  • Gerald Wallace looks just as spastic (in a good way) as ever. Only he could sell that much for a pre-season game. He was head over heels in the stands twice and helping other teammates up all over the floor.
  • If tonight was any indication, Kurt Thomas may be the second coming of Juwan Howard around here. He played smart and hit his shots, contributing more than you'd expect.
  • Jamal Crawford looks plenty quick. He dished 7 assists...a great start to his Blazer tenure. The Jazz pretty much looked scared of him though...he discombobulated them by dribbling. "What do we do?!?"
  • Three young guys had memorable nights. Nolan Smith hit a couple of nice shots and looked like he was at least halfway into the season already...still rookie-ish but confident and smart rookie-ish. Elliot Williams just caught on fire, shooting off the dribble and screens both. E-Will went 5-7 for 13 points in 12 minutes. If he can drive and dish too...woot! This guy has the strut going on already. (Again, though...Jazz. And Jazz scrubs to boot.) Chris Johnson probably solidified his place on the team with 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 27 minutes. It never hurts to have an energy guy off the bench.
  • Two young guys were forgettable or worse. Armon Johnson was forgettable. Luke Babbitt was worse.
  • Overall the Blazers look quicker this year than they have in recent memory. Faster makes up for some holes. Or at least it does in the pre-season.

The boxscore for your perusal.

Share your thoughts on--or questions about--the game below. And don't forget to check out the interview with Blazers' owner Paul Allen below.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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