The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets, 97-80, in a preseason game at the Rose Garden on Wednesday night. The Blazers improved to 2-2 on the preseason.
There are "Wow, this is really happening" Welcome to the NBA moments and there are "Wow, I just did that" Welcome to the NBA moments. Blazers rookie Meyers Leonard has now experienced both. The former, a pinch yourself realization, occurred at Media Day, when he decided to purchase his own jersey. The latter, a declaration of arrival, came in the form of a thunderous, sky-scraping one-handed alley-oop against the Nuggets. His pretty play excited the home crowd and caused him to spontaneously turn to the Blazers bench and briefly flex, a little meathead exclamation point to a graceful finish that caused All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge to crack wise after the game.
"We've seen him catch crazy alley-oops in practice and do those kinds of plays all the time," Aldridge told Blazersedge. "I think his celebration was more surprising than the actual dunk. It was like the Hulk Hogan, Karate Kid flex. I don't know what that is. That was the first time for that one."
"I don't want to see that ever again," Aldridge continued, laughing at the mental image and repeating himself for emphasis. "Ever again."
"You're going to have to ask Meyers," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said, shaking his head, when asked for his thoughts on Leonard's celebration.
(Video via GetBangedOn.com.)
"It's just something I do," Leonard said of his dunk, which came off of a lofted pass from reserve guard Coby Karl, who collapsed the Nuggets interior defense to free Leonard near the right block. "I've had some big plays throughout my career. Obviously that's one of the bigger ones. It was just in the flow of the game. Coby made a nice pass and I was able to finish it."
"All the guys were giving me a hard time for it," he said, smiling. "They said I didn't celebrate enough. Maybe next time I'll have something."
Respect was given too.
"The first thing when I came to the bench was about five of the guys said that [I was going to be on SportsCenter's top 10]," he said. "It wasn't an initial thought of mine."
You'll get there, rookie. That's how things work in the modern NBA.
Highlight aside, this wasn't really Leonard's night. He finished with six points and three rebounds in 15 minutes. Portland secured the win through defensive effort and hot enough outside shooting. The Blazers forced a Nuggets team playing without Ty Lawson into 22 turnovers while shooting 13-for-31 from deep as a team.
"That was a good defensive effort," Stotts said. "I thought we were very active, aggressive, created turnovers in the first half, and I was pleased with the defensive effort."
"Portland played with more energy, they were more aggressive." Nuggets coach George Karl lamented. "Our guys that normally break down the defense weren't playing... Our engine's not out there. Ty is the guy that makes us go. When the floodgates opened and we lost the ability to build some confidence, we could never get it back."
Karl's son, Coby, a Blazers training camp invite, was an engine for dad's opposition, scoring 11 points and dishing five assists in 21 minutes off the bench. He looked assertive and strong, drawing rightful praise from Stotts afterwards.
"I thought it was terrific," Stotts said of Karl's play. "Regardless of whether his dad was there or not, it was a great performance. He was +15 in 10 minutes in the first half. He controlled the offense, made good defensive plays, obviously made some shots. I was happy for him. He's a good player, he's a good player and he's an NBA player. I think he showed that tonight.... Whether or not he makes our team, he showed that he should be on an NBA roster."
Portland's shooting was sparked by a hot second quarter from Wesley Matthews, who scored 14 points in the second frame on his way to 19 points, three assists and two rebounds on the night. Karl, Victor Claver and Luke Babbitt chipped in, combining to shoot 7-foot-11 from deep.
"Tonight we shot the ball a little better from three," Leonard said. "We had a lot of opportunities that were created via penetration and transition. Played good defense tonight which led to us getting opportunities on the other end. I feel like we're really starting to get into a flow in our offense and defense."
The rest was sloppy but fairly entertaining. Stotts went 14 players deep into his rotation, even with starting point guard Damian Lillard out due to a sore foot. With roster cuts coming soon, we're at the stage where more harm than good can come from over-parsing the rotation on a given night. Thoughts on a few individuals are included in the notes section below.
For a preseason home opener undercut by Lillard's absence, Wednesday couldn't have gone much better. Sparks of potential were there, the hit-or-miss D & 3 gameplan was on for the night, and Leonard gave everyone a quality souvenir highlight to take home as a first impression. This team is still in need of a little buzz; this win was a start.
Random Game Notes
- Lots of changes, both minor and major, this season. Where to begin? Probably with the locker rooms, which got a visual upgrade. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has a video tour of the new digs. The most obvious features include new glass doors and some new lettering in the hallway, which includes the dictionary definition of "Trail Blazer" in cool script.
- Corner lockers went to LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Jared Jeffries and J.J. Hickson.
- Blazers coach Terry Stotts is now conducting his media availability in the dining room, formerly used only for major press conferences, rather than in a side room adjacent to the locker room, where both Nate McMillan and Kaleb Canales held their post-game press conferences. This set-up allows for better access for video cameras. The old room was kind of cramped and left a good chunk of the reporters standing through his post-game comments.
- Sarah Hecht and the TrailBlazers.TV folks have a new live pre-game show broadcasting during home games.
- Portland Roundball Society, the TrueHoop Network's Blazers blog, had a new writer, Danny Nowell, covering the game.
- The pre-game hype video on the scoreboard was new. There wasn't much of a choice on that one, with so few players back from last year. Wednesday's version was heavy on highlights from Portland's preseason opening win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Look for future versions to just include a loop of Meyers Leonard's dunk over and over.
- Earlier Wednesday, Candace Buckner of The Columbian had a nice, timely piece on Stotts and the Karls. That one worked outut well, considering Coby's evening performance.
- I'm pretty obsessed with the iPhone 5's new panorama photo feature. Here's what the Rose Garden looked like about 10 minutes before tip off. The building did fill up fairly well in the minutes after tip with an officially listed (generously so) crowd of 17,856.
- Nicolas Batum's girlfriend is blogging about the outfits she will wear to Blazers games. Here's Wednesday's entry.
- Unfortunately, Batum's game was far less refined than his significant other's attire. He finished with three points on 1-for-8 shooting, two rebounds and three turnovers in 23 minutes. One stretch saw him launch an airball, get called for traveling and then throw a pass away in quick succession.
- On the bright side, at least he wasn't booed during player introductions, as some predicted would happen after his free agency flirtation with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Nothing but cheers for the Frenchman.
- The Rose Garden welcomed Andre Miller back to town with loud cheers as well.
- Things got a little creepy at halftime, when Adam Morrison returned to the court to work out before the rest of his teammates, launching jumper after jumper in solitude as "Call Me Maybe" blared from the stereo. Also, a sad moment, when he looked up at the crowd in response to some shrieking, only to realize the yelps weren't directed at his presence, but at the Ford blimp hovering above. Oof. Another oof came when Morrison nearly fell over backwards trying to defend and Evan Fournier drive.
- There's at least one constant from last season: Free Throw Guy is still on his grind.
- Brandon Roy better watch out if Coby Karl keeps this up. The Blazers are liable to do another one of those "joint jersey retirements" like they did for Terry Porter and Bobby Gross. Both legendary No. 7s have to be remembered for all time, right?
- You can't say enough about Luke Babbitt's haircut. Great choice. Mom always told me she liked him better with the tighter look. Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com approved too.
- Blazers GM Neil Olshey and assistant coach Jay Triano were visible in a room adjacent to the locker room watching film after the game. Not something we've seen in previous years from management.
- Absolutely no clue why Babbitt was wearing knee-length soccer-style socks and shinguards on both legs during warm-ups and in the game. He deftly avoided being slide-tackled, finishing with six points and two rebounds in just nine minutes. No truth to the rumor, as far as I can tell, that he's fed up with the log jam at the four and trying to force a trade to the Portland Timbers.
- Joel Freeland and Will Barton both looked to be struggling with the pace of the game. Freeland was hit for an obvious foul as he tried to show on a screen. He also got nervous with his back to the basket, getting dinged for traveling. He finished with two points and eight rebounds, earning some hustle points along the way. Barton, meanwhile, just seemed to have the floor close for him quickly when he tried to push it in transition. His body was clearly overmatched -- against Andre Iguodala, whose isn't? -- but he couldn't yet find a way to compensate with quickness. He finished with three points and four rebounds on 1-for-5 shooting.
- Stotts finds himself on the coaching hot seat after just one home preseason game thanks an egregious decision not to order his team to foul while up 17 points with 15 seconds left. Had he done so, he would have been able to call a timeout and set up a Chalupa 3-point attempt, after a late rush from Babbitt and Claver pushed the Blazers up to 97 in the final minute. Instead, the Nuggets simply dribbled out the clock. Managing time/score situations is one of a coach's most important jobs, and this was a failure of the highest order.
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
That was a good defensive effort. That was a priority coming into the game, to improve defensively. We had two poor defensive performances in Phoenix and Sacramento. I thought we were very active, aggressive, created turnovers in the first half, and I was pleased with the defensive effort.
I thought it was terrific. Regardless of whether his dad was there or not, it was a great performance. He was +15 in 10 minutes in the first half. He controlled the offense, made good defensive plays, obviously made some shots. I was happy for him. He's a good player, he's a good player and he's an NBA player. I think he showed that tonight.
How does Coby Karl get a chance in the league?
Be in the right place, right time, right situation. He showed tonight, I hope teams were watching that performance because whether or not he makes our team, he showed that he should be on an NBA roster.
Going to be some ups like this coupled with
It's hard to base off tonight because we played 14 or 15 guys. During the season, we're going to play more of our core of players. Hopefully there's not as much of that. When you're a young team, you'll have moments, peaks and valleys. The best teams are the ones that sustain a level of consistency and play well for longer stretches of time. That's what we're going to strive for.
I thought he played well. When you make shots, obviously everybody notices you more. I don't necessarily want to define a guy's performance by whether he made shots or not. Every time he's been in games, he's played hard, he's given energy. I was glad his shots went down tonight. He had a couple more that went all the way down and came back [out]. It's good for a young player to get in and get some confidence, get a feel for playing out there in the first half. Playing at home was good for him, to have the crowd behind him. I was pleased.
He played well. I thought he picked up Andre Miller, defensively he was active. I think he could have been a little more consistent but I thought he did, for the most part, as well as I expected.
Terry Stotts on Meyers Leonard's flex
You're going to have to ask Meyers. I missed his second dunk because I was upset that he messed up a play. I didn't even get to see his second dunk.
Blazers looking for Meyers Leonard on the alley-oop?
I think that's a good point. When you start making those plays and then different players start making the pass to him, and he's ready for them, once guys see that that's there, you start looking for it more.
Was it your intention to ruin everyone's night by denying them Chalupas or was that an accident?
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter