Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz: Pre-Season Game 4 Reflections

Jim Urquhart-USA TODAY Sports

Dave breaks down the good, the bad, and the mixed messages from the Portland Trail Blazers' pre-season tilt versus the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, October 16th.

Here are some reflections from the Portland Trail Blazers' 99-92 pre-season victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.

The Good

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are looking as potent as ever.  Aldridge enforced his will early in this game, Lillard late.  They're having to do too much on their own right now to keep Portland's offense in gear but dang...they're nice options to have.  Aldridge started the game working higher out on the floor than is his norm.  This was not successful.  But once he got down to his usual elbow area things worked fine.  Lillard started out the game rough but basically decided the Blazers weren't going to lose and started attacking in the second half, creating all kinds of chaos in Utah's defense which Lillard's teammates then took advantage of.

Will Barton also exercised his right to attack and hurt the Jazz with his hops and nose for the ball.

Joel Freeland did yeoman's work in the second half as well.

Mo Williams was one of the only Blazers doing damage all game long.  His shot was golden and his attempts well-timed.  Scoring 6th man fits him well.  His looming shadow helped free the court for Lillard.

The Bad

In case you haven't noticed it, the Blazers have some serious defensive problems with their big men.  One huge issue: neither center can help and then recover well.  Robin Lopez is too slow; Meyers Leonard doesn't know what he's doing.  As long as Lopez doesn't have to move more than five feet (or only has to move in a straight line) he's good to go.  But make him shift and you're going to get open.  Pull him to the perimeter and you're going to get open.  Do almost anything with Leonard and you're going to get open.  When either guy does make the defensive play the ensuing rebound is always in jeopardy.  Utah only got 10 offensive rebounds tonight but it felt like they could have gotten half again as many.  More to the point, Enes Kanter destroyed Portland in the first quarter.  Oddly enough, Lopez may do better against Dwight Howard himself (relatively stationary) than he does against more mobile centers whom he just makes look like Dwight Howard.

Speed is a serious issue team-wide in transition.  The second half turned around as Portland hit more shots, committed fewer turnovers, and limited Utah's break opportunities but for a while there it looked ugly.  Portland won't score many fast break points this season.  They can't afford to let the other team run out.

If the Blazers don't offensive rebound like maniacs you're going to see a similar disparity in points in the paint.  That's a toxic combination.

The turnovers have to stop.  Portland's wasting a bunch of nice steals.

Thomas Robinson had a bad game.  A bad game for T-Rob equals nothing good going on at all besides a few rebounds.

The Mixed

In addition to getting creamed by Kanter in the first quarter and having trouble getting up and down the floor, Lopez keyed the third-quarter run that put the Blazers ahead in this game.  When the Jazz didn't make him move, he looked good.  He blocked a couple shots, grabbed rebounds, put up opportunistic shots, set screens...pretty much everything you'd want from a center.  That burst ended up making up for the rest on the scoreboard and in the boxscore.

Wesley Matthews once again did plenty of nice things but couldn't hit a shot.

Portland passed the ball through most of the game...everything except flat-out Lillard possessions.  That was nice to see.  Usually when a team gets pressed you get guys trying to take over with 15-second dribbles.  We didn't get much of that.  However there's passing to effect and then there's passing that leaves a guy in bad position, having to take some of those one-on-one dribbles just to get a shot against the clock.  Portland's jump shooting looked good when an attack made the defense overplay and the Blazers flipped a pass to an open shooter for an immediate shot.  Portland's jump shooting looked atrocious when they made a couple of passes, found everything guarded, and then bailed out to the perimeter.

It feels like we could once again see a Jekyll and Hyde offense from the Blazers.  When the ball is moving, people are cutting, and the defense is lapsing a little Portland could go on a hot streak and look really nice.  But against solid defense or with even the slightest lack of movement in the offense, the Blazers are going to have to hope Lillard has plenty of dipsy-doodle drive magic and Mo Williams hits every prayer from range.

Final Verdict

Some players and some moments looked nice tonight but the distance between the Blazers and putting a full game together still looks precariously far for this point in the pre-season.  For every good thing you can see two potential pitfalls.  Different players stumble every game but none of it is a particular surprise.  The Blazers will rely on plenty of great performances nightly to overcome the basic, systemic weaknesses.  That's going to require more consistency from more players than we're seeing right now.

Portland's pre-season continues Friday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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