Some general impressions first...
Three things struck me immediately upon watching the game. The Blazers played fast, free, and focused.
The "fast" part was the most obvious change. Even when we weren't fast-breaking (and we're still not really running out on teams) the guards got the ball downcourt quickly and the entire offense moved with more speed. Few people wasted time with the ball either. It was either make a move, take a shot, or move it. I actually like this. It's pretty, but it's not a gimmick. I don't think we can run down the throats of many teams in this league. However we can give ourselves as much of the 24-second clock as possible to use. We should see fewer forced shots against the clock this year. That's a good thing. The speed also applied to defense. People were moving a lot quicker, especially in transition defense. You didn't see three people trailing behind every break like in past years. Most of the time all five guys got down the court before, or at least as, the opposition set up. Nice.
The "free" was also evident and pleasing. Even with the starters--including the designated scorers--both ball and people moved constantly. It wasn't like the old Doug Moe Nuggets or anything, but compared to the "hold it or fold it" schemes of the past few years it looked like a true motion offense. There was little standing around. Four or five guys were involved in the majority of the sets, even if that involvement was only screening. And jeepers...this team put the "un" in "unselfish". It's scary how easily they move the ball. It's really fun to watch that kind of play.
Fun? Unselfish? "Funselfish?" Nawwww....
Finally the team was focused. They appeared to move with a purpose on both ends of the court. You didn't see a ton of broken plays resulting in ugly shots. You saw a few more defensive breakdowns but seldom were they complete collapses. This was impressive because it wasn't like the first unit was out there all the time. The 9th and 10th guys looked like they knew what they were doing as much as Lamarcus and Brandon did. Again this was a joy to see and probably indicative of the team's good practice habits.
On to the more specific observations...
Sacramento's leading scorers either didn't play or played limited minutes in this game. It would be unfair to tag their 33% shooting clip on the Blazer defense alone. However with a couple of exceptions we kept our feet moving and stayed in front of them. Most of their shots seemed to come off of individual moves rather than off the pass. We had lulls but we did a good job keeping them from moving the ball where they wanted. We managed to cover both the inside and the three-point line--testament to some of that defensive speed we were talking about the other day. That's another thing that's been sorely missing from this team since...forever practically.
We, on the other hand, ended up over 47%. We shot 85% from the foul line too. If that keeps up it will really serve us well. Those combined free-throw points might only amount to three more a game, but if you look at the difference between bad teams and acceptable ones three points per game almost covers it.
We limited their offensive rebounds and outrebounded them in general. This is still an area we need to work on though.
We had trouble handling the Kings' defensive pressure, especially when they poured it on in the first half. We turned the ball over 19 times. This will be an area other teams try to exploit. They are going to harass our youngsters to death. Hopefully this is where Steve Blake will be worth his weight in gold.
Our team spacing on offense and defense was as good as I've seen it in years. People weren't tripping over each other. We opened up several clear paths to the hoop on offense and were able to help appropriately on defense.
On one play in the second half Jarrett Jack called for a screen. TWO Blazers came to set it. This kind of violates the spacing statement just above but it does show what kind of team we have. Also we were setting and using picks with regularity.
--This night belonged to the small forwards. That's right...forwardSSSSSS. Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster both had incredible games by their standards. Travis led the team with 24 and Martell pitched in 17, but that wasn't the half of it. They were moving. They were rebounding (Martell 9, Travis 6). Travis had two blocked shots on help defense. One time Martell got back and single-handedly stopped a Kings break...the FIRST GUY back in transition. They played more complete games than I've seen. Also both shot appropriately and with confidence. There wasn't a lot of hesitation or "Should I be waiting or passing?" They made crisp, efficient moves for the most part. Martell scored and passed off the dribble a few times! If tonight was any indication, I'm a believer in the progress of these two. I hope Martell especially keeps it up because if you haven't seen the new Martell you're in for a surprise and a treat.
--Lamarcus appeared to want to dominate early but then eased up as the game got more in hand. I don't know if that's because the small forwards just started taking over or because he was doing the "star" thing and letting others get their points when they could. He ended up with 18 points on 50% shooting. He made 6 of 7 free throws also, which is fantastic. Whenever the Kings single-covered him he ate their lunch.
--Brandon Roy started slow and looked a little rusty. It's good he's getting some court time in before the season starts. He pretty much refused to shoot from outside even when open. He did have some nice drives. The Kings decided they were going to make someone besides Brandon beat them though, as they swarmed on him every time he put the ball on the floor. When he was able to lose one of those men and get deep to the hoop he was fine. When he had to dribble a lot he got lost though. At least the attention he drew opened up the floor for others.
--Joel Przybilla looks a ton quicker out there. Wow. His contributions were more subtle than the forwards' but he was really, really important tonight. First of all he grabbed 9 rebounds, tying Martell for the team high. Second he did a decent job watching the inside. What's more you could see him make a conscious decision not to foul in a couple situations where the Kings probably just would have scored anyway. Third he did a wonderful job setting picks, including freeing Lamarcus for one of the two spectacular alley-oops of the night...this one off of a designed play to begin the second half. You don't often see alley-oops in a halfcourt set. But then again setting picks like Joel does is something of a lost art. Where he was a half step late everywhere last year Joel was right on time tonight. Nice.
--Channing Frye still looked a little unsure. We need to give him more time to acclimate I think. He didn't play poorly but he didn't look comfortable shooting. He grabbed a few rebounds but he basically wasn't much of a presence. Oh, he also got 4 fouls in 20 minutes.
--Steve Blake had 5 free throws, 10 points, and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes. Those are impressive stats but he looked kind of ordinary out there to the eye. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention or appreciating him enough though. One of the things to realize is that this team will not be point-guard-centric. In previous years the point guard handled the ball more than anybody but Zach (because the point guard was the one to get the ball to Zach). Not so this season. With the ball moving around how many assists or shots the point guards take might not be the best metric of their performance. In fact this team is probably in trouble if the point guards are handling the ball too much. Anyway Blake didn't do anything bad and he even had some feisty moments out there, but he didn't stand out either.
--Jarrett Jack might not have stood out strictly as a point guard, but he shot with such confidence it made you sit up and take notice. He ended up shooting 5-7 for 11 points in 29 minutes. This was good to see because he's really at his best when he's aggressive. He also had 5 assists including a BEAUTIFUL alley-oop to Martell on the break. And I mean BEAUTIFUL.
--Sergio started slowly and looked like he might be on his way to a non-factor game. The slow start was typified by him either getting rid of the ball quickly in the halfcourt sets and never touching it again or him dribbling horizontally before he gave it away and never touched it again. But then the switch went on. He started a series of quick penetration moves which took him deep in the lane. Then...he dished. And oh did he dish. There was no fooling around, it was just boom...BOOM, out to Martell or Travis or whoever for a deep shot which was open and usually money. He started looking pretty special then. That's his game right now and he should prosecute it with vigor every time he gets minutes.
--Taurean Green got 9 minutes and played his usual hounding defense but didn't look really comfortable in the offense.
Overall this was a beautiful game, as the final score would indicate. It was far from a perfect game but it was a great example of what the Blazers can do. The best way to put it is that this is what the Blazers will look like when the opposition lets them do what they want to do, and it looks wonderful. The caveat is we're going to run up against a lot of teams who will not let us do what we want to do. Still, for tonight this is plenty wonderful. It was a pleasure to watch. We've made a ton of progress in a short time.