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Pre-Season Game 1 Recap: Trail Blazers 110, Kings 81

The Blazers gave us a great glimpse tonight at what life is going to be like for the next decade or so.  If this game didn’t get your engine revved as a Blazer fan you probably need to replace the spark plugs.  They didn’t just win it, they won it with style, displaying a basketball joy that’s been missing around these parts since the early 90’s.  The crowd was really into it too. Major props to Portland for filling up the arena for a pre-season game and getting that crazy.  The love affair is back. 


Team Observations

You can’t draw many long-lasting inferences from Game 1 of the Pre-Season, especially since the Kings were without two of their starters and three of their top ten players overall.  If you’re going to make any big jumps here, the one that might apply is that our second unit is probably going to be a little better than your second unit…and by “probably going to be a little better than” I mean “is going to crush like a dump truck running over an empty beer can”.  Seriously, potentially bringing Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, and Jerryd Bayless off of the bench to score on people makes my stomach twist up in that “so much excitement I’m gonna throw up” way.

From a team standpoint I was impressed how, after getting off to a muddled start defensively and with rebounding, we pulled our act together and shut Sacramento down.  47 rebounds to 39 and 10 blocks to 3 makes winning much easier.  Again, though, this is the Kings and not even the best of the Kings.  They’re not exactly intimidators, especially inside.  Nevertheless they had us going in the first half.  Our renewed concentration and effort turned the tide.  Shutting them down in transition was also important, an area which improved as the game progressed as well.  On the offensive end you like how the team took smart shots and hit a high percentage of them, especially from distance.  Three-point shooting will be the straw that breaks opponents’ backs this year after our frontline hits them in the solar plexus with a sledgehammer.  We hit open shots, which is all you need to do out there.  The ball movement and cutting on offense were highlights of the evening as well.  32 assists on 39 made shots is incredible.  It’ll be harder in real games and against defensive-minded teams, but the general theory is in place and that’s half the battle.

Individual Observations

--I assume that the minute he stepped on the court everybody saw the difference between Greg Oden and not just everybody else in the game, but pretty much everybody else on the planet.  I mean, “RAAAAAWWWR!  GREG SMASH NOW!”  What?  Huh?  Say, you’re pretty hu… “YOU MOVE NOW!  GREG DUNK BIG!”  Oh sorry…I was standing in your way there.  My mistake.  (I don’t mean to convey any limited conversational skills on Greg’s part…there just aren’t polite words and whole sentences for what he does out there.  It’s primal.)  His offense obviously needs some work, but then again what’s wrong with a back-down dribble, a spin, or an offensive rebound and then a monster slam?  Sounds good to me.   The Sacramento commentators hit it on the head when they said even with Greg’s limited repertoire so far you’ll pretty much have to double team him just to keep him from taking whatever he wants.  That’s going to be a huge key to Portland’s offense (and a good reason for those distance shooters to hit).  You see already how he can catch the ball softly and pass.  Start drooling.  Once he gets a little jump hook going you can say bye-bye to your defensive plans.  In the meantime he needs to take a page out of Shaq’s book and simply run down the court and take position about three feet from the hoop on offense.  No fancy moves necessary.  Catch, pivot, slam, hear the crowd roar (or complain, depending on the venue).

Not all was rosy in Oden-land however.  As you no doubt saw he is still pretty heavy.  He can still retain strength while losing some of that weight.  He’s nowhere near as quick or explosive as he was a year ago.  Part of that will come with the knee recovery, of course, but he does need to drop the poundage.  For one thing it will save some wear and tear on his knees.  For another, his calling card has not just been size, but size with cat-like movement.  He needs to get up and down the court, to move better through the lane, to recover better when the play goes around him.  He had two blocks late but I would have liked to see a little more defensive intensity.  Also it would make me happier if he considered every rebound his personal property and got affronted if anyone stole one from him.

--Hoo boy!  Did you forget what a joy it is to watch Brandon Roy?  There were plenty of reminders tonight.  Scoring, passing, arrrrgh!  My toes are curling as we speak.  You know who Brandon is.  Enough said.

--It was pretty obvious that the game plan was to feature Lamarcus Aldridge on offense early.  He forced or rushed shots that he’s normally comfortable with but then he worked his way back into the game.  Lamarcus will likely remain the top option on offense for the foreseeable future.  That’s not a bad thing.  You got some small glimpses of what he can do defensively when he’s free to roam.  That’s even more exciting.

--I was definitely impressed with how Martell Webster came out.  His defensive effort was superb compared to the old Martell.  Good position, moving feet…he’s really putting in the work.  Great to see.

--I thought Sergio had a good game, highlighted by those threes he was splashing down to end the half.  His passing was spot-on, as usual.  He looked more contained and comfortable too.  He’ll need to work more on the defense to keep whatever minutes he’s earning, as the Kings were going straight at him with success in the first half.  He tightened it up later in the game though.

--Rudy Fernandez was probably the feel-good star of the night.  He gave us a sample of what he can do.  Through-the-opponent’s-legs pass in Game 1.  Nice.  Two things impressed me the most.  First, and earliest on, was the way he moved his feet but still kept contained on defense.  He didn’t over-pursue or get out of position on his man.  He didn’t reach and grab.  He made the right decisions almost all the time.  Again…Kings…not great litmus test…but still I was incredibly happy to see his defensive game adjust to the NBA style.  Second, he inspired the Blazers to move without the ball.  He did it first by making himself a target for Sergio’s passes.  After that the other guys caught on and all of a sudden all of the guards--Rudy included--were whipping passes to cutters for easy scores.  This team was plenty unselfish last season.  Too often that unselfishness led to just more perimeter passes and jump shots.  The key to scoring big for this team in the halfcourt, other than feeding Oden for dunks when possible, will be that ball and player movement.

--Jerryd Bayless did everything he needed to.  He hit the open shot, passed, rebounded, drew a couple of fouls.  We’ll overlook the turnovers in Game 1.  He also played credible defense immediately.

--Joel…12 rebounds in 22 minutes.  Yeehaw.

--Travis hit some nice shots and also got 7 boards.  If he can become a regular rebounder it will help this team immensely.

--Ike Diogu bulled his way around for 10 points.  It’s hard to tell what kind of impact he can have.  He looks pretty big compared to when I’ve seen him in the past, which can be good or bad depending on the situation.  He seems to have retained his quickness.

--Nicolas Batum got a sky-high dunk and looked plenty cute doing it.  I believe in a post-game interview he told our own Ben Golliver that in homage to the great Darrell Dawkins who named all of his slams, he’s christening that dunk “Sophia”.  (C=

Golden State tomorrow, but I don’t think that one’s on TV.  [It is on TV...KGW.  Still...]  If you can, I’d suggest getting some tickets and checking this out yourself.


--Dave (