The Utah Jazz set the tone and tempo as they convincingly defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in the Memorial Coliseum, 109-100. It was a case of "new cast of characters, same script" for these two teams: the Jazz mercilessly picked apart the Blazers defense and and disrupting Portland's offense by hounding the Blazers on the perimeter, forcing tough, long contested shots.
With the loss, Portland falls to 1-3 on the season. While the Blazers aren't in crisis mode after losing three straight games to major division rivals, tonight illuminated some areas of immediate concern as well as some longer-term issues that need addressing.
It's been an exceedingly long day so I'm going to knock this one out in bullet point fashion. Sorry for the crudeness. We'll double back on some of these points later in the week for further discussion.
- Brandon Roy did not play hard. He didn't even do a particularly good job of faking it. Just a flat, disinterested performance from Roy, who was matched up against rookie Ryan Thompson and scored easily on the rare occasion that he upped the intensity. Although his 6-of-9 shooting for 16 points looks nice the truth telling stat from Roy was 0 rebounds in 32 minutes of play. He slow-floated around the perimeter, moving the ball listlessly, especially during the first half.
- Roy came alive a tad during the second half and played his best ball with Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Both Batum and Matthews picked up their off-ball movement with Roy up top and the Blazers got two easy baskets at the rim in quick succession thanks to some quick passing and cutting. One ended with a pretty alleyoop from Matthews to Batum. As expected (hoped), this is shaping up to be the money combination.
- In tandem with the last two bullet points is the fact that Roy and Andre Miller have shown very little, if any, cohesion together, and Miller played just 18 minutes tonight. Miller is also clearly not going 100% so a full appraisal is premature.
- Even exercising full patience, though, starting backcourt chemistry is a huge question mark right now. The pairing is not settled and clicking, no matter what you might have read.
- Potentially the bigger issue for Miller is that he didn't get a look at captaining the second unit like he did last year. Instead, Nate McMillan leaned heavily on Matthews and gave extended looks to both Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez. After shootaround this morning, McMillan said Bayless/Fernandez/Matthews is a perimeter combination that he will continue to play together because of their tempo-changing ability and complementary skills. Preseason or not, Miller's playing time is therefore getting pressed from all sides.
- After the game, Roy was nonchalant in saying that he wasn't concerned by the losses. "We've got to do a better job of pulling it together for full games... We'll work at it. I still feel we're good... We want to win, but I'm not discouraged by what our record is right now. I think we're going to be pretty good. We've got to keep our heads up. We're not going to panic."
- Given their depleted front court and given the slow-down nature and the continued lack of motion in their offense, Portland looks like they will be increasingly reliant on the three-point ball to win games. When they are 4-13 from deep like they were tonight, often going deep into the shot clock or shooting contested shots, they will really struggle to keep pace with good, efficient offenses.
- Nate McMillan coached much of the game with a normal or pretty normal rotation, and he started Marcus Camby. Every time Camby hit the deck for a loose ball or in a scrap during the first quarter there were audible gasps on press row. That subsided a bit as the game went along although Camby only saw the court for a total of 24 minutes.
- LaMarcus Aldridge played fairly hard and well, tallying 22 points with 12 coming on made free throws. Like Roy, he didn't make much of an impression on the boards, grabbing just 4 (all defensive) in 33 minutes. The Jazz outrebounded the Blazers 39-26. Yes, you read that correctly. 26 rebounds for the entire team in the entire game combined.
- Nicolas Batum looked like an underutilized or misused asset on offense. 5 points on 2-7 shooting, 1 rebound, 0 assists in 23 minutes. Tonight on offense Batum was either being asked to do things he cannot do or not being asked to do things he can do. Nothing in the post. Nothing off screens or to exploit mismatches. A lot of standing and watching with few touches. A lot of face-up dribbling and struggling with ball pressure with no one open to feed in the post.
- Speaking of ball pressure, none of the young Blazers guards really stood out with their ability to handle the aggressive perimeter defending that the Jazz threw at them. Bayless, Armon Johnson and Elliot Williams all had their own issues, even in garbage time. While the total team turnover numbers weren't that bad (just 13), a number of possessions got sidetracked and a number of open passes were completely missed.
- There might not be a better coach in the NBA at finding your weakness and exploiting it over and over than Jerry Sloan. Almost as soon as Luke Babbitt checked in to play power forward with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, the ball went into the post time and time again and Babbitt struggled to stay with Utah's bench bigs, picking up 3 quick fouls and giving up multiple buckets.
- On his first possession, Elliot Williams threw a bad pass on the perimeter (just like during the Clippers preseason game) that led to an uncontested breakout dunk. The only problem: Jazz guard Ronnie Price blew the dunk leading to laughter from the crowd.
- McMillan played Armon Johnson and Jerryd Bayless together for a brief stretch in the fourth quarter. While Johnson brought the ball up the court, he quickly put the ball in Bayless's hands to initiate the high pick-and-roll offense that Bayless ran so often last year as a back up. The Jazz defense really collapsed hard off of Johnson into the paint, making Bayless's life difficult once he went into attack mode. A lot of driving, jumping and deciding in mid-air from Bayless tonight.
- A bright spot -- again -- was the play of Rudy Fernandez, who not only connected from deep but also beat his man to the baseline and threw down a very assertive two-handed dunk. He also had 7 free throw attempts. He's making a strong case for big rotation minutes. He saw some time alongside Brandon Roy but their play together wasn't particularly memorable.
- Matthews also played well overall. Good effort on both ends: 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 7-12 from the field. He played like Jerry Sloan is still coaching him.
- A lot of this has been about the offense tonight because the defense was just not very good. 50 points in the paint. 17 second chance points. 18 points on 10 shots to Kyrylo Fesenko. A lack of effort and concentration. It would be very frustrating to coach a team that played defense and defended the boards like the Blazers did tonight. Surprise, surprise, McMillan was frustrated after the game. He repeated the same things over and over (more than usual) during his post-game comments.
Random Game Notes
- After a day that saw the Blazers sign Steven Hill and reportedly work out D. J. Mbenga, the party line regarding the 15th roster spot is that the brass is "investigating a number of options." It didn't sound urgent but it sounded like they were moving with a sense of urgency, if that hair can be split that finely. More to come later this week on this topic, certainly.
- Utah Jazz all star point guard Deron Williams made sure to get a pre-game dap from Kevin Pelton, who was keeping stats for Jazz radio courtside. The scene, which was impressive, nearly restored the street credibility Pelton sacrificed posing for this picture.
- Jeff Pendergraph exited the locker room after the team, wearing a heavy brace on his knee and using crutches. He had plenty of smiles and handshakes for a small crowd assembled outside the locker room.
- Greg Oden was also with the team on the bench for tonight's game, a rarity in Portland recently.
- The Blazers bench was so full, poor Patty Mills sat next to a photographer and almost directly in front of the ownership group, which included Paul Allen, Bert Kolde, Larry Miller and Rich Cho.
- Despite reports that he is still overweight, Al Jefferson looked significantly (!) lighter than the last time I saw him. Barely recognized him.
- Gordon Hayward gets the spit kicked out of him in pregame drills and during the game (1-5 from the field, 6, 4 fouls, 3 turnovers) but he always goes back for more. It will be fun to watch him develop as a pro. Get used to it; he's a Jazz for life.
- Plenty of empty seats in the Memorial Coliseum and a much less inspired overall vibe compared to last year. The "first time back" luster and excitement seemed to have worn off, although an impromptu (unscripted?) medley of patriotic songs from Bill Schonely in place of the National Anthem got things going.
- The word on the street has KGW sports anchor Adam Bjaranson set to take over studio host duties previously handled by Bob Akamian during Blazers broadcasts.
Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments
We've got a lot of work to do. No question about it. I thought the first half defensively we did some good things. Utah shot 37% from the floor but we gave up 9 offensive boards, so we didn't finish the play. The defense was good, forcing the stops, but they out-hustled us and got rebounds. Offensively we are stagnant in the first half. But in the second half we were able score, get a little bit more ball movement, but only 11 assists. The combination of the three -- defending, rebounding, offensively executing -- we didn't put that together tonight.
Are the starters clicking together?
I thought the team we substituted in the second half we just got some scrappy play. They haven't played a lot together. That shouldn't be an issue. We should be better than that. The intensity, the scrappiness. I thought we got off to a good start defensively, we just didn't finish. Offensively we were stagnant. 11 assists. We've got to put those three things together.
We talk about our defense being more physical. I thought we were. We've got to do that without fouling. They've shot 89 or 90 free throws in two games. We've got to know time/score situations and not bail teams out by allowing them to march to the free throw line. That was good. I thought we got aggressive in the second half offensively. We still needed more movement. We only have 11 assists, you're not working together. Everything is coming off of individual play.
How did the starters look?
Tonight was a game where the starting unit was going to play together and this was what the preseason is about, working this out. We've just got to continue to work. Put the three things together. I thought the defensive intensity was good early, you've got to rebound, finish the play, and then offensively you've got to have execution, setting screens, hard cuts, good ball movement.
What's next for practice this week?
Continue to work. We're still in training camp. We want to see and work things out.
The rookies didn't play much until the end
I just made my substitutions, we got some energy, some scrappy play, we got some baskets, so I stayed with that group. My plan was to play 10 guys but ended up playing a few more than that.
Wesley Matthews provided a spark
That's what I was looking for. I was looking for some type of spark to get some energy going defensively and offensively get some movement. I thought he came in and provided that. We looked at a combination that we haven't played a lot with Wesley, Brandon and Nicolas. Wesley at some point, Brandon at some point. Offensively we scored but defensively we gave up a ton of points.
Are you getting enough from Brandon Roy?
It's hard to tell with these guys in preseason. They are trying to play themselves into shape. I thought he got aggressive in the second half and started to provide some scoring. This is what it's about, working out the rhythm and trying to get your rhythm. These veterans who play.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter