The new-look Blazers are carrying some old-time habits through this pre-season, dropping back-to-back games to division rivals Utah and Denver. But honestly, what did you expect? Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby had the night off tonight. That left the Blazers without their leading scorer and completely center-less.
Portland compensated for the first by divvying up shots between forwards. LaMarcus Aldridge, Dante Cunningham, and Luke Babbitt led the team in shots attempted. Cunningham scored 15 on 11 shots. Aldridge scored 11 on 11 shots. Babbitt scored a team-high 18 on 8 attempts, going 4-6 from the arc and 4-4 from the free throw line. After that most of the shots came from Rudy Fernandez, Elliott Williams, and Armon Johnson. All of those names aside from Aldridge pique Portland fans' curiosity at this point but a scoring brigade of LMA, Cunningham, Babbitt, Fernandez, Williams, and Johnson isn't exactly Offensive Plan 1A this year. Even when you throw in a few attempts from Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum it's not pretty. The Blazers probably did well to score 99.
Compensating for the lack of centers was not so easy.
The Blazers did well in the rebounding department on the backs of those same scoring forwards. Aldridge, Babbitt, and Cunningham combined for 23 of Portland's 46 rebounds. Thanks to Dante and Luke the team racked up an impressive 17 offensive boards. That's where the fun ends though.
We're starting to see that even though the Blazers upped their overall defensive potential in the last six months, they're going to struggle without their anchors. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum will stay in front of their men most of the time but nobody can contain for an entire game, especially when that entire game is played against the likes of Carmelo Anthony. Without backup, without intimidation in the lane, Portland's defense remains fragile. The Nuggets scored 109 points overall tonight. The defense allowed 53% shooting. The defense allowed 39 foul shots. That's a big allowance. Denver's big points came at the 2-3-4 positions (Anthony, Aaron Afflalo, Shelden Williams), places where the Blazers are supposedly strong defensively. Without the help and the shot-block, it's not there. Blazer fans need to sacrifice chicken gizzards to the basketball gods to get some big men healthy.
As mentioned, Luke Babbitt led the team with 18 points from impressive shooting and some offensive rebounding. It's good to see him get on track. He also had 6 fouls, which is not entirely surprising. Babbitt backers can rejoice that the potential had a chance to shine through though.
This was a night for experimentation so don't fret the loss. I would like to see the team ramp up towards a regular-season lineup before long though.
If you were at the game or even heard it and want to add something interesting, leave a comment below.