The artificial suspense has been lifted early.
Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts named his starting lineup for Wednesday's preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers at the team's practice facility on Monday. The group was as expected: guards Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, forward Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, and J.J. Hickson at center. The quintet, which includes four holdovers from last season plus Lillard, scrimmaged together, wearing black jerseys, during a brief portion of the end of practice that was open to the media.
"I thought the starters played very well together," Stotts said. "They competed in the last two games. The advantage they have is that those four guys have played a lot of time together. Those four guys played very well together for the last 20 games of the season."
"He's the incumbent, he played well last year," Stotts said of his decision to go with Hickson first. "There's a good feel with him out there last year. He's played well in practice. I want to look at him at center first... J.J. has played well. Meyers has played well. J.J. played well last year. The fact that J.J. has played well over the course of last season and this year, he's getting the first shot. It's not to say that he'll start every preseason game. You'll probably see different lineups over the course of the preseason."
Players were subbing in and out of Monday's scrimmage, preventing much meaningful analysis, but the standout sequence saw Lillard find Batum for a right corner three after drawing attention on a high screen and roll with Aldridge. The developing chemistry between Lillard and his veteran teammates, particularly Aldridge, has been a point of emphasis for the coaching staff and media members alike.
"We have a long way to go," Stotts said. "It's not ready but I think [Lillard and Aldridge] understand what each other can do. LaMarcus is a great player. Damian is coming along... after a week of practice [the chemistry] is pretty good... I've got a lot of confidence in Damian... He's got a lot of poise and he's a mature guy. He's smart, he sees the game and he wants to get better."
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter