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Blazers Bench Bright in Close Loss to Jazz

Ryan A Chase recaps the good and the bad of the Portland Trail Blazers preseason tilt with the Utah Jazz Thursday night.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers fell in a shootout in its preseason home opener against the Utah Jazz Thursday night. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 22, but the Blazers could not hold a seven-point lead late in the game.

How it Happened:

The teams traded scoring runs throughout the contest, but the Blazers led 93-86 with six minutes left. Jazz coach Quin Snyder brought his starters back into the game, but Blazers coach Terry Stotts decided to leave a second unit of Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, C.J. McCollum, and Dorell Wright in. The regular starters did not see another minute of action, with Darius Morris the only further Portland substitution.

As a result Utah rallied, tying the game at 103. Barton managed to score off his own blocked shot, but Trey Burke outplayed Morris and hit a three-pointer to give the Jazz a lead they would not relinquish. The Blazers had a chance when Alec Burks missed two free throws on the Jazz's next possession, but Freeland and Leonard failed to get the rebound, and Burks was able to recover the loose ball, scoring for a 108-105 lead.

The Good News:

1) LaMarcus Aldridge made every person that was tasked with guarding him miserable, especially Utah's second unit of Rudy Gobert and Trevor Booker. 12 of Aldridge's 22 points came with those two players defending. (Not that Enes Kanter or Derrick Favors did much better.)

2) Dorell Wright was a force on defense for the limited time he saw action. Wright did not play for the first three quarters, but made the most of his time in the fourth. He forced three turnovers and locked down half the court, forcing the Jazz to get its second unit out of the game.

3) Overall, the Blazers bench played extremely well. Chris Kaman had eight points, Leonard shot surprisingly well when the Jazz played off of him, and the bench was 20-of-21 from the charity stripe, the only miss coming with seven minutes left in the game.

4) The team defense was much better in the second half, forcing turnovers left and right.

The Bad News:

1) Steve Blake struggled running the first-team offense in Damian Lillard's absence. Lillard missed the game with a left ankle strain suffered against Utah on Tuesday, and Blake could not find a rhythm early on. He ended up 1-of-6 from the field, and only three assists in a rough first half.

2) Tasked with being the second unit point guard, C.J. McCollum was overwhelmed. His dribbling was out of control on several attempts to pierce the lane, and eventually Will Barton had to takeover running the offense.

3) While the team forced more turnovers in the second half, they struggled converting them into points, often either giving the ball right back with loose passing, or failing to hit open shots.

Highlight of the Game:

McCollum drove the lane in the third quarter, where he hit an up-and-under shot while rolling into the first row. It was a hyper athletic move, and a highlight on a night where C.J. did not have his best stuff.

Player Watch:

Will Barton had an average night, unable to really get himself into high gear, but was a constant thorn for the Jazz on defense.

McCollum got himself to the line a lot, but missed too many open shots, and had a rough time handling the ball. His defense was above-average, however.

Morris played only a short amount of time, and kept up with Trey Burke early. However, Burke outmaneuvered him for the key three-pointer, and his questionable foul of Alec Burks put the Blazers in a bad position.

Thomas Robinson had a usual night: great rebounding and a monster blocked shot followed by ineffective offensive play.

Meyers Leonard was virtually ignored by the Jazz defense, and he managed to make them pay for it. Not being able to corral the loose ball off of the Burks free throws late put a shadow on his evening.

Fan Watch:

The fans only really got into it in the second half, but when they did, they managed to make the arena shake as though it were a playoff game. Any questionable call by the referees was met with a virtual sonic boom of boos, and one section managed to start a "Meyers" chant after Leonard hit three of four shots in a row.

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