One night after coming from 21 down to defeat the Utah Jazz, your Portland Trail Blazers almost pulled off another thrilling catch-up victory in Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight. For details on the incredible last 2 minutes of the game and a look at the fatal blow to Portland's hopes, check out our Instant Recap.
The 104-102 loss highlighted a reality that's been evolving throughout the pre-season campaign. The Blazers are capable of winning, but they need something special to pull it off. Neither team played their regular season lineup (leaving matters relatively equal) and the Lakers are hardly expected to dominate the league this year. Tonight's opponent was ripe for the picking. That the game turned on a shot or two in the final seconds disguises the real point. With more consistency the Blazers could have put the game out of reach, rendering the final shots moot. Though they played impressively in stretches, they couldn't make their strengths count. Everything they took, they ended up giving back.
The Blazers rebounded well enough, gathering in 10 offensive rebounds, one of the huge indicators of success for this year's team. They also gave up 10.
The Blazers forced 12 turnovers and scored 13 fast break points, mediocre but acceptable. Except they committed 13 turnovers and gave up 15 fast break points.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum scored 30 between them in 49 minutes. Lakers guards Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell scored 29 in 41 minutes.
Last year if the Blazers played fairly even with the opponent, they had the experience to carry the win. This year if they play fairly even their inexperience is going to lead to losses.
Even so, most of the glory of the new roster was on display tonight. Portland bigs acquitted themselves well. Mason Plumlee had a great run, playing 18 minutes with 4-6 shooting, 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. He dribbled past defenders, spun around them, and caught in traffic then dished precisely to open teammates. He made Roy Hibbert look like a Brontosaurus. Every time his sneakers hit the floor, you understood how the Blazers are supposed to play and how pretty it can be.
Meyers Leonard also had a great shooting night, following the same principles as Plumlee. He found open spots and no opposing behemoths were willing to follow him. He rebounded well.
The one exception to this rule was Chris Kaman. He had a bad night statistically but that wasn't the half of it. Next to his fleet teammates he looked like Adrian Adonis paired in an awkward three-man tag team with The Rockers. He holds the ball on offense and can't move around to help his guards defend...hardly the archetypal Blazer big at this point.
Portland's wings once again played well, with Moe Harkless and Allen Crabbe looking confident.
In part because of those wings, Portland's pressure and passing lane defense looked shiny. So did their cutting attacks to the basket in the halfcourt.
But guard defense and bench continuity remain big enough problems to give serious pause to the praise. In addition to the Clarkson/Russell scoring mentioned above, Lakers point guard Marcelo Huertas looked completely comfortable whipping passes around Portland's defense. Portland was late closing out on shooters and still had issues coordinating their screen coverage as well. Sometimes it seems like any guard the opponent throws out there is going to look great.
Though the pre-season doesn't showcase a normal rotation, it's worth mentioning that Portland hiccups as soon as Damian Lillard leaves the floor. CJ McCollum is brilliant at times but neither he nor the other replacement guards can keep the offense going. It devolves into mid-range looks off of excessive dribbling far too easily. Head Coach Terry Stotts will be sorely tempted to play Lillard 40+ minutes per game during the regular season. Fans from 2021 are calling back on their time phones right now, asking him not to.
But a single pre-season game remains, as the Blazers take on the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. The regular season commences a week from Wednesday.
--Dave firstname.lastname@example.org / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge