The Portland Trail Blazers passed the preseason halfway point with Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, falling 109-108. As you’d expect, there were signs of growth and units coming together, but there were also signs that, well, it was a preseason game.
Damian Lillard continued his hot start to the preseason, getting the Blazers out to an early lead. Portland played aggressive on both ends of the floor, protected the ball and capitalized on Clipper mistakes. Then the roles reversed. Drastically. Portland went from a ball moving flow offense to a level of stagnant that could only be mirrored by a frozen pond. Isolation dribbles turned into possessions pounded into the floor for 16 seconds leading to a oh-so-predictable heave, resulting in usually nothing.
As the bench units started to roll in for both teams, things stabilized a bit and real basketball resumed for approximately 5 minutes. Then it happened.
The Clippers started the second quarter on a 18-0 run. During this time the Portland Trail Blazers played nothing that resembled NBA basketball. They turned it over, failed to communicate on defense, fouled with impunity, and made baseball an attractive alternative on a Thursday night. The only redeeming quality that came out of this debacle was inserting Damian Lillard righted the ship, somewhat, and actual basketball took place.
However, before long, Mason Plumlee concluded possibly the worst preseason game in recent memory. In 11 minutes on the court, the fourth-year veteran had 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers and 6 fouls. With three minutes remaining in the first half, his night was done. He was the epitome of wrong place, wrong time all night long. DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, and really anyone that went anywhere near the rim in the first 21 minutes of play had probably a 30 percent chance of drawing a foul on Plumlee. This wasn’t totally on Plumlee, though. The Blazers’ perimeter coverage was a disaster, at times looking like Moses was parting the defense, leaving lanes big enough to move through more than 400,000 people.
Thankfully, the Trail Blazers were saved by the halftime buzzer.
Portland came out in the third quarter looking more like the team that started the game, than the one who crawled to the first-half finish line. Also, at long last, CJ McCollum discovered his game. After having a rather unceremonious start to the preseason, McCollum got going with a few drives to the rim, a pull up from the free throw line, another drive and a foul, and a pump fake-step back three that left Raymond Felton flailing in the wind.
Lillard kept doing Lillard things, and with McCollum catching fire, the Blazers started to cut the lead down while establishing a rhythm. But soon after, the bench units came in again and this happened:
How Not To Run A Pick And Roll, By Evan Turner https://t.co/7aiyVwFWLn— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) October 14, 2016
To say that Evan Turner has had a rough go of it early on is probably both accurate and not fair. He’s just now integrating into the team, learning a new system and he’s bouncing around with different lineups at different times. With all that in mind, he still had a game that was pretty “meh” to say the least.
He wasn’t without his bright spots though. Turner had a nice series, creating a shot from the elbow for himself, followed by a dribble drive-kick out for an open jumper, and then driving the rim and generating free throws for himself. That four-minute run from Turner is what the Trail Blazers hope to see more of down the road. For the night he’s not getting a failing grade, but there’s certainly a lot of room for improvement.
The fourth quarter came around, and the clean up crew came in. After the regular rotation players had made their marks for the night, a mix-and-match of bench players took the floor and closed the gap with the Clippers. Mixed in there were a couple of nice drives to the hoop by Jake Layman, and Shabazz Napier had some spectacular drives and finishes at the rim. The Clippers’ deep bench struggled with as the game tightened. Los Angeles’ night was saved by former Blazer Jamal Crawford, who swished a mid-range jumper as the clock wound down.
But during that final quarter, one thing became clear: Shabazz Napier and Noah Vonleh are forging an early season partnership that looks promising. A nice two-man game coming off the bench could certainly pay dividends for Portland down the road. It’s still at the “way too early” point, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on. Speaking of Vonleh, after his spectacular closing segment against Phoenix, he’s continued to show more and more each night. Tonight he was able to step out and knock down two long jumpers, one of which he got his toes behind the 3-point line for. Again, good stuff to see.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Good: Damian Lillard looks ready for the regular season, which is fantastic. Meanwhile, CJ McCollum played well enough to squelch any of those out there who may have started to worry even the slightest that he would struggle. It’s okay everyone, CJ is fine.
The bad: Unfortunately, this list is pretty long tonight. After having a spirited game as a starter the first preseason game, Maurice Harkless was an afterthought tonight. With the exception of a handful of plays he mostly drifted to the periphery. Speaking of the periphery, Al-Farouq Aminu was tossed to the periphery repeatedly by Blake Griffin the post. It appeared the Clippers forward was looking to erase any doubts after Aminu played him well during stretches of last year’s playoffs Oh, and Aminu found a way to get tossed from a preseason game, along with DeAndre Jordan.
It may not be fair to put Allen Crabbe in the “bad” category, but he wasn’t exactly good, either. Fair or not, he will be judged on his production even more based on the contract he received. Dropping 11 points is nice, but outside of his scoring punch he didn’t have any real impact on the game.
The ugly: Boy, was there plenty. Mason Plumlee we already covered. It was bad and ugly. We can leave it at that. Evan Turner probably should be here, but given he’s still new to the team and finding his way I’m inclined to let him slide. For now.
Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis both had off nights at the office. Both rebounded okay, but they were caught in-between assignments and consistently lost interior matchups on the defensive end. Leonard is still rounding into form so he gets a bit of a hall pass, but we’ve come to expect more from Davis.
It’s kind of strange to be talking about the bad and the ugly in a 1-point loss on the road in a preseason game. So, some kudos needs to handed to a Blazers team that once again appears to be full of scrap and hustle, a team that’s out there to “do some things”. They get credit for clawing back into the game and making it a contest, and hopefully the lessons learned from tonight’s game pay dividends in the future. With that, it’s on to the next!
Speaking of the next game, the Blazers have two days off, and return to Moda Center to play the Denver Nuggets. Mason Plumlee plans to play more than 11 minutes!