The Portland Trail Blazers advanced to 4-2 in their preseason campaign with an 88-84 victory over the Utah Jazz. Damian Lillard continued to dazzle, pouring in 27 opoints in 28 minutes of action, while Mason Plumlee neared triple-double territory. CSNNW brings us the post-game interviews.
I wouldn’t say ‘turn it on and off,’ but, like I said, the game just feels slowed down this year right now. I’m seeing coverages and it’s not like I’m just attacking my man, I’m attacking what I’m seeing in the defense and I’m attacking spaces. The other thing is my feet haven’t been healthy since December, so I feel good. I can run. I couldn’t even run full speed and jump in the playoffs, so now that I finally got my feet under me and it’s pain free, it makes a difference. I can blow by people any time, I can go full speed and raise up and shoot a jumper. Those are things that was kind of taken away from me, so it looks different now.
I feel like we’ve played what, six games now? We’ve had good games we’ve had some so-so games. I thought tonight was our most consistent on both ends of the floor, moving the ball, taking care of the ball, getting stops, doing what we do defensively, and it showed. I think not coming out and having a great first quarter offensively and still being in the game showed that we were locked in on that end of the floor. We stuck to the ball movement, we set good screens, we trusted each other, and we looked good. Everything looked smooth. We looked like we’d been working on stuff and we got better at a lot of things.
I thought Evan (Turner) looked as comfortable as he has, (indiscernible)?
He was just aggressive. It wasn’t like he was trying to do the right thing and worried about this and worried about that. Last game I told him, I said ‘Don’t worry about what this person think or what that person is saying. We want you to play. You a play maker and you can score the ball, so when you get a rebound, you get a outlet, go attack. Go play off your feel. We need you to play off your instincts. That’s what you do well. That’s what you do well in practice and we want you to do it in a game so we can adjust to what you do and learn that way. Instead of you trying to get used to us the whole time, we got to get used to you too.’ And he said ‘Alright,’ and tonight I could tell that he had his mind set on just being aggressive and being himself and he looked good doing it.
Could you see Mason (Plumlee) getting a triple-double this year?
I could see him getting a lot of them. A lot of our new sets that we put in where we just moving the ball around and a lot of the times we putting the ball in his hands to make the play. Sometimes when I get a lot of attention in pick-and-rolls, he’s the guy getting it in the middle to make the next play, kind of like what Golden State does with Draymond Green. He gets a lot of assists getting the ball in the middle of the defense and making that decision. Mase is really good at it, so I can see him getting a bunch of them this year.
Your shot… it just looks so… not that it ever didn’t look smooth, but it looks even better. Is that just the work you put in?
It’s just the time. I think each summer that I’ve been in the league, I shoot more and more. I’m in the gym getting more and more shots up and, like I said, what I do before practice, after practice, just making sure that I get those reps in and I get that time in, just to stay sharp. I think that when you can be consistent in your work, it’ll allow you to be more consistent at a higher level when the games come. It’s only preseason but I’ve been able to stay true to that routine. Getting out there early before practice and after practice, making sure I get high quality shots up, not just out there shooting bad shots. I think it’s just moving onto the floor in games now.
I just thought we were playing together. I thought our defense was good even though we didn’t score a lot early, our defense kept us in the game, kept us even with them, and then the bench came in to finish it well too.
It looked like Evan was as comfortable as he’s been. What did you see from him tonight?
He was being aggressive, looking for his shot, and I thought he played really well. We want him to be aggressive and just be himself. Sometimes coming into a new situation you’re trying to fit in, but we got him because he’s a good player and we just want him to play to his strengths.
You kind of flirted with a triple-double tonight. Is that something that is a goal of yours?
For sure. I would love to have triple-doubles. I think that just means you’re playing a complete game, just getting everybody involved. A lot of it too is just guys hit shots. Four of the five assists in the first half were guys hitting threes—Moe (Harkless) in the corner, AC (Allen Crabbe) on the right wing, Dame up top—so it means guys are shooting the ball well too.
(Harkless grabs the mic) So you’re talking about that triple-double, I mean, do you think if you would have passed the ball a couple more times to Moe you could have gotten it?
No. He had his fill.
CJ (McCollum) wasn’t doing it, huh?
Now you’re talking about that meeting we had. You’re not going to understand that, so I’m not going to—
What did you like best about what you guys did tonight?
I think our defense was a lot better than it’s been transition-wise. The first half I think we had three back 90 percent of the time and that’s something we really pay attention to, making sure three guys are sprinting back out to the corners. I think early on in the preseason we weren’t focused on the little things, and now that the season is getting here, we’re taking advantage of those opportunities.
Did you feel like tonight was the best example that this team’s ready for the regular season?
Yeah, I mean, we’ve had some really good practices. We keep track of wins and losses and we get after it in practice, so I think we’ve shown that we’re ready, it just hasn’t always translated to the games. But defensively, I think we played a lot better in pick-and-rolls, our rotations were a lot better, and we’re getting close to where we need to be. I think we’re ready, but obviously we got one more preseason game left, so (we will) take care of that and stay healthy.
Mase and Dame talked about having a preseason meeting with you guys and kind of establishing your mindset that ‘Hey, we’re going to go out and win every game.’ Obviously, you’re not going to go 82-0, but having that mindset. How important is it and how hard is it to train your mind to do that?
I think we’re all competitors and you look at the roster, a lot of guys come from winning backgrounds due to college and high school success. So just getting back in that mindset, understanding that we got to be ready to play and teams are going to come after us and nothing’s going to be easy, whereas last year if we dropped a game or three games or four games or start off 11 and 20, it’s like ‘Eh, they’re supposed to be bad.’ Now we’re supposed to be a lot better, so the stakes are raised a little higher, we need to be more focused.
Could you see Mason getting a triple-double this year?
He’ll definitely get some triple-doubles this year. For sure.
What makes you so confident in that?
He’s good at everything. He can pass, he can rebound. Obviously, the scoring—you see the jump shots coming along. He’s got a really good basketball IQ and as the season goes along we’re going to put him in positions to where he’s going to be utilized heavily and take great advantage of it.