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Blazers Drown Out Jazz 98-89 To Win Preseason Opener

The Blazers looked good against the Jazz, beating their division rivals 98-89 in the preseason opener, while Evan Turner made his anticipated debut in a Portland uniform.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

By NBA preseason opener standards, Monday night at the Rose Garden wasn't a bad ticket at all.  In front of an anxious home crowd, the Portland Trail Blazers delivered an energetic and entertaining performance, thoroughly outplaying the Utah Jazz en route to an easy 98-89 victory.

It's hard to take too much away from exhibition, but for the first live action (Fan Fest notwithstanding) since the start of training camp just a week ago, Portland looked encouragingly strong.  If anything, we're looking at a team that will go 10-12 players deep with playable talent on any given night when healthy.  Utah came out looking to prove themselves the up-and-coming team to watch in the Western Conference, and for a few minutes they did, but for the remainder of the night was taken by the home team.

The Blazers stars shined, with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combining for 27 points and 10 assists, already looking in regular season form, while Allen Crabbe looked sharp off the bench with 15 points and 4 assists.  Lillard didn't need to find the range he had on display during Sunday's Fan Fest, connecting on only one of his three-point attempts, but he repeatedly found success attacking the rim, converting on a variety of layup and reverse finishes, often going right into the teeth of one of the league's premiere shot blockers in Rudy Gobert.

Playing without a few key reserves, as Meyers Leonard, Festus Ezeli and Noah Vonleh recover from various injuries, coach Terry Stotts was free to go deep into his bench - 11 players saw the floor in the first half alone and several players spent time at more than one position.  This is, after all, what preseason is for, and I'm sure there will be much more of Terry Stotts "mad scientist" to come before November.

The Jazz were led by Gordon Hayward's 17 points, while Derrick Favors tacked on 14 points and grabbed 9 rebounds.

Evan Turner also made his debut in a Portland uniform, scoring 7 points and dishing out 3 assists of his own. Turner's shot was shaky but he looked comfortable fitting in to the Blazer offense, where his passing skill is right at home with the movement-centric philosophy of Stotts' system.  He may have even been involved in the highlight of the evening, tossing a pin-point alley-oop lob to Mason Plumlee, which he finished with a one-handed slam.

While the starting lineup and playing rotation will certainly be a work in progress, on  Monday Portland went with the familiar starting five from the end of the 2015-16 season and playoffs - Lillard / McCollum / Maurice Harkless / Al-Farouq Aminu / Plumlee.  Stotts has indicated that he is going to be experimenting heavily with personnel throughout the preseason, so take this or any other lineup we'll see over the next five games with a grain of salt, but this would still be my guess to take center court on opening night October 25.

After a slow start, during which the Jazz jumped out to an early 13-2 lead, the Blazers upped the defensive intensity and seized control of the game.  Particularly when Stotts made his first substitution, and Lillard was joined with Crabbe, Harkless and Aminu, Portland's athleticism and length gave Utah fits, forcing turnovers in the open court leading to fast-break buckets.  Turner checked in and continued the trend, giving a glimpse at  what looks to be a major strength this season - depth - and perimeter defensive depth at that.

Much of the defense-to-offense transition game was instigated by Harkless, who looked to be one of the few players on the floor in true game shape.  He won some plays just by simply outrunning his man to the ball and was brutally effective running the fast break.  He managed to also back up some of the hype surrounding his developing outside shot, knocking down back-to-back threes during the third quarter.

Throughout the contest, Harkless' defensive versatility was front and center - he began the night guarding Hayward on the wing, and later shifted to fronting Favors in the post.  During the third, he brought the Rose Garden crowd to its feet with a monster rejection on Rodney Hood.  By the time he checked out of the game, Harkless had effectively guarded three positions and arguably was the Blazers' best defender at all three.

Shabazz Napier turned training camp noise into an impressive performance - scoring 11 points, including two threes while looking capable of running the offense.  The ball did sometimes stall in his hands, but his speed, ball-handling and outside shot will be hard to ignore.

A look at the box score doesn't quite tell the tale - the Jazz were held below 40% shooting for most of the night. and trailed by 14 points with five minutes remaining. At that point, most of the rotation players exited the game.  The Blazers forced 19 turnovers and shot a very acceptable 48% themselves.  When they weren't out-shooting them, Portland was out-hustling them.

Utah's backups threatened to get back into it late, cutting as close as five at 90-85 late in the fourth quarter, but Luis Montero drilled a three to put the game away for good.  Wins and losses aren't entirely meaningful in the preseason, but you could kind of get the feeling that walking away with a "W" was important to the team.


SLC Dunk

The Blazers are back in action Friday night, at home against the Phoenix Suns.

-- Ryan Rosback | | Twitter