The Portland Trail Blazers won another preseason game in encouraging fashion tonight against the Sacramento Kings. With the Blazers’ “Big 3” of Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, and CJ McCollum destined for extended minutes while Kings coach Dave Joerger rested eight of his regular-season rotation players, Portland was in the driver’s seat before the game even started. The second half featured some nervous moments, but ultimately Portland’s talent prevailed in a 97-83 victory.
This game started like a typical preseason game. The Blazers looked especially sloppy with fumbles, travels, and a wide open, air-balled corner three from Maurice Harkless. Even so, they were clearly the better team. Their sloppiness was covered up by their ability to turn defense into offense—highlighted by a terrific steal and dunk by Harkless—and by their size and aggression on the boards. The Kings’ lanky young big men were no match for Portland’s strength on the inside.
As the first half progressed, the Blazers cleaned up turnovers and pushed their advantage with a balanced attack. A Lillard floater at the buzzer pushed the lead to 54-43 at the half.
A funny thing happened on the way to the win, though. The Blazers played their starters the entire third quarter, but still could not pull away from the young Kings. Portland did a good job of pushing the ball off of misses and turnovers, but struggled to convert at the other end. As the Blazers’ offense faltered, the Kings started to come alive, actually approaching within 3 points (63-60) despite the skeleton crew. The intensity picked up in an otherwise nonchalant evening. Portland headed into the fourth up only six points.
Terry Stotts finally sat his starters in the fourth quarter, letting some of the young guys get run. They rewarded him. Portland’s ball movement looked as clean and crisp as it had at any point in the evening. Jake Layman scored eight points and Portland ripped off an 11-2 run to break the game open. At that point, Stotts gave the lone vet of the lineup, Evan Turner, the rest of the night off. The underclassmen showed their youth at times but also held the Kings to their lowest-scoring quarter of the game. Ball movement continued, and ultimately the Blazers closed out the game in comfort.
With both coaches having dissimilar intentions for their rotations before the game, the Blazers stood on higher ground. But even so, the Kings were able to keep the game close against the Portland regulars for three quarters. The Blazers looked sloppy on offense. Few of their 17 turnovers came from defensive pressure. There were careless passes, offensive fouls on post-ups, and travels. Luckily those are pretty fixable problems.
Offensively, Portland ran a few too many isolation plays. They lacked movement from players without the ball. As 8 assists in the first three quarters would suggest, the offense became stagnant.
The Blazers’ best offense was actually their defense and rebounding. Quick outlets and an urgency to push the tempo on the possession changes led to 23 Portland points off of turnovers, plus even more good shots that they just did not convert. Getting out and running in transition seems to be a point of emphasis for the Blazers this year.
Portland got offensive contributions from diverse players. Twelve Blazers scored, seven different players hit a three, and nine notched an assist. That multi-pronged attack plan is only going to help the Trail Blazers in the regular season.
Defensively, Portland did a terrific job of taking away easy baskets. They only allowed 40 points off of points in the paint, free throws, and transition baskets combined. That means over half of Sacramento’s points came off of jump shots...a great sign for the defense going forward.
Jusuf Nurkic had a few ball handling snafus but he was head and shoulders better than any big man the Kings fielded tonight. He was too strong for some defenders, too quick for others, and too good for all of them. Nurk was also called for a few questionable charges on the block, but he is clearly in great shape and looks to be primed for a big season.
Caleb Swanigan’s 5 turnovers stick out, but most of them were forgivable. He had a three-in-the-key called as he anticipated a shot that wasn’t taken. He pushed the ball in transition and got called for an extremely questionable charge while cutting off a defender’s angle. He was called for another charge off of a flop on the block, plus a travel off of a drive from the wing. Swanigan’s energy remains infectious. He is a mammoth getting position and continues to be a relentless pain for the opposition on the boards.
Evan Turner showed his full array of skills tonight. He hit a three pointer, was effective on the block while punishing smaller defenders, and drew help side defenders on the dribble. If he can continue to contribute a little bit in multiple categories, he is going to turn himself into a massive asset for this club.
Zach Collins looks to be getting more comfortable game by game. Although we may not to get to see his true value until he develops an NBA body, the skills are there. A great finish between two seven-footers, a nice mid-range jumper, great toughness and energy, and his second straight game with a made three-pointer will keep Portland excited about his potential
Pat Connaughton had a nice showing. His role may be less predictable than anyone else’s on this roster, but hitting 2-4 threes and doing a nice job keeping the offense in a flow may earn him more minutes. Though he is not an aware defensive player and may not be able to contribute any scoring outside of his three-point shot, games like this may help him carve out a role.
Jake Layman came cold off of the bench to knock down two threes and finish two dunks in the 4th quarter.
Kings rookie Justin Jackson, the player selected with Portland’s pick after the draft-day trade for Zach Collins, was arguably the Kings’ best player tonight with 16 points on 5-10 shooting, 3-6 from deep.
Portland travels to Phoenix to face the Suns on Wednesday night at 7:00, Pacific.
Our comprehensive Video Recap of the game.