Nice Way to Start
Okay. Let's get the question out of the way- the question I was asked about 14 times on Tuesday night. I probably even asked it to a few people standing around me. Were the Clippers that
bad, or did Portland just play very, very well? Because the Trail Blazers won this game by 29 points, and it wasn't that close. Portland won it 115-86, after leading by as many as 38.
Yes, it's the preseason. The first game of the preseason. So, don't worry. No one was pounding their chest after this game. But, in terms of what we were hoping to see, and I mean from top to bottom, it was mission accomplished. I don't care if it's the preseason or not, that means something. And, don't think for a second Nate McMillan is going to let anyone get overconfident after an outing like this in early October.
There were many things to get excited about, while keeping in mind all the things we've just talked about.
McMillan has spent a lot of time during training camp working on defense. He's talked about running more (I know, I know). He's said getting stops, thanks to a smothering defense, will lead to a much easier time on the offensive end. They've worked so much on defense at times, we've wondered out loud during practices, "Gosh. Are they neglecting the offense part of the game?" Clearly, that's not an issue. At least at this point.
The Trail Blazers ended up shooting 48 percent for the game, and that total came down significantly during the late stages of the contest. Most impressive? The Blazers were 16 for 27 from behind the three-point line (59.3 percent). That's another area we wondered about during the first few days of camp- "do the Blazers have enough players who are capable of hitting the long ball?" This was one night, but, yes, it appears they do have guys who are capable.
Another observation, that I'd certainly move more toward the "definite" category, is that Wesley Matthews is going to turn out to be a tremendous catch for this team. He's looked like a perfect fit throughout camp, and doesn't seem like a second-year player who was overlooked by every single NBA team in the 2009 draft. His story is crazy. How could no team have thought this guy was worth even a second-round pick? And, it's not like we're talking about someone who grew into a role after hanging around the league for a number of years. This was the 2009 draft we're taking about.
Matthews took home the MVP honors from the Fan Fest last Friday, which clearly doesn't mean a ton. But, against the Clippers, he was a leader on the floor, always appeared poised and in control, and scored 20 points in 20 minutes. Oh, and his best attribute is that he's a defensive stopper. So, the offense is basically a bonus. The guy is the real deal, and it's amazing how no one is talking about Portland "overspending" to get him now. He looks like a bargain. Add to all of this the fact that the Blazers stole him from a team in their own division, thus weakening a rival, and it just gets better.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. Solid, and solid. No surprise. L.A. had 17 points and 7 rebounds, and Roy had 12 points, while simply going through the process of fine tuning his game in the preseason.
Nicolas Batum also falls into the category of a "known commodity." If he had gone scoreless, while tripping over his own shoes a half dozen times, I wouldn't have been concerned. Instead, he had 10 points in 18 minutes. We'll see him getting more minutes, and hopefully more shots than he took in this game (7).
Andre Miller, Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, same thing. All are in great shape, and had solid outings.
Now then, to the x factor. I've been saying that the Rudy Fernandez situation isn't an issue. Well, it may have just become one. If he had loafed his way around the floor, looked disinterested, and basically just ran around on the court, this would be less of an issue than it is now. Given what's been said, I think people probably expected to see that from Rudy. Instead, he went out and reminded us that he still can be a very, very big part of this team. Make no mistake. Portland played some of its best basketball in this game when Rudy was on the floor. Fernandez had 15 points, was 5 for 6 from behind the three-point line, had five rebounds, 3 assists, and was active defensively.
What now? I don't really know. But, Rudy was on the court smiling, darting about, spreading the floor, hitting long shots, and putting the ball in the proper place. In short, he was being the best version of himself, and his teammates seem to love and support him. Was this enough to remind him of the good times he's had in Portland, and perhaps, just perhaps, was he thinking on his drive home that maybe this can work after all?
Up to this point Rudy has continued to say "nothing has changed." Really? Still? I know it was one preseason game, but if you were looking for one potential situation that could possibly change his mind, this could have been it. It's so strange. The guy spends a couple of months saying he wants to be traded. Then, comes out on media day and just shreds his trade value by saying he doesn't want to play anywhere in the NBA. Then, in the first preseason game looks terrific, and most importantly, looks like an impact player in the league. Someone else figure this out please.
The team will be back on the practice court on Wednesday morning, and Nate will be hammering away on them again.
What were McMillan's thoughts on this game? Click here
to listen to his post-game interview with Brian Wheeler and Antonio Harvey.
Then, give me your thoughts. Did this performance turn your confidence knob up a click? Or, was this just simply a playoff team beating up on the same ol' Clippers? And, Rudy. He was given a very good reception by the crowd again, so people are obviously willing to forgive and forget. Are you in that camp? And, do you think this changed anything?