After seven months of dormancy, Trail Blazers basketball returned to the Rose Garden Friday night. It was only an intrasquad scrimmage, with the “White” team, comprised mostly of the presumed starters, beating the “Black” team of substitutes 67-47, but the crowd on hand for the 2011 Wells Fargo Fan Fest showed their appreciation as though it was a regular season victory.
Gerald Wallace, who finished the scrimmage with 14 points, six rebounds, three steals and three blocks in 29 minutes for the White team, was named Fan Fest MVP. Wesley Matthews led the White team with 18 points and Nicolas Batum finished with 12 points despite going 0-for-7 from the three-point line. Elliot Williams, who missed all of last season after two knee surgeries, lead all scorers with 19 points in the losing effort.
But as is the case every year, the Wells Fargo Fan Fest is much more about getting better and reconnecting with the fans after the offseason than it is about getting the victory. Both goals were accomplished, though there’s still plenty of work to be done, specifically when it comes to implementing a more fast-paced offense that has been the point of emphasis for head coach Nate McMillan through the first week of training camp.
“We wanted to get in and get a good sweat. Get out and get a good run in,” said McMillan. “I thought the guys did that. As I told them, when you're committed to trying to play a certain style of basketball, which is you want to defend but you also want to get out and run, it requires a commitment and you've got to be in some great shape to play that type of basketball. We've got to continue to work on that, but that will get better.”
Conditioning will remain a priority throughout the preseason, especially with the addition of free agents Jamal Crawford and Craig Smith, who are likely to participate in their first practice Saturday. With a short training camp and what is expected to be a rigorous regular season schedule, there’s little time to waste in getting the new additions up to speed and in shape.
“I'm anxious to get the guys in (Saturday) and see Crawford and Craig (Smith) with the team,” said McMillan. “LaMarcus (Aldridge) will be with the team tomorrow. He won't be able to do anything live, but just anxious to get these guys together so they can play as much basketball together as possible before the start of the season. It's going to take some time for them to get a rhythm, to get adjusted to each other and that's going to have to happen during the season. But looking forward to working with these guys and the challenge of fitting these guys in, creating that style of play that we want, that we feel is going to give us an opportunity to win some games.”
But the first step toward the regular season was simply getting out in front of a home crowd for the first time since Game 6 against the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks. Just like there’s no way to condition without working, there’s no way to gauge how far you’ve come or how much farther you need to go until you’ve step on the court with something at stake, even if it’s only bragging rights.
“Any time you walk out in front of a crowd, you get the butterflies, you get antsy, you're ready to go,” said McMillan. “These guys perform. That's what they do. Even though they've had a long day -- most of those guys have been here since 9 o'clock this morning and didn't have a chance to go home -- but once the lights are turned on you can see that energy just come out of their bodies and guys were ready to go.”