Dec 19

A Solid First Night

By mikebarrett
Victories in the preseason are always followed by comments like, "yeah, but it was just an exhibition win.  Don't get too excited."  That's certainly true, and I realize that perspective is a good thing when you're wanting to avoid unreal expectations.  But, there is nothing wrong with optimism, and Monday night we saw a lot of reasons to feel positive about this year's Portland team.

I suppose it was a very good sign that all five new Trail Blazers converted on their first field goal attempts in this game.  It probably doesn't mean much in the long run, but it was interesting.  Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, Nolan Smith, Kurt Thomas, and Craig Smith, at one point, were all 1 for 1.

Okay, that was the quirky stat.  There were others that were much more meaningful, and much more impressive.

I'll get to the offensive stuff, but it was the defense that was probably the most impressive part of this 110-90, wire-to-wire win over the Utah Jazz.  The Blazers were one of the top teams in the NBA in the steals catagory last season, and I seriously doubt that's going to change.  They recorded 15 steals on Monday night, and forced Utah into 23 turnovers.  Some of that was sloppy play by the Jazz, but most of that was because of a smothering half-court defense by Portland.

As Nate McMillan always preaches, if you're going to be a running team it starts with defense and rebounding.  When you've got Wesley Matthews and Gerald Wallace out on the edges, aggressively going after every pass, looking to trap at every opportunity, and diving after every loose ball, you're going to cause havoc.  At the very least, you're going to force tempo, and take your opponent out of their comfort zone.  That leads to offensive opportunities.

The Trail Blazers made the most of their offensive opportunties on this night, shooting 68.5% on their two-point attempts in this game.  They shot 72% from two-point range in the first half alone.  They weren't good from behind the three-point line (6 for 23), but when hit everything else, who cares?

Wallace was terrific, and disrupts as well as anyone.  He's got such a great nose for the ball, is fearless, and is strong enough to simply rip the ball out of your hands if you show it to him.  He and Matthews alone were reason to get fired up.

As my partner pointed out on the TV broadcast, it's been Portland's style to sit back a bit on defense and simply react and protect.  This new style is different.  Again, if you want to play up tempo the most noticable change will be on the defensive end.  What they've been working on is trapping, getting in passing lanes, and taking chances.  That plays so well to the strengths of Wallace and Matthews.

A couple other thoughts, and then you can take over and post your comments.

As we've noticed in practice so far, this team just seems to work well together.  That hasn't always been the case in the past, and obviously it won't always feel that way this season.  But, the chemistry feels very, very good.  They've got some young parts, but have some veteran guys who simply know how to play the game.  McMillan has talked a lot about that.

It's strange to think that Crawford and Thomas just got here.  I'm not sure either one of them were ever even in the wrong place in this game.  And, not to state the obvious, but Thomas will be very good for this team.

If not for all of the other stuff going on with this team the past two weeks or so, we would have probably been focusing a lot more on the big change at point guard.  That always gets a lot of attention.  Well, it hasn't in this case, and maybe there's good reason for that.  Raymond Felton is one of those guys who just seems to fit right in.  He can score when you need him to, faciliate when you need that, and, like Andre Miller, he's crafty.

It was also nice to see Elliot Williams make the most of his limited minutes.  Perhaps no one's role was potentially effected more, by the arrival of Crawford, than Williams.  That hasn't seemed to bother him.  We've talked about how impressive he's looked in practice, and in this game had 13 points in 12 minutes of action.  He will have his moments this season.  With this crazy schedule, depth will be huge, and the Blazers appear to have pretty good depth.

In short, there was a lot to be happy about after this first exhibition game.  It's just a first glance, and Utah didn't play well, but you can see why these guys have been smiling so much after practice.  They've bought into this tweaked system, and that, believe it or not, is more than half the battle.

We'll talk to you from Salt Lake City on Wednesday night.  



  1. You just about always say it best MB. Great story.

    by Wayne M Kehler on 12/20/2011 12:35 AM
  2. Great game! Looked pretty impressive, considering no L.A. And you're absolutely right on about the defense and running. As I sat in the RG (it was good to be back!), I kept wondering if Utah was that bad and/or we were really that impressive!?! But it was enjoyable, which is saying quite a bit - for a first preseason game.

    Now if only we got to watch the next preseason game. Does Blazers' management care enough about its loyal season ticket holders with Directv (read: most big-time sports fans) to do something about the Comcast situation this year? And please don't tell me that the solution is paying for some online-only subscription, or that it's out of management's control (don't buy it). This situation should have been rectified YEARS ago now!

    Go Blazers!!!

    by marshdom on 12/20/2011 12:38 AM
  3. Hey Mike thanks for the blog.
    I had to listen to the Utah announcers so reading the Blazer side was refreshing.

    Wesley said the best way to sell a system is to win by it. If you want chemistry win. if you want confidence win. I guess that is why this game was so important. We needed all three.

    I know every game won't be as impressive as this one, but I will take this one and look forward to the next one.

    I think Nic really looked great, Chris Johnson was huge under the basket. I even seen some improvement in Babbitt. In fact the longer he played the better he got, he even got a snarl on his face.

    Anyway just a great ball game. Well after this long of a time any game would have been great.

    by Hg on 12/20/2011 12:41 AM
  4. GREAT first game tonight. I know I know, like you said Mike, "it's just an exhibition game" but it was so nice when it seemed just about each of our guys had a chance to showcase their skills; Felton's sweet (no-look-behind-the-back) passes as well as cutting to the hoop... Wesley and Wallace nailing their shots as well as not giving even an INCH on D... Batum, Johnson, and Camby rebounding, blocking, and (even CAMBY) draining jumpshots... the ball skills of Jamal and Nolan contrasted with the toughness and grit of Kurt and Craig...WOWWWW there's so much to be excited about! This team is gonna gel, and they're gonna get LTrain back, and it's gonna be beautiful.

    by Blazer247 on 12/20/2011 12:58 AM
  5. Thanks for the post, Mike. Glimpses of things to come is what I thought of this game. Great to finally see a running team in Ptown! We've had the horses to run for a while now and the addition of Felton, Crawford, and Smith certainly help in that department.

    I agree with your take on Kurt Thomas. The guy is the oldest in the league but he may also be the smartest. He's always in the right spot for the situation, he sets a great pick, and he can hit that midrange shot when he gets the return pass. He hardly seems to be exerting himself but just keeps making plays. Mr. Dependable.

    Chris Johnson also was impressive. If he continues to improve, he could be our center of the future: great rebounding and shot blocking, solid defense, runs the floor well, and makes his free throws. What's not to love?

    Nic Batum looks like he's gained muscle and some attitude out there. He's our do-everything guy. He excels in pretty much every facet of the game. Also a terrific defensive stopper.

    The most exciting thing about this game though was the unselfish teamwork the Blazers displayed. I love seeing Nate sitting and not having to feel like he must call every play. This is the kind of ball I grew up with and watched as a UCLA undergrad in the 60's, even before the shot clock. I love seeing it again in a team I root for...

    by dgpdx on 12/20/2011 1:28 AM
  6. Sometimes it's easy to be optimistic over being pessimistic. Ironically, it's much easier to be negative than positive at times.

    Although the Blazers played great, and I was smiling almost the entire time I got to watch them, there is just one thing that is bugging me, and it was the only negative of the night. However, it's a big negative. To put it simple...


    6-23 is an embarrassing stat. It's even worse that 3 of those came from a rookie when the game was far already decided. That means, at one point, the Blazers were 3-20. You don't need to be good at math to know that is a pretty bad stat.

    I'd be fine if it was Utah playing some great, shut down defense. But that wasn't the case. I'd say about 21 of those 23 three pointers were wide open. The thing that bugs me, is Wesley Mathews and Nicolas Batum have a great inside game, a great drive, and can easily draw the foul. They've proven this time and time again, yet they sit there and try to hit 3 pointers constantly. Sometimes they hit them and catch fire, yes, but they're not good enough to only be 3 point shooters, and a lot of the times they act like that. At least Babbit was smart enough to start taking it to the rim when he missed his first three pointers.

    I hate to be a negative nancy, but it's like a tumor in the back of my head is regrowing because this is a reoccuring problem with the Blazers.

    Other than that, it was a great game and very fun to watch, despite it being over in the first quarter. You said it nicely Mike how it seems guys like Felton just seem to fit in. I totally forgot that this was his first official game as a Trail Blazer. Felt the same way with Mathews last season. I see both being Blazers for a long time, simply because it feels like they have already been here for ages. It still amazes me that this is only Wesley's 2nd year as a Blazer.

    by Herr on 12/20/2011 1:33 AM
  7. Herr:
    I can't disagree with you on taking and missing too many 3's, but to justify them, Felton was playing inside out, he was driving and kicking out to open 3pt shooters, but they do have to start making them. As you said, the game was over as soon as it started, so actually all the 3pt attempts were just icing on the cake. To get better at shooting the 3 you got to practice shooting the three in game condition, so to me as this being a exhibition game and only after a week of practice, I can live with the bad shooting, Although, I always go with the theory of living by the three and dieing by the three.

    Maybe with LMA being back for the next game, we will have more of a post up game and slipping the pick for alley oop.

    by Hg on 12/20/2011 6:30 AM
  8. Hmmm....what to say? Well, this is probably going to be a long one :)

    First and foremost, thank you Mike Barrett for the immediate blog. I saw it go up last night, but was not cognizant enough to comment at that point, though I wish I would have, since my impressions were fresh.

    Secondly, let me just say that it is most excellent to be here, commenting on an actual game of Trail Blazer basketball!!

    Also, I want to once again mention my appreciation to Dustin for the tickets and to Sarah for being such a nice person :)

    Now, the game. Well, let me start by copy/pasting what I shot out across Twitter last night, right after the game:

    "Initial impressions: 1st unit VERY good; @wessywes2 is ready to step up; @nicolas88batum has done some growing; @JCrossover can dish dimes, Crash is a damn BEAST! @MarcusCamby23, @Csmeezy1, & Kurt will anchor frontcourt just fine; @ewill901 is going to surprise; Ray's GOOD, outside shooting blows atm; Pts in paint good; rebounding was NOT good; hustle was there, but fast break POINTS in short supply; I think this team is better than they are expected to be. Played a really solid game, all w/o the #1 option... @aldridge_12 :); Oh, I forgot! Nolan Smith looked just OK. Positive he will get it, but he was off-ball while Jamal played point. Sure that's unusual for him;
    Finally, IMHO, they can cut AJ & Luke and sign another vet for the minimum :) Just sayin'..."

    And I think I will stand by that. I forgot to mention CJ last night, but he played well. He's a little sloppy at times and is going to need to get a grip on the foul thing, but I like his aggression and determination to not back down. He did not rebound as well as I hoped, but I believe in him. Luke Babbit, to give credit, was better than last season. He actually made his buckets when he wasn't trying for a 3. Those, he kept missing. I can appreciate that his teammates and the staff like him, but I honestly don't see him as an NBA caliber player. Burns me to say this, but the same with Armon. AJ is just too selfish and too eager. Love his hustle and enthusiasm, but I didn't see much in him that's changed from last season to this, despite plenty of time to work on stuff. It's just my opinion, but I really would rather see another vet than the two of them coming off the bench.

    Okay, as usual, I have to agree with Barrett's post above. Everything he said was spot on. There are A LOT of reasons to feel positive about this team. For me number one was that the first unit looks absolutely POLISHED. They jumped out to an early lead, largely because they knew what they were doing and were comfortable with one another. Yes, Ray fit in so well, I barely noticed him (except for the outside jumper that actually connected and a couple of behind the back passes that ZINGED). It is a VERY significant thing that these guys are playing so well together, regardless of the status of the game. The second unit is another story, but I do believe they will steadily improve. Jamal Crawford and Kurt Thomas look like superb pickups now. They both know exactly what to do and when to do it. I kept telling my munchkin that Kurt was older than I am, lol. The guy doesn't look like he ever gets tired! Right place, right time is exactly how you should describe him.

    I have to be honest, I don't like Jamal at the Point. I think it takes away from his effectiveness to be a scoring punch off the bench. Also, playing off the ball is not Nolan's strength and the only way he's going to become an NBA PG is to, well, be one :) I sincerely hope Nate gives Nolan more of a chance to lead the 2nd unit as the season progresses.

    That field goal percentage btw was due to a lot of inside shooting. We killed in points in the paint, which is most excellent, considering none of our centers are offensive juggernauts and Lamarcus was not playing. This means our perimeter players were going to the rim, again and again. Guys like Wesley, Nic, and Crash are really good at getting to the rim and to the line, I honestly hope to see more of that and less perimeter shooting. Of course, if they are hot from outside, they should shoot it!! Wesley mentioned during the off-season that we would see more stuff at the rim, because he is healthy and he came through on that. Have I mentioned how much I like Wesley? Nothing but respect for guys who say they worked on something, and lo and behold, they demonstrate that yes indeed they did :) Nico also showed a lovely, gorgeous run to the rim that seems positively effortless. He did not just hang in the corner, though he was there some. He's improved, to be sure. However, I don't remember him much in the 2nd half, so disappearing seems like it might still be an issue. I NEED him to come through this season! Did I mention that Gerald Wallace is a BEAST? Favorite moment of the game was him WRESTLING the ball away from an opponent. Wesley was in there too, but GW grabbing that ball, tearing it out of they guys' hands, is just the epitome of who and what he is for this team. TENACITY incarnate!

    We look good guys. Really, really good. And all without Lamarcus....yeah, let that sink in :)

    In addition to my brief criticism via Twitter last night (rebounding, turnovers, etc.), I'm going to agree with Herr that they are going for the 3 too often. It didn't hurt in THIS game, but it will down the road.

    Looking forward to Wednesday and hearing about how LA fits into all of this. I just may have to sneak over to my Mom's so I can actually WATCH the game :)

    One last thought. At one point, during a timeout, I looked down at the bench area and saw GO. I smiled, glad to see him there. Then it hit me full in the chest that BRoy wasn't there and never will be again...

    This season is for Brandon. I've told the guys via Twitter that they have to win a playoff series, they just have to, to honor what he did for Rip City. Do it for B....

    by SisillaRiann on 12/20/2011 8:14 AM
  9. Hey EowynAmarie: Good stuff as usual.

    Nate said he put Jamel at point to see what he looked like and he wanted to give E. Williams some playing time at the 2. plus Jamel was having problems with getting winded, Remember he hasn't been in training camp and he is about your age LOL.

    I think this year should be for BRoy too, good thought. I do have to agree with you on Armon Johnson, he is a left handed Bayless with not as much outside shooting, I am not sure about Babbitt, my first impression was the same as yours, but then as he played more, he seemed to have gotten better.

    Keep coming with your post, I love them

    by Hg on 12/20/2011 8:42 AM
  10. Love me some TrailBlazers...
    They looked awesome last eve.

    by allie-oop on 12/20/2011 8:54 AM
  11. Great post again Mike. The part of this season that I'm most looking forward to is the absolutely SMOTHERING defense the starting 5 plays. And if Jamal buys into it (I believe he'll buy into whatever Nate sells) the 2nd unit can and should be just as capable. Defense leads to offense, and WOOHOOO do we have some offense!! Way to many 3's as the guys have pointed out above, but 'most' of them were within the offense and not just hucked up there. I'm really excited about this year and can't wait to SEE some games. (No Comcast in our house)
    Have a great season Mike and we'll see you and Rice on Twitter :-)

    by bigjeff911 on 12/20/2011 9:21 AM
  12. I was disappointed in the reboundidng numbers but I don't know if it's not blocking out or what, since I can't see the games (comcast not available on the coast and I don't get any radio stations that broadcast the games). I rely on the NBA on the computer. I therefore rely on your interpretation of the real game. I get the impression from what you say Mike that the guys are hustling, positioning and sharing. All good to hear.

    by Ancientone on 12/20/2011 10:49 AM
  13. nice post, MB! was celebrating my baby sister's birthday during the game, so didn't have a lot of time to watch it. from what i did see, we jumped out to that early lead and never gave it up. we're going to win a lot of games that way. i was impressed by the statline of most of our guys, particularly Elliot. i hope that outside shooting is something we can get used to seeing from him.

    seems like we've got several guys who can bring instant offense, and others who can bring instant defense. i really like the depth of the team and the mix of youth and experience. in a season such as this, there are going to be minutes to be had. i think that plays into our talent and depth.

    i've heard a lot of people caution that it's only preseason and the jazz really aren't very much of a team, but you know what, we did what we should have done to them -- without our top guy. that's a good thought. can't wait to see more of that this season.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 12/20/2011 10:54 AM
  14. The individual contributions were impressive, but the most exciting thing was the way the whole team looked up-court to make an outlet pass time after time. And an almost complete absence of the old slow-moving offense that runs out of time and options and forces a bad shot. The commitment to pushing the ball and attacking quickly was obvious. There were three or four three-point attempts that seemed forced; the rest were the ones you get from the offense and have to take (and make) to keep teams honest. I don't know how anyone can evaluate Armin or Luke based on the minutes they've played so far. Small sample sizes don't allow you to weigh the pluses and minuses. These guys are starting their second seasons, but they've played less than some rookies do in their first month. Perhaps for a very good reason, but when Mike says Luke hits that open three in practice, I believe him. I'm always rooting for the guys on the bench, and now that we've added some role-playing vets would rather keep two young players who might show something, instead of another know-what-you're-getting veteran. Those guys won't be around long when this team is ready to run for a championship. Luke and Armin probably won't either, but the odds are better for Eliot and Nolan and Chris. Aren't you more intrigued by the mystery present under the tree than the one you know at a glance is something you asked for?

    by Islander on 12/20/2011 11:14 AM
  15. Fairly impressive for the most part. Thomas surprised me, and I believe he will be a great fit on this team. Elliot Williams wow...did not see that in him. Amazing athletic skills, drive to the rim...but not putting down 3's like its nothing. Im not gonna expect that all the time, but if he continues to show promise, that young man will surely get minutes.

    Nice to see Wallace being very aggressive..he always has been a hard nose defender...but maybe because his name was in that Howard trade he has came out with alittle extra zing. Mathews was solid, nice to see his hops with 2 healthy ankles. Crawford played good, you could tell he was kinda trying to find himself out there. Once he gets the system down better and is more comfortable with his team mates, hes going to be typical Crawford which is great for us.

    Chris Johnson played hard, I like that kid. Nolan Smith had some good minutes, and I do not recall Armon turning the ball over! Nice. Batum while little rusty from long range, played hard and seemed very confident...good to see that.

    Anyways good start for now....things to work on for sure..just need to keep getting better. Those 3s will go in. We will have Lamarcus bringing in the defense and more open shots should occur. And YES!..this was without LA...cant complain about that. Go Blazers.

    by whitefeather21380 on 12/20/2011 11:44 AM
  16. you know something, i'm just going to add that in 18-1/2 minutes, Marcus had a +19 (led the team). while that stat doesn't always mean something, it's pretty impressive to see.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 12/20/2011 2:40 PM
  17. that was a great preseason game to get us back into watching bball again. I would like to see a few more games to get a better feel for our players and what this team is capable of. not to much to say after that. felton and Crawford are going to fit in nicely. i really want to see those two in pick and roles with lamarcus. all in all is good to be watching basketball again.

    by Miller on 12/20/2011 2:43 PM
  18. There's so many grateful things that happened last night that should be pointed out and pretty much everyone summed up the game. But from what i saw, there was so much to love! Like the play of Kurt Thomas!! He makes it looks so easy and he doesn't have to do very much. By that i mean he plays his game!! like everyone else should do. I'm kicking myself if i were the bulls. This is the first pre-season game and anything after last night could happen but let's cherish this moment (that sounds corny) but lets cherish it because what we saw last night could bring great things for this season and the near future! Other things i really liked were Chris Johnson, our very own Tyson Chandler! i love that we got some pretty TALENTED i mean TALENTED bigs! For so many years it looked like we were never going to have enough at that position. If Greg comes back, we are over-achieving! I'm excited! are you?? This is a game we saw from all angles and i'm glad we got to see it on the first pre-season game. Hopefully more great things to come! :D

    by Ballinrotation365 on 12/20/2011 5:40 PM
  19. Actually let me recant that by saying the only camera angle we didn't see was LMA. lol. But we'll see everything hopefully on Wed.

    by Ballinrotation365 on 12/20/2011 5:45 PM
  20. Nice to see Nate smiling. Get the feeling he really likes this team. Talk run and fast tempo all you want but I think this the defensive team Nate has always wanted. Matthews, Crash, LMA, Nic and the rest. Hard to contain my excitement. This team has a high ceiling. Strongest positive right now is T-E-A-M.

    by Divotking on 12/20/2011 7:47 PM
  21. I agree with EA about Babbit and AJ, just don't see them as solid NBA players. Who I would love to see in their place is Dante Cunningham. Dante has some nice upside to his game and he doesn't make many mistakes.

    by dgpdx on 12/21/2011 10:35 PM
  22. I'm sorry that Marcus Camby is hurt now, and for our loss to Utah in Salt Lake City...

    But, by viewing the replay, it seems that the Blazers fought 'till the very last second. Our stats weren't impressive, so we should learn from that (ok, everyone has an off night, but a lot of players were shooting badly), and take the positives, which in this case is the effort and heart our team put out, even in a Pre-Season game.

    Thanks for the fist two games this season, Blazers... Hope we can win at 26th \o/

    Merry Xmas to every blazer fan ^^

    Cheers from Brazil

    by Tiago Torigoe on 12/22/2011 3:07 AM
  23. MB,It was music to my ears to hear your golden throated tones...I like what I saw ,We seemed pretty tight for this early in the season.I was impressed with Ewills game as well .He is just icing on a verytasty Blazer cake.

    by DowntownVinnie on 12/22/2011 8:05 AM
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