L-Train Returns in Exhibition Finale
A win would have been nice, but there are other priorities, and things that are just as important during the exhibition season. Being this particular exhibition season only consisted of two games, it simplified the expectations in some ways.
The top priority on Wednesday night in Salt Lake City was getting LaMarcus Aldridge back on the court, giving him some quality run, and letting him assure us that he's good to go for the regular season. Mission accomplished, at least on that front.
There was undoubtedly going to be some rust on Aldridge, but it was also obvious that as the game wore on he became more and more comfortable. Even though he was disappointed that he missed a shot that would have given Portland the lead with 4 seconds left, he felt good following the game. There aren't going to be many nights when he shoots 5 for 17, but put his 15 points with his 11 rebounds in 37 minutes, and that was a very good step in the right direction.
The Trail Blazers, who were so red hot on Monday when they blew out the Jazz, struggled from the field in this game. They shot 56 percent on Monday, but just 35 percent against the Jazz in Salt Lake City, and lost the game 92-89.
Aldridge wasn't the only one who struggled. Gerald Wallace was 1 for 6, and the bench combined to shoot 11-34. Jamal Crawford, who won't have many nights this cold, was just 3 for 16. When you consider those ugly numbers, and the fact that the Jazz were desperate to rebound from Monday's embarassing loss, the fact that it came down to a final possession was probably a good sign. The Trail Blazers aren't going to have many nights this season when they shoot 35 percent, and to still nearly pull off a win, on the road, is acceptable in the preseason.
Five Blazers scored in double figures. Raymond Felton, who probably had the best overall game for Portland, had 17 points, 4 assists and 3 steals. Wesley Matthews hit 3 of his 5 three-point attempts, and ended with 15 points. And, Nic Batum and Crawford each had 12 off the bench.
Nate McMillan said before the game that he would play this more like a regular-season game, in terms of how he would rotate his players. We said during the broadcast that it would be a very good thing if this game came down to the wire, and that's what happened. It would give us a glimpse of what we're likely to see when the games start to count. Even though McMillan was clearly doing a little experimenting with the lineup, he appears to be somewhat set on where he's going in crunch time.
The good news is the Trail Blazers have a good number of options. Crawford, historically a guy who hasn't started, but usually finishes, can be that guy for this team. As you know, he is very good at getting his own shot, and is one of the true isolation threats Portland has when a game boils down to a final possession or two.
What will be interesting to see is what this does to Matthews late in games. Nate used them both at times in the final minutes in Utah, as they subbed in and out for each other. It was easy to predict that the arrival of Crawford would impact Matthews' minutes, and I still think that'll be the case. But, on a night when Crawford doesn't have it going, like last night, it's a luxury to be able to turn Matthews into the go-to guy late. He came up big against the Jazz, hitting a couple of three-point shots in the final minutes.
A lot of the talk will still about Portland's new tempo. We saw it on display on Monday, and then saw Utah make adjustments to take that away on Wednesday. They didn't make that adjustment until after the first quarter in Utah, however. The Trail Blazers had 13 fast-break points in the first 12 minutes, and if they had shot a decent percentage would have had a much larger lead. So, that much is positive.
Rebounding is still a bit of a concern, as they were beaten badly on the glass again by the Jazz. Now, Utah is a very good rebounding team, but this is clearly something Portland will want to address.
But, through two games, Portland certainly gets a passing grade. Felton has made a smooth transition to running this team, Crawford gives this team something it badly needed off the bench, Kurt Thomas took four offensive fouls in the game and is exactly what we thought he was, and Aldridge will be just fine.
Concerns remain, but that will always be the case. I'd love to hear what you're excited about, and what you're worried about. And, if through two preseason games you're encouraged or discouraged.
Next up, opening night at the Rose Garden on Monday night against Philadelphia.