Dec 22

L-Train Returns in Exhibition Finale

By mikebarrett
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.

Previous Story: A Solid First Night
Next Story: One Down, 65 to Go


  1. That's what they call putting lipstick on a pig Mike.

    by Ancientone on 12/22/2011 10:32 AM
  2. I missed a majority of the game. Was exhausted and fell asleep until mid second quarter. My buddy arrived, so I missed the third and first half or the fourth quarter.

    You could tell the Jazz wanted it a lot more, and it appeared that way, so that makes it seem like something good when you barely take that away when the other team clearly had more to prove.

    Bad shooting nights happen, but we're able to get away with it if we hit big buckets and our defense does a good job. That seemed like the case last night, except for the one bucket that would have sealed the deal.

    I'm excited to see how this team goes. I'm worried that the same mistakes will be made as last year however, like I mentioned in the other blog, primarily with shooting too many 3 pointers and not making any of them, or the Blazers falling in love with jumpshots. I'm also fairly concerned that officiating hasn't improved at all, and I'm pretty sure I saw that ball miss Felton's hand and the other one go off of Kanter, but whatever I heard those monitors the refs have make it a bit harder to see.

    by Herr on 12/22/2011 10:43 AM
  3. MB,

    I saw the new tempo. Wow, it's different. I expexted a timeout and the Blazers pushed it up court.

    As you said, it is encouraging to see LaMarcus out there getting minutes and stats. The win/loss was meaningless other than we get to see what Utah is going to have this year. Kanter, Favors and the guy that dunked over Wallace all look pretty good for them. Did not know Jamaal Tinsley still played.

    I think we're the better team but we know they are ALWAYS tough in Utah, even with a string of new and young players.

    Hope Felton is alright, was not fun to see him in so much pain in out 2nd game in a long time. Other than that, I enjoyed the game.

    Lastly MB, thanks for replying to me on twitter, I really enjoy following the players/broadcasters, writers etc..

    Hope everyone has a nice day off.

    J Wise

    by Bull Frog on 12/22/2011 10:59 AM
  4. 5 fouls in 30 seconds...That's just plain silly NBA

    by Bull Frog on 12/22/2011 11:03 AM
  5. @blazermb
    remember to follow him on twitter
    im excited for the season my only concern is this running style wearing out the legs in back to back games, in that game showed and you guys said it, they havent worked on half court offense and it showed, but nate will adjust LA will have a in and out game if need be and he can run better then any big out there, i think he was the first one down most of the time. i think late in a game having three point shooters is a good threat but having camby or kurt in there not for a threat but a screen to open guys up would have been a slightly better idea and i felt LA was open but with respect to both persons game jamal is a closer, but also feel LA slightly a lil more open and this is HIS team.. maybe but he cant do it all and jamal should be taking the shot but saw for one sec a slightly better shot.. and yes great blog regular season when rust comes off this si the team we have and a reck ot be messin with.

    by jamie (guy) on 12/22/2011 11:31 AM
  6. As a Trail Blazer fan, I'm excited about the new fast tempo. I'm equally amazed at how well the team has done in these first two exhibition games. To watch the team chemistry click so well this early, especially with all the new acquisitions, is astounding (Was this team really locked-out?). What's more, I think this team has the perfect balance of young guys with Matthews, Batum, and Smith while still having the veteran leadership of guys like Camby and Thomas. Furthermore, nearly every player on the roster is capable of the fast-paced play, including our big, L.A..

    Admittedly, Utah made a great defensive adjustment after the first quarter in game 2. And yes, LaMarcus had a little rust to shake away. But realize when that rust does fall off, LaMarcus will return to All-Star quality.
    There will be times during the game when the guys get tired. You can't expect them to keep up that lightning explosiveness we saw in game 1 all the time. But when the guys do need a break, or when the opposing defense gets stingy, we can always slow it up and enter to LaMarcus in the post. The only thing stopping this team from being outright outstanding is making teams pay for bringing the double-team on L.A.. The guys will figure it out in time and with some practice. We've already seen glimmers of it last season, and Aldridge got a heavy dose of experience of double-teams last year. And although the double-team was more-or-less effective last night, we did see Crawford make a sharp cut up the lane towards the basket. We saw L.A. use his strength to fight through and step towards the rim. We'll get there.

    Lastly, although I am biased by being a huge Batum fan, you have to love what we have seen from him so far. In two games, we have seen him hit the boards, pass effectively, and take confident jumpers early in the shot clock. It may be partly due to the fact he played overseas during this lockout, the fact that he is now 23 with some experience, or a combination of both, but he looks like the Blazer with the most confidence right now. If I'm Nate or any of the Trail Blazers, I rely heavily on Batum early in the season, until defenses start to adjust and other players get back their legs. It will only help the team early in this season, and further stimulate the growth and confidence of the player who, at least in my opinion, has the greatest amount of natural talent.

    By the way, even if you have disagreed with anything I've said thus far, everyone has to admit that it is amazing to watch this Blazer team functioning at a high level with the losses of Brandon Roy and Andre Miller. What other team can lose the face of it's franchise, trade it's starting point guard, and have it's dreams crushed with another setback of it's #1 draft-pick.......and still look this good?

    by Matt Brown on 12/22/2011 12:39 PM
  7. Can't wait to be there opening night. I actually traded my buddy my Clippers game for Opening Night. Am I crazy? I just think it's one of the best environments all season long. You always can count on a free hat, too.

    Joking aside, I love this year's team's ability to pressure and create steals and fast-break opportunities with the increased athleticism.

    This is just the most overall explosive Blazers team we have seen in awhile. I made a comment on Facebook last night about how I feel like I'm (at times, which has been often so far) watching '90 UNLV, '96 Kentucky, etc.; it's just a lot of fun.

    I'm particuarlly excited to see the development of C. Johnson and E. Williams. The condensed season will be rough on our top 8 at times, but it affords us the opportunity to see some of these two on the floor.

    Look for a blog posting soon about Johnson and his background and why I'm extremely excited about him. Something tells me trying to get a quote or two from a Blazer is a little more difficult than what I've done in the past. But If there's a will, there's a way.

    by Mike Hustad on 12/22/2011 1:31 PM
  8. Hey Mike:
    I haven't had time to watch the game yet, but was mostly interested in LMA playing anyway. Things are going to be great at times, poor at times and OK at times, but as long as they keep playing hard we will stay in most games.

    by Hg on 12/22/2011 3:37 PM
  9. @Matt Brown,
    That's a well written blog, I like the enthusiasm and I can relate to a lot of those statements.

    by Bull Frog on 12/22/2011 5:08 PM
  10. Hg,
    LMA seemed a little rusty, but looked better than I expected. And I agree - this team could be volatile, or very good at times and not so great at times; however, I think this team has immense potential. I know I'm not alone in the fact that i am just in awe of the different weapons and overall flexibility of this year's team. I would love to see a reliable outside shooter emerge, but it's way too early to say this is a streaky shooting team.

    We will see. Portland is primed to get off to a fast start with the way the schedule is setup.

    by Mike Hustad on 12/22/2011 5:58 PM
  11. There is a lot to be excited about. 1. Team chemistry - and so early in the year. After this team goes into battle it will only strengthen. 2. Aggressive defense - Wes, Nic, Wallace and LMA with good ball pressure. CJ and Camby shot blocking. Hope to see good team defense once Nate has time to get it going.
    I'm worried about. 1. Rebounding - This new running style requires rebounding the ball. We were missing Camby last game but that's no excuse. 2. Back up point - Nolan shows promise but that's the hardest position to learn for a rookie. We didn't bring Crawford here to bring the ball up the court for extended periods of time.
    Overall I'm excited just to be watching the Blazers and the NBA. Glad I didn't cancel my Comcast sub.

    by Divotking on 12/22/2011 5:55 PM
  12. Utah's exposing of our half court offense will likely be repeated by every opponent until we prove we can score reasonably well against a set defense. What Utah did will turn out to be a blessing if we are able prove so and a curse if we don't.

    As you say, Mike, this team shouldn't have many shooting nights as bad as this one, but we need to make that clear to teams before they will let us run much. On the plus side, forcing us into a half-court offense also cuts way down on opponents offensive boards.

    by dgpdx on 12/22/2011 6:38 PM
  13. I was very pleased to see Nic Batum get a lot of second half minutes. I don't think of him as a bench player, it's more like we have 6 starters. Nic should get 28 minutes a game at least.

    by dgpdx on 12/22/2011 6:44 PM
  14. I'm excited about the season. I think we'll start out strong.


    by mgb on 12/23/2011 6:29 AM
  15. Mike Hustad:
    I figured LMA would be rusty, If we could be consistent on our outside shots, other teams would have to play LMA honest and they would be at our mercy. I mostly wanted LMA to get some burn time to get the rust off and to start getting into game shape. With his added muscle, having a high Protein diet, (IMO) He should be strong every night.

    If once LMA gets in the flow, I think he could play a lot of high post and let someone else post up many of times to get the most out of his mid range shot. Of course the Camby at the high post when in the game and alley-opps to LMA is still there, but Camby needs to keep making his shots from out there. I think Thomas could play high post with LMA down low also, but haven't seen it yet.

    Well I am getting carried away with my excitement, I don't want Ancientone to gain to much more weight.

    by Hg on 12/23/2011 6:53 AM
  16. (Finally came to the realization a couple of those comments near the bottom were adressed to Mike Barrett, duh, not me. *Awkward*)

    by Mike Hustad on 12/23/2011 9:47 AM
  17. Mike Hustad:
    My last comment was to you, my first comment was to anybody that was willing to read my maze of words LOL.

    If I can learn from Mike or if I can learn from you, the results are the same. MB gets busy and can't answer all the questions, although he does read them. So just keep feeding me the info, MB doesn't mind the help.

    by Hg on 12/23/2011 9:52 AM
  18. Hg;
    LMA has worked hard to be a low post scorer and that's where this team needs him. His pretty jumper and turn around jumper are just icing on the cake. We need him to live in the paint. LMA at the high post is the past.

    by Divotking on 12/23/2011 11:57 AM
  19. I missed the beginning of the game, and came in right when the game started to go south. As a result I felt like I didn't get a handle on the game. On the other hand, neither did the Blazers. The comeback was some comfort. I do have to say I'm not as giddy about Crawford and some people are. Maybe it's just my prejudice against one-on-one guys. When his shot isn't dropping it's ugly. To his credit, he has been passing the ball. But he also makes bad decisions that lead to turnovers. So I was happy when Nate pulled him after one of those blunders and put Wesley back in. And I really don't see the point in drafting a point guard (Nolan) and then not using him in that role, preferring to put the ball in Jamal's hands. I hope that's a short-lived experiment; I liked Nolan's tough, take-the-bump-and-still-muscle-in-the-lay-up drives in game one, and want to see more.

    by Islander on 12/23/2011 1:42 PM
  20. Thanks, Hg.

    by Mike Hustad on 12/23/2011 2:59 PM
  21. Divotking: No, No, No. That out side jumper is his bread and butter, once he get the bigs to come out on him he has learned to go off the dribble and get inside. He is not big enough yet to battle those bigs every game all game long. We need all of LMA's game.

    by Hg on 12/23/2011 3:26 PM
  22. Hg: I've lost 30lbs since Sept and finally had 2 feet of bowel removed dec 5. Don't worry too much about me gaining weight. Now that I can eat again I need the reading material.

    My concern is team depth. I think if Nate uses our depth right we can keep the older players healthy and have unprecidented opportunities for the younger players to show what they got. We are now deeper thatn most teams.

    by Ancientone on 12/23/2011 5:28 PM
  23. Very Passive game for LA. But he is coming off surgery, give him a week or two and he will be a beast again and not settle for the jumper all the time.

    by mbmurr1 on 12/23/2011 11:45 PM
  24. i was hanging out with friends from high school given we only get these opportunities of breaks to do so. I caught glimpses of the game from the pizza place we were at. would have loved to watch more of it.

    a couple things i took away from the game:

    1. we're going to be just fine with Raymond at the point. he's very solid and i think, just as advertised, we got younger and more athletic at the position.

    2.we seem to be getting to the point where we play an incomplete game. this means we're not playing for 48 minutes. frankly, MB, that's what we're going to have to do. i know, "Kassandra, you always say that." but you know what. it's not always, it's just when we lose and wonder why.

    3. we have chemistry, yet not continuity. that can be a fine line, but it's something we have to develop

    one question ... regarding your retweet to me .... does Rice really wear Brut?

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 12/25/2011 5:04 AM
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