Offense Clicks in Win over Utah
By mikebarrett Posted in: Blazers, Jazz
The focus to this point has been defense. Terry Stotts has talked about it, his players have talked about it, and we've mentioned it since the first day of training camp. Monday night at the Rose Garden the Trail Blazers, gave their coach, and their fans, plenty to get excited about in terms of offense. They led by as many as 27, and beat the Utah Jazz 120-114. The most points Utah had allowed, before last night, was 94.
It's difficult during the preseason to determine what's a true measuring stick of where you're at as a team, and what isn't. Or, what will transfer over to the regular season and what won't. But, given the Utah Jazz have been a very good defensive team so far in the exhibition season, and gave many of their regulars solid minutes in this game, this performance by Portland probably means a little more.
Utah came into the game allowing its opponents, on average, just 86 points per game in the exhibition season. Portland scored 41 points in the first quarter alone. When you shoot 80 percent in the first 12 minutes of a game, it's not that difficult to score 41. Of course, shooting 16 for 20 in any quarter is very rare. So, yes, we should keep that in mind.
The Trail Blazers were also without their number-one offensive threat in this game, as LaMarcus Aldridge was given the night off. And, starting point guard Damian Lillard picked up two quick fouls and had to head for the bench before the game really even got started. Considering those two things, it's perhaps more remarkable what Portland went on to do to the Jazz.
Often, when a player picks up two early fouls and has to leave, it's very difficult to then come back in and immediately return to the flow. Lillard was especially impressive because of the way he overcame his first two minutes of the game. He scored 21 points on Utah, shooting six for eight from the field, and hit three of his four three-point attempts. He also had eight assists and four rebounds. To score 21 points on just eight shots from the field is pretty impressive.
Talking to my fellow broadcasters from Utah after the game, I heard what I've heard from others following a first look at Lillard during this preseason- "wow, I didn't realize he was that good." Hopefully we'll continue to hear that when the regular season arrives.
We were also hit with another fact, once again, following this game- the Blazers may have stumbled into something with Coby Karl. Before camp, Karl wasn't given much of a shot, by anyone, of making this roster. And, it's still going to be tough. But, Monday's game was evidence again that he would be a very handy player to have around. Anyone who can come in, following foul trouble to the starting point guard, and lead his team to a 41-point first quarter, with remarkable efficiency and a total command of the offense, requires a second, or a third, look.
The Blazers do not currently have room on the roster for Karl. But, of course, they could make it happen if they feel it's necessary. Coby, to his credit, has put them in an interesting spot.
Portland fans also had to love the fact that Nicolas Batum, perhaps feeling the need to take a bigger role in the absence of Aldridge, was much more aggressive with his offensive game. Batum had 27 points in 28 minutes in this game, and shot nine of 15 from the field, scoring effortlessly at times. This is the Batum Portland wants to see on a regular basis.
We also saw the J.J. Hickson we saw in the last part of last season. Again, without Aldridge on the floor, Hickson took a different approach to the game. He ended with 16 points and eight rebounds, and was eight for nine from the field. As we mentioned on the broadcast, perhaps Hickson would be better coming off the bench, where he can be more of the focus offensively with that unit. But, that's for the coaches to decide. He's valuable, that's for sure. They just have to decide the best place for him on this roster.
Joel Freeland is probably the obvious choice to start at the center spot if they were to decide to bring Hickson off the bench. Freeland had his best game of the preseason as well, and did it against Utah's impressive frontline. He had 11 points in his 21 minutes, and showed his ability as a rugged defender. He is going to struggle at times with some traditional centers in this league, but clearly looked more comfortable on this night.
Freeland fouled out. So did Meyers Leonard. That's going to happen to these guys as they learn the NBA game. Both were called for moving picks out top, and that's going to happen. Leonard, like Freeland, was solid defensively, and Meyers also had 8 points and 4 rebounds.
On the negative side, the Trail Blazers were careless at times with the basketball, turning it over 25 times on the night. The starting unit turned it over 20 times, with Lillard carding six, and Batum four. But, again, when you shoot 58 percent in a game, it covers a lot of your mistakes. And, I like that Coach Stotts doesn't lose his mind over turnovers. When you're trying to do a lot, sometimes you turn it over a lot. Deal with it.
We're now down to just one final preseason game, and it's against Utah, again. The teams will meet Thursday in Salt Lake City, and then get set for the games that count. But, this game, in many ways, counted for the Blazers. They showed what they can do offensively, even without their leader.