After an easy 110-90 victory over the Jazz within the walls of the Rose Garden Monday night, the Blazers fell short in Salt Lake City, losing 92-89. They finish the 2011-12 preseason with a 1-1 record as they head back to Portland to prepare for the season opener against Philadelphia on December 26.
Instead of re-hashing the specifics of each quarter, I’m going to review a number of random notes I took while watching tonight’s game. To keep up with my image of being the nice, positive one around here, I’ll begin with the good and end with the… not so good.
First of all, I cannot tell you all how excited I am to watch Nic Batum this year. As most of us do, I have high hopes that this will be a breakout season for him. He teetered on the edge of awesome last year, and I really feel like this is his year to explode on both ends of the court. During both preseason games, he came off the bench with a newfound confidence. That confidence, or “swagger” to be cliché, has been very much reflected in his play over the past two games. All I want for Christmas is for the Blazers to lock Batum in for another four years.
While I am still bitter that I have to watch Andre Miller toss alley-oops in a baby blue and yellow jersey as opposed to a white and red one, I have to admit – Raymond Felton can ball. I was not at all keen on Portland trading for him this past June, and I was not at all looking forward to watching him play with the Blazers. However, he played pretty well tonight. Of course I can find some complaints when looking at his stats (30 minutes, 17 points, 5-11 from the field, 2-4 from the three-point line, 5-5 from the free throw line, three rebounds, four assists, three steals and four turnovers), but overall, I didn’t mind Felton on the floor at all tonight. (I did mind in the sense that I think the rookies deserved more playing time, but I will get to that in a bit.) Late in the fourth quarter I even tweeted a call for Felton to come to the floor because he was one of the only players actually scoring points. Yes, I know this was a preseason game, and yes, I know a lot of other key scorers weren’t playing as well as we hope they will, but overall, I am sensing that I might have to bite my tongue at some point this season for my summer comments about Felton. Even when that time comes, let me make one thing clear – regardless of basketball reasons, I will always prefer Dre to Felton because Dre is awesome.
Nolan Smith is scrappy, and I don’t mean that as a joke or a pun on Nate’s favorite descriptive word. He played only six minutes tonight, and while he went 0-3 from the field, he dished out two assists and grabbed four rebounds. After he missed a field goal in the second quarter, he fought to get that ball back. At the last seconds of the first quarter, Smith noticed an open Chris Johnson and passed it to him to put the Blazers up by four entering the second quarter. While this is only one small example, it’s a perfect example of how well he reads the floor. He’s a true point guard, and he possesses those innate qualities that cannot be taught. I know we haven’t seen much of Smith yet, but I hope Nate recognizes the great, young talent he has in Smith and allows him to further develop in real game situations.
While LaMarcus Aldridge was only 5-17 from the field, he did have a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds in the 37 minutes Nate played him. (Why he played the best player on the team for this long when he doesn’t have that much help in his backups is beyond me, and I will get to that soon enough.)
Now, it is onto the not so good from tonight’s game.
I seriously long for the day when I can recap a Blazers game without expressing my not-so-charming feelings about the relationship of the Blazers and three-pointers. I feel like I’m picking up right where I left off writing about Portland’s loss to Dallas in the first round of the playoffs when I ask the simple question – when will the team learn not to leave guys wide open on the perimeter? When you look at Utah’s numbers (5-16 from the three), it doesn’t seem that bad, but those threes all came at crucial times for the Jazz, and the Blazers did nothing but sit back and watch the net swoosh as CJ Miles and Devin Harris knocked down four perfect three-pointers. I can cut the team some slack when they are at least making an attempt to guard the perimeter, but when they constantly leave guys wide open to shoot threes as they please, all I can do is shake my head and wonder why I’m even surprised.
The second part of this mini-rant is about the Blazers and their personal relationships with three-point shots. It’s one of those really awkward one-sided relationships where no matter how much Person A tries to make an effort, Person B could really care less, and we all sit around wondering why Person A still tries to woo Person B after being shut down and ignored after every gesture. Person A, also known as the Portland Trail Blazers, really needs to get the hint that Person B, also known as three-point shots, could really care less how much they try. The relationship is never going to work out, so the Blazers should really save themselves the effort and just stop trying to make it work with the three-point shots. When there’s 15 seconds on the shot clock and you know you’ve already missed a few threes tonight, try to use that 15 seconds to set up a play and go for the two. Two points is always better than three when the two points end up on the scoreboard and the three points end up on the “fizzle board” (or whatever that thing is called).
The other thing that really disappointed me about tonight was Nate’s unwillingness to give the rookies adequate playing time. There was absolutely no reason to play Aldridge for 37 minutes when a schedule that consists of back-to-back-to-back-times-infinity begins in five days. I understand this was his first game back and he needed to get back into the groove of things, but how is a new guy like Craig Smith every going to get into the groove of thing enough to be an adequate backup for Aldridge when he doesn’t get a chance to play in real game situations?
Why, when you have a bench full of talented, young point guards eager to see some of their first NBA minutes, do you play Jamal Crawford for 30 minutes, especially when he ended the game shooting 3-16 from the field and 0-5 from the perimeter? We drafted Nolan Smith to be the backup point guard, did we not? So give the guy some playing time. Elliot Williams, another player we drafted two years ago to be a backup point guard, only saw four minutes. And poor little Armon wasn’t even allowed to take the court tonight. Meanwhile, while all of these young guards hungry for experience were warming the bench, Nate kept a veteran guard in who was shooting 18% from the field?
Please don’t get me wrong – I like Nate McMillan. I think he’s done a pretty decent job coaching this team with the talent he’s been given. However, Nate’s disregard for rookies will never cease to amaze me. The Blazers do not have a roster stacked full of All-Stars, and they are not a preseason favorite to win the Western Conference finals, let alone make it out of the first round of the playoffs. So what’s the harm in giving the rookies a decent amount of experience, especially early on? Yes, I’ve heard the argument that the rookies will learn the Blazers’ game during practice, and I buy that, but only to an extent. People don’t learn to drive a car by watching a video about it or watching someone else drive a car. The only way to truly learn how to drive a car is to get in the driver’s seat, buckle your seatbelt and merge onto the freeway. The same applies to the rookies. The Blazers have nothing to lose by not playing them during actual games, so there’s no reason not to.
What are your thoughts from tonight’s game? Who stood out to you? What do the Blazers need to improve on before Monday’s season opener? And, to end on a positive since I much prefer positivity to my negative rants, what are you most looking forward to this season?