The Trailblazers began the second and final game of their exhibition season with the same pace that dominated much of the first game. Despite some poor 1st quarter shooting they still came up with 30 first quarter points for the second game in a row. As the open shoots continued not to fall, combined with some obvious increased effort and defensive adjustments from Utah, the Blazers were forced to settle into a more traditional (based on previous years) half-court offense.
All indications have pointed towards exclusive practice of up-tempo and transition basketball in practices and scrimmages and the lack of half-court set practice was quite evident. This slower pace and a decidedly off shooting night for Wallace, Crawford and LaMarcus gave the Blazers just 17, 20 and 22 in the remaining quarters. Despite their shooting woes, a defense that came alive in the fourth quarter, featuring no less than 5 steals in the last 60 seconds, threatened to take the deserving win away from the Utah Jazz. A botched call, out-of-bounds on Felton when it clearly wasn’t, essentially sealed the deal for Tyrone Corbin’s Jazz.
Looking at the box score you’ll see an awful %35 shooting. Just slightly better, around %40 and the game would have been theirs. Still it has often been this teams trend through the years to play down to their opponents, though this really felt like more of just an off-shooting night. The quality of the Jazz as a team will slightly increase with the return of Paul Milsap to the lineup, barring any trades, as the Jazz are kind of overloaded with bigs.
Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum remained solid though there did seem to be a little regression for Nico in this one. At times he seemed to not have his head in the game and lost his aggressiveness. Part of this was due to the consistently bad officiating, on both sides off the ball leaving many players in foul trouble. The brightest spots for Portland were the solid numbers and contribution out of new point guard Ray Felton and the amazing reliability of Kurt Thomas, who continues to hit open mid-range shots, set quality picks and take charges (at least four of them tonight).
Moving forward we have the season open just days away on Monday the 26th. LaMarcus will be working on getting his wind back, but it may take a few weeks to get up to speed. Really you’re going to see conditioning a factor for much of the NBA for at least the first several weeks up-to a month into the season. Expect Jamal Crawford to bounce back with a better shooting night as well. Remember Blazer fans, new players, new system (up-tempo) and a ridiculously short pre-season means it might take a while to get this engine firing on all cylinders. Also look for Marcus Camby’s return as rebounding was sorely lacking, allowing many Jazz offensive rebounds. As conditioning improves along with on-court chemistry that fast-break will get better as will the swarming defense seen in Monday’s game.