Blazers look fast, deep in preseason debut
Portland's new pieces fit well in romp past Jazz
One preseason game does not a season make.
But the Trail Blazers made mostly positive impressions with their 110-90 victory over Utah Monday night at the Rose Garden.
To be fair, the Jazz were without star forward Paul Millsap, and they wear the look of a lottery team this season. Not much firepower there.
But Portland was minus its top player, LaMarcus Aldridge, still recovering from last week's heart procedure.
The Blazers dominated from start to finish, and the new pieces seemed to fit in nicely.
Guards Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford and Nolan Smith and front-line players Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith - none of whom were with Portland at the end of last season - all had their moments in a first taste of action against opponents before the home fans.
Crawford came off the bench as a distributor, dishing out a game-high seven assists to go with eight points and three steals in 22 minutes.
'I'm known more for my scoring, but I try to make plays,' said the 11-year veteran, who signed a two-year, $10-million free-agent contract last week. 'I was proud that I can rack up some assists. I'm looking for those guys.
'It's not just about scoring. There will be nights when I score big, but I also want to be a huge facilitator when the situations calls for it.'
The Blazers had only 12 fast-break points but got shots up more quickly and made them - at least on 2-point attempts (68.5 percent). They were only 6 of 23, though, on 3-point tries (.261) - 3 of 20 when you take away rookie Elliot Williams' 3-of-3 accuracy.
'We have to shoot threes better than that,' said guard Wesley Mathews, who was 1 of 4 from 3-point range but 7 of 10 overall while scoring a team-high 17 points in 23 minutes. 'But we're happy scoring 110 points.'
The pace was noticeably quicker when the Blazers got the ball, especially while bursting to a 32-19 lead after one quarter.
'It was really different,' said forward Nicolas Batum, who had 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots in 22 minutes. 'I was more tired the first quarter. It was like, 'Wow, we're running.' That's great. It's much more fun to play, and the crowd loves it.'
Portland has been last or next-to-last in the NBA in fast-break points in each of the last five seasons.
'We'll get a lot more this year, and that's what we really have needed,' Batum said. 'Tonight was a good start. And we played good defense, (with) 15 steals and seven blocks. We played defense together.'
Once Aldridge returns - he said after Monday's game he will practice Tuesday and be available for Wednesday night's preseason finale at Utah - the Portland starting lineup will be set. Marcus Camby, Aldridge and Gerald Wallace form the front line, with Felton and Matthews in the backcourt.
Batum and Crawford lead a second unit that will include Thomas and Craig Smith and probably either Nolan Smith or Williams.
Williams - a 6-5 shooting guard from Memphis who missed all of his rookie season last year following surgeries on both knees - had a sensational debut Monday. The electric-legged lefthander sank 5 of 7 shots and scored 13 points, including the three treys, in 12 second-half minutes.
All 13 Blazers who saw action made the scoring column, a testament to both Utah's defensive ineffectiveness and Portland's deep bench.
'Every special team in our league has had great depth,' Crawford said. 'Starters can only play so many minutes. That's especially true this season, because games will come a lot faster.
'Our depth's going to be really important. We have to build on a lead with the second unit.'
The quick procession of games in a short time makes this an unusual season, to say the least.
'We play 66 games in 120 days,' Batum said. 'You can't predict anything.'
Not with any certainty. But the Blazers have a chance to be pretty good, and that beats the alternative.