The Portland Trail Blazers He took the floor tonight for the first time in the 2022-23 season, capturing Los Angeles Clippers in Seattle for a pre-season 1 game. The game was sloppy, as would be expected on an initial outing. Los Angeles prospered greatly when the Rookies played. They didn’t keep it throughout the game. When Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sat down, Portland was able to bridge the gap. The Blazers led in the third inning behind their starters and mid-bench players, but they couldn’t maintain momentum in a tough, reserve-filled fourth, and ultimately lost 102-97.
The Blazers will have trouble defending a block of frozen head cheese in the first half. The Clippers, with one game under their belt and star Kawhi Leonard in uniform, looked smoother and more talented than their Portland counterparts. Los Angeles moved the Blazers out of the arc, salting in a few half-court throws and dunks.
Portland’s guards shot poorly and passing attempts to the other scorers yielded as much transformations as open shots. As a result, the Blazers fell 27-22 after the first quarter.
The bench Blazers brought in better energy. Playing against infantry counterparts also helped somewhat. The second unit helped Portland close the gap late in the first and early second period, but the Clippers ran back again behind their key players, leading 52-44 in the first half.
Damian Lillard got Portland a hot start in the third inning. Keon Johnson and Jeramy Grant started running and shooting open shots while the Blazers rebounded. The Clippers didn’t send their starters, which helped Portland’s comeback. When Drew Eubanks began recording, Clippers’ submarines were shivering in their boots. Portland took the lead midway through the period as Johnson continued to spice up off-ball players and key shots off reception. The Blazers advanced 78-71 after three.
It emptied the two teams’ seats in Group D, leaving the win to relatively random chance. The Clippers played better defense than Portland, as a result of the more experienced bench overall and with each other. They erased the Blazers’ lead in the first four minutes 8-0. Although Portland did well in defense at the edge with a long, athletic group of deep bench players, their problems covering the three-point arc are back. Add a lack of offensive firepower and finishing the game becomes a long ride on the Struggle Bus, first stop: Uglytown. Jaberi Walker made a few good plays. Portland got sporadic contributions from everyone. But the lack of attack — and the annoying inability to defend the arc — cost them a chance to win.
It’s clear that all eyes will be on the schematic changes and/or evolution of the Blazers during the show’s season. Technically, this is coach Chauncey Billups’ second year, but in practice, this is his first year with the NBA players. The groups featuring Damian Lillard and Jeramy Grant are supposed to look different than those run by the eleventh and twelfth men that the Blazers sent out last season.
Unfortunately, Billups’ plans did not produce great results. The team was of course rusty. This is to be expected in Pre-Season 1 game. Take out two players from missed jumps and the ball you fill in from time to time. That’s nowhere near everything that sounded shaky about the Blazers tonight.
If Portland’s defense improved, visual evidence was missing. They had trouble covering the three-point arc, lagging behind on everything but the basic single moves. They couldn’t close quickly. When they did, the archers ignored them. Los Angeles got hot and cold during the competition, but this was due to their special abilities like Portland’s prowess.
This development is surprising … really disturbing. Josef Nurkic is the only player with a high spin above 6’7. Defensive Mobility is a supposed advantage of running out of a small squad. If the Blazers aren’t fast and alert enough to get out into the arc, how fast enough are they to do?
Portland wasn’t very good defensively at the edge either. Tall players scored with trivial ease in the cup. Nurkic didn’t have enough size to fend off another player, or the required anatomy like an octopus it would take to help against all the drivers left by his teammates.
If defending the mid-range is a priority, the Blazers will probably be fine. When they managed to stay within a specified radius, the Portland defenders stuck. Name the team that wants to feed in the middle, though, we’ll wait.
The Blazers looked strong when they were able to dedicate two defenders to play. Their speed and ability to penetrate the ball helped when facing the pole or pressing the penetration. Those plays were relatively rare, though, and they always will be.
Portland needs to get back to the drawing board with their defense. If they don’t improve before the regular season starts, this could be a long year.
The Blazers showed a willingness to play their positions high on both ends of the floor tonight. The Clippers tangled with Nurkic and Drew Eubanks in multiple screens after the three-point arc. Portland turned every time. On the rare occasions that they were able to recover back to their original men, the positions were good. Otherwise, it was almost inevitably a barbecue. It will be interesting to see if the all-switch approach continues.
When attacking, the Portland hubs often start playing from the spot of the direct arc. They’ve had little success with screen deliveries and rolls. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be pretty. Nurkic’s lack of shooting ability allowed the defenders to play for the pass, which was clearly his intent.
To their credit, the Blazers tried to look out for their teammates when attacking. You can see the plays develop as they are supposed to. Clippers were also able to see those plays. Portland wasn’t quick or fragile enough to frustrate the defenders, who forced the Blazers to make multiple fouls while trying to get involved.
As a result, the crime turned into repeated individual attempts. This halted the flow, allowing defenders to better adjust and anticipate, which only exacerbated the problem. Lillard, Infinity Simmons, and Josh Hart looked like they belonged in a 1-on-1 game. Nobody seemed ready for prime time.
The only time Portland has seemed reasonably coordinated was in her initial work over the arch. This is where you start playing. You can’t really end them there. If they played chess, the Blazers would have been masters at taking out the first pawns, but then their playing struggled.
Here are some basic observations about individual players, with the understanding that over-analyzing a pre-season 1 game for singles is not healthy.
Damian Lillard played a spring in his stride, and that’s all that matters. He seemed reasonably quick to reach the trophy, already trying to drive the cars that he died last season. He moved well enough sideways in defence. It looked rejuvenated, just as it was advertised.
Josh Hart started the match with a junior striker and once again established himself as one of the top players on the roster. Pre-season, postseason, mid-season, Josh Hart will go to Josh Hart. He made a spin or two, engaged his hands with defense, distributed it, and didn’t pay attention to mistakes. He also bounced the ball like a villain, an important trait in a small squad.
Nasser Little also looked good, helping to pick up a poor Portland defense and showing energy from end to end. A little front-end fight might get interesting before the season ends.
Anfernee Simons didn’t shoot well at all. He seemed to force mid-range shots, not seeing the options around him. Perhaps this is the concern of Game 1 in his new role. He didn’t seem as confident as he did when he went solo last season.
Josef Nurkic looked good when he looked good. That was about 40% of the time. But playing it upstairs needs work. So did his individual sin. His outside shot did not improve. If he has the ball more than 2 seconds during setup, it’s his turn to wait to happen. He looked great in motion, as always. Your light thrives when he can hit fast, especially moving toward the basket. Maybe we’ll see a return to those groups.
Having struggled early on trying to create an attack that wasn’t there, Jeramy Grant settled into a supporting role from both ends and looked fit. He needs to connect with the team around him to look great. These connections are hard to come by when they are still learning each other.
Shydon Sharpe looked just as you’d expect. He was good at first action in any given game, but then seemed lost when he needed to react or adapt. He plays off the ball (and focus), trying to find an opportunistic moment. This is appropriate given his inexperience. Let it bake longer and we’ll see.
Jabari Walker played well on both ends, hitting twice and staying in the right area defensively. Hey… a nice find?
The Blazers turn to face Utah Jazz Tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Pacific Ocean.