Blazers show improvement…and that they need improvement in loss

Portland — Ink blot? Glass filled to 50-percent capacity? Cold-sweat-inducing dream?
Like any of the above, you can interpret this one however you want.

You could point out how the Blazers are now winless this preseason when not facing a depleted Clippers team and label it an ominous prelude.

Or, you could highlight Wesley Matthews’ continuously stellar play and gush “Ha — and you thought this team was good LAST year.”

If inclined, you might cite the Blazers 109-100 loss to Utah Monday as evidence that they’re backtracking — their being outrebounded 39-26 as proof they’re too small.

Or, you could note Marcus Camby’s first-half defensive dominance and wonder how strong they’ll be when they’re other two centers return.

Portland coach Nate McMillan began his post-game press conference by asserting that “we got a lot of work to do,” adding that the combination of offense, defense and rebounding has yet to find a harmony. But what about the progress? Were there any shreds of optimism to be found at Memorial Coliseum Monday night?

“We talked about our defense being more physical, and I thought we were, (but) we gotta do that without fouling.” McMillan said. “And I thought our offense got aggressive in the second half.”

Camby justified his 18-plus minutes in the first half by blocking five shots, corralling five rebounds and collecting three steals — thoroughly embodying the Blazers’ supposed “commitment to defense.”

But if the defense was committed, the offense, at times, was omitted.

Portland (1-3 in the preseason) scored just 38 points through the first two periods and finished the game with 11 assists.

True, LaMarcus Aldridge posted 22 points and hit 12 of 14 from the free-throw line, Matthews and Brandon Roy each tallied 16 points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field, and the recently-fined Rudy Fernandez continued his fiction-like shooting display en route to 14 points. But McMillan was unimpressed, focusing afterward on the offense’s stagnation.

After the game, Matthews and Roy confirmed the open-for-interpretation theme; Roy declaring that the team is progressing nicely, while Matthews expressed discontent.

“We’re playing better on both sides of the ball…I thought we had some good things tonight,” Roy said. “We want to win, but I’m not discouraged with what our record is right now. I think we’re going to be pretty good.”

Countered Matthews, when asked if the team is where he’d like it be at this point: “No…we had a good showing against the Clippers, where everything seemed to work. We had stretches against Utah, stretches against Denver, we just want to put it all together. We don’t want stretches.”

Kyrylo Fesenko led Utah with 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting. Deron Williams added 15 points for the Jazz.

— A few hours before the game, Fernandez was fined $50,000 because of comments made by his agent last week involving his client’s desire to be released. Fernandez was fined $25,000 last August for statements he himself made concerning his wanting to be traded or released.

— The Blazers confirmed Monday that they signed 7-footer Steven Hill, although details of the contract were not disclosed. The Arkansas product arrived to help fill the Blazers’ dearth in size following Jeff Pendergraph’s torn ACL, but did not play Monday.

— Matthews has long emphasized that he prides himself on defense, but has displayed impressive offensive progress and prowess this preseason.
Asked of his breakout numbers, the swingman replied: “The team’s finding me in positions where I can make plays. I’ve been working on my offense, it’s just a matter of being able to showcase it a little bit.”

Reach Matt Calkins at 360-735-4528 or

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