Practice Report: Tuesday, Oct. 23
Even with their All-Star sitting out, the Portland Trail Blazers hit their preseason peak on Monday night with a 120-114 win over the Utah Jazz.
That may not be just sheer coincidence, but rather the design of Nicolas Batum.
You see, with LaMarcus Aldridge choosing to rest on Monday, Batum viewed the Jazz game as a moment to step up and show the young Blazers how to do the same. Batum played boldly through nearly 28 minutes, shooting 9 of 15 from the floor (5 of 8 from the 3-point line) and scored 27 points, the 2012 preseason high for any Blazer.
Behind Batum, the Blazers followed his lead to produce the team’s best offensive preseason win since 1999 (Portland defeated Seattle 124-115 in overtime).
“I know I’ll have to step up sometime when (Aldridge) is out. That’s what Damian and I tried to do, Wesley too,” Batum said. “We know we have to work together. L.A.’s an All-Star, he’s one of the best players in his position, if not the best.”
“I tried to show the young guys like Joel and (Meyers Leonard), who replaced LaMarcus, to do a good job and they did a good job (Monday night).”
Besides Aldridge’s absence which created more minutes for wing rotational players, Batum might have also benefitted by playing dual roles as a shooting guard as well as his natural small forward position.
“He’s playing two and three and really, there’s not a lot of difference between the two and three in a lot of things that we run,” head coach Terry Stotts said after Tuesday morning practice. “We’ve got plays whether you call it “Floppy 2” or “Floppy 3,” it’s the same play for the two man or the three man.”
“He played with a great rhythm, he came off screens, he shot with confidence and let the game come to him but he was still aggressive. I was pleased to see it.”
Portland won’t make roster moves until the very end
On Tuesday, the San Antonio Spurs waived Eddy Curry and Derrick Brown and the Orlando Magic released a player by the name of Christian Eyenga. These are the latest NBA teams to trim rosters, but Portland? Still at full strength – at least, on paper – with training camp invitees like Demonte Harper, Justin Holiday, Coby Karl, Dallas Lauderale, and Adam Morrison officially listed on the roster.
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey said on Tuesday that the team will not make cuts until the very end, the Saturday, Oct. 27 deadline. As long as Portland has a player’s rights by the 27th, the team can assign him to its NBA Development League affiliate, the Idaho Stampede.
Harper and Lauderdale, the two players brought in to Blazers’ camp with the specific intention to later join the Stampede, were not at the practice facility on Tuesday and will not travel to Salt Lake City for the Blazers’ final preseason game against the Jazz on Thursday.
Both players were allowed to return home for a break before joining the Stampede next month.
While the fates of Harper and Lauderdale are set, Karl, Morrison and Holiday will have to wait until the end of the week to learn if they are waived, made the Blazers roster or received the D-League assignment.
NBA rosters must be set by Oct. 29. The Blazers have 15 players under guaranteed contracts and will start the season with 15 on roster.
No complaints from Freeland
Freeland, the 6-foot-10 forward/center, has years of professional experience on his résumé. While 20-year-old Meyers Leonard was still just a college kid with a dining hall meal card, Freeland was playing in arenas across Europe. But just like Leonard, this is Freeland’s first season here in the states. Although Freeland is a 25-year-old veteran of the pro game, he’s still just a rookie big man in the eyes of NBA referees.
During Monday night’s game, Freeland nearly got in 21 minutes of action – 11 points, even a made 3-pointer and the credit from his head coach for solid low-post defense against the Jazz front line. The one glaring sticking point: Freeland’s six fouls. Both he and Leonard fouled out. In the heat of competition, Freeland reacted to a few of the foul calls but after the adrenaline wore off, he would not question the whistles.
“We can’t really complain because it happens with everybody. It’s our first year in the league, obviously some fouls I agree with and some fouls I don’t agree with but at the end of the day, I can’t control them,” Freeland said. “That’s the referee’s decision and we just got to step past that and move on. But that’s a learning process as well, something we’re learning to do.”
“It’s tough, especially when you think you’re in the right. But there’s not very much we can do about it, we just got to keep moving forward.”
Guard Wesley Matthews sat out the final 20 minutes of Tuesday practice after banging his knee with a teammate, however Stotts said, “he’s fine.”
Olshey reiterated that injured point guard Ronnie Price is also “fine.” Price sprained his right ankle during the fourth-quarter of the Blazers’ Oct. 12 game in Phoenix, but Olshey anticipates him playing opening night against the Los Angeles Lakers (Oct. 31).
“He’s making great progress,” Olshey said of Price. “He was running around the AlterG (anti-gravity treadmill) today.”