Blazers Defeat Clippers 99-89 In Preseason Finale As Aldridge Sits
Ed. note: It was a big prep football night and I watched the game on recording, since it was actually on NBATV. This is a round-up of reports from L.A. as well as my own thoughts from tonight’s game.
The Portland Trail Blazers won their preseason finale on Friday over the Los Angeles Clippers 99-89 at the Staples Center.
They did so in impressive fashion without LaMarcus Aldridge, although the Clippers were also without their leading bench scorer Jamal Crawford.
But still, the Blazers finished the season on a much higher note than the one they struck on Wednesday night when they lost to the lowly Lakers. Against a much better opponent that was close to full strength (and actually an NBA team), almost all involved brought their A-game.
And while their were great offensive performances, Stotts told Casey Holdahl of TrailBlazers.com he was most proud of their defense.
“I liked our defense the most,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “To limit their transition points, to limit their attempts at the rim, their points in the paint, they made some jump shots but we rebounded the ball well. I thought defensively we were as solid as we’ve been all preseason.”
The Clippers has one of the league’s best transition attacks, although they still looked like they were figuring things out for much of Friday’s affair. A lot of the credit should go to the Blazers. As you can glean from the box score, five bench players played significantly more than the rest of the bench.
Joel Freeland, who was in a three-way battle with Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson for a rotation spot at power forward/center, was the first big off the bench. And CJ McCollum, who has been in a head-to-head fight with Will Barton for backup minutes in the backcourt, was the first guard off the bench. Leonard and Dorell Wright also played extensively throughout the first three quarters, when Stotts used 10 players.
All the while, Barton and Robinson did not play until late in the game, remaining on the bench until the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.
It appears that Freeland and McCollum have earned rotation spots.
Stotts’ decision to play 10 guys is interesting and also inline with what he said on media day that he wanted to play 9-10 guys on opening night. Aldridge will obviously be back.
If Freeland really has won the job as the 4th big man off the bench, it’s not by much. Meyers Leonard shot 40 percent from 3 in the preseason, making 6 of his 15 attempts. And if Portland is down in the 4th quarter and can’t score, Leonard presents unique option for Terry Stotts.
Freeland is more of a dirty work player and may compliment Portland’s offensively skilled bigs better. But in the short time Leonard shared the floor with Kaman, they also looked good together. Kaman’s passing gave Portland’s cutters and shooters great looks, including Leonard.
Leonard also told Holdahl he still needs to prove himself defensively.
“Certainly more aggressive and confident on offense shooting the ball, moving the ball, making plays,” said Leonard of his play this preseason. “The defensive end and my rebounding is definitely where I need to still gain trust in the coaches and the rest of the players. I thought I did alright throughout the preseason, definitely more aggressive, but have to continue to mature defensively.”
Even when Clippers were running him off the three-point line, Leonard was making the right plays finishing with 14 points and 7 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Damian Lillard did Damian Lillard things, scoring 21 points, hitting devastating threes and attacking the rim, in 24 minutes of play.
No reports have indicated that Stotts has made an official rotation decision.
He probably won’t tip his cap before opening night in against a Western Conference title favorite.
- Dorell Wright was the sixth perimeter player in the rotation. It will be interesting to see how this and Wright’s role develops. Meyers Leonard’s development into a stretch-four could put Wright’s time at that role in jeopardy. Even though the Blazers look like they want two traditional big men on the floor at all times, Leonard could give them the luxury of having both. Wright made big plays against the Rockets in the playoffs and will likely be needed throughout the season. And he knows little tricks about where to be and how to bother guys on defense. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Will Barton, a more dynamic play maker and active defender, in the role Wright played tonight in the near future.
- Thomas Robinson didn’t play until late in the game and it makes you wonder what this means for the Blazers picking up his fourth-year option on his rookie deal. Neil Olshey said the Blazers would not make any decisions until October 25th on the options for Robinson, McCollum and Leonard. And wouldn’t you know it, that day is here. I tend to agree with Joe Freeman’s assessment about the options that the Blazers won’t pick up Robinson’s, only because his salary is so high due to being paid off his draft position. The Blazers could still bring him back at a price lower than his qualifying offer.
- PRESEASON IS OVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THE SEASON IS GOING UP ON A TUESDAY!