PORTLAND — Blazers coach Nate McMillan regularly reminds people that after the preseason, “it goes right back to zero.”
But in Portland’s first preseason game Monday, it was more about going from 0 to 60 … in about two seconds.
Playing sans LaMarcus Aldridge, who is still recovering from a heart procedure, the Blazers impersonated a team in midseason form as it pounced on the Jazz and cruised to a 110-90 win. Of course, results at this point in the year reflect future success about much as one coin flip will predict the next.
Still, for now, everyone goes home grinning.
“I thought it was a good start,” said McMillan whose team led 32-19 after the first quarter. “I liked our defense. I thought we were active. … They’ve been a team throughout training camp and what you saw tonight has been the atmosphere from day one.”
No Blazer played more than 26 minutes Monday, but they still managed to cover plenty of distance. With 15 steals and 22 forced turnovers, Portland was consistently on the fast break and generally converted in the open court.
Wesley Matthews led the team with 17 points, going 7 for 10 from the field and 1 for 4 from beyond the 3-point arc. Nicolas Batum added 13 points, as did Elliot Williams — although Williams did it in just 12 minutes.
The 22-year-old guard did not step on the court until the second half, but when he did, he hit 5 of his 7 shots, including all three 3-point attempts. Nolan Smith also played only 12 minutes, but his came in the first half.
Even so, Williams insists he and Smith are not directly competing for a spot alongside Jamal Crawford in the second unit’s back court.
“I don’t feel that at all,” Williams said. “When coach puts us out there, we’re just playing hard.”
The only component to Monday’s game that seemed to bother McMillan was Portland’s shooting struggles. The coach confessed earlier in the day that percentages are generally low at this point as players’ try to work themselves back into shape. However, the Blazers’ 6 for 23 mark from beyond the 3-point arc was slightly unsettling “because about 10 of those misses were wide open,” as McMillan said.
McMillan also had a discussion with the second unit after Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage at Fan Fest, chastising them for playing “cool basketball,” which essentially entails playing for themselves and not the team.
Monday, however, Crawford praised his teammates’ unselfishness, saying the one thing he felt clicked the most was that they were playing for each other.
“That was one of the best preseason openers I’ve ever played in,” said Crawford, who played both point guard and shooting guard.
Derrick Favors led Utah with 25 points. Jazz forward Paul Millsap did not play due to right quadriceps tendinitis.
After the game Batum, was asked about the Blazers’ lack of sloppiness, an element McMillan expected to see this early in the season. But Batum, who had played overseas throughout the summer, offered what he thought was an obvious response.
“This was my 37th game since last year,” the Frenchman said smiling. “It was me.”