[UPDATE: Clearly the Baron photo was a poor choice.] Here we are, early October. The weather is confused—as it has been all "summer"—and the fans are chomping at the bit, ready to spend a long, wet winter with their beloved Portland Trail Blazers. No, this year's first preseason contest doesn't have the same air of excitement that previous years have had: There's no overhyped draft pick, no marquee trade...not even the chance of a Greg Oden sighting (though, really, a Greg Oden sighting would be good for these fans). But this is Portland, and in Portland, we get excited about the Trail Blazers. Sure, the game doesn't mean anything. Sure, none of these guys are from Portalnd (and some of them have probably never set foot downtown), but that's not the point. The point is...basketball. Finally.
At the moment they're huddling up in front of the bench, giving each other daps and half-hugs; bouncing gently to the tiresome techno. In front of the Clips' bench, there are more reasons for fresh excitement: The squad includes Blake Griffin, finally playing in his first NBA game (albeit a preseason one) and a freshly faux-hawked Ryan Gomes (he was a Blazer for all of five minutes, remember)? Randy Foye's there' too, as is Al-Farouq Amino, the fly dresser from draft day. For Clipper fans, this is like Christmas morning. So many new guys to unwrap and check out. Of course, whether any of them will pan out is another question.
I'm going to do something a bit different this time around. Instead of blogging a play-by-play of tonight's contest, I'm going to give quarter-by-quarter summations. It's my hope that this will yield something interesting. But if it doesn't? Well, it's the preseason. Plenty of time to retool.
Let the game begin...
FIRST QUARTER (Portland 30, Clippers 19) Biggest surprise: Baron Davis not in the starting lineup. The official reason is a sore knee, but he was out here shooting before the game and looking just fine. Honestly, I think this is part of the mental game by Vinny Del Negro (who, remember, took Tyrus Thomas out of the rotation in Chicago for his attitude problems). Or maybe he's just really wondering what the elusive Randy Foye can do.
What we learned: Blake Griffin is not going to be a bust (surprise, right?). In just six minutes, looked real good (he had four points, three rebounds and a steal in that stint—not a bad opening run). Moreover he looked real smart. And about the Blazers, we learned that Nate takes the preseason pretty seriously. He ran Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge ragged (Marc looked very sharp and scrappy; Roy, a bit rusty—though his defense proved valuable).
Fun fact: LaMarcus Aldridge's beard probably won't stick around all season, but it should. It's a rally beard. It's a very special beard.
Etcetera: The score doesn't really reflect the game, which was pretty competitive up until the last few minutes. Two points: 1. The promising thing here is that everyone to hit the floor for the Blazers in the first played unselfish basketball. Passing, especially post passing and fast-break passing, was a huge plus for them throughout. The Clips were feeling generous, too, but their accuracy was low. 2. People don't know what to think of Rudy Fernandez, but the cheers slightly outweighed the boos. And you never know how many boos were really "Ruuuuuuuuu-dy." God, Rudy, why would you go and spoil your fan favorite status? They loved you! They really loved you!
SECOND QUARTER (Blazers 64, Clippers 36) Biggest surprise: Rudy Fernandez coming out with some fire, hitting three three-pointers in the quarter and fighting on defense. Either he's puffing up the stats and hoping for a trade, or he's committing himself to proving why he should get minutes instead of whining about NOT getting minutes. THAHT THURR'S THE AMERRUHHCAN WHUY, RHUUDEE!
What we learned: Not to doubt LaMarcus Aldridge. As he always does when big men are in short supply, number 12 is proving himself here tonight.
Fun fact: Andre Miller has his 'fro back (and no, not all the fun facts will be hair-related).
Big moment: Jeff Pendegraph posterizing Chris Kaman on the alley-oop from Andre. That got the bench up and hollering.
Etcetera: A dominant quarter from the Blazers, with standout performances from Aldridge, Rudy and new Blazer Wesley Matthews. Matthews is razor-sharp, he was playing quick but in-control, which is something Nate can likely get behind. I wouldn't be surprised if he played some point this year, should Rudy stick around and take up those valuable backup-SG minutes. Though Bayless looks newly focused on defense tonight, too. Of course, this is just the preseason—but it's really encouraging to see such a selfless and determined Blazers' squad out there tonight.
HALFTIME ENTERTAINMENT: Land of Talk, "It's Okay"
Land of Talk plays Mississippi Studios tonight.
FOURTH QUARTER (Blazers 90, CLippers 59) Biggest surprise: The Clips imploding! Their first outing as a real team, and instead of trying to blend their talents into a delicious basketball smoothie, guys like Eric Bledsoe try to go it alone on offense and the team gets entirely scattered on defense. It Rasual Butler and Griffin helped keep the Clips from falling further behind, but look out, Vinny, because it's your ass on the line if the season starts looking like this.
What we learned: One can complain and complain to the refs, so long as one does so with a big smile on his face (like Ryan Gomes). YOU MUST PLEAD WISELY TO THINE REFEREE GODS!
Fun fact: Brandon Roy scored 12 points in the third, after a scoreless first half. And when he's shooting free-throws, Blake Griffin looks like a cross-eyed kitten.
Biggest moment: Nic Batum's one-handed dunk was bigger than pretty much anything from last year's dunk contest. Everyone knew what he was going to do (from waaayyyy back near the free-throw line) and he did it anyway. Ain't that just the French thing to do, though? (Honorable mention: Rudy Fernandez's corner buzzer-beater.)
Etcetera: Uhhhhhhgly. Especially the last few minutes. I'm not saying these Clippers green, but they make the Statue of Liberty look pale by comparison. And the Blazers were a bit schizo, too. Let's see if they can maintain focus in the fourth despite the big lead.
FOURTH QUARTER (Final score: Blazers 115, Clippers 86) Biggest surprise: That it took three and a half quarters, in a blowout, to get Luke Babbitt into the game. We knew they weren't going to hand the kid minutes, but c'mon, it's preseason...and he looks so sad...even when he's playing. Nothing memorable about his performance at first, then he stepped a couple feet behind the line and drained a ridiculous three. Then he went back to battling Brian Cook (who I always liked, by the way. Where has he been?)
What we learned: Those who viewed the Wesley Matthews pick-up as a minor off-season move are going to be proven wrong. The kid is an absolute showstopper, and even coming off the bench he can play lock-down D and give a real spark to this Blazer offense. He had 20 points tonight to lead the team.
Fun fact: Looks like Dancin' Grampa is back for another season!
Biggest moment: Rudy's no-look pass to Bayless turns into a touch pass to Wes Matthews, who's set up in the corner for the insult-to-injury three-pointer. Blazers go up by 38. Eek.
I admit, I started to go into zombie mode towards the end there. It's not that it's not exciting watching young guys like Babbit, Armon Johnson and Elliot Williams...it's just boring to watch them go up against the scrubs from the Clippers. Still, an impressive display of togetherness from the Blazers out there. If they can keep the ball moving in the regular season like it was tonight, it'll win them some games, to be sure.
Wesley Matthews' rookie mix. Get acquainted with the kid, won't you?