The Portland Trail Blazers, after starting the preseason 0-2 at the Moda Center, got their first win of the preseason with a 96-86 result against the Utah Jazz in front of a sellout crowd at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, ID.
The Trail Blazers were led by exemplary and efficient performances by Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Lillard finished the night with 23 points on eight-of-15 shooting, five assists and a rebound in 29 minutes. He also held Jazz rookie Trey Burke to seven points on three-of-ten shooting to easily win the point guard matchup for the Trail Blazers, who were the designated home team.
“I felt like, playing against (Burke), I had to set the tone,” said Lillard. “First point guard taken and he’s kind of in a similar situation to what I was coming in, gonna play a lot of minutes and being the starting point guard on an NBA team. When I came in there was guys that was feeling like they needed to show me something and set the tone on me when they played against me because it was my first year and I was the summer league MVP and there was all this hype. Same goes for him. And the next season, the same will go for whoever the next guy is.”
As dominant as Lillard was, Aldridge might have been better. The two-time All-Star had his way with Utah’s bigs, scoring 20 points on eight-of-nine shooting while pulling down eight rebounds in just 18 minutes.
“It was just one of those night where I was in a really good rhythm,” said Aldridge. “I had a really good warmup today and I know I was going to (play) limited minutes, so got really loose pregame. It just carried over. I think every guy on the team is working hard right now. I think our rhythm is going to come by playing together more.”
Aldridge made a point of praising second-year power forward Joel Freeland, saying Freeland’s improvement defensively in the post has made his job much easier.
“I’m not even worried about my game; I’m excited about what Joel Freeland did tonight, all of those blocks and all of those contests at the rim,” said Aldridge. “That’s big-time for me. I feel like if he can continue to do that all year, he’s going to make our team better. I keep telling him about it. It’s really, really good for us. I think he had at least four or five of those where he went up and either blocked it or made the guy miss and I think that’s big because last year, we were really bad at that.”
Wesley Matthews and Will Barton, starting in place of Nicolas Batum (concussion), finished with eight points apiece. Robin Lopez added seven points and nine rebounds. Mo Williams pitched in with 11 points and seven assists off the bench.
Portland held Utah to 38 percent shooting from the field and outscored the Jazz in the paint 38-22. Turnovers were once again an issue for the Blazers with 23 giveaways on the night, but 10 blocks and winning the rebounding battle 49-38 more than made up for the rash of miscues.
Next up, the Trail Blazers travel to Salt Lake for a rubber match at Energy Solutions Arena on Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM on 620 AM.