BOISE, Idaho – The Portland Trail Blazers will look for their first victory of the preason tonight when they “host” the Utah Jazz at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, home of Portland’s D-League affiliate, the Idaho Stampede.
Some pregame notes from Boise to get you ready for the game, which you can listen to on 620 AM (there is no television coverage of tonight’s game).
– Injuries continue to be an issue for the Trail Blazers going into Friday night’s game. Nicolas Batum (concussion), Dorell Wright (right middle finger), Earl Watson (left calf contusion) and CJ McCollum (broken left foot) are all out versus the Jazz, though all four players traveled with the team to Boise.
Meyers Leonard, who sat out Thursday’s practice after experiencing soreness in his right foot, is listed as questionable. When asked about the likelihood that he played Friday night, Leonard replied, “Questionable is definitely how I would put it.”
While there are certainly worse times for players to be sidelined with injuries, Stotts said that the growing number of ailments has made it more difficult to settle in on a rotation.
“It’s frustrating,” said Stotts. “I think it’s frustrating for the players because they want to be out there. We’re not able to establish a rhythm, but I think that’s going to come. We’re only, what, ten days into training camp? And I know we’ve got a game in two and a half, three weeks but you’ve got to fight through it. Everybody deals with different issues with their team. This is what we’re dealing with now.”
– Stotts didn’t say explicitly who would start Friday against the Jazz, but it’s likely he goes with the same group he started Wednesday night against the Suns. The one wildcard is at small forward, where it’s possible Stotts goes with Allen Crabbe, who has played well in the first two preseason games, over Victor Claver. Crabbe practiced with the starting unit on Thursday, though Stotts said that had more to do with players sitting out with injury than any potential lineup change.
“We didn’t have a lot of bodies (Thursday),” said Stotts, “so we picked (Crabbe) because Victor was playing four with the second unit.”
Stotts did say that two guaranteed starters, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, might see an increase in minutes from Wednesday’s loss to the Suns, though he’s open to the idea of going deeper into his bench depending on the situation.
“I think LA will probably play a little bit more, I might play Damian a little bit more,” said Stotts. “This is an opportunity for the young guys to get extended minutes, so those minutes have to come from someone. I would think, at a minimum, it would be very similar to the last couple games, especially with three or four days of practice coming up before our next game.”
– The Trail Blazers, by starting the preseason 0-2, are technically in the midst of a 15-game losing streak dating back to the end of the 2012-13 regular season. But while every player worth having on your team wants to win every night, there is no concern in the Blazers locker room regarding the losing streak, especially during the exhibition season.
“You always want to win, but a preseason win doesn’t count for the regular season,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I think every guy wants to win but I don’t think we’re going back to last season. That was last season, a whole different team. This team is different. Different players, guys are older so I don’t think that’s on guys’ minds but I think every guy wants to win every night.”
Aldridge has a point. Seven players on Portland’s 15-man roster weren’t on the roster last season, so the losing streak carries little-to-no significance for them.
But more than anything, the players who suffered through 13-straight losses to end the season last year have turned the page. Having the ability to move on after tough losses or even thrilling victories is an important trait for professional athletes, especially those who play 82 games a season, to have.
“I don’t think about (the losing streak),” said Damian Lillard. “I haven’t thought about it so I doubt anybody else has either. It’s a new season, so it doesn’t really matter… You want to win every time you step on the floor, but that’s not what is most important at this point.”
– Finally, Trail Blazers fans attending tonight’s game are in for a real treat. While CenturyLink Arena is the smallest venue the Trail Blazers will play in this season, it certainly won’t be the smallest crowd they play in front off. It sounds like the game will be a sellout or very close to it, which should produce a great atmosphere in an intimate setting.
“Four or five years ago when I was the D-League coaches consultant, the Showcase was here,” said Stotts. “I have a lot of respect for the D-League with my roots in the CBA, both as a player and as a coach, and then helping the NBA out as a consultant. This environment, this arena, I think this is a great minor league arena because it’s got the right size. I know the fan base here is terrific. So I’m looking forward tonight.”