Like all of the great conquests throughout antiquity, the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2013-2014 campaign began in a small, pixilated frame deep within the less law-abiding branch of the Internet. With CSNNW opting against televising the Blazers preseason, Blazer fans not lucky enough to be among the 12,849 announced attendance for the Blazers’ 89-81 loss to the Clippers last night at the Moda Center were forced to either listen to the game on the radio (*gasp*) or voyage to such sites of questionable repute, and brave the proxy servers and pop-up ads and malware warnings to see their beloved team open the preseason in 32-bit.
It was fitting for the dated graphics of the medium then, that Clippers center DeAndre Jordan would combine the explosive leaping ability of Super Mario and the fury of Sonic the Hedgehog to post 16 points and 8 rebounds, most of which coming in the first half. For all the talk of Lob City being willingly abandoned and in ruin in favor of a new, less vibrant, more efficient locale—Plod City, perhaps—Jordan doesn’t seem to have yet received his eviction notice. On defense, he defended the rim with all of the inevitable terror of a Surface-to-Air Missile and on offense, everything was a dunk, usually a violent one, and often after steaming down the court to beat every Blazer defender trying to get back. The malice in his play would make it reasonable to wonder if Jordan and Blazers’ center Robin Lopez had some unknown beef between them, if only it was possible to imagine anyone having beef with the forever-silly Lopez, and if only it wasn’t the preseason. It was, after all, just the first game of the preseason, right?
Preseason or not, the Blazers looked disappointingly poor for a team thought by many to be set to compete for a playoff spot and even by some (me!) to advance a round in the playoffs. All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge sat out for Portland due to a recent hip flexor strain and the Blazers offense clearly lamented his absence. Without Aldridge, the spacing suffered while the ball rotation looked sluggish and aimless. The most consistent source of scoring came from last year’s Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, attacking the rim of the dribble and using his body control and clever finishing ability to score a few scoops and collect a few foul calls to the tune of 11 points. The other slightly bright spot offensively for Portland came from the Frenchman, Nicolas Batum, who led the team with 12 points, hitting two of his three 3-point attempts.
Outside of those two, the Blazers’ third best player in the game was arguably training camp invitee Dee Bost, the undrafted Mississippi State Bulldog by way of Montenegro’s Buducnost Podgorica. With rookie 1st-round Draft Pick C.J. McCollum sidelined indefinitely with a fractured metatarsal in his foot, and Blazers fans and coaches alike still not sold on the Will Barton experience (for the record: I am firmly entrenched in the camp that Barton is our 2nd best point guard and overall most natural creator. Yes, I know that it’s a small camp. In fact, it might just be me and an extra tent filled with a supply of Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts that I eat for survival.), and Earl Watson eagerly approaching that day when he can collect on the early-bird deal at the Sizzler, there may be a window for Bost to claim a reserve guard spot behind Lillard, Wes Matthews, and Sweet Mo Williams. In this game, Bost was the first guard off the bench and visibly harassed the Clippers’ superstar point guard Chris Paul on defense while looking comfortable both on the ball and off the ball on offense. His numbers – 7 points, 4 rebounds, and 0 assists – look pedestrian in the box score, but his activity in chasing down loose balls and making plays in the open court made him a relative standout in a pretty ugly game otherwise.
Speaking of which, Meyers Leonard finished with a respectable 10 points and 6 rebounds despite a few plays in which he looked like an alien who was dropped unexpectedly into a game of basketball. Everything about the game often seems so new to Leonard that it can be endearing, like watching a baby duckling hop out of the nest to explore its new surroundings, until it isn’t endearing at all, like when Leonard missed an unguarded lay-up and followed it up by banging the still unguarded dunk attempt off the rim and out of bounds for a turnover. But then, not long after that, he flashed down the lane to take a pass from Thomas Robinson and crushed a tomahawk dunk, even drawing a whistle for the and-1. Whether the latter moment can overshadow the former through the regular season will go a long way as to determining the outcome of this campaign of Blazers basketball. But in the first game of the preseason, it’s impossible to tell the importance or longevity of these moments amid the sloppy play, not to mention the fluctuating pixels and occasional pop-up windows of an illegal online stream. So go play some Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog and come back in a month. We’ll still be here, and hopefully that edition of DeAndre Jordan will be far, far away.