An impressive twenty-thousand fans gathered at the Rose Garden tonight to watch the tryouts for the Trail Blazers’ starting point guard position for the 2012-2013 season. The Portland crowd had the good fortune of the audition taking place against the best team in the West. Oklahoma City was kind enough to put on a great show for the horde, featuring completed fast breaks (14 pts.), blocked shots (eight), and 66% shooting in the first half.
Let’s back up.
With Raymond Felton away from the team (family reasons), Nolan Smith got his first career start, with newly acquired Jonny Flynn coming off the bench. Each competing for 25 minutes in what—save for the third quarter—might better qualify as a scrimmage, coaches and fans got their best look yet at the potential backcourt combination of Smith and Flynn.
It would be a relief to report that fans can rest assured knowing that the inevitable Felton replacement is already here in Portland, but that feels too optimistic. Even making allowances for the context of this game (the second best team in the league featuring an all-star point guard), it would be difficult to anoint either Smith or Flynn the heir-apparent just yet.
That’s not to say it would mean major problems if either one started at the point guard next season.
In fact Flynn’s second half was impressive: 10 points (three of four shooting), three assists (five on the night), and two trips to the free throw line wrapped up a solid 14 minutes of play; impressive on the offensive end at least. After being down by as many as 21, Portland cut the lead to five in the third quarter. Flynn found himself the casualty of a scoring fury by Russell Westbrook who would put up 10 in a quick three minutes, pushing the Thunder back up by 19 with 3:03 to play.
Flynn described his time on the court as “the first meaningful minutes that I got this whole season. On a personal standpoint just to be able to compete…it felt good.” Flynn added that he hadn’t played much this year and he still had to “shake a bit of the rust off and fine tune” his game. He offered some additional insight into his approach to the game in his locker room interview:
Despite “feeling relaxed as soon as the jump ball went up,” Smith’s game was noticeably tight compared to the ease Flynn displayed on the court. He shot just 1-9 from the floor, assisting on only two plays, and never looked comfortable. After the game Coach Canales explained that he spoke with both Smith and Flynn about “getting energy on the defensive end,” but Smith couldn’t seem to find energy on either end tonight.
More from Coach:
Not officially billed as part of the tonight’s tryout, JJ Hickson stood out as the most promising acquisition of the 2012 season. He’s not going to win style or grace points, but Hickson is a capable scorer in the post, besting LaMarcus Aldridge for a team-high 21 points in his 26 minutes. He hit his first eight attempts, finishing 9-of-10 for the night. Though disappointed with the loss, in the locker room Hickson reiterated the feeling that his coming to Portland has been a great opportunity, one he is thankful for. Asked about his long-term prospects as a Blazer he pointed out that whether he is in Portland next year is up to the organization, but added that he is “loving Portland, and I’m happy I’m here.” He of course quipped: “It rains too much.”
For the first time in nearly two weeks, the focus was not on Portland’s disappointing season or lottery picks, but on a future built with some of the pieces already here in Portland. The Rose Garden felt relieved. Portland outscored Oklahoma City 14-2 during a thrilling run featuring an aggressive Nicolas Batum who scored nine points in the stretch. Ultimately Oklahoma City made its own push, never allowing Portland to get closer than within five points. Regardless, the effort the Blazers displayed was enough to forget about pingpong balls for a night and enjoy this current roster, before it’s disassembled in a few months.
- Hickson’s team-high 21 points was also a season-high for JJ.
- OKC out-rebonded Portland 43-30
- Thabeet scored two points in three minutes of burn. For more on Thabeet watch the Hickson video above, where his outfit is a prominent feature.
- The Thunder scored an incredible 50 points in the paint to the Blazers’ 36.
- Raymond Felton flew to South Carolina to be with his mother while she had heart surgery. He is expected to return for the game against New Orleans Thursday. The PRS crew wishes his mother a quick recovery.
- There were easily more Sonics than Thunder jerseys at the Rose Garden tonight. At least one in every ten jersey-wearing fans was supporting a team other than the Blazers. And that’s a conservative estimate.