SALT LAKE CITY – As far as preseason games go, Wednesday night’s contest against the Utah Jazz was just about all the Trail Blazers could have asked for -- and more.
So many things went well, it’s hard to know where to start in what turned out to be a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 126-118 win over the Jazz.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were terrific – in mid-season form -- against the Jazz backcourt of Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. Lillard had 25 points with five rebounds and four assists and McCollum scored 28 while shooting 11-15 from the floor, including 5-7 from three.
“I felt good,” Lillard said. “Playing at altitude, we knew that was going to be a challenge. We came out in attack mode and played it like a real game. We challenged ourselves and our conditioning, trying to get into regular-season form and we just had a good run tonight. These are the kind of games you want to have at least one time going into the regular season.”
McCollum, continuing to show signs he’s going to be shooting more from long range, did a nice job of showcasing his varied offensive arsenal.
“This was going to be our last preseason game and so we wanted to get some good conditioning in with the altitude,” McCollum said. “Go compete. They’ve got some good guards and we wanted to see where we’re at.”
Zach Collins started at power forward and Hassan Whiteside started at center and the duo has a chance to be a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams. They are both aggressive rim protectors and Collins hit his first three-point field goal of the exhibition season and a handful of tough shots under duress inside. He finished 6-6 from the field.
“I love playing with Hassan,” Collins said, “We’re both rim protectors and he’s very good at it. Both of us being at the rim it’s going to be tough for other teams to score.”
Whiteside played well, getting 11 rebounds in 16 minutes but provided the only downer of the night when he reinjured his left ankle, spraining it again after leaving the game in the first half when he cut his right hand on the rim.
“I don’t think it’s serious,” said Whiteside, who sat out 10 days during the exhibition season after spraining it the first time. “First time I’ve ever had to go to the back twice in one game.”
Several rotation players had solid outings and Rodney Hood was reliable as the starting small forward. Mario Hezonja made five of his eight shots, including a couple of three-pointers, on the way to a dozen points, four rebounds and three assists. Kent Bazemore was solid at both ends and Anthony Tolliver got some significant time at center, forcing the Jazz to go to a smaller lineup.
Portland led 117-100 when Coach Terry Stotts pulled the last of the starters off the floor in the fourth quarter.
Stotts hasn’t been concerned with getting a win – this was his team’s first over an NBA team in the exhibition season – but he did want to see the group play better. And it did.
“We really played well,” Stotts said. “Offensively, the first half was fun to watch. We moved the ball, Dame and CJ were in a really good rhythm. All in all, it was the best game we’ve played so far.”
Stotts had praise for Whiteside, whom he said, “played well in both halves. He had an impact on the game. It was good to see for him.
“And I thought Zach, in particular, made two or three very impressive plays at the rim. He had two or three blocks that could have been scores and they really ignited us going the other way.”
Portland wraps up its exhibition schedule at Denver Thursday night but it’s anybody’s guess who will be on the floor for the Blazers. Stotts wouldn’t commit after the game about it, but he’s indicated he would not use his key players much – if at all.