The Trail Blazers made easy work of Israeli team Maccabi Haifa on Thursday, and while social media made jokes about how "tough" they were, I'm here to tell you why Maccabi Haifa was exactly the test the Blazers needed.
Maccabi Haifa has long been a preseason opponent to teams around the league, but with Thursday's loss they are now 0-20 all-time against the NBA. However, that doesn't mean they aren't worth playing.
You say they were a pushover. I say they were just what Portland needed. Why play an overmatched opponent? Why play for the easy win in a meaningless game?
Simple: The eye test
Just by watching how your team performs, or doesn't perform, against an inferior opponent tells a coach a lot about what needs to be worked on before the season starts.
Anfernee Simons played 30 minutes. Skal Labissiere played 23. Hezonja and Collins each played 20+. This may not happen every night. But with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Hassan Whiteside getting the night off, as well as Pau Gasol and Jusuf Nurkic missing time due to injury, it was what was in the card - The reserves getting the lion's share of the minutes.
With it, you got good and bad.
1) Anfernee Simons is legit: Ok, last season's finale against Sacramento proved this already, but he showed it again tonight. He ran the offense efficiently and was a scoring machine. Maccabi Haifa would put together runs only for Simons to go on a 6-0 run of his own to counter. He may be asked to be less of a point guard off the bench this season and more of a spark plug.
2) Hezonja starting to back-up the hype: Hezonja wasn't asked to do much on Thursday, but when he was called upon he answered. He had just six points, three rebounds, and two assists, but he spent a lot of his time on the floor vocally coaching players like Skal Labissiere and Gary Trent Jr. Stats wise, it wasn't much, but a game like tonight shows the Blazer may have found a diamond in the rough with Super Mario.
1) Zach Collins was good, not great: Ok, I'm being nitpicky here, but the Blazers had to have expected more from Big Z tonight. Sure, he had 16 points and nine rebounds, but against a bunch of fringe college players, it should have been far more. Collins should have tallied a 20-20 game, or something close. Instead, he showed hesitation at the rim and wasn't as overpowering as you would expect. Sure, I'm chalking a lot of this up to playing down to the competition and going through the motions in a gimme game, but that, too, is something preseason is here to knock out of the system. If Zach hopes to win that starting power forward spot, and hold onto it, he needs to show up no matter the opponent. Again, he was good. But we want great on a night like tonight.
2) Tolliver stuck in the mud: Anthony Tolliver isn't shooting often, but he isn't making often either. Through two games he is just 2-7 from the floor. A career 43% shooter, the Blazers brought in Tolliver to be their marksman off the bench. Like Collins, he should have feasted on Maccabi Haifa. Instead, he struggled to get going. Tolliver could be a big part of the Blazers' success this season, but he has got to find his shot. Otherwise, he might not find the floor.
And this is why you play Maccabi Haifa. To reinforce things you already knew about your team, and to point out some things you may have missed. Mainly, it's to highlight your weaknesses. If you can't get it going against Maccabi Haifa, don't expect to find your groove against any team in the NBA.
Now, with three preseason games remaining, Coach Stotts and his players have a really good idea of what they might need to focus on to be prepared for the regular season. Sure, it was a throwaway game. A sure victory. But it didn't lack importance when it comes to getting this team ready for a championship run.
Listen below for a special Trail Blazers edition of The Bridge Podcast with special guest, Kevin Calabro: