The Trail Blazers take on the Utah Jazz Wednesday night in Salt Lake City and it could be about as close to a regular-season game as you can get in the exhibition season.
Coach Terry Stotts plans to make it pretty close to a dress rehearsal for his team and it may be the final opportunity to do so. Portland finishes the preseason schedule Thursday night with a game in Denver, but because the Trail Blazers open the regular season against the Nuggets next week in Moda Center, Stotts isn’t expected to use his regulars for extended minutes, if at all.
Damian Lillard was asked what he expected to get out of the game against the Jazz.
“Closer to a real game,” he said. “We’re going to play closer to our normal minutes. Obviously, having to face that altitude, seeing a division opponent and they’ve added a lot of guys, first road trip. It’s going to be a good thing for us.”
Lillard, like so many other veteran players, is finding the preseason more difficult than he did when he was in his early years as an NBA player. It becomes much tougher to find the same intensity usually reserved for a regular-season game.
“I think you should,” he said. “But it’s hard to, when you know it’s not going to count. It gets harder every year. But I think this is as close to a regular-season game as you’re going to get to it.”
Coaches have the same sort of issues. They want to get their team ready for the regular season, yet they know they can’t risk injuries and they don’t want to give away insight into their team for regular-season scouting reports. But there are rotation and substitution questions to answer, too.
And in the case of Stotts, he won’t be too concerned with the team’s record in the non-counting games.
“I look at it as, ‘How are we playing? Are there more positives than negatives?’ Ultimately, I don’t think preseason wins and losses are an indication of your season,” Stotts said.
And then there’s the psychological aspects to a game like this.
Stotts was asked if he’d chase a win in this game if he found the score tied with a few minutes to go or just let it go.
“Over the years, there have been games where you don’t think it’s going to go that way,” he said. “But at some point, in the third or fourth quarter, both coaches say, ‘Let’s go for it.’ Both teams realize, this is how the games are going to go. I can’t say how the next two are going to go. But I’ve seen games where both teams, all of a sudden, decide, ‘Let’s go for a win.'”
But there’s the other side to that. There have also been games where one coach decides he’s going for it but then the other coach decides he doesn’t want to take a chance of losing a non-counting game and just goes to his bench and gives up on chasing the win. Better not to give a team some sort of psychological advantage by beating you in a game it knew you wanted to win.
“Yeah,” Stotts said, with a laugh. “Oh yeah. That happens. Honestly, that’s kind of a fun part of the preseason -- you can do those things without repercussions.”
Wednesday night we’ll likely know more about the Trail Blazers – and Utah Jazz – than we knew Tuesday. Or maybe we won't.