PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers finished their 2017 exhibition season by besting Israeli club team Maccabi Haifa 129-81 Friday night at the Moda Center. With the win, Portland improves to 5-1 for the preseason.
Trail Blazers forward Jake Layman led all scorers with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 shooting from three, three assists, two blocks and two rebounds in 36 minutes. Pat Connaughton finished off a strong preseason with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, six assists, four rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes. Rookie Zach Collins came off the bench to finish with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, eight rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes.
Archie Goodwin added 23 points in 26 minutes, Isaiah Briscoe finished with nine points and seven assists and Anthony Morrow added eight points in 25 minutes. After the game, all three players, none of whom had guaranteed contracts, were waived. Portland’s roster now stands at 14 players.
Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Ed Davis and Evan Turner all sat out the contest.
The Trail Blazers finished preseason on a five-game winning streak and 6-1 overall, their best preseason win percentage since 1999, though such things don’t matter much in the grand scheme. What does matter is making strides with regard to preparing for the regular season.
“I don’t put a lot of stock in wins and losses, it’s more about the development over whatever period of time that we have,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of preseason play. “Going into training camp, you have priorities of what you want to cover and have ready by preseason, so how the team has come along with those. I probably gauge defensively more than offensively because offensively it’s just a process of slowly putting in the stuff and getting used to it. I pay more attention to how we’re playing, not necessarily wins and losses.”
And to that end, the players and coaches seem generally satisfied with where they’re at in terms of preparation for their regular season opener on October 18 versus the Suns in Phoenix. Two of their main goals this season are to improve defensively and show greater focus and attention to detail from the start of the regular season, and after their performance in preseason, there’s reason to believe both goals are attainable.
“I think we should all be really encouraged, not just because we’ve played really good defensively and a lot of guys have showed good things and we’re a deeper team, but I think sustaining it, we’ve done a good job,” said Damian Lillard. “Throughout camp and practices it’s been there. The energy’s been there, the intensity, the focus has been there and we’ve been able to carry that over into games.
“Obviously it’s just preseason, you’re not spending a lot of time out there against the guys you’re going to be out there a lot of times with, but guys are competing. Every team that we’ve played against has been competing and playing hard and we’ve been able to sustain that level of focus and attention to detail. That’s really encouraging.”
What’s more, Portland got through their preseason schedule relatively unscathed in terms of injuries. Shabazz Napier missed all of camp with a hamstring injury and Nurkić suffered a minor concussion, but other than that, the Trail Blazers managed to avoid any serious infirmities, which in and of itself qualifies as a successful exhibition season.
“I think guys used that time, got into good shape, game shape getting up and down and getting used to getting hit by screens and stuff like that,” said CJ McCollum. “The coach staff got to look at different lineups, different rotations. I think the biggest thing is everybody getting through healthy and ready for the regular season.”
But even though preseason is over, there’s still work to be done. After taking Saturday off, they’ll have three days to of practices before heading out for a three-game road trip starting Wednesday in Phoenix versus the Suns, a team they faced twice during preseason play.
“I was pleased with the preseason,” said Stotts. “I thought we did a lot of good things. I think our defense was fairly consistent without the preseason with the exception probably being transition defense, probably could have gotten a little bit better. I think it’s always a little difficult to gauge where you are in preseason, the dynamics of the games and the opponents and things like that. But I think we’re where we want to be going into the first week of the season. We need to still get some things done with the three practices next week, but overall, I thought we did a lot of good things. Glad it’s over.”