PORTLAND, Ore. — In an unintended side-effect of the NBA lockout, the league found a way to make the preseason meaningful instead of mundane.
Camp was shortened and six games chopped off the usual eight-game exhibition slate, so two preseason contests are increasingly valuable observation and experimentation periods for NBA teams.
That begins at 8 Monday night for the Utah Jazz, who visit Portland for the first of two preseason games against the Trail Blazers. Round 2 is Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena.
"We've had some spirited, tough practices," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We want to see if we can transfer them into the game, and I feel comfortable we will."
With the regular season just eight days away, Corbin has a checklist he'll be evaluating over the next few days.
Among the items: defense, lineup combinations, playing time distribution, finishing quarters strong and the No. 3 point guard battle.
"(I'm) just trying to find some cohesiveness between the different lineups," Corbin said. "Trying to find out which combinations would give us the best chances to compete."
Corbin remained noncommittal about a starting lineup, but it seems a given Devin Harris (point guard) and Al Jefferson (center) will be there for tipoff.
Raja Bell has had a strong camp, so don't be surprised if he reclaims his starting shooting guard position from last season.
Paul Millsap (right quad tendinitis) is questionable for tonight, so he or Derrick Favors could get the power forward nod. And considering how they've played in camp — and at Saturday's scrimmage — an argument could be made for Gordon Hayward or C.J. Miles at small forward for now.
Or Corbin could start all rookies and newcomers. Who knows?
"You have choices. We do have bodies we feel comfortable putting on the floor," Corbin said. "How they compete once the game starts will dictate how we change lineups, how we'll compete against different lineups and how we'll make teams change to us."
Defensively, Corbin is looking for continued improvement on defensive rotations. That movement and help is critical as the Jazz implement their biggest change of pushing opponents to the baseline instead of funneling them into the paint. It begins with personal responsibility, but awareness of an opponent's initial pass, dedication to effort, and weakside help are crucial to defensive success.
Nailing that down is a preseason priority.
"In order to get better and be the type of team we want to be," Jazz guard Raja Bell said, "we've got to take it upon ourselves to implement some of the stuff we've been working on the last week or so and put it into effect into the game."
"It's going to take total team commitment on that," added the Jazz's newest player, Josh Howard, who is familiar with the baseline-focused defense. "Everybody's going to have everybody's back on rotation and just be ready to play."
With 13 players under contract for the 2011-12 season, the Jazz still have wiggle room to keep (or add) one or two players.
"Right now, we think we will have three point guards," Corbin said. "We have some good guys to choose from, so it'll be interesting to see."
That means this could be a make-or-break week for former NBA players Jamaal Tinsley and Keith McLeod as well as for ex-Villanova standout Scottie Reynolds.
Having a third playmaker behind point guards Devin Harris and Earl Watson, in a crazy, condensed schedule seems especially prudent.
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