By: Mike Moreau
After the first week of the pre-season, how much can you really know about a team? Wins and losses are meaningless as this is a time to set the tone, evaluate talent, work on offensive and defensive schemes, and experiment with rotations.
However, as a coach, you can start to get a feeling for what your team will be like and what kind of year it might be. You don't want to read too much into success or failure in the exhibition games, but your team begins to form an impression on you and often times that vibe carries into the beginning of the season. Sometimes, that first week can tell you everything you need to know. Sometimes, it can fool you.
That being said, some impressions I have gotten so far:
Portland – The Trail Blazers already have a good vibe with a healthy Greg Oden in the middle, and the year of experience of their best young players gives them nothing but a positive atmosphere to build on. This is a young, fun team that had success last year, and they carry themselves as such. In spite of some early injuries, they have already given a glimpse of what they will be. They can run and score in transition or in the halfcourt, play with effort and intensity, and are already showing signs of good chemistry with their new young additions. They also come into the season armed with the experience of a 13-game winning streak from last year - accomplished without their big man. No guarantee of a win total here, and again, it's only the first week of the exhibition season, but they have not disappointed so far with their effort, energy and production. The vibe is there. Portland fans – don't worry about the dismal economic outlook. A fun year is coming your way!
Washington – Between the chronic, rotating injuries among the stars and the silly, self-important soap opera of the Gilbert Arenas blog, this is already a recipe for disappointment for the Wizards' faithful. The Wizards took a huge risk paying gazillions of dollars for damaged goods and now that Agent Zero is even more damaged and seemingly more interested in promoting himself than elevating his team, one could have sat back this summer and almost predicted this kind of pre-season start. The only way for Washington to take a step beyond the first round is for everyone to be healthy, and all you can do is shake your head with the bad breaks they have already had. I was a big Wizard fan last year, picked them to beat the Cavs in their series, but through no real fault of their own I'm not feeling these guys right now. The adversity could bond them into a stronger group for the stretch run, but that's an optimistic, big-picture view that's hard to bank on at this point. When you know more about your star player's fiancé than you do about his game, his health and his future, something is askew.
Milwaukee - With Scott Skiles emphasis on defense, offensive production in the Bucks' first three pre-season games in the 70's, and the coach's reputation for having less than warm and fuzzy people skills, this already looks like a potentially miserable journey for the Bucks. Nobody on this roster has much of a reputation for winning, so one can see Skiles just driving these guys into the ground with a grouchy demeanor and defensive focus - and seeing the offense suffer. That's a formula for low scoring, ugly losses and not much fun for anyone. However, the only way to turn this into a winning situation is to change the losing mentality, which is never a "feel good" process. Skiles has made losers into winners in the past, and maybe he can make the Bucks into a tougher, grittier bunch that can defend their way into close games and have Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson take over in the fourth quarter. A week into the pre-season, there's not much indication of that. Demanding new standards of performance, holding players accountable, and turning around a losing culture is the basketball definition of ugly in the pre-season. So far, the Bucks are wearing that description well.