The Trail Blazers opened the 2019-20 NBA preseason Tuesday night in a 105-94 loss against the Denver Nuggets. For the Blazers the night was more about nostalgia and Terry Stott’s chest hair. There was throwback jerseys, a 50th anniversary court, and coaches decked out in 70’s vibe, all in the building where the Blazers won it all back in 1977, the Memorial Coliseum. It was a get to know each other affair. Trivial.
For the Nuggets it was a vendetta. They wanted to make a point, still bitter after a series defeat at the hands of Portland last post season. Coach Mike Malone and his team took the game seriously, perhaps too much so. It was obvious and at times awkward for a preseason game. Neener-neener, we added Grant and are better. Malone played his starters longer minutes, while Stotts reached to the bottom of the barrel and experimented with his bench.
Shooting on both ends were abysmal with Denver shooting 45% to Portland’s 34% from the field, and 31% to 20% from 3. Lillard and McCollum only played 15 minutes a piece, and were a combined 5-15 from the field and 1-8 from three, but both had their moments, with strong finishes to the basket drawing fouls. Collins played the longest out of the starters and finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds, but struggled shooting in the second half.
Hassan Whiteside played only 12 minutes, his foot injury still evident, some of Portland’s other new players impressed. Kent Bazemore was on the attack every possession. He had great energy and wasn’t afraid of the defense. He struggled to finish but managed some quick and targeted passes. Super Mario led the team with 12 points, and looked comfortable running the point forward. He got the basket easily, but his zany passing showed up.
Skal Labissiere had the only double double on the night with 10 points and 12 rebounds. He moved well down the court, and proved he could shoot, whether from far or around the basket. He outplayed teammate Anthony Tolliver, and may end up playing in front of him. Anfernee Simons showed off his silky smooth shot from the three. He often got lost in the shuffle and looked a little slow on defense at times. He played mostly off the ball, cementing Hezonja as the point off the bench.
The Blazers played with a fast paced that looked good at times, and bumpy at others. Players were still shaky a bit, learning to play with each other. Once the jitter are gone, things should smooth out. On the other end, Portland was sharp on defense early on, especially inside the arc, but had trouble guarding the three.
The Blazers trailed by only 2 at halftime, 52-50, but things fell apart in the second half when Stotts brought in the end of the bench. Though undrafted rookie Moses Brown showed some instances of potential. He moved quickly for a big man and had some moments on both ends of the floor. Naz Little, the Blazers 1st round draft pick in June, also had a highlight moment, where he negotiated past the defense with some dazzling moves and finished at the basket while being fouled.
Portland went on a 9-0 run in the fourth with the two of them in the game, but it was short lived as Portland couldn’t sustain it. Denver got the win behind 14 points from Paul Millsap and 13 points from newly added Jerami Grant, who fit seamlessly. But, hey let them get it out of their systems now. The Blazers and Nuggets meet up again this preseason, but the real game rematch of the playoffs, will come when Denver and Portland face off to start the regular season. It is going to be a hell of a game.