Home Portland Trail Blazers Blazers-Nuggets preseason game observations

Blazers-Nuggets preseason game observations

For the first time since the spring of 1995, the Portland Trail Blazers played a game in Memorial Coliseum. The team wore throwback uniforms to commemorate the 1977 championship team. Those uniforms need to work their way into the regular rotation, by the way. Terry Stotts need not wear that Dr. Jack suit ever again, though.

Oh, and the Denver Nuggets were back in town without Nikola Jokic to play a game. They’ll also be back in two weeks to open the regular season, but back at Moda Center the Blazers lost 105-94.

No one really cares about the outcome of a preseason game. So I wanted to throw out some observations of the game. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum

The faces of the franchise played like it was the first game of basketball they have played in a few months. Dame and CJ combined for only 12 points on 5-15 shooting, six rebounds, and four assists. That’s not important, there were some new things being tried out tonight.

Dame has said he wanted to improve his game below the free throw line and he spent a lot of time below the free throw line. Jamal Murray was bullied on many possessions as Lillard got into the paint at will and made a lot of great passes and moved larger defenders out of the way. When he attacked the paint, he was looking to pass with four defenders collapsing on him on most drives. He found Zach Collins for a couple of nice mid-range jumpers.

CJ also worked on attacking the paint and was looking more to shoot when he got there as the defenses did not collapse on him like they did Lillard. He also showed off some new range to his three point jumper. I’m looking forward to CJ shooting more thirty footers.

It is worth noting that they missed a combined ten shots, but they didn’t miss by much. Look for those jumpers to get locked in soon.

I would have loved to have seen Dame and CJ play more minutes and work on chemistry with the new starters in the frontcourt, but this is only the first preseason game and there are 82 regular-season games plus I’m guessing at least ten playoff games.

The new starting frontcourt

I was a big fan of bringing back Rodney Hood as the new starter at the small forward position. He’s an upgrade over Maurice Harkless on this roster. Hassan Whiteside is the starter until Jusuf Nurkic returns, and Collins is the new starter at the power forward.

Hood had a quiet six points tonight but played some pretty decent defense against the revolving door of small forwards that the Nuggets produced. Hood is going to be relied upon to be the third scorer for the Blazers. His jumper was a little off tonight, but he’ll find that.

Collins looked great on offense tonight. He flashed well and found lots of holes on drives from guards to get himself some easy jumpers. He crashed the boards well and got six rebounds. Defensively, he still reaches and he looks like he did not spend enough time in the weight room and was pushed around by Paul Millsap and Tyler Zeller in the low block. Tonight he was a negative defender and he needs to get better fast. We’ll see how he does in the second game.

Whiteside looked like a guy who did not have a lot of practice time with his teammates. He has been suffering from an ankle injury that he suffered in the offseason. You could see the lack of time and chemistry together with Dame. They ran a couple of pick and rolls together and Whiteside was not ready for the passes.

He also looked a little disinterested at times. Yes, it was preseason, but I’m not a big fan of the start from Whiteside. Let’s hope it’s the ankle that is limiting him.

The bench

The Blazers are going to be deep this year and I’m saying this before Pau Gasol and Nurkic come back and limit the playing time of Whiteside and Skal Labissiere. The bench played with a lot of energy tonight and hustle. They are also a scrappy defensive unit.

Kent Bazemore was 1-7 from the field, but he had seven steals! SEVEN STEALS! When he was on the floor he was in a passing lane and playing lockdown defense on the perimeter. Bazemore is such a huge upgrade over Evan Turner.

Labissiere had a very respectable ten points and twelve rebounds tonight. He didn’t make any dumb fouls but was a step slow on some defensive rotations. That’s not a big deal and he should be okay fixing that as the season goes along.

One of the more questioned signings this summer was of Mario Hezonja. Tonight we might have seen the best of what a lot of people had considered a bust. He was nothing but energy. That dude was running full speed at every moment. He had 12 points and six boards tonight. Got into the lane at will, made some great passes (that weren’t finished) from the paint and got to the line six times. He’s not going to be the star that many (myself included) thought he was going to be. I think we are going to see the best season out of Mario this year.

When Seth Curry left during the summer there were a lot of questions on who the Blazers back up point guard was going to be and I think through Summer League and the game tonight Anfernee Simons is that answer. He made three threes tonight and showed good handles of running the second team in slower sets. He’s not bashful about shooting either.

Anthony Tolliver was the other main rotation man tonight and he did what you expect Anthony Tolliver to do off the bench. He had a couple of points and a couple of rebounds, played decent defense and set a couple of solid screens.

Overall I’m pretty happy with this bench unit. I thought Gary Trent Jr. would get more of a shot at some two-guard minutes, but those obviously belong to Bazemore.

Defense

In the NBA preseason it usually the offense that is way ahead of the defense. That is not the case with the Blazers. The defense was scrappy tonight. I will not say it was good, that is hard to judge, but they were scrappy. I thought the rotations with both Collins and Whiteside to be acceptable. Even though the starters didn’t block a single shot, they changed a lot of shots. There wasn’t a whole lot of open shots by the Nuggets tonight.

The bench wasn’t half bad either, especially with Bazemore stealing everything that came his way.

The Blazers are going to score a lot this season off of turnovers. Tonight they had 29 points off turnovers. Again, this is preseason. It is, however, worth noting that is a lot of points off turnovers.

The rest

The camp invitees had themselves a decent ballgame. Moses Brown is probably the most notable name to watch. He has limited offensive game but had eight points tonight. His worth is on defense. He’s good on the block and is a threat to block a shot anywhere on the court. He’s going to be a great G-League player for the Blazers. He could be a guy to look out for next year.

The 25th pick of the draft, Nassir Little, didn’t see the floor until late in the second half. I thought he would also get some more run with the rotational guys. He scored six of his eight points from the free throw line and had four rebounds. I’m not sure what the plan is for Little, but we can see him splitting time in Portland and the G-League.

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