The Trail Blazers closed their preseason slate with a 110-104 loss to the Nuggets. With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum benched on the second night of a back-to-back, Mario Hezonja carried the scoring load with 18 points. Utilizing their full cast, the Nuggets secured the victory behind 24 combined points from Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap.
Out of market and without television coverage, Blazer’s Edge called upon long-time reader Brian Wilcox to provide observations from inside the arena.
Collins Leads Fill-In Lineup
Lacking Lillard and McCollum, out for load management, the Blazers’ starting lineup consisted of Anfernee Simons, Kent Bazemore, Rodney Hood, Zach Collins, and Anthony Tolliver. The Nuggets started their projected opening day line-up, and the Blazers held their own through the first quarter.
Leveraging the space created by five players with the ability to stretch the floor, coach Terry Stotts’ crew generated points by getting inside and kicking the ball out for midrange and three-point shots.
Defensively, Collins was tasked with guarding Nikola Jokic. The former Gonzaga standout performed admirably against the MVP hopeful. Collins utilized his quickness to crowd him on the perimeter and beat him to the spot when Jokic tried to put the ball on the floor. When Jokic utilized his strength to back him down, Collins used verticality and timing to effectively challenge shots around the basket. Jokic finished with 11 points in 16 minutes, but his success was created by favorable looks from penetrating guards.
The Blazers shot a better percentage from the floor, had more three-point makes, won the rebounding battle and came away with a 5-0 advantage in blocked shots. Despite all that, the scrappy group of role players came up short in the scoring column. The culprit: turnovers.
With Portland’s star-studded backcourt resting, Hezonja and Simons picked up facilitation duties. Unsurprisingly, the half-court offense looked disjointed, often due to a lack of movement from the four other players on the court.
Simons and Hezonja attempted to compensate by aggressively attacking one-on-one situations. When that failed to garner an easy basket, sets too often resulted in a fumbled pass to an unsuspecting post player or a botched move on the perimeter.
Protect The Glass
Lacking a true center, depending on how you feel about Collins, the Blazers won the rebounding battle. Collins cleared space and aggressively pursued the ball in the air, leading to a game-high 11 rebounds. The guards got into the action, with Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood combining for seven rebounds in just one quarter of work.
Portland’s pace suffered from the emphasis on rebounding, but it prevented Denver from extending possessions on the offensive glass.
From The Stands
- The Nuggets’ stadium team piped in cricket noises during the Blazers’ introductions. This was unnecessary. The Broncos home game against the Chiefs had the desired atmosphere under control without any assistance.
- The hometown fans were clamoring for Michael Porter Jr. to make an appearance through the first half. Porter appeared with 2:47 left in the third quarter to a raucous ovation.
- While not known for his three-point prowess, former Blazers big man Mason Plumlee knocked down a corner three to everyone’s surprise.
- Tolliver took a hard charge midway through the third quarter. The reaction from the Blazers’ bench was priceless, as they could be heard cheering for their dazed teammate. Lillard displayed obvious appreciation to the vet for putting his body in a preseason outing.
The Blazers’ regular season gets underway on Wednesday against the Nuggets.
Editors Note: A special thanks to Brian for skipping the Broncos tailgate to cover this final preseason outing. Quick Backstory: It was Brian that introduced me (Steve Dewald) to Blazer’s Edge over a decade ago.