The Nuggets cruised to a 126-95 victory over the Blazers on Wednesday. Nikola Jokic led the way for Denver with 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the Nuggets’ runaway victory. The Blazers surrendered 41 points in the first quarter and failed to catch up to the Nuggets as the contest progressed. On the positive side, coach Terry Stotts squad fielded five players in double figures and they secured 13 steals as a team.
New Defense Flails, But Shows Promise
The Nuggets hung 41 points on the Blazers in the first quarter. Over half of those points came in the paint as Denver’s give-and-go actions completely picked apart Portland’s defense. Jusuf Nurkic, who is clearly playing higher up by design, was torched each time Jokic edged by him. The Blazers are attempting to move past their drop-heavy scheme, but that transformation must include sharper movements and communication from the players surrounding the primary action.
Outside of Jokic exploiting open lanes, the Blazers’ second unit looked a step slow in transition and off the ball. Portland’s first group substitution placed Enes Kanter, Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood at the three frontcourt positions. The result was not pretty. The communication is bound to improve between that group, but the Blazers’ second-half decision to stagger that unit with Covington might become a permanent feature of the regular season rotation.
Negatives aside, it is clear that Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. are going to unlock a more aggressive approach from coach Stotts. That duo got into passing lanes early and often. Covington doesn’t waste steps on defense and Jones’ athleticism allows him to close gaps quickly. That combination is a perfect recipe for effective switches and momentum-shifting turnovers.
Tough Offensive Sequences
Jones had a nice night on defense, but he struggled to establish himself on the offensive end. After a promising start from beyond the arc to start the preseason schedule, the former Heat forward went 0-2 on his three-pointers in Denver. By the second quarter, the Nuggets opted to leave him open and crowd the paint. Jones did enjoy a bit more success in the second half when he found daylight in transition.
Like Jones, Kanter struggled to get his offensive rolling in the first half. Isaiah Hartenstein, the Nuggets’ 7-foot backup center, stifled Kanter underneath.
Overall struggles from the starters did not prevent Covington from proving that he is a near-ideal fit with the Blazers. He connected on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, was active on defense and he fought for every loose ball on his side of the floor.
Whenever the Blazers’ offense looked under water, it was Covington that broke the surface. The former Rockets forward went 6-9 from the field for 15 points in 27 minutes of action.
The Blazers conclude their preseason schedule against the Nuggets on Friday.