The Portland Trail Blazers versus Denver Nuggets game tonight evoked the old saying, “Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. And sometimes that bug gets flattened by the windshield and bounces onto the pavement to be run over by a steamroller, then eaten by a stray cat, then barfed up in a hairball which gets swept up by a street cleaner and washed into the sewer grate to be carried away to the ocean where the incessant pounding of the tumbling waves will make you forget this ever, ever happened.”
The Blazers started this game without Damian Lillard (abdomen surgery), CJ McCollum (returning from a lung injury and welcoming his newest child), Norman Powell (health and safety protocols), and Anfernee Simons (family obligations). That left Jusuf Nurkic to face off against Nikola Jokic while the rest of the Nuggets... well... read above. The Nuggets ended up shooting 63.4% from the field, 51.2% from the arc. Every Denver player who took the floor scored, most of them highly. They also won the game 140-108.
Despite missing everyone whose season-high was much above 8, the Blazers got off to a decent start in Denver. Their newly-trademarked hustle was in evidence, particularly from Dennis Smith, Jr., who took it to the cup like Ball Arena was a Starbucks drive-thru window. Looking at the starting lineup, you wondered if Portland would average 20 a quarter. They had it in two-thirds the time.
But oh, the defense was painful. Denver scored at the rim again and again and again. At a certain point, it was like both teams just gave up on stopping each other and took turns converting. Turnovers on Denver’s part and the occasional missed three provided the only relief from the rim assault on both ends. This was CERTAINLY a positive development for Portland, though. If the Nuggets were going to let them play even, they would take it all night long.
The story changed in the final minutes of the period, when Portland went small and young. Denver didn’t have to run anything besides their basic sets to get a great look. Plus they could rebound. That provided enough separation to make the joy of the first 10 minutes nearly meaningless. Denver led 41-28 at the end of one.
The Blazers tried hard as the second quarter commenced, bless their hearts. Players who probably shouldn’t find the floor individually, let alone collectively, kept coughing up the ball in simple situations and making Facu Campazzo look like Gus Williams. Portland couldn’t defend, couldn’t rebound, and scored only when Denver wasn’t really paying attention.
The first unit coming back in fixed some of Portland’s problems, but that brought Jokic back into the game as well. The Blazers had about as many answers for him as a kindergartener taking an Organic Chemistry test. The story from that point was all too familiar for Blazers fans: the occasional nice bucket surrounded by heaps of opponent scoring. Midway through the second, it was obvious the Nuggets were well on their way to the dreaded “100 points by the end of the third quarter” performance. They just passed until they found an open shot, which usually happened before the shot clock was half expired.
Denver led 72-55 at the half, shooting 64% from the field and 44% from the arc. Not bad. Unless, of course, you’re the opponent.
The story didn’t change much in the third period. The Blazers struggled to connect on simple passes. The Nuggets took turn dunking on the other end. Jeff Green played like he was 16, not 65 (or however old he is now). He probably had more slams in this game than in the last three seasons combined.
And THEN Portland’s offense dried up.
If you want to cry now, it’s ok. We’re here for you.
I mean, at a certain point the Blazers were shooting 40% from the field, 30% from the arc, and 50% from the dingly-dang foul line. It was the Bermuda Triangle of suckitude.
Plus former Blazer Will Barton got injured in the third, having just scored 21 points in 25 minutes. Thank goodness it looked worse than it was. He returned to the bench at the end of the period.
The Nuggets led 101-80 after the third quarter and mercifully, that’s where this recap is going to end. This would have been a hard game with Portland’s top eight players in tow. With six of them not playing (Larry Nance, Jr. and Cody Zeller joining the four top guards), it was a...well... non-starter.
Stay tuned for extended analysis very soon.
The Blazers will face the Washington Wizards on Saturday at 4:00 PM, Pacific.