The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets last night, becoming the first and only team to go 4-0 on the young NBA season. We’ve had plenty of observations about the game already, and more are coming, but a couple twists were significant enough to merit special attention.
Obviously the undefeated record looks ultra-shiny, but that’s almost a side point. The Blazers are only 5% of the way through the year. That other 95% will contain plenty of twists and turns. A 4-0 start doesn’t guarantee much. Besides, most of those wins were nail-biters. A couple of bounces in another direction and these same Blazers, playing the same way, could be 2-2. The start wouldn’t necessarily be less impressive for that.
The final score of that Denver game does register, however. The 25-point margin was Portland’s first double-digit win of the season. They beat the Sacramento Kings on opening night by 7, but the game was all but deadlocked in the final minute. The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers both fell by just 2. This was the first time the Blazers took a lead, sustained it, and then expanded it. Another way of saying that is, this is the first time the Blazers did what veteran, winning teams do as opposed to upstarts looking to “give themselves a chance” at victory. Keeping things close is a step on the road from bad to good. Determining the outcome early lifts you from good to great. The Blazers aren’t there yet, but if they have any pretensions of following up on that 4-0 start, they’ll need to repeat the experiment often.
Nikola Jokic’s 4-shot, 9-point performance is also getting a lot of attention, but that can be dismissed for now. Neither the Blazers nor any other team will hold him down to that level consistently. Jokic bombed because of Jokic, not because of Portland.
The performance of Denver’s guards is the more significant story. Jamal Murray went 3-12 for 8 points, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 2-6 for 6. Granted, Bones Hyland came off the bench shooting 5-10 for15 points in 18 minutes, but when your name is Bones Hyland, you get an automatic pass to coolness.
This marks the first game in which the Blazers have faced a potentially deadly guard and not let that guard go off huge. (They did it against the Lakers as well, but with all due respect to Russell Westbrook...yeah.) Murray is not at the level of De’Aaron Fox or Devin Booker, but he’s got the goods Since time immemorial, Portland’s been in the business of making opposing guards look better than they are. Two straight games where they didn’t have to worry about the other guys’ backcourt, or even one where the opponent didn’t look like a superstar, is applause-worthy, all things considered.
The Blazers have Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro, Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, plus Chris Paul and Booker on the horizon over their next six games. Then there’s a couple guys named CJ McCollum and Luka Doncic on the horizon. They won’t get a break from big-scoring guards for the next three weeks. Being able to contain, at least a little bit, could go a long ways towards determining their success.