I suppose the Nuggets were due for a letdown in the preseason. Up to this point, they've played decent - not great - basketball and were 3-0 heading into the Rose Garden. With Ty Lawson sidelined due to an aching right elbow, the first quarter started well with some nice perimeter defense, forcing the Blazers into some very difficult fadeaways.
On the offensive end, Andre Iguodala connected with a trailing Kosta Koufos for an easy bucket in the paint. Later in the quarter, Andre Miller had a beautiful little inbound lob play to Kenneth Faried, who threw down a monstrous jam. Interestingly, the Portland announcers recognized that Iguodala was "a matchup nightmare" when played alongside Danilo Gallinari, perhaps a subtle reminder of what the now-departed Gerald Wallace's defensive tenacity brought to the Blazers defense. The Nuggets trailed 26-23 after the first quarter.
It was all downhill from there, however.
The Blazers inserted the raw, young Meyers Leonard, secret weapon Coby Karl and never looked back. Despite Karl's nefarious ploy to laugh the Blazers to death by playing 37 year old point guard Anthony Carter 25 minutes, the Blazers utilized some hot perimeter shooting to bury the Nuggets. LaMarcus Aldridge drained about a hundred 20 foot wing jumpers, much to my chagrin/surprise, and Wes Matthews was nothing short of nuclear - combined, Matthews and Aldridge shot 14-24 (58%) from the floor for 33 points. Wes had 11 straight points to close the second quarter, and a Luke Babbitt 3 ballooned the Blazers lead to 15. While Matthews and Aldridge were busy torching Gallinari and a clearly not-in-game-shape Wilson Chandler on the wings, Victor Claver, Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith, Nicolas Batum, Coby Karl and even (ugh) Adam Morrison took turns dropping bombs from beyond the arc.
At one point, the lead grew to 20 in the third quarter with the Nuggets taking turns handing the ball to the Blazers and alternately bricking open threes. Blazers win, 97-80.
Perimeter Defense Still Needs Work: In 2012, the Nuggets allowed a league-worst 38% from the 3 point line. In this game, the Nuggets allowed the Blazers to shoot a combined 13-31 (42%) from deep. Not good.
Gallo-blocked: Danilo Gallinari shot a putrid 1-8 from the floor, and missed all four of his three point attempts. He contributed just 4 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 21 minutes of ineffective play.
Climbing K2: Kosta Koufos continues to impress and is making a strong case that he should be the starting center this year, putting up 8 points and 6 rebounds in just 17 minutes. He also played solid defense and boxed out effectively.
"JaValevator" Stuck?: Conversely, JaVale McGee looked like he forgot how to play basketball in the offseason. I'm reminded of an old Married With Children episode where Al Bundy (Hakeem Olajuwon), in hopes of teaching his daughter Kelly (McGee) enough to win a competition, ends up filling her head with so much extraneous knowledge (a bunch of postmoves) that she forgets commonly known things (like not traveling).
I really hope that isn't what happened with JaVale.
Manimal Beasts: Faried put up 17 points to go along with 11 rebounds (both team highs) and notched another double-double. As always, he played with energy and showed off a nice array of post moves. Great to see Manimal still improving.
The Nuggets have a few more tilts in the preseason: at the Oklahoma City Thunder, home versus the Los Angeles Clippers, and closing it out against the Phoenix Suns in the desert. Between now and then, they'll need to solidify their decision on the starting center, address the perimeter defense (and shooting) woes, and figure out a stable rotation that does not include Anthony Carter seeing significant minutes. Please, Karl. My ulcer.