The Denver Nuggets came to Portland for preseason game six, where they faced their familiar division rival the Trail Blazers. They would be without the services of several players, including three starters: Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle), Gary Harris (groin) and Danilo Gallinari (rest). The Blazers took advantage of Denver’s biggest weakness, three point defense, but the Nuggets got big performances from Wilson Chandler, Jusuf Nurkic and Will Barton. Despite the Blazers going off from three, the Nuggets controlled the game after the second quarter and wound up with the victory 106-97.
The Nuggets opened with Jameer Nelson, Chandler and Barton in the starting lineup next to regulars Nurkic and Nikola Jokic. The game started slowly, with each team recording less than five points in nearly the first three minutes of action. Denver’s inability to cover the three point line was quickly exposed after that and the Blazers built an early lead behind "3 point specialist" Al-Farouq Aminu. Some good shooting from Chandler and aggressiveness from Nurkic kept Denver from getting blown out and they trailed by only eight after the first quarter.
Faried, Juancho Hernangomez and Jamal Murray opened the quarter off the bench with Jokic and Barton. That unit was able to make some headway on the lead, especially Murray and Faried who continued their good play together, this time connecting for an impressive alley oop jam. Unfortunately the interior defense started looking like the perimeter defense and the Blazers were scoring at will from anywhere on the court. However once the starters returned the D tightened up and the Nuggets uncorked an 16-0 run to grab the lead. It mercifully ended with a Blazers three (of course) and C.J. McCollum was able to keep pace with the Nuggets scoring at the end of the half to limit Denver’s lead to seven
McCollum and Barton opened the second half trading baskets but the Blazers quickly got onto a 13-0 run to get the lead back for Portland. Jokic in particular was struggling to defend the quicker more athletic fours of the Blazers like Ed Davis. Luckily Davis and Mason Plumlee got into foul trouble early and Chandler carried over his hot shooting from the first half to keep the Nuggets in front. Faried checked back in towards the end of the third quarter and was active on the boards and offense as well but McCollum wouldn’t let the Nuggets run away with the game. Barton closed out the quarter with a step-back two and Denver headed into the final frame with an eight point lead.
The Blazers started going full preseason with their lineup early in the fourth quarter, while Denver was still using a full gamut of regular rotation players. The one Blazers starter on the floor was Plumlee who was attacking Hernangomez and finding success on offense. Juancho made up for it on Denver’s offensive side though, sinking several shots. Faried also kept up his good play and coach Malone let him stay out there while the reserves started checking in. As the quarter winded down it became apparent that end of bench guys were playing, there were enough bricks to build a firehouse. The Blazers bench guys started mounting a comeback inside five minutes to go but Denver had built a big enough lead that time won out and the Nuggets are leaving Portland with a victory.
Key thing I noticed: Murray and Hernangomez are going to get minutes
Coach Michael Malone is pretty much going with his regular season rotation at this point (despite Gallo getting rested) and the first guy off the bench tonight was Hernangomez. Much like he did in Summer League, the Wild Stallion has forced coach’s hand by playing so well in the preseason and now looks like a regular cog in the rotation. He is still raw, but the hustle and talent are there and that’s good enough to get him meaningful minutes. Murray meanwhile looks like he’s living up to the billing as a sharpshooting dynamic scorer that got him drafted 7th overall. He reached double figures before half time tonight and looks like he’s going to be pushing Barton and Gary Harris for minutes all season long.
Best matchup: C.J. McCollum vs Will Barton
The key matchup from the preview ended up being the best matchup of the night. Terry Stotts decided to give Damian Lillard the second half off so McCollum was leaned on to carry the scoring load, something the high scoring two guard relishes. Barton was up to the task himself though and had a rare high efficiency scoring night. One has to wonder what the Blazers would look like on the offense if they had kept Will the Thrill. Lillard, McCollum and Barton all are best with the ball in their hands so it might not have worked but man, talk about scoring punch.
Closing thought: For the first time, Jurkic looked bad
Nurkic provided very Nurkic like minutes, mixing in a surprising mid range game and dominant presence on the baords with some awkward and rushed post play that resulted in misses close to the basket, he was nonetheless effective though. Jokic’s play tonight was concerning. He had to take on Aminu who is every bit a wing style four and not a post player at all and he burned Jokic time and again. Coahc Malone had to pull Jokic off the floor more than once to stop the bleeding from the three point line. Make no mistake, the Nuggets are going with Jurkic as their starting frontcourt, but too many games like this and that combo won’t last long
Boxscore Via ESPN.com