The Denver Nuggets preseason is over almost as quickly as it began. They closed it out tonight with their second straight rout of the Portland Trail Blazers. Once again the Nuggets jumped on Portland early in the game and quickly built an insurmountable lead. Paul Millsap put up twenty-four points in the half and the majority of the starters didn’t play the second with the game never in doubt. The Nuggets go 2-1 in the shortened preseason after a 129-96 win against their division rival.
Malone elected to go with Will Barton in the starting lineup over Michael Porter Jr and Denver got off to a strong start. Portland responded with a mini-run of their own to keep the game close. Barton was extremely aggressive and Paul Millsap looked strong once again but Robert Covington buried some threes to keep the Blazers in it. The Nuggets dialed up their defense as the quarter passed the midway point and their lead ballooned to double digits behind an 8-0 Denver run. Bol Bol made an early appearance, checking in just under the four minute mark. The Nuggets bench unit was strong down the stretch while Portland was once again falling apart in the first quarter. By the end of one Denver led 41-23.
Denver opened the second with back to back corner threes from Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo to force Terry Stotts into an early timeout. The Nuggets super long lineup of MPJ, Bol and Isaiah Hartenstein gave Portland all kinds of fits as the quarter progressed, before you knew it the lead was up to thirty. Denver got a little in love with the contested three and Gary Trent Jr knocked in a couple jumpers to cause Malone to take a timeout and settle things down. Paul Millsap was crushing the Blazers, his consistency got Denver’s offense back on track even though the Blazers were having more success on offense themselves. The highlight of the quarter happened towards the end when Jokic threw down a one handed tomahawk slam. Denver got a little sloppy in the back end of the half but Millsap was there to right the ship once again. Harris buried a buzzer beater three to close it out and the Nuggets went into half time up 79-48.
Denver started the second half with a lot of guys resting. Jokic, Jamal Murray, Millsap and Harris all sat to start the third. The quarter also saw a scary moment where Derrick Jones Jr. fell awkwardly on his lower back after a big alley-oop slam and had to leave the game. That sort of deflated the energy of the game, the pace slowed and some ugly ball ensued. Halfway through the quarter the Nuggets still led by twenty-nine with their long bench starting to check in as R.J. Hampton made an appearance. Porter knocked down some shots for the Nuggets but the Blazers were chipping away at the lead with the quarter coming to an end. C.J. McCollum was a real thorn in Denver’s side with Carmelo Anthony and Trent doing their part as well. P.J. Dozier put together a couple nice plays, including an alley-oop to Bol and then frustrated Melo to the point that he was ejected. Despite a Portland run, the Nuggets still led by twenty-two after three.
The Nuggets deep bench was out to start the fourth and the game was predictably sloppy. Their defense was stout though with Bol, Dozier, Zeke Nnaji and Vlatko Cancar locking things down. Dozier eventually got some chemistry going with the group, knocking down a three and then setting up Hampton for another. Nnaji also put together his third straight nice game in limited minutes. Though there seemed to be a record amount of travel calls in the quarter, the Nuggets depth certainly looked strong and pushed the lead back above thirty. Markus Howard checked in with three minutes to go but there wasn’t much else to write about as the game closed out. Denver wins it going away 129-96.
Best matchup: Nuggets depth vs Blazers rotation
While Denver elected to rest their starters, the Blazers did not outside of Damian Lillard who did not play at all. Terry Stotts stuck with a lot of rotation guys all the way down the stretch whereas Michael Malone had guys 11-15 in pretty much from the fourth quarter on. Even though the Nuggets played their long reserves much earlier, they were able to maintain their big lead. There’s a lot of intrigue in guys like Bol, Hampton, Campazzo and Nnaji for a reason. They all have some very nice aspects of their game and they put those on highlight in this one. There’s no doubt about it, the Nuggets are completely reloaded in the depth department.
Main thing I noticed: the Bol/MPJ combo can be lethal
Probably my favorite part of this game was the first bench shift that featured Bol and Porter at the two forward spots. That length and athleticism is something the Blazers, and most teams in general, have no answer for. Defensively it was clunky at times but those guys put so much pressure on an opposing defense with their versatility and ridiculous skill sets. Bol may not be the recipient of minutes early on in the season, however we saw tonight that if there’s an injury to a big man he’s probably Malone’s first choice off the bench. Don’t be surprised if once he gets his opportunity he forces coach’s hand into keeping him into the rotation. Throw in another solid night from Isaiah Hartenstein as well. Those three guys were way too much speed and wingspan to be contained.
Closing thought: on to the real thing
The preseason went about as well as Nuggets fans could have hoped. No one suffered any sort of notable injuries, Jokic looks like he’s already in midseason form, Barton got back on the court and the Blazers got beat by a combined sixty-four points over two games. Perfect. Now Denver will have a couple days to rest before getting ready for the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. This team is very talented and ridiculously deep. I have a feeling this is going to be a very memorable year for Nuggets fans.