The last time the Denver Nuggets faced the Portland Trail Blazers it was a winner-take-all affair with a date in the Western Conference Finals on the line. Tonight, the two teams meet again but with stakes that are much, much lower.

Since that fateful Game 7 in May, the Trail Blazers went on to get swept in the Conference Finals before re-signing Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to large contract extensions and completely shuffling around the rest of the lineup in free agency. New faces include Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Pau Gasol, Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets are all-in on the continuity built around Nikola Jokic and the team that took them to the second round for just the second time this century. Though Jokic won’t be playing in tonight’s preseason opener, both Michael Porter Jr. (!!!!) and Jerami Grant will make their respective debuts in a Nuggets uniform and look to contribute positively to the cause.

Tonight is the first step in the next phase of what has all the makings of an incredible season in Denver Nuggets history. That the Nuggets first play the team that eliminated them just months ago can’t be lost. It may just be preseason but that doesn’t mean a win tonight won’t be meaningful.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers

When: 8:30 PM MST

Where: Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum — Portland, OR

How to watch/listen: ESPN

Rival Blog: Blazer’s Edge

Three Things to Watch

Michael Porter Jr.’s Debut

Let’s be honest, Michael Porter Jr. is the biggest draw to this game. Aside from some YouTube highlights and a couple of college games from well over a year ago we don’t really know what MPJ can bring to the table. All accounts from training camp and practice are largely positive. MPJ himself said he expects “to go in there and kill it” and from the way his teammates and others within the organization have been talking, the kid is going to be special.

Will he get a ton of minutes? Probably not, but just being able to finally watch him play will be a treat unto itself.

Small Forward Rotation

Per Michael Malone yesterday, the competition for the starting small forward position remains open as no one has yet emerged as a leading candidate. Regardless, someone will have to start tonight, and whoever it is could give insight into where Malone’s head is at (it could also mean absolutely nothing). My money is on Torrey Craig, though it seems that everyone got at least some run with the starters during training camp. And with Nikola Jokic out and three other viable options (Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez and MPJ) still needing playing time it will be interesting to see how this rotation is handled and who, if anyone, will be the odd man out.

The Others

There so many other good storylines to follow: Jerami Grant is making his debut in what will be a vast improvement at backup power forward compared to the inconsistency Trey Lyles brought a year ago. A much-richer Jamal Murray will be seeking to prove his financial worth and that his incredible postseason play last year was not a fluke. Gary Harris is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2018 season and get back on the linear upward trajectory he’s been on since his rookie year. Malik Beasley is the most athletic guy on the team but he also might have the most to prove on the fringes. Take your pick of which Nugget to focus on and just enjoy it – Nuggets basketball is back!

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