Sometimes the games are easy and fun. The Denver Nuggets scored a 19-point lead in the first half and set off to a 126-95 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in this year’s second pre-season match. Nikola Gokic had a semi-double quintile with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists, while Jamal Murray scored Denver’s first 8 points on his way to 16 points and 5 assists. Paul Millsap pushed them early and finished on 18 points while Dozer got 15 off the bench, but it was a balanced attack everywhere – Nugget had no more than 10 shot attempts. Damian Lillard had 14 points for Portland, Robert Covington had 15, but the firepower was not in the Trail Blazers who finished 19 assists in exchange for 39 assists for Denver.
Yusef Norkitch started the scoring with a quick flip on Michael Porter Jr., inside Jamal Murray answered the other end with a cut with Paul Millsap’s feed and a cool drive to put Denver early on. Denver fought on the glass early, swallowed defensive panels and got Jockic at the attacking end of the Three Murray to lead 8-2 with Murray and scored all 8. Jukic threw this lovely feed from the three-point line into a bucket, but Portland came back with some scoring inside.
But Jukic got two early mistakes in the first 4 minutes. Two of Gary Harris’ turnovers didn’t help in the suddenly sluggish Denver attack, but Jukic stayed on the field and got hockey aids in Murray’s throw to Millsap to lead 12-6. Then Porter tripled. MPJ’s heat checks on the next possession from 6 feet behind the rattling line, but Jockic’s bounce on defense resulted in Murray getting free throws and Jockic somehow needing some cotton for a bloodstained nose. Portland went 1-to-9 before Lillard and three robbed to come close to 16-11. The Denver pass continued to lead to easy paint buckets, with back-to-back passes from Millsap and Gary Harris. Portland closed at 4-0 behind Damian Lillard, but Millsap’s free throws and three consecutive three-pointers from Millsap and Monty Morris made it 28-16 Denver.
Parton’s first playing bucket since March was a great indoor finish, and an impressive showing from Isaiah Hartenstein to Morris resulted in another easy pass. In the final seconds of the quarter, a spin forced Hartenstein resulted in Barton throwing a glass at PJ Dozier and then Barton completing a 7-bucket run for Denver with a runner at the bell to advance Denver 41-24 after 1.
Dozer opened the second quarter with a rebound pass to Hartenstein for a dip. Milo tripled and Denver had a bunch of stagnant possessions but a quick swift fender led to Barton flowing. A few dirty mistakes and asynchronous moments for both teams kept the second quarter low in the first four minutes, with Denver continuing to lead 45-30 after CJ McCollum 3. Parton responded by a 3-angle on his own, and Denver kept that lead at 15 until Murray returned to the match. Millsap hit more free throws after being fouled at the edge, and MPJ had the same thing as Portland’s indoor defense strategy that went from “nothing” in the first quarter to a “severe foul” in the second. The Denver attack struggled a little as Portland made a big effort, but Jokic fired two free throws to score the 58-42 goal. MPJ then got a block and passed Jokic to Harris for a nice bucket.
MPJ still struggled with his shot, hesitating about a paint shot that should have been easy, but big play by Harris resulted in Millsap’s unseen pass to MPJ in exchange for an immersion. Lillard continued to lead the fight for Portland, and Denver had some unfortunate turns and bad rebounds to allow the Trail Blazers to cut the lead to 14, but Murray’s free throws and off-limits play for three curls from Murray to MPJ gave Denver a 69-50 lead in the first half.
Robert Covington opened Portland’s scoring in the third quarter with 3 points to 13 points per match, and Millsap responded from behind the arc. Murray struck a fine runner after Jokic’s handover, but both teams struggled with the attack in the first four minutes. Harris lost another ball that climbed to the baseline, and Norwich finished with three points to return the lead to 19 at 77-58 Denver. Murray threw the ball away after a Denver timeout, flooding Portland, but Harris had three points for a drop. Murray threw another ball away, grabbed a block but Portland still scored. Juki missed Porter through an alley, but then Juki buried a third corner kick to regain the lead over 20. Jockic dropped to Murray for another three times, but then Denver experienced some mistakes and turns while maintaining that big advance. The score was 86-64 despite 8 turns in the third quarter for the Nuggets, but PJ Dozer has three points to answer two Carmelo Anthony and despite Milo’s free throws to finish the quarter, Denver finished the frame up 90-70 despite only 41 points. From both teams. .
The teams swapped technology to open fourth place, with Carmelo Anthony and Jamaican Green each having something to say. McCollum was struck by a 3 and fouled by Dozer, but Dozer hit back with a 3 on the other end. Green was banned from the three while continuing hard, but otherwise the Nuggets kept rolling and the lead was never in danger.
Facundo Campazzo and Zeke Nnaji entered less than 9 minutes into the finish as Denver worked to get more off the bench in some action. Hartenstein hit two cute runners, Nnaji got some killer shots, then the three Hartenstein-to-Nnaji pointer was pretty pretty. Dozier knocked out three more from Campazzo’s unseen pass to lead Denver 108-86 6 minutes before the end of the match and this resulted in Paul Paul and Flattco Kankar entering with securing the lead. Bol immediately grabbed a basket and passed to Kankar for three, and the Nuggets took part in the event. Paul looked a little weird at times but he was still buried with three players and Kankar got a transfer dungeon to put Denver ahead 25. Nagy moved his feet well into the defense and fought hard for rebounds while Paul kept shooting. Paul led the lane again after hitting 2 previously, looking to make up for what he had lost in minutes in the first two playoffs, and everything came roses for Denver in this competition as they won away 126-95.
Gary Harris is still a little out of reach. When he’s running for the hoop, he’s okay. In transition or in the back, he and Jukic still have that chemistry. But when Harris has to spot and shoot or handle traffic, he can still look a little wobbly. It was 2 of 5 with 3 turns in the first half, after a similar struggle in the first half against Golden State Warriors In the season opener. The second half started with another waste and another spin did not help. It looks like it’s the right role for Gary with this team – he’s still hugely positive in the squad (+18 tonight!) As a defender of the ball who can drop out for easy transition buckets and seek out loose balls – but he still has to take care of the ball and hitting shots. Open. However, it’s just the pre-season. To be sure, his engine had no problems.
Barton ignited the bench fires in the first half. Will the Thrill came to impress, with 9 first half points off the bench including three points and a buzzer. He was excited to be back, and that excitement has carried over to the bench, as most of them had two plus / minus totals in the first half. Hartenstein in particular looked capricious and willing, while Morris was a perfect fit alongside Barton. In the Warriors, the bench needed a Facundo Campazzo fire after a faint first spell, and in this match Barton brought it from his first step onto the field. With these two looking to collaborate to lead the bench unit going forward, there should be no shortage of energy or scoring punch from this team.
Denver was holding the panels and shooting.
The Nuggets scored 20 three-pointers in that first half.
Against the Warriors, they got 11 to 24 minutes.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) December 17, 2020
46 triples were attempted, and 19 triples were performed. Denver made only 7 of 18 shots in the third quarter, but 6 of them were three times. Denver dominated the 55th to 33rd glass, providing 39 passes in 45 buckets. Denver played just like a fast team with loads of playmakers and shot makers – especially the way Nuggets can evacuate the boards. Yes, it’s only pre-season but still great to watch.
We look forward to more of this!