Sometimes the games are simple and fun. The Denver Nuggets scored a 19-point lead in the first half and scored a 126-95 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in the second preseason game of the year. Nikola Jokic had a quiet, almost triple-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists, while Jamal Murray took Denver’s first 8 points on his way to 16 points and 5 assists. Paul Millsap paced up and down early and finished the race with 18 points while Dozier had 15 off the bench, but it was an even attack – no nugget had more than 10 shot attempts. Damian Lillard had 14 points for Portland and Robert Covington had 15, but the firepower just wasn’t there for the Trail Blazers, which ended up with 19 assists to Denver’s 39.
Jusuf Nurkic started the classification with a short change over to Michael Porter Jr. , and Jamal Murray responded on the other end with a cut to a Paul Millsap feed and a nice ride to get Denver up early. Denver fought early on the glass, swallowed defensive boards and got a Jokic tap-out on the offensive end for a Murray threesome that led 8-2, with Murray scoring all 8. Jokic tossed this lovely feed off the three-dot line for an inner bucket, but Portland came back with some inner dots.
Jokic had two early fouls in the first 4 minutes. A few sales from Gary Harris didn’t help Denver suddenly stagnate, but Jokic stayed in and got the hockey assistant on the Murray-to-Millsap layup for a 12-6 lead. And then Porter waved three. MPJ’s heat check rattled on next possession 6 feet behind the line, but a Jokic rebound in defense resulted in a grazing Murray taking free throws and Jokic somehow needed cotton for a bloody nose. Portland went 1: 9 before a Lillard steal-and-three at 16: 11. The Denver crime consistently resulted in simple paint buckets with successive layups by Millsap and Gary Harris. Portland closed behind Damian Lillard within 4 minutes, but Millsap free throws and two consecutive threes from Millsap and Monte Morris made it 28-16 in Denver.
Barton’s first play basket since March had a beautiful inside finish, and a wonderful give and go from Isaiah Hartenstein to Morris resulted in yet another easy layup. In the dwindling seconds of the quarter, a Hartenstein enforced turnover caused Barton to throw an oop off the glass of PJ Dozier, and then Barton completed a 7-bucket run for Denver with a runner on the buzzer for a 41-24 lead behind Denver 1.
Dozier opened the second quarter with a bounce pass for a dunk at Hartenstein. Melo hit a three and Denver had a coupele of stagnant possessions, but a nice fastbreak parade resulted in a Barton flush. Some sloppy fouls and out of sync moments for both teams kept the second quarter down in the first 4 minutes, with Denver still leading 45-30 after a CJ McCollum 3. Barton responded with a 3 of his own, and Denver held that lead at 15 until Murray came back into the game. Millsap scored more free throws after being fouled on the edge, and MPJ had the same thing as Portland’s central defense strategy, which shifted from “none” to “hard” in the second quarter in the first quarter. The Denver offensive struggled a little as Portland picked up the effort, but Jokic hit a pair of free throws to make it 58-42. MPJ then got a pad and Jokic went to Harris to get a nice bucket.
MPJ was still struggling with his shot and hesitating with a paint shot that was supposed to be easy, but a great hubbub from Harris resulted in Millsap getting a no-look pass from Millsap for MP. Lillard continued to lead the fight for Portland and Denver had some unlucky turnovers and bad rebounds for the Trail Blazers to cut the lead to 14, but Murray had free throws and an elaborate out-of-bound game for a curl three from Murray to MPJ gave Denver the 69-50 lead at break.
Robert Covington opened Portland in the third quarter with a 3 for 13 points in the game, and Millsap answered behind the arch. Murray hit a handsome runner after a Jokic handover, but both teams struggled with attacks for the first four minutes. Harris lost another ball on the baseline and Nurkic finished a 3-point game to get the difference back to 19 at 77-58 Denver. Murray tossed the ball away after a Denver break, resulting in a dunk in Portland, but Harris got a three-point shot to drop. Murray tossed another ball, got a block, but Portland still scored. Jokic missed an alley to Porter, but then Jokic buried a corner three to regain the lead over 20. Jokic to Murray fell for another 3, but then Denver had a few mistakes and turnovers while maintaining that huge lead. It was 86-64 despite 8 third-quarter rounds for the Nuggets, but PJ Dozier was a three to answer Carmelo Anthony’s two, and despite Melo’s free throws at the end of the quarter, Denver finished the frame 90-70 despite only 41 combined points both teams.
The teams swapped technicians to open the fourth as both Carmelo Anthony and JaMychal Green had something to say. McCollum hit a 3 and was fouled by Dozier, but Dozier responded with his own 3 on the other end. Green blocked a three as his tough preseason continued, but otherwise the nuggets kept rolling and the lead was never in danger.
Facundo Campazzo and Zeke Nnaji arrived in less than 9 minutes as Denver was working to get more from their bank. Hartenstein hit some nice runners and Nnaji got some fouls, and then the three-pointer from Hartenstein to Nnaji was pretty nice. Dozier took another three from a Campazzo pass that was 108-86 in Denver with six minutes remaining, and that resulted in Bol Bol and Vlatko Cancar arriving with the assured lead. Bol immediately got a basket and went to Cancar for three, and the nuggets had all been involved in the action. Bol looked a little out of place at times but still buried a three and Cancar got a transition to bring Denver to 25. Nnaji moved his feet well in defense and fought hard for ricochets as Bol continued firing. Bol drove on the road again after making a 2 earlier, trying to make up for what he missed in the first two playoff games in minutes. That competition was about roses for Denver when they lost 126-95.
Gary Harris is still a little bit crazy. If he runs to the tire, he’s fine. In transition or on a back cut, he and Jokic still have this chemistry. But when Harris has to spot it and shoot or handle it in traffic, things still look a bit shaky. He was 2 of 5 with 3 turnovers in the first half, after similar first-half battles against the Golden State Warriors in the preseason opener. Starting the second half with another failure and another turnover didn’t help. This seems like the right role for Gary on this team – he’s still very positive on the line-up (18 tonight!) As a defender on the ball who can leak for easy transition buckets and look for loose balls – but he still has to take care of the ball and open shots. Still, it’s just the preseason. His engine certainly has no problems.
Barton’s fire ignited the bank in the first half. Will the Thrill impressed with 9 points in the first half, including a three and a buzzer beater. He was excited to be back and that excitement carried over to the bank, most of which were double-digit plus / minus totals at halftime. Hartenstein, in particular, looked shabby and willing, while Morris was a good match for Barton. In the Warriors game, the bank needed Facundo Campazzo’s fire after a lackluster first stint, and in this game Barton brought it to the field from his first step. With these two looking to team up to lead the banking unit in the future, there should be no lack of energy or clout on this team.
The nuggets generated 20 three-pointers in this first half. Against the warriors they generated 11 to 24 minutes.
46 tried threes, made 19 threes. Denver only made 7 of 18 shots in the third quarter, but 6 of the brands were three. Denver dominated the glass 55 to 33 and had 39 templates on 45 buckets. Denver played just like a fast-paced team with plenty of playmakers and gunshot makers to play – especially how the nuggets can clear the boards. Yes, it’s only preseason but it was still great to see.
Portland Trail Blazer, Denver Nuggets, NBA, Terry Stotts, Nikola Jokić
World news – USA – Review: Nuggets roll Trail Blazers 126-95 against each other in their first preseason
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