Trail Blazers Answer Preseason Questions In Loss To Suns

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- There wasn’t much to be learned from the result of Tuesday night’s preseason contest between the Trail Blazers and Suns at the Moda Center, which Phoenix won 114-112 in front of a crowd of 15,057, unless you were curious about which team’s third-string players were better shooters.

While the final score didn’t reveal much about either team, there were takeaways to be had. There was Ed Davis, who started at power forward and was the rugged interior presence fans had come to revere before a shoulder injury ruined his 2016-17 season.

“He’s got a bounce, he’s finishing around the basket, he’s getting offensive rebounds,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Davis’ play. “He made a lot of good help side reads, particularly in the first half defensively. As I said after the first day or two of practice, he’s back to doing the things we know Ed can do.”

Rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, playing in the first real game, albeit preseason, of their careers at the Moda Center, looked as though they would be able to contribute this season in one way or another. In Swanigan’s case, he showed an ability to hit the NBA three — he went 2-of-2 from beyond the arc — while holding his own in the paint on the way to finishing with 18 points and six rebounds in just under 17 minutes.

“Shooting is shooting, you’ve just got to know when to take a shot, when not to take a shot,” said Swanigan. “Basketball-wise, you get your first open shot, if you’re a good shooter, you shoot it. That helps your team. If you pass up a good shot as a good shooter, you may not get something better that possession.”

As for Collins, the 19 year-old out of Gonzaga looked capable and aggressive on the defensive end, which resulted in picking up five fouls in 22 minutes, though he also finished with five points, seven rebounds and an assist.

“I felt pretty comfortable,” said Collins. “Obviously this game is just growth, felt a lot more comfortable than I did in summer league. Frustrated with the fouls, but just got to learn what you can and can’t do in the league. But I was just being aggressive, trying to play defense, be on the help side, go up for everything and that’s just what I do. Again, just got to learn what I can and can’t do, but I felt pretty good.”

But most importantly, Tuesday night’s contest showed that both Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkić are well on their way to being ready for the start of the regular season in two weeks.

Lillard, whose offensive prowess is well known to the Moda Center fans going into his sixth season with the Trail Blazers, looked as though everything came easy. The 6-3 guard out of Weber State finished with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting, four assists and two steals in just under 21 minutes.

Then there was Nurkić, playing his first game since a non-displaced fracture in his right leg ended his first stint with the Blazers after 20 games. After cutting roughly 35 pounds in the offseason, the “Bosnian Beast” looked noticeably quicker while still having more than enough girth to impose his will in the post. The 7-0 center out of Bosnian and Herzegovina would finish the night with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting, three rebounds, an assist and a block in 16 minutes.

“It was good, first preseason game get done,” said Nurkić. “It’s always nice to see our fans. Can’t wait for another one… Can’t wait to hoop and be out there with the guys.”

Nurkić won’t have to wait long, with Portland having just one day of practice before hosting the Toronto Raptors Thursday night at the Moda Center.

“I thought we played well. We didn’t win the final score but I felt we won the battle, what really counted,” said Davis. “Toronto is going to be a good test on (Thursday). Watch some film tomorrow, get ready for Toronto, just get better and take it day by day.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.