Bench, Nurkić Play Big In Preseason Win Versus Suns

by Casey Holdahl
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PHOENIX -- The Portland Trail Blazers got to .500 for the preseason and finished off their 2018 exhibition road schedule with a 115-93 victory versus the Phoenix Suns in front of a crowd of 11,811 Friday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“I thought our defense was better," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "The first three quarters I thought it was pretty solid. The fourth quarter was a little ragged but offensively we did a good job or moving the ball, we got out on transition. We executed our half court sets pretty well, our time out sets. I was pleased with how we played."

The Trail Blazers are now 1-1 in preseason play.

With Maurice Harkless still sidelined with a sore knee, the Trail Blazers once again started Jake Layman alongside Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkić. Once Harkless returns -- he said last week he hopes to play in at least two preseason games before the regular season opener -- the starting five is all but locked in.

While there's no mystery regarding who Portland's starters will be once the regular season starts, the composition of the second unit is still to be determined. However, Friday's game gave some insight into how Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts might dole out bench minutes, with Evan Turner, Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas and Zach Collins all playing extended minutes together. That unit did their most damage during a third quarter that saw the Trail Blazers outscore the Suns by 20 while holding the home team to 27 percent shooting.

"The first three quarters we didn't lose a step when the second until was out there," said Stotts. "When the second unit was out there first half, third quarter, they kept a nice rhythm, built on the lead. I thought Evan, Nik and Seth together all did a nice job, I thought they complimented each other well, Evan did a nice job directing the offense. But I was probably most pleased with the defense. (Phoenix) have a lot of movement -- the splits, off ball screens -- and we did a nice job communicating all the action that we had to navigate."

Along with the play of the bench, Nurkić's performance in the third helped Portland pull away in the second half. Going up against Suns center and 2018 first overall pick DeAndre Ayton, the 7-0 Bosnian scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds, handed out two assists and blocked three shots on the way to playing the entire third quarter.

"(Nurkić) had a really, really good third quarter," said Stotts. "Defensively he blocked shots, affected shots, he ran the court, had some opportunities around the basket. We extended his minutes -- he played the whole third quarter. I thought his third quarter was really key to that quarter.

Nurkić would ultimately go 4-of-12 from the field for a game-high 16 points nine rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 20 minutes.

Layman, who got the start and played the first five minutes before sitting until midway through the fourth quarter, made the most of his opportunity late in the game. The third-year forward out of Maryland went a perfect 4-of-4 from the field for 13 points in just under 11 minutes, with 11 of those points coming in the last five minutes of the game, which helped stave off a late Phoenix rally.

Turner went 5-of-8 from the field for 10 points to go with five rebounds in 16 minutes. Curry went 4-of-6 from the field for 12 points in 17 minutes, and  Collins added 10 points and four rebounds in 23 minutes.

McCollum went 4-of-9 from the field for nine points to go with seven rebounds and five assists in 21 minutes. Damian Lillard went scoreless in the first half before finishing with eight points, five assists and two rebounds, also in 21 minutes.

Five Suns players finished in double figures led by Ayton, who put up a double-double of 19 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes.

Next up, the Trail Blazers head back to Portland to host the Utah Jazz Sunday night in their first preseason game of 2018 at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.