Portland came into training camp determined to make significant improvements on defense after ranking as one of the worst teams at that end last season. After a little over a week of practices and preseason games, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
The Trail Blazers allowed 41 points on 70 percent shooting in the first quarter on the way to losing 126-95 to the Nuggets in their third preseason game of 2020 Wednesday night at Ball Arena in Denver.
“Defensively, first quarter, we got off to a poor start,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We looked a little disorganized, it was very disappointing. I do think Denver took advantage with some good passing and some good shot-making, but very disappointed with our defense this game.”
The Trail Blazers are now 1-2 in preseason play with one game remaining.
After adding the likes of Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. and making changes to their system, the goal going into the 2020-21 season wasn’t to necessarily become a lockdown defense, but at least one that could hold opponents in check at least enough to take advantage of their elite offense.
But the Trail Blazers failed to even slow, let alone stop, a talented Nuggets offense in the first quarter, with the home team shooting 16-of-23 from the field. The Nuggets had 14 assists, a 13-6 advantage on the boards, shot 56 percent from three and scored 22 points in the paint in the first quarter, a combination that resulted in 42-34 deficit going into the second quarter.
“Sacramento shot a lot of threes, Denver shot a lot of three, so that is a concern,” said Stotts. “But one of the things we’ve really wanted to emphasize, probably a bigger concern, was in the first half, they were 14-for-15 at the rim. We can’t give up threes and give up the rim.”
To make matters worse, Portland struggled to get into an offensive rhythm, shooting 33 percent from the field and a paltry 1-of-9 from three in the first quarter, and would only improve to 27 percent before the final buzzer.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight, we didn’t necessarily have a good offensive game, but I think we’ve shown over the years that we’re going to be a good offensive team,” said Stotts. “So the concern is defense and doing some things differently in a short amount of time is challenging.”
While the Trail Blazers made improvements over the next 24 minutes -- they were only outscored by two points in the second quarter and by one in the third -- with both teams sitting their starters in the fourth, Denver’s bench outscored Portland’s by 11 to secure the 31-point victory.
“We didn’t play well at either end and it’s disappointing,” said Stotts. “We’ve got a regular season game in a week, so I think we understand there’s some things we’ve got to get better at.”
Covington led the Blazers with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting to go with three rebounds and a steal in 26 minutes. Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter all added 14 points, though none did so on better than 35 percent shooting.
Six Nuggets finished in double figures led by 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from Paul Millsap. Nikola Jokic came within shouting distance of a triple-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in just 25 minutes.
The Trail Blazers will stick around in Denver to face the Nuggets in their last preseason game before their regular-season opener. Tipoff is scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m.