Portland's Potential On Display In Preseason Victory Versus Kings

The Trail Blazers hadn’t played at the Moda Center in over nine months before hosting the Kings in their first game of a four-game exhibition schedule. And while it’s hard to extrapolate too much from a preseason game that was preceded by just three days of practice, one thing is for sure: despite the long layoff, the Trail Blazers have not forgotten how to shoot.

In an almost entirely empty arena, the Trail Blazers shot 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in a 127-102 victory versus the Sacramento Kings Friday night at the Moda Center.

“I really thought we made good progress after just three days in what we’re trying to do defensively,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Offensively, we moved the ball, I liked the shots we got. I thought we had good individual performances... It was a good first night.”

Portland is now 1-0 in preseason play.

The Trail Blazers go off to a fast start offensively Friday night thanks in part to Carmelo Anthony coming off the bench to score 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first quarter. Much has been made about Anthony’s “new” role in his second season in Portland -- after starting every game he played in last season, he’s expected to come off the bench this season -- but he looked like “vintage Melo” even as a reserve.

“I don’t know what that role is supposed to be,” said Anthony of coming off the bench. “But I accept it. It is what it is, it’s basketball at the end of the day.”

While Anthony’s performance might have been reminiscent of what we’ve seen before over the course of his 17-year career, fans watching at home got their first glimpse of what Derrick Jones Jr. and Harry Giles, both signed as free agents this offseason, might look like in their first seasons as Trail Blazers.

Jones Jr, who started at small forward while fellow newcomer Robert Covington started at power forward, went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field for 15 points to go with five rebounds and an assist. He also made both of his three-point attempts, a good first sign for a player who has shot just 28 percent from deep through his first four NBA seasons.

“You know how we are here, we try to encourage guys to improve their shooting,” said Stotts. “But honestly, I think (Jones Jr.) has a good stroke. I like his mechanics, I think the ball comes off his hands well. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has a career year shooting the ball here.”

After one preseason game, one gets the sense that Giles might be in line for the best season of his career as well. With both Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins sitting out, Giles received plenty of minutes going up against his former team, and certainly made the most of them.

The 6-11 forward in his third season out of Duke looked every bit like the player who was ranked as one of the best in his high school class, going 8-of-13 from the field for 18 points to go with 14 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist in 25 minutes. He capped his performance with a breakaway windmill dunk in the fourth quarter quick surely would have brought the Moda Center to hysterics had fans been in attendance.

“The offense looked great,” said Giles. “We haven’t been running too much stuff because it’s three days in. Just trying to get some flow, play basketball. This team’s good, there’s a lot of good guys on this team, so everybody knows how to play basketball and just have fun with each other. Even from the first day of practice I realized this ball is moving.”

Efficient, high-power offense has been a hallmark of the Trail Blazers under Terry Stotts, though their main goal going into training camp was to improve their defense, which ranked as one of the worst in the NBA last season. And on that front, they managed to hold the Kings to 37 percent shooting from the field and 32 percent shooting from three while also forcing 17 turnovers.

“I thought after a tough start defensively, I liked the way we were kind of locked in on the things that we had been talking about,” said Stotts. “We just had three days of practice, but I thought everybody was kind of locked in on what we were trying to do from a team standpoint. The last three quarters defensively were really good. They took a lot of threes, that a little concerning because that was one of our Achilles heels last year, but I really thought we made good progress after just three days in what we’re trying to do defensively.”

Anthony led the Blazers with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go with four rebounds, two assists and a block in 23 minutes. Gary Trent Jr came off the bench to shoot 6-of-13 from the field to match Giles with 18 points.

CJ McCollum went 7-of-16 from the field for 18 points and five assists in just under 20 minutes. Damian Lillard breezed his way to 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 shooting from three while also handing out five assists.

Covington added nine points, eight rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in his first game, albeit preseason, as a Blazer.

The Kings had three players finish in double figured led by 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting from Buddy Hield.

With their first preseason game in the books, the Trail Blazers now look to Sunday, when they’ll once again host the Kings in the second exhibition for both teams this year at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.