Game Preview: Denver Nuggets open regular season against Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

Two familiar division rivals meet again to open the 2019-20 regular season. The Denver Nuggets will look to build on their 54-win campaign from last season as they travel to Portland to take on the Trail Blazers.

After facing off 11 times during the 2018-19 season and twice in the past two weeks during the preseason, Denver and Portland are no strangers to one another. While the Nuggets added Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. to their 2019 playoff rotation, Portland made some sweeping changes in the offseason.

Gone are players such as Seth Curry, Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. In their place, the Trail Blazers added Kent Bazemore, Hassan Whiteside and Pau Gasol, while players such as Anfernee Simons and Zach Collins are expected to take on larger roles in the team’s rotation.

For Denver, the hope is that the two additions at forward coupled with continuity across the organization will provide a needed boost to jump out to a fast start this season. Given that the two teams are so familiar with each other, the opening night game will likely come down to execution.

Here are some keys to watch for in the regular-season opener:

Small forward rotation

All eyes have been on the open competition for the fifth starting spot throughout training camp and preseason. While Nuggets head coach Michael Malone hasn’t revealed who will start Wednesday’s game, another interesting aspect of the rotation is who will receive playing time on the second unit. Each player fighting for rotation minutes at that small forward position brings something to the table, whether it is defense in the case of Torrey Craig, 3-point shooting from Juancho Hernangomez, or a jack-of-all-trades offensive game in Will Barton III’s case.

Even Michael Porter Jr. provides shooting and capable one-on-one scoring that could boost the second unit’s offense. After practice on Tuesday, Malone admitted that he is looking to find playing time for Porter Jr. this season, but that it may change game-to-game.

“My job is to squeeze him into it (the rotation) at some point,” Malone said. “I met with Michael last week to talk about the season, his preseason, and what to expect. I recognize the potential and talent he has, so my job is to get him minutes throughout the season. There are 82 games and a lot of things happen during those games where I’ll find ways to get him in.”

Building momentum for the long haul

Last season, Denver got off to a 9-1 start in the regular season, which gave confidence to the players and fans that that team was for real. Of course, the end result was a 54-win campaign that saw the Nuggets advance to Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. With continuity on their side and a relatively easy schedule to open the season (only three of Denver’s first 10 opponents made the playoffs last season), there will be some urgency to win early in the season.

A fast start can ease tensions and concerns throughout the grind of an 82-game regular season, in which injuries are certain to creep up here or there. With a road win against Portland on Wednesday, the Nuggets can feel good heading into their home-opener on Friday against the Suns.

Nuggets face an early season test

Yes, it is only game one of the regular season. There is no reason to overreact to anything that happens in Portland on Wednesday. However, as mentioned earlier, Denver won’t have many matchups against playoff teams to open the season. The Nuggets’ next matchup against a 2019 playoff team will come on Nov. 2nd in Orlando, who went 42-40 last season.

The Nuggets are facing a playoff-tested Portland team to open the season, which provides a good opportunity to see how Jerami Grant can fit in Denver’s plans to guard the Trail Blazers and what role Portland’s new additions will play in this crucial divisional matchup.

For a Denver team that expects to be competing well into May and June, getting a glimpse of the team in a playoff-atmosphere to start the season can do wonders for a team’s chemistry, confidence and self-evaluation.

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić

Wednesday's game will tip-off at 8 p.m. MT and will air on ESPN.

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