Game Preview: Denver Nuggets wrap up preseason against Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

With each passing day, anticipation for the 2019-20 NBA regular season grows. After three consecutive victories, the Denver Nuggets look to finish the preseason undefeated when they take on a familiar foe in the Portland Trail Blazers.

The two teams met 11 times in 2019-20, most notably in a back-and-forth seven-game series that saw Portland advance to the Western Conference Finals. This will be the second matchup between the teams already this preseason, as Denver opened up their exhibition slate with a road win against the Trail Blazers last week.

It is unclear who will play for both teams in this final tune-up game. The Trail Blazers will be on the second night of a back-to-back, which could lead head coach Terry Stotts to sit his key players. Portland made several changes during the summer but return the same dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. However, players such as Seth Curry, Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu departed in the offseason, while Kent Bazemore, Anfernee Simons and Hassan Whiteside will be counted on to fill in the major holes in the rotation.

Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. have impressed in their first three preseason games, further bolstering Denver’s depth at nearly every position on the floor.

Here are some things to watch for in the final preseason game:

Offense continues to search for consistency

So far in the preseason, Denver has had bright spots and dull moments on the offensive end. Against the Phoenix Suns, the offense was moving the ball, getting to the basket and capitalizing on transition opportunities. However, as has been the case throughout all three preseason games, turnovers continued to plague the Nuggets.

Denver has averaged 24.3 turnovers per game in the preseason, which ranks 35th among the 38 teams that have played a preseason game against NBA competition (i.e. international teams that have come to the United States for an exhibition game). During the 2018-19 regular season, the Nuggets only averaged 13.4 turnovers per game, which was the tied for the seventh-lowest number in the league.

“The turnovers are something that has not gotten better,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said following practice on Wednesday. “We watched a lot of them today and guys just have to trust each other more. It’s not something we can just flip a switch on-and-off.”

3-point shooting continues to be an emphasis

At Media Day, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone revealed that he wants Denver to attempt up to 36 or 37 3-pointers per game this season. For reference, the Nuggets attempted 31.4 threes per game last season.

However, that 3-point shooting hasn’t ticked up in the first three preseason games, as Denver has only attempted 28 such shots per game. Of course, it’s still early in the 2019-20 season and there is plenty of time for the offense to incorporate more 3-pointers but look for the offense to continue to focus on generating drive-and-kick 3-point opportunities throughout the coming games.

Final opportunities for younger players

The fourth and final preseason game should present another opportunity for Denver’s younger players to contribute off the bench. Of course, the competition for the fifth starting spot hasn’t been resolved, but other players near the end of the bench are looking to showcase their talents for the coaching staff and front office.

The game on Thursday will allow fans and the front office to see more from the likes of Jarred Vanderbilt, Vlatko Čančar, P.J. Dozier and even Juancho Hernangomez. With injuries occurring throughout the regular season, any of those players will have to be ready to contribute when called upon, and this final preseason game provides the platform to showcase their abilities in a team-context.

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

Thursday’s game will tip at 7 p.m. MT (TV: ALTITUDE, RADIO: KKSE-FM 92.5).

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