Game Preview: Denver Nuggets open Preseason against Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

The time has finally arrived. The offseason is in the rearview mirror and training camp is over.

It is now time for Nuggets basketball to officially return in the form of a preseason contest against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Nuggets enter the 2019-20 season with a lot of surrounding buzz and hype. After a 54-win campaign that saw Denver reach Game 7 of the conference semifinals, the hope is that internal player development coupled with new additions to the forward rotation can help the Nuggets take the next step in competing for a championship.

The first step in the journey will begin in Portland Tuesday, as Denver kicks off its slate of four preseason games before the regular-season opener on Oct. 23rd.

Denver and Portland are no strangers after playing 11 times last season, most notably being the back-and-forth playoff series in May. Portland made several changes during the summer but return the same dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. However, gone are players such as Seth Curry, Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. Portland will be relying on players such as Kent Bazemore, Anfernee Simons and Hassan Whiteside to fill in the major holes in the rotation.

Here are some areas to keep your eye on in Denver’s first game of the 2019-20 season.

1) Michael Porter Jr.’s NBA debut

Of course, all eyes will be on Porter Jr. as he finally faces NBA competition after sitting out the 2018-19 season to recover from previous back injuries. Porter Jr. experienced a taste of NBA action in Denver’s open scrimmage Friday evening, but now the 21-year-old forward will go up against an opponent’s defense for the first time since being drafted in 2018.

“I mean, I'm sure I have a little bit of nerves, it’s more about just getting ready to get started,” Porter Jr. said, following Monday’s practice. “I am a pretty confident player, but I’ll have some nerves. But once the ball gets tipped I’ll be good.”

Porter Jr. has an ideal offensive skill set with his ability to knock down 3-pointers and take advantage of mismatches using his size. However, it will be interesting to watch how he fits in to Denver’s offense, which is predicated on ball and player movement. Although he projects to come off the bench, Porter Jr. should see ample playing time to show off his skills.

2) Resting of key players

After practice on Monday, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said Nikola Jokić will not play in Tuesday’s game. “He (Jokić) had a very, very long summer,” Malone said. “The guy is tired mentally and he's tired physically. So and I talked to Nikola and the training staff and decided to rest him. We play Portland on opening night and played them in the playoffs, so this is just to give him some rest and to build up to opening night.”

During training camp, Malone also emphasized that there will likely be rest coming for Paul Millsap and Juancho Hernangomez throughout the preseason as the focus shifts towards optimizing his players’ energy levels for the regular season. As a result of Jokić not playing, look for Jerami Grant to receive some playing time at center behind Mason Plumlee as Malone tests out some small-ball lineups.

3) First game action as a Nugget for Jerami Grant

Speaking of Grant, Tuesday will be the first time Grant dresses as a Nugget in an NBA game. Sure, it is a preseason contest that won’t see either team play at full strength, but Tuesday should provide a good look into Grant’s role in the frontcourt. During the team’s scrimmage on Friday, Grant knocked down several 3-pointers and showcased his ability to handle the ball, as he drove from the top of the key into the lane before dishing an accurate alley-oop feed to Mason Plumlee.

Grant provides a unique blend of 3-point shooting and defensive versatility that should boost Denver’s bench units. After spending several seasons in an Oklahoma City Thunder offense that relied on isolation plays, the 25-year-old forward is excited to play in Denver’s system.

“I’m extremely excited to play in an offense like this,” Grant added on Media Day. “You never know who's going to get the ball but I've definitely seen that they make the game easy for everybody in the offense.”

Tip-off will be at 8:30 p.m. MT. The game will air on ESPN.

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