And just like that, it’s Trail Blazers season again. All that stress and heartbreak from the previous season is completely forgotten, and a fresh season fills every Blazer fan with nothing but elation and hope. To make things even more exciting, this year’s season is the Blazers' 50th as a franchise. Such an epic milestone can only bring good fortune! If the 50th benchmark wasn’t enough, to make this season truly nostalgic, the Blazers’ first preseason game was held at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. It was fitting to play in a smaller arena for the first contest so fans could get a closer look at the Blazers’ new roster.
The Blazers were more active in shuffling players during this off season than they have been in a long time. To name a few - Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, and Al Farouq Aminu, all disappeared from the Blazers’ roster. While losing a few of those names stung a bit, some of the pick-ups the Blazers made have great potential. Centers Hassan Whiteside and the 18 year vet Pau Gasol have been added, giving the Blazers a much deeper crop of big men to choose from. Gasol may be getting on in age, but his wisdom and knowledge can only help our less seasoned big boys like Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic. Of course Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, possibly the most savage backcourts in the NBA, have returned to lead the new pack. There’s also a gaggle of rookies who could turn out to be the next rookie of the year. We’ve got four of them, so the odds are in our favor.
The Blazers’ roster wasn’t the only one that made drastic changes in the off season. It seemed like the whole NBA was thrown up in the air, and All-Star players landed all over the place on new teams. Unfortunately, a lopsided amount of them landed in the Western Conference. That means the uphill battle to the payoffs got a lot more treacherous. But, you know the Blazers. They’re never ones to back down from a challenge.
To kick off this preseason, the Blazers went nose to nose with the Denver Nuggets. Albeit a preseason game, the Nuggets were no doubt still sour that the Blazers knocked them out in the semi-finals of the playoffs last season. Last nights game could be the start of a great rivalry. Plus, it’s a preview of the first regular season game which will also be against the Nuggets.
The Blazers went full throwback and pumped tracks from Jimi Hendrix, Jackson 5, The Doobie Brothers, and Joe Cocker into the arena during warm ups. No player got to choose the warm up music. They were doing everything they could to invoke the spirit of the 70’s. There was even an organ player providing music during play! It wasn’t a real organ, but he was playing live. The vibe was very cool. Almost as cool as the leisure suit and white, patent leather loafers coach Terry Stotts strutted onto the court in. The man could wear a banana costume and still look like he’s in charge.
Both teams were a little rickety to start. The low ceiling may have been distracting, but neither team could hit open looks on offense. Collins managed to put up a couple nice jumpers, and Dame charged the paint for a pair, but the Blazers didn’t get into double digits until well after the halfway mark. At which point Stotts emptied out all of the starters, and the only familiar face on the court was Anfernee Simons. Skal Labissiere, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and Mario Hezonja tried to get the offense going, but struggled as well. The Nuggets defense had an answer for everything. They controlled the first quarter, and the Blazers shot a measly 30 precent from the field. Oof.
Simons dumped a quick pass to Hezonja who dunked it with authority to start the second. A four year NBA veteran, Hezonja displayed some serious speed during his time on the court. Bazemore and Tolliver made some good cuts to the hoop as well. Looks like the Blazers picked up some quick feet along with some height.
The Blazers got into foul trouble super fast to start the second half. They logged three team fouls in the first minute and a half. Consequently, they had to get a little less handsy on the defensive side, and the Nuggets took full advantage. Their lead never got above ten, but the Blazers couldn’t crack it.
Stotts gave all the rookies some time in the fourth quarter. Nassir Little logged his first two points in the NBA from the free throw line after he was fouled trying to muscle in a shot under the hoop. Later he would have a vicious drive to the hoop too, giving him a total of eight points. Jaylen Hoard crammed in a solid dunk, and Moses Brown’s limbs look like they’re ten feet long. Those lanky limbs facilitated Brown to play decent defense, and score eight points in just over six minutes on the court. Not looking too bad for a some very green players.
Sadly, the Blazers couldn’t hold it together to defeat Denver. The Nuggets pulled away with a 105-94 win. It is only preseason, so nothing to fret over too much. It was a good glimpse of a new team and what they’re potentially going to be capable of. Still a lot of gelling to do, but things look pretty good so far…