The Nuggets 2019-20 preseason finally concluded as they finished with a 4-0 record after a 110-104 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday evening.
Denver had reinforcements in this game who did not play against the Phoenix Suns so it was positive to see the Nuggets starters begin and finish the game healthy while the second unit carried Denver to victory.
Here is the good, bad, and ugly from the final preseason game before Denver begins the regular season.
Good – Possible starter at small forward emerges
The reoccurring theme throughout the preseason was the fact that no particular player separated themselves as the starter at small forward.
Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez, Torrey Craig, and Michael Porter Jr. all placed their bid for the rights to be named the starter on opening night. All four of them have strong cases for themselves, but nobody has jumped ahead of the pack.
By the time the fourth and final preseason game ended, Barton looked to have a leg up on the competition.
Barton was ultra-aggressive early on. He made flashy passes, finished at the rim, and also got to the free-throw line. He finished with 13 points and also had nine rebounds to go with four assists.
Craig started the game at small forward which equated to him and Barton receiving two starts apiece in the preseason, but it was evident who had the better night against Portland and that just might be the deciding factor.
Craig hustled and was his usual self as an irritant on the defensive end of the floor. That will surely keep him in the running as a starter depending on matchups.
Hernangomez did not play until the end of the third quarter and while he did not knock down a 3-pointer, he did have six points and four rebounds. For now, it seems like he is on the outside looking in.
Porter Jr. made his Pepsi Center debut and finished with five points. He also set up his teammates for easy baskets with two assists and recorded three rebounds as well.
While Porter Jr. had a great preseason, he is still working his way into playing shape and is still a rookie. As the season progresses, maybe he will solidify himself as a player that is deserving of a starter role, but as of right now that is not the case.
While nothing is definitive, Barton appears to be in the driver’s seat as the opening day starter.
Bad – Lackadaisical opening half
In the final preseason game, it makes sense to come out a bit lethargic, but when you are playing against a team without their two best players — Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum — it is not so understandable.
Denver came out flat to begin the game as they trailed 32-28 at the end of the first quarter with the starters playing the bulk of the minutes.
Kent Bazemore had his way with the Nuggets in the first half. He went into the halftime intermission with 13 points and showed off his three-point range, defense, and speed which led to open baskets before Portland sat him for the rest of the game.
Denver allowed the Trail Blazers to shoot 47% from the field and hang around for a while before finally getting themselves back into the drivers seat.
Denver’s starters got the Nuggets back in the game and stole the lead at the end of the first quarter. The Nuggets went into the halftime intermission with a 60-55 lead, but having Portland stick around without their starters on the second night of a back-to-back is a bit too close for comfort.
Denver has to come out with more energy against inferior competition and close the door on teams who simply aren’t as good as the Nuggets.
Ugly — Portland starters sit
Not to say that the game was pointless, but both teams are surely excited that it is over and now they can get ready for the regular season.
Portland came into Thursday’s game on the second night of a back-to-back on the road after having a high-scoring affair in Utah with the Jazz on Wednesday in which the starters played major minutes. That is why Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Hassan Whiteside all sat for the entirety of the game.
There were some minor areas that Michael Malone said that he felt the team needed to work on in the final game and it appears that Denver did just that as they finished off the preseason with an unblemished record.
The two teams will face off against each other next week to open up the regular season and neither of them showed too much on Thursday evening. Expect plenty of adjustments before these two teams face off with more on the line.
Let the regular season finally begin.