Denver beats Portland 132-120
The Nuggets had a team they wanted to introduce Thursday night at the Pepsi Center. Themselves. It took 26 games to unveil it. But when the Nuggets finally raised the curtain on the first fully healthy roster of the season, it sparkled. Their 132-120 win over Portland — a season high in scoring — consisted of many of the things the Nuggets always thought they would be. And that started with the starters.
“I loved our defense,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I loved our energy, I loved our effort.”
A near overhaul of the starting five took place, partly out of an injury return (Gary Harris) and partly out of preference (Nikola Jokic at center and Wilson Chandler at power forward). With the possible exception of Chandler, this was the exact starting five the Nuggets envisioned in the summer months leading up to the season. But for a variety of reasons, they were never able to put it on the court. That changed Thursday. And with that starting five, the Nuggets’ effectiveness and execution from the start changed as well. They were instantly better, getting out to a quick lead on Portland, which, at 13-15, still occupies the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Helping matters was a hot hand from the 3-point line. The Nuggets (10-16) made five of their first six shots and never looked back, hitting a season-high 15. Danilo Gallinari was right in the thick of the hot 3-point shooting, making his first two on the way to a team-high 27 points.
“My teammates were finding me open at the right time,” Gallinari said. “Everybody, especially Jokic, is a great passer. So they can find you at any moment.”
But much of the night was about finally getting a good look at lineups and rotations and being able to fully believe what was being seen. There wasn’t any foul trouble yanking players out early. Everything generally went as Malone wanted it to, which was a change from the mixing and matching out of necessity that he had to do for the first seven weeks of the season.
Every starter scored in double figures, accounting for 85 points. Harris’ return was a smash success (18 points, six assists, four rebounds). Jokic was back in the role that saw him earn first-team allrookie honors last season. Will Barton returned to the reserve role that saw him finish among the leaders for sixth man of the year last season. Only this time he did it at small forward, because Jamal Murray is the reserve shooting guard and Jameer Nelson is at point guard.
Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard led all players with 40 points and 10 assists.
Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried goes up for a shot against Blazers forward Meyers Leonard on Thursday night. John Leyba, The Denver Post