DE­FENSE DIS­AP­PEARS

Denver beats Port­land 132-120

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Christo­pher Dempsey

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

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