Blazers bounce back, cruise at Denver
Portland Trail Blazers 113, Denver Nuggets 98
(Friday night, Pepsi Center, 19,155 announced attendance)
The Blazers (1-1) bounced back from an opening-night loss at Phoenix, spoiled Denver's home opener and soundly defeated a Nuggets team (0-2) that included last year's Blazers center, JJ Hickson.
The Blazers showed vast improvement at both ends of the floor, enough that their revamped bench was hardly needed.
Portland shot better than at Phoenix, sinking 14 of 22 (.636) from 3-point range.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Blazers showed resiliency and the benefit of a day of practice. Still, they have yet to meet a team that is expected to make the NBA playoffs. Those tests will come soon.
It was Portland's first win in the team's past 10 tries at Pepsi Center. The Blazers hadn't won in the Mile High City since Dec. 16, 2007.
LaMarcus Aldridge -- He scored a game-high 25 points, with nine in the fourth quarter as Portland withstood Denver's only run.
Wesley Matthews -- He had his third career double-double, with 21 points and 12 rebounds. His biggest quarter was the second, when he poured in 14 points, including 12 in a row for the Blazers.
Nicolas Batum -- He assumed a scorer's role and added 21 points.
Damian Lillard -- He ignited Portland's second quarter (40-27 for the Blazers) with 13 points and three assists.
Portland's starting five outscored Denver's 87-43.
The Blazers shot .427 from the field, while the Nuggets finished at .364.
The Portland center duo of Robin Lopez and Freeland combined to shoot 2 of 12 from the field, with 7 total points and 12 rebounds in 45 minutes.
Hickson, in his first game since playing for Portland last season, struggled from the start. His first shot was an airball, and he went on to make only 2 of 13 field-goal attempts. He finished with 5 points and 9 rebounds in 22 minutes as the starting power forward.
The Nuggets stayed with Portland only through the first quarter. Denver trailed 24-23 after 12 minutes.
Denver cut a 24-point deficit to seven with 4:57 left. Then Matthews got an offensive rebound and 3-pointer, and Aldridge made four turnaround jump shots, and it was all but over.
The Blazers again went with basically a nine-man rotation. Off the bench, center Joel Freeland played 22 minutes, forwards Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson got 11 and 12, respectively, and guard Mo Williams was on the court for 26 minutes.
Denver's leading scorer was sub guard Nate Robinson, with 24 points. Guard Ty Lawson scored 21.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts: "LaMarcus brought us home with his post game. It's good to have a guy like that who can make those plays and guys can play off of him."
Blazers forward Dorell Wright, on Aldridge: "There's not too many guys in this league who can put their back to the basket and get you a bucket when you need one. That's why he's a two-time All-Star, because he makes those big shots."
Denver guard Ty Lawson: "We let them get out to an early start. They had a bunch of 3s, some easy 3s. We didn't play defense, and it was just too big of a hole to come back from."
The defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs come to Moda Center for Portland's home opener, 7 p.m. Saturday (KGW 8).
The Spurs are 2-0, with wins over Memphis 101-94 and Friday night at the Los Angeles Lakers 91-85.
San Antonio power forward Tim Duncan sat out the Lakers game with a bruised chest.
The Spurs trailed the Lakers 23-16 after one quarter, then held the Lakers (1-2) to 62 points in the final 36 minutes. Tony Parker (24 points) and Manu Ginobili (20) led the offense, with starting small forward Kawhi Leonard adding 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The Lakers' backcourt was a mess, with starters Steve Nash and Steve Blake combining to make 3 of 20 shots and total 11 points. The Blazers should be able to do a little better than that.