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TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - The Trail Blazers are telling new guard/forward Evan Turner to make opposing defenses react to him when he has the ball.The Trail Blazers head into their final two preseason games — road contests against Utah on Wednesday and Golden State on Friday — with a 3-2 record after a 106-97 loss to Denver Sunday night at Moda Center.


Some observations, looking both back and forward ...

• Evan Turner is having his difficulties shooting the ball. The 6-7 swingman, who signed a four-year, $70-million free-agent contract with Portland in the offseason, is shooting .333 from the field, including 2 for 9 from 3-point range. Turner — a career .432 shooter from the field and .305 from beyond the arc — was 2 for 10 from the field, missing his two 3-point attempts, in 24 minutes off the bench against the Nuggets.

“He had a good rhythm,” coach Terry Stotts said. “He missed some shots, but Evan is getting more comfortable every game. And we’re getting a little better at figuring out how to put him in better spots. It’s going to be about learning his teammates, getting comfortable with our style of play, all those things.”

“I got the shots I wanted, shots I work on a lot,” Turner said. “I just missed most of them.”

Turner said teammate Damian Lillard spoke with him after the game.

“Dame said, ‘When you’re on the court, stop and see what everybody else is doing, and make (the defense) react off of you. that’s why they brought you here,’ “ Turner said. “I need to do a better job of that. Sometimes I’m looking around at what the other four guys are doing as opposed to making a play and making (defenders) react to what I do.

“I need to play freer. I made a couple of turnovers where I was trying to get the ball out of my hands too quickly. I need to be more patient. You work out the kinks (in the preseason). I’ll be fine.”

How long will it take to get more comfortable with his teammates?

“Once I’m more sure and assertive of what I’m doing, it will be easier,” he said. “This preseason stuff is going to help. The first couple of weeks of the (regular) season will still be a builder for me.”

By the looks of it, Turner — a .777 career foul shooter — will be a candidate to shoot free throws after technical fouls. He is 14 for 14 from the line so far.

• The guess is that Turner, who turns 28 on Oct. 27, will play a role off the bench as he did last season with Boston. Moe Harkless started at small forward against Denver and would seem to have drawn a bead on a starting role alongside Lillard, CJ McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee.

• Aminu, who is starting at power forward, entered the Denver game shooting 1 for 11 on 3-pointers. The seventh-year pro was 4 for 5 on treys in the game’s first 6 1/2 minutes and finished 5 for 7 from beyond the arc.

“He found the spots, and he made his shots,” Stotts said. “But it was also the fact that the ball was moving around. Those first five minutes were awesome. That was pretty basketball.”

• Turner probably will lead a second unit that will include — at least to start the regular season — guard Allen Crabbe and forwards Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard. The other candidates are point guard Shabazz Napier, who has played very well in the preseason, and 6-9 Noah Vonleh.

Vonleh leads the Blazers with a 7.5 rebound average in his four games despite playing the 10th-most minutes on the team. The third-year pro, who turned 21 in August, is averaging nearly a rebound every two minutes of action.

“Noah can rebound,” Stotts said. “He’s strong inside. He goes after the ball. He’s more comfortable with another year under his belt and has a better feel for being out there with those guys.”

Vonleh started 56 games last season but didn’t play starter’s minutes, averaging 15.1 per contest. He has shown an ability to score inside with either hand in the preseason. He’ll press Leonard for front-line duty off the bench during the early regular season.

• Leonard sat out the Denver game after experiencing back stiffness during Saturday’s practice session. He is returning to action after April shoulder surgery.

The sore back “is no surprise, I guess, playing two games in three days after not playing a game for seven months,” Leonard said. “I’m sure I’ll start feeling better right away.”

• Festus Ezeli, who underwent a procedure on his left knee in August, is still not close to a return.

“We’re taking it day by day,” said the 6-11 center, who signed a two-year, $15-million free-agent contract with Portland in July. “I’ve had some ups and downs.”

Ezeli was recently given clearance to begin shooting drills, but has not yet participated in any 3-on-3 activity.

“There’s no timetable (for a return) when it comes to this stuff,” he said. “It goes by feel. Some days I feel good. There are good days and bad days, but there’s progress overall.”

• Plumlee said on media day he has worked on a midrange jump shot and feels more comfortable taking it in games now. The 6-10 center took a 12-footer against the Nuggets that bounced off the front rim. It’s unlikely he’ll be taking a lot of them this season.

But Plumlee still fills up a scoresheet. He had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes Sunday night, and he does a lot of other things that don’t show up on a statistical line.

• Still to be determined is the 15th and final spot on the Portland roster. Three players are competing for the berth — 31-year-old center Greg Stiemsma, 23-year-old power forward Grant Jerrett and rookie guard Tim Quarterman.

Stotts’ appraisal of the trio:

“Grant is a good 3-point shooter, a physical, athletic ‘4.’ He has a good sense for the game. He’s a good worker. He hit a big 3 for us near the end of the Clippers game. What he did was not easy — to be sitting there for two hours and then come in and play well. I like his demeanor. He’s tough. He’s an NBA player.

“Greg has shown he is a quality defensive center. Throughout his career, he has blocked shots, and he is an excellent midrange shooter and a good passer. He has a good feel for the game.

“I’ve been impressed with how quickly Tim has learned things, for being a rookie and playing point guard. He has a pretty good grasp of our offense, a good basketball IQ and a willingness to learn.”

Stotts isn’t tipping off which of the three holds the upper hand.

“They’ve all been an asset to our training camp,” he said. “They’ve all accepted their role. They’ve all proved they’re capable of being on an NBA roster.”

• The Blazers should be one of the better free-throw shooting teams in the NBA this season, but what is overlooked is their free-throw defense. Opponents are shooting only .664 at the line in the preseason. That’s intimidation at its finest.

• Portland general manager Neil Olshey has made some shrewd moves during his five years on the job. One he missed on was the trade that sent guard Will Barton to Denver for Arron Afflalo.

Afflalo didn’t work out in Portland. Barton has thrived in Denver, finishing fourth in Sixth Man of the Year voting a year ago. He was a major factor in the Nuggets’ win Sunday night, contributing 17 points and seven assists with only one turnover in 30 minutes.

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