The verdict on Trail Blazers' first preseason game
Reflections on the Trail Blazers' preseason opener, a 114-112 loss to Phoenix Tuesday night at Moda Center …
• Portland led 67-49 early in the third quarter, and its starters outplayed the Suns' regulars. Had it been a regular-season game, the Blazers' probably would have won.
"It didn't show up on the scoreboard, but we won the battle tonight," said Ed Davis, Portland's starting power forward.
The Blazers were in front 87-73 after three quarters, but were outscored 36-14 over the next 11 minutes as the Suns raced to a 109-101 advantage. Coach Terry Stotts was resting his starters by then and went with rookies Caleb Swanigan, Zach Collins and Isaiah Briscoe along with reserve forwards Jake Layman and Pat Connaughton down the stretch.
Phoenix went with substitutes down the stretch, too, along with starting small forward T.J. Warren, who led the Suns with 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting.
The Blazers scrapped back into it in the final minute, with Swanigan hitting a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws and Briscoe sinking a 3, then making three straight gift shots with 14 seconds left to cut the margin to 113-112.
After Phoenix guard Mike James made 1 of 2 at the line with 3.1 seconds to go, Portland called time out to set up a play. Briscoe wound up taking a contested 3 that wasn't close as the final horn sounded.
"We had a lot of good runs through the first three quarters, then the wheels fell off," Stotts said. "We had a stretch in the second half with the young guys where we weren't getting much done. But I was glad they gave themselves a chance to win."
• Swanigan and Damian Lillard both scored 18 points to lead Portland, but it was Swanigan's night as the 6-9, 250-pound rookie out of Purdue got his first NBA preseason action out of the way.
Swanigan was 6 for 10 from the field and 4 for 4 from the foul line, grabbing six rebounds in his 17 minutes off the bench. The 20-year-old power forward showed his versatility, scoring a couple of baskets at the rim but also knocking down both of his 3-point attempts.
'Shooting is shooting," he shrugged as he met with media afterward. "You just have to know when to take a shot and when not to."
Did it take him awhile to get used to the pace at the NBA level?
"It helped to have played summer league," Swanigan said. "We played super fast because we're so young. It helps you get used to the speed of the NBA game."
• Collins, the Blazers' other first-round draft choice, had his moments, too, collecting five points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, making 2 of 4 shots from the field. He also picked up five fouls.
"Both of those rookies are impressive," Davis said. "In summer league, some people were down on Zach, but I think he's going to be a special player."
• Lillard played 21 minutes, making 8 of 15 shots from the field, though only 1 of 6 from 3-point range. He had four assists, twice dishing off to Jusuf Nurkic for dunks.
• Nurkic engaged in playful banter with reporters after scoring 16 points on 8-for-13 shooting in his 16 minutes.
How did he feel out there?
"How did I feel? I think you saw that," he said. "I felt good for a preseason game. Can't wait for another one."
Nurkic, coming back from a right leg fracture late last season, was asked how he feels health-wise.
"That's an old question, man," he said. "I'm healthy."
Nurkic missed a perimeter shot, then sank his next two attempts from mid-range. Will defenders let him shoot out there?
"Soon they won't be able to," he said. "They're not going to leave me again."
The 7-foot Nurkic dropped 35 pounds from a frame that carried 305 when he arrived in Portland last February. He does he feel playing with less weight?
"Too quick," he said with a smile. "It's way better. I still have a little bit to figure out on the post, but I'm fit."
Nurkic is wearing a protective mask after getting dental implants during the offseason. How much longer will he don it?
"Maybe two or three more weeks," he said. "The whole preseason."
Is he used to it?
"Not really," he said, smiling again. "I hate it. For safety reasons, I need to wear it."
• Stotts, on Nurkic taking outside shots: "He has a really good touch. He is a very good perimeter shooter. he'll shoot some 3's this year. He has been working on it. We want to be able to accentuate the talents he has."
• Stotts used Evan Turner for extended minutes at point guard in the first half when Lillard and CJ McCollum were on the bench.
"It was OK," Stotts said. "We're trying to take advantage of Evan's ballhandling and make things a little less taxing for 'Dame' and CJ. It's something we want to do better than we did last year."
Turner missed his first five shots from the field and finished 2 for 9. McCollum struggled with his shot, too, making only 4 of 14 attempts.
NOTES: Portland's next preseason action is at home Thursday night against Toronto. … Stotts used 14 players in the first half and employed all 15 available players in the game. … Power forward Noah Vonleh (shoulder), point guard Shabazz Napier (hamstring) and guard CJ Wilcox (knee) missed the game … Phoenix was without starting guard Brandon Knight, who is rehabbing from ACL surgery, and reserve guard Jared Dudley (toe). … The Blazers took 25 more shots than the Suns, making 43 of 105 (.410) to 37 of 80 for Phoenix (.462). Portland was only 9 for 30 (.300) from 3-point range. … At one point, Portland held a 26-4 advantage in points scored off turnovers. The Blazers' edge finished at 26-16.
Phoenix's starting center, Tyson Chandler, is 35 and beginning his 17th NBA season. "We came into the league as rookies the same year," Suns coach Earl Watson said. "I used to pick Tyson up with Baron Davis when (Chandler) was in high school and take him out for pizza and to 'In-N-Out' when we were trying to recruit him for UCLA. Tyson is a great role model. He's there for the young guys. He's a good person, a positive influence. We have a transparent relationship. We're straight-forward with each other. We have deep talks. Sometimes in practice, I tell him to take over the team. I walk away and let the players have accountability and a voice with each other." … Watson said he likes the extended season that will offer players fewer back-to-back games, and three games in four nights. "As an ex-player, I think the spread-out schedule is great," said Watson, 38, who spent the final season of his 13-year NBA playing career with the Blazers. "It gives you the ability to be rested and to be available for the fans. A lot of old players say, 'We did it; why can't they?' The difference is, the young players today come into the league having played more grass-roots basketball. More travel, more games, more wear and tear on the body at a younger age. So it's good for them to have more time between games."