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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Combinations, bigger minutes yet to come as Portland drops exhibition opener to Nuggets

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Second-year Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons handles the ball Tuesday night against the Denver Nuggets.Preseason openers can be like blemishes — minor annoyances that pass quickly.

The Trail Blazers hope that will be the case with Tuesday night's 105-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Memorial Coliseum.

The Blazers shot .341 from the field, made only 6 of 30 shots from the field, had 22 turnovers and trailed most of the way against a Denver team going without All-Star center Nikola Jokic. Unfortunately, ESPN was on hand to televise the affair.

"It looked like a first exhibition game," Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

For Stotts, it was mostly about getting as making players into the game as possible and keeping stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum healthy.

Lillard and McCollum played their prescribed 15 minutes and sat the entire second half. Center Hassan Whiteside, who missed a week of training camp with a sprained left ankle, was limited to 12 minutes. All 17 Blazers in uniform played at least four minutes, and all but two — forward Keijin Blevins and guard London Perrantes — got up at least one shot.

"My main concern wasn't so much about (seeing) combinations as it was about getting guys on the court," Stotts said.

• Lillard and McCollum didn't find a rhythm offensively. Lillard scored five points on 2-for-7 shooting, missed all four 3-point attempts and had three turnovers. McCollum scored seven points while making 3 of 8 shots, and only 1 of 4 from 3-point range.

Lillard and McCollum started alongside Whiteside, Rodney Hood and Zach Collins. This game was about beginning to jell with such newcomers as Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja and Anthony Tolliver. McCollum is pleased with how the cohesion has been and how quick learners the first-year Blazers have been.

"As training camp has gone on, we've put a lot of stuff in," McCollum said. "We review things one time and guys absorb it. We've been able to replicate that in live action in our (Sunday) scrimmage and tonight. Those guys already have a pretty good grip on a lot of our play calls."

• The 7-1 Whiteside had seven points and four rebounds, making 3 of 6 shots from the field. He looked uncomfortable with the ball when he got it on the post, in part a result of having returned to practice only Monday.

"It's going to take me a little time to get readjusted," said Whiteside, acquired from Miami in the offseason. "(The ankle feels) about 80 percent. It's not all the way. I'm not getting the lift I wanted or I'd have dunked a couple more times."

• Small forwards Moe Harkless, Evan Turner and Jake Layman are all with new teams, and the players who will likely share that spot this season got their reps in Tuesday night.

The 6-8 Hood, who joined the Blazers last mid-season and is expected to start this season, hit 2 of 4 shots and had six points in 22 minutes. Hezonja, acquired as a free agent this summer, was the most impressive, scoring a team-high 12 points to go with six rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes. Bazemore, picked up in a trade with Atlanta for Turner, scored only five points on 1-for-7 shooting but had four rebounds and seven steals in his 20 minutes.

"We have really good wings," Lillard said. "Rodney showed what he can do last year. 'Baze' competes every possession on the defensive end, and he's more skilled offensively than people think.

"Mario is a great facilitator, a great passer, has great size and a good feel for the game. He's high energy. Both (Bazemore and Hezonja) bring things that are going to help our team win."

The 6-8 Hezonja is much like Turner in that he likes to grab a rebound, take off the other way and make something happen in transition. He looks comfortable with the ball in his hands. His test, as was Turner's, will come with his ability to knock down shots from the perimeter and 3-point range.

• Hood was glad just to get in a good run.

"I have to clean some stuff up, but it felt good to get some live action against another team and get a chance to play defense against guys you haven't guarded," he said. "It's a first step toward getting ready (for the regular season)."

Hood doesn't mind having competition for his position, understanding he is in the pole position.

"We bring different things to the table," he said. "'Baze' is a hell of a defender and is real active. I can defend, score, stretch the floor. Mario pushes and passes the ball.

"We all bring different dynamics to the team. Tonight, I played the 4, and Mario can play some 4. It's about mixing and matching and being versatile and playing off of 'Dame' and CJ. I think we'll be good."

NOTES — The Blazers' next game is 7 p.m. Thursday at Moda Center against Maccabi Haifa, a pro team from Israel. The opponent has played preseason games in Portland twice in recent years, losing 121-74 in 2014 and 129-81 in 2017. Its record against NBA teams over the past decade: 0-19. Maccabi Haifa fell 123-88 at Memphis on Sunday. ... Denver started ex-Blazers Mason Plumlee and Will Barton along with Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. With Michael Porter, Jerami Grant and Tyler Zeller added to the large cast of returnees, it's easy to see that Denver is going to be a title threat in the West. Millsap had 14 points and Grant 13 for the Nuggets, who had 25 turnovers. ... Rookie forward Nassir Little got one of the biggest ovations of the night with a corkscrew layup to draw Portland within 92-85 with 4 1/2 minutes. He had eight points and four rebounds in 12 minutes. ... In line with the nostalgic feel of the evening, the public-address system played 1970 hits such as "Mister Big Stuff," "I'm Your Vehicle Baby" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

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