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Blazers play two more exhibition games at Denver, and then get ready for Dec. 23 opener against Utah

COURTESY PHOTO: BRUCE ELY/TRAIL BLAZERS - Derrick Jones Jr. brings athleticism and defense to Portland, but he has shown a good shooting touch.So, what do we know about the Trail Blazers after one week of practice and two exhibition games as the team prepares for two more games at Denver this week?

Let's take a quick look:

• Health has to be paramount. The Blazers have already dealt with COVID-19 with positive tests of three individuals in the organization (reportedly one player).

Backup point guard Anfernee Simons dealt with a sore hamstring and missed Sunday's second exhibition game against Sacramento.

Rodney Hood returned to the lineup on Sunday and played about 12 minutes. His Achilles heel feels good, he says, it's just a little sore at times; he thinks more about how the rest of his body — quadriceps, knee — reacts to returning to the court.

Zach Collins has been moving well in pre-game workouts, coming back from ankle surgery. He's projected to be back on the bench in mid-January.

• The best player has been newly acquired big man Harry Giles. His stat line in two games against his former team, the Kings: 37 points, 27 rebounds, 14-of-24 shooting, four assists, five steals, three blocks.

It remains to be seen what role the 6-10 Giles will play with the Blazers, especially after Collins returns to the team.

Coach Terry Stotts said Jusuf Nurkic will start at center and be backed up by Enes Kanter. Carmelo Anthony comes off the bench as a power forward at times. And, then Collins should factor into the rotation. So, where will Giles fit in?

"I've been really pleased with the way he's played," Stotts said. "Both games, he's scoring well and rebounding well and playing with lot of energy. It's too early to talk about minutes and rotations. I like who we have playing in those (center/forward) positions. I like how Harry's playing, I think he's impressing some people."

Giles played in 104 games in two seasons with Sacramento, averaging 7.0 points and 3.9 rebounds. The Blazers signed the free agent last month.

He wants to answer questions about his potential.

"I'm ready to show it and silence the noise, being humble and all that," he said.

• The Blazers believe they will be a better defensive team, what with addition of wing players Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., the return of Hood and even Giles as a possible interior defender. And, star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum vow to be better defensively; Nurkic said the Blazers will be more aggressive on defense, including big men switching on pick-and-rolls.

In a 127-102 win against Sacramento Dec. 11, the Blazers limited the Kings to 22-of-72 shooting (.306) and 66 points after the first quarter. "I liked our defense, our activity, our communication, I thought we did a lot of good things," Stotts said.

The defensive numbers weren't too bad in a 121-106 loss to the Kings Dec. 13, but Stotts wasn't pleased. "We didn't play with the same energy or urgency," Stotts added. (However, rotation players pretty much sat out the second half).

• In both games, Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. were the first two players off the bench. They, along with Hood, Kanter and probably Collins will be the second unit.

Trent Jr. exploded in the NBA bubble with his 3-point shooting and defense off the bench; Anthony, one of the NBA's all-time great scorers, has accepted his bench role after signing a free-agent contract following his successful play as a starter with Portland last season.

"Just being at peace with that. Approaching the game the same way," said Anthony, who has played in only eight games off the bench in 1,122 career games, all with Houston in 2018. "It's not like it's a basketball skill reason why I'm coming off the bench, it's what's best for the team.

"Once you accept it, it makes it easier to deal with. You're jumping into the fire right away coming off the bench. I'll get better at that."

Said Stotts: "It's going to be nice having that offense off the bench. That'll help with our offense and rotation, and he'll have some good matchups coming off the bench."

• The Blazers knew what they were getting in Covington, a good "3 and D" player. But, Jones, who spent last year with Miami, not only brings athleticism (he's a former NBA dunk champ) and defense, but he made four 3-pointers against Sacramento.

"He has a really good feel for (the game)," Stotts said.

• The Blazers play at Denver at 6 p.m. Wednesday and Friday (both games on NBC Sports Northwest and Rip City Radio 620). They open the season Dec. 23 against Utah at Moda Center.


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