Trail Blazers vs Nuggets Wednesday, 10/17/12 AT 07:00PM

Matthews, Outside Shooting Lead Trail Blazers Over Nuggets 97-80

  1. Written by: erikgundersen

    The Trail Blazers came out to another slow start against Denver for the third straight preseason game but they regained their footing early enough to put the game in their favor.  Wesley Matthews got into a groove tonight, as did the rest of the Trail Blazers perimeter shooters, as they eventually outlasted the Nuggets 97-80 in their home opener to move to 2-2 in the preseason.  Matthews finished with 19 points to lead the Trail Blazers.

    After two poor defensive performances, head coach Terry Stotts said he was pleased with the defensive effort his Trail Blazers showed as the Nuggets shot 38% from the field and turned it over 22 times leading to 26 Portland points.

    After the quarter’s first five minutes where the Nuggets seemed to find space anywhere they wanted offensively, especially in the paint, the Trail Blazers started to even things out and eventually closed the gap to two points after one quarter.  LaMarcus Aldridge hit three of his first four shots and the defensive rotations by the Trail Blazers started to become crisper.

    Coby Karl entered as the back-up point guard for Nolan Smith and was instrumental in calming things down and turning the tide in the first quarter, his highlight being a four-point play in the corner.  He also assisted on the first of two, Meyers Leonard alley-oops, which got big reactions from the crowd. Karl scored six points in under three minutes against the team his father, George, coaches. Karl finished the game with 11 points, five assists, was perfect from the line and led the Trail Blazers in free-throw attempts with four.

    “I was happy for him, he’s a good player, he’s an NBA player,” said Coach Stotts about Karl’s performance. His father, although his team lost, was also proud.

    “And it was kind of fun seeing your son play and be a big part of it. Coby [Karl] came off the bench and got their team playing at a [higher] energy level, and everyone kind of joined the party,” said Denver head coach George Karl.

    In the second quarter, Nolan Smith started to figure things out. He was driving, finding guys and creating good looks for his teammates.  After not really recording much except minutes in the first quarter, he had seven points, three assists and only one turnover in the second. His shooting was rather dismal, going 3 for 11 and he also got into a lot of needless fouls. However, Smith showed that he could push the pace and effectively run the offense. Smith finished with nine points, eight assists and only two turnovers.

    The second quarter was also when Wesley Matthews caught fire. After going scoreless in the first quarter, Matthews scored fourteen points, half of the Trail Blazers entire output for that quarter. Matthews wasn’t just hitting from the perimeter, either. Matthews drove the lane, worked in the post and really showed his whole offensive arsenal.
    “I’m not really looking for my outside shot, I’m not hunting it, that’s the easiest shot for me to get,” said Matthews after the game. “I’m just looking for moments where I can attack and do the other stuff and that’s what really opens up the three ball.”
    The three-ball was where the Trail Blazers did their damage and where Denver had no answer, going 2/20 on the game. The Trail Blazers hit on 41% of their threes and took 31. Their offense has opened up the three point shots in the last few games, the Trail Blazers just hadn’t been hitting them.
    “That’s everybody getting comfortable with the offense. Knowing the system, knowing where their shots are going to come,” said Matthews. “That was just us, playing how we’re supposed to.”

    It also helped that the Nuggets went 4/15 in that second quarter where the Trail Blazers started to pull away.  
    The third quarter was more a more even affair. Both teams had their lowest scoring outputs of the game in that quarter. Nobody for Denver, except Kenneth Faried, got anything going offensively. He was the only Nugget in double-figures with 17 points. After getting outfront in the early going, Denver’s energy in the game seemed to wane as the Trail Blazers started to run and hit their open jumpers.

    “I think the second unit really picked it up for them. A lot of guys that we put in our rotation weren’t really in the groove of how things were going,” said Faried.

    Joel Freeland was part of that second unit and although he shot poorly, going 1-6, he lead the team in rebounding with eight boards off the bench.

    Along with Coby Karl, Victor Claver got in on the bench act scoring-wise, mostly through the power of the three-pointer. He hit his first and missed his last three in the first quarter.  Denver cut the deficit to eight in the fourth quarter and started to full-court press in the final three minutes. As the Trail Blazers tried to close the game, it was Claver with two huge threes late that put the game away.

    “At the beginning, the shots weren’t falling but everyone kept telling me to keep being confident and keep shooting and that’s what happened at the end of the game,” said Claver.

    Claver was working on his three-pointers in the pregame shootaround and the extra work on his perimeter jumper showed in the game as he went 3 for 7 from deep, finishing with 13 points off the bench.

    All in all, this was the best way the Trail Blazers could have started the preseason at home. Again, it is a preseason game and Denver clearly did not bring the energy level that Portland did. The Trail Blazers, despite this being preseason, needed this victory for morale if nothing else after two terrible offensive and defensive performances. Both offensively and defensively, the Trail Blazers played their best of the preseason thus far. All of this was without their starting point guard and the presumed backup point guard for the regular season.

    Next up will be another team that likes to ratchet up the tempo and shoot threes in the Golden State Warriors with the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. That game will be at the Rose Garden at 7PM on Friday.

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