The Portland Trail Blazers might’ve lost their first scrimmage against the Indiana Pacers, but overall there was a lot to like. Portland got off to a fast start, leading 29-20 after the first quarter. 23-16 and 30-20 second and third quarters from the Pacers ended up doing in the Blazers, in a game they lost 91-88.
However, it was the returns of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, a welcome sight, that stole the show for Portland. It was the first time Nurkic has played in an NBA game since March of 2019, and it was the first action for Collins since injuring his shoulder in October. Both had good moments that should have fans excited for when games officially start.
The Blazers Showed Improvement Against the Pacers
The Starting Lineup Looked Good
What really stood out was the first quarter. Portland was clicking on offense, moving the ball really well, especially for a team that was poor at getting assists before the season was suspended. But with Nurkic and Collins back on the floor, and Carmelo Anthony playing his natural small forward position, the floor was spaced.
C.J. McCollum looked like his usual sharp self scoring the ball. And with the floor spaced, there was ample room for Damian Lillard to get into the paint, which led to him dishing out assists. It was not surprising to see him take the approach of trying to get everyone involved. After all, this was a scrimmage. The final result doesn’t matter, and everyone knows how Lillard can score.
The most exciting part though was Nurkic. He looked very healthy and he was in great shape. The big man came out quick and had six points and six rebounds in the first quarter. He wasn’t done with just that though, finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds. He showed his normal skill offensively and he looked good defensively. Especially for someone who hasn’t played a game in over a calendar year.
Collins also flashed some promise. He was active, perhaps sometimes out of control to an extent, defensively. It’s not surprising he would be a little out of control defensively considering how long it has been since he’s played. He also had a very athletic finish in the first quarter after he ran the floor on a miss. While his stat line wasn’t as flashy as Nurkic, having Collins will certainly help Portland.
The Bench Showed Encouraging Signs
Overall in this game, the bench wasn’t good. However, it’s worth mentioning that neither Hassan Whiteside nor Nassir Little played, cutting into the depth significantly. The depth they will have once games that count start again.
Even with a porous performance from the bench, two guys stood out. Gary Trent Jr. picked up right where he left off earlier this season. He was active defensively and showed to still be quite the threat offensively.
The other player who showed a lot off the bench was Wenyen Gabriel. Gabriel only finished with six points and two rebounds, but the excitement should come from what he did on the defensive end. Gabriel finished with four blocks, which is very exciting. But on top of that, he was very active and showed great versatility. On one possession in the second quarter, he got switched onto Malcolm Brogdon and was able to defend him on the perimeter and didn’t let Brogdon get by him and forced a contested shot.
When Whiteside and Little are back playing, this team will have by far the most depth they’ve had all season.
There are Still Defensive Concerns
Portland was poor defensively all season. Part of that could be attributed to injuries, which is reasonable. However, those defensive concerns didn’t necessarily look ironed out after the first quarter.
Should this be overly-concerning? Probably just in the sense that they were a bad defensive team all season. But this game shouldn’t truly heighten those concerns.
Terry Stotts predictably didn’t play the starters over half of the game, and on top of that, there wasn’t really any mixing and matching between starters and bench players. Once they are at full strength again as well, that’ll help, and of course, once the games are counting Stotts will be mixing and matching more and getting better defensive lineups on the floor.
Again, don’t take too much away from this scrimmage. Portland was missing two key players, didn’t alter lineups too much, and there were a lot of positives to take away. This version of Portland is better than the version that existed when the season was suspended.
Top Photo: Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images