Nuggets throttle Blazers in convincing preseason win 20-1

If Saturday’s preseason opener was evidence that Nikola Jokic is ready for the season to start, consider Wednesday proof that his running-mate, Jamal Murray, is as well.

Murray was aggressive from the jump, scoring Denver’s first eight points in what became a healthy, 126-95 win over Portland. The Nuggets will face the Blazers again on Friday in their final preseason tuneup.

Instead of settling for mid-range looks or the difficult attempts Murray can make, Denver’s fifth-year guard hunted the analytically-friendly shots coach Michael Malone had called for throughout training camp. He finished with 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and four turnovers.

The only serious flaw with Denver’s execution on Wednesday came in the third quarter when the lead ballooned to 24. Murray was careless with the ball on several occasions, and the Nuggets turned sloppy. The 23 turnovers were about the only blemish of the night, yet it was hardly the way Malone wanted to see his team perform with a significant cushion.

It also undermined how cohesive they’d been over the first two quarters.

As a team, the Nuggets had 22 assists on 25 made field goals while shooting 54% from the field in the first half. They finished with 39 assists on 45 made field goals in the win. Like Malone often says sarcastically, that’s a real number.

Another real number: Twelve different players knocked down at least one 3-pointer.

Paul Millsap, who had two triples himself, finished with a team-high 18 points. Most of his production came as a result of slick finds from Jokic and Murray. Denver’s franchise centerpiece finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Barton’s back: There was no more welcome sight for the Nuggets than getting veteran small forward Will Barton back on the court. Aside from one half of a scrimmage in the “Bubble,” Barton hadn’t played since March 11 when the season was suspended due to a nagging knee injury.

Barton, coming off the bench, energized the team’s second unit with playmaking, creativity and confidence. His first game back yielded nine points and three assists in 18 minutes.

Barton’s first basket – a floater to end the first quarter – drew his teammates to their feet. His emotional scream, in the face of former Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, no less – spoke volumes.

“Just having him in practice, having him out there competing, and the only way he’s going to get in game shape is by playing,” Malone said. “These last couple of practices have been great for Will. And tonight, obviously, he’ll get a chance to play and get in those game minutes. I think that’s going to be really important for Will to get back to the level we know he’s capable of playing at.”

Barton has said he wants to start, however, the Nuggets appear relatively set on their starting lineup of Jokic, Murray, Gary Harris, Millsap and Michael Porter Jr. If Barton is willing to accept his role off the bench, Denver’s second unit could be devastating.

On Wednesday Barton played alongside Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, JaMychal Green and Isaiah Hartenstein. Barton’s easily the best scorer of the group, and rather than compete for touches with the starting unit, Barton might be best off doing his damage against opposing second units.

The result, at least Wednesday, meant Facu Campazzo was left out of the rotation. Given Malone’s affinity for the scrappy point guard, it’s hard to see a scenario where he doesn’t find time for him. He’s raved about his defensive intensity and his passion for the game. It’s difficult to believe he wouldn’t utilize it.

Quotable: “I have a feeling that there’s gonna be a lot of kids running around LoHi, Castle Rock, all over Denver metro area wearing Campazzo jerseys because he’s that kind of a player where people can relate to him and they really get excited watching him play.

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