Blazers hope 2-0 start is only beginning

Nuggets come to town also with 2-0 record

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

 

Just so everyone is clear...

The Washington Redskins won their first two games of the season. They are now 5-10. The Buffalo Bills won their first three games of the season. They are now 6-9.

So while Trail Blazers fans are teeming with ebullience after their team’s 2-0 start, know that it is just that: A start.

With the Denver Nuggets coming into the Rose Garden, Thursday’s game can be credibly billed as Portland’s first real test.

Denver finished fifth in the Western Conference last year with a 50-32 record, logging nine more wins than the 76ers and 26 more than the Kings — the Blazers’ first two opponents, respectively.

Just as significantly, Denver surged after trading away Carmelo Anthony, going 17-5 after the deal and upping its assists-per-game average to a whopping 24.1.

Obviously, the results of Thursday’s game are unknown for now, but what’s clear is — somebody is going to lose for the first time. After defeating Utah handily Wednesday, the Nuggets now sit at 2-0 as well.

But the game will also feature some intriguing subplots, most notably Andre Miller’s return to PDX.

The veteran point guard morphed into a fan favorite in his two years wearing a Blazers jersey, serving as the team’s flotation device amid a flurry of otherwise devastating injuries.

He averaged 12.7 points and 7.0 assists for Portland last year, and scored 52 points in a game the previous season despite obviously limited athletic ability.

As Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge said “He scored 50 points without leaving the ground.”

But Miller also embodied the gritty persona that Blazers fans have come to endear.

At one point, the 35-year-old had played in 632 consecutive games, forfeiting the streak only because infamously plowed Clippers forward Blake Griffin into the ground after Griffin twice pushed him while going for an offensive rebound.

Portland traded Miller for Raymond Felton in a three-team deal on draft day in June, a transaction in which the benefit has yet to be determined.

Expect the Rose Garden crowd to greet the point guard fondly, but also expect that affection to dwindle as the game goes on.

The reception the home crowd gives former Blazer Rudy Fernandez remains a bigger question mark.

Portland traded away the Spaniard to the Dallas Mavericks as part of that three-team draft-day deal, and the Mavs would ship him to Denver on Dec. 13.

So it’s not as though fans would see him as a traitor, but seeing as though he asked out of his contract with the Blazers two offseasons ago, and failed to post numbers commensurate with his expectations, applause will likely be mild at best.

A win will put Portland at the 3-0 for the first time since ... well, last year.

However, before that, the Blazers hadn’t won their first three games since the 1999-2000 season, when they started off 4-0 and ended up reaching the Western Conference finals.

However Thursday’s game turns out, conditioning will likely play a role in the outcome.

Portland coach Nate McMillan has stressed since the start of training camp that this time of year typically serves as the month in which players play their way into shape. Given the compressed schedule, becomes a greater factor than usual.

Eleven Blazers saw action when the game was still up for grabs against the Kings Tuesday night (13 played in all), with eight playing at least 17 minutes.

To see a similar game of musical chairs on the bench tonight would certainly not come as a surprise.

But barring an injury, we can fully expect for Aldridge and Gerald Wallace to be on the floor as much as McMillan needs them.

Aldridge is averaging 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds while Wallace is putting up 23.0 and 8.5.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com