Blazers, Kings look to rebound after season openers

NBA
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The uncertainty of Jusuf Nurkic’s recovery timetable from a horrific broken leg prompted the Portland Trail Blazers to acquire Hassan Whiteside in the offseason.

Whiteside, a 7-foot center, made a strong first impression with his new club even though the Trail Blazers were on the losing end of their season-opening game against the Denver Nuggets.

Whiteside contributed 16 points and 19 rebounds in his Portland debut. He will look to follow up with another solid outing when the Trail Blazers visit the Sacramento Kings on Friday in the first contest of a four-game road trip.

Portland absorbed a 108-100 loss to the Nuggets on Wednesday to end their NBA-record streak of 18 straight wins in home openers. However, it wasn’t the fault of Whiteside, who also worked hard defensively to keep Denver star Nikola Jokic somewhat in check with 20 points.

“I loved what he did, that’s what we all had in mind when he came here,” star point guard Damian Lillard told reporters. “I’ve never seen anybody guard Jokic by themselves that well so consistently. … What he was doing was very impressive. I told him that’s the type of impact we’re going to need from him every night.”

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts termed it as “a great opening” for Whiteside, who has repeatedly expressed his happiness over being dealt to Portland.

Whiteside spent the previous five seasons with the Heat and had some clashes with Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, including a dispute over last season’s benching that helped lead to his departure.

“I’m definitely in a better place,” Whiteside said. “I’m very excited to play with this team and this unit. I feel like it is a fresh start. It’s a team I wanted to come to and a team I always admired from afar.”

Whiteside now looks to help the Trail Blazers get their first win against the Kings, who were obliterated 124-95 by the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday in their opener.

If the margin of defeat weren’t bad enough, the news became worse on Thursday when Sacramento learned that promising power forward Marvin Bagley III will be sidelined four to six weeks after breaking his right thumb in the one-sided affair.

“Very unfortunate,” Kings coach Luke Walton told reporters after practice Thursday. “He’s been making some very nice progress in the short amount of time we’ve been together.”

The news was better when it came to backcourt duo Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox, who both sustained ankle injuries on Wednesday.

“Fox is good. Fox practiced today so he should be ready to go tomorrow,” Walton said Thursday. “Buddy’s day-to-day. Did not practice … Hopefully he’ll be able to go.”

Hield scored 22 of his 28 points in the first half and finished with six 3-pointers against Phoenix. After the game, he insisted the ankle injury was only a minor ailment.

“My ankle is sore, but I’m still going to play regardless,” Hield said. “I feel like I could have gone back in. Ankle’s a little sore, but I’m going to hoop, man. It’s what I do.”

Probably more painful was Sacramento’s play, as the club committed 27 turnovers leading to 35 points in the subpar effort. The Kings also were outscored 70-36 in the second half.

“We got to clean up the turnovers,” Walton said. “You’re not going to win when you turn it over that many times. … We have a lot to get better at. We knew that whether we won or lost this game.”

As for the Blazers, they were hurt by making just 7 of 28 3-pointers while the Nuggets were sinking 18 of 32. Lillard recorded 32 points and eight assists but said Denver played better when it counted most.

“When the game was being decided, we just had too many lapses on both ends of the floor,” Lillard said. “We put ourselves in position where it was going to be hard to come back from it.”

The Trail Blazers have won five of their past six meetings with the Kings.

–Field Level Media

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