There was a game within the game on Tuesday night as the Trail Blazers hosted the Denver Nuggets in Portland’s first exhibition game of the year.
During second half action, a side battle between Blazers rookie Nassir Little and Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. was initiated.
Porter Jr. started to get it going offensively and in turn, started talking trash to the Blazers bench.
With Portland’s starters on the bench for the second half, Damian Lillard heard Porter Jr. spout off. Lillard then wanted to fire up his rookie.
Lillard said postgame, “Young players are really confident and try to prove themselves. We started gassin’ up Nas. ‘Like, Nas!’”
After the game, Little explained the situation:
“There was a little bit of talking out on the court. Dame overheard it. He came up to me and said, ‘hey bro, just hoop.’ That was all gas by Dame,” Little said with a smile.
Lillard added, “I got in [Little’s] ear like, ‘ look neither one of you all got a single point as a professional athlete and he’s challenging you right now. Let me see something.”
Little was up for the challenge.
The Blazers rookie admitted Lillard ‘gassin him up’ it worked.
Little was productive in his 12 minutes of play. He recorded eights points and four rebounds.
Little’s aggressive nature broke through.
The 19-year-old made a living at the free throw line on Tuesday hitting 6-of-7 from the charity stripe.
“I was just having fun, bringing energy to the court like always,” Little said postgame.
Porter Jr. finished with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 1-of-2 from the free throw line in 17 minutes of action.
Even as a rookie, Little already understands he has to show his teeth first.
Little pointed out after Wednesday’s practice that he "has to have a 'pit bull' mentality on the court, especially being a rookie in this league you’ve got to establish that dominance early.”
Little also believes that not enough credit is given to the type of leader Lillard has become.
“It’s big time. Leadership is an undervalued thing. Having a guy like Dame instill confidence in the younger guys I think is really important because the better we are, the better we can help the team, even out here in practice.”
It wasn’t just Lillard who was able to pump up Little on Tuesday night.
The Blazers rookie gave a shout out to the fans as well.
“That’s one of my favorite parts about basketball, is playing in environments like that, making big plays and getting everybody excited. I just fed off of that."