The first half action of the Trail Blazers first action of the season was fast action.
Say that three times fast.
A key piece in the Blazers getting out and running against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night was in thanks to Portland’s second unit, and more specifically to point-forward Mario Hezonja.
Hezonja along with Anthony Tolliver, Kent Bazemore, and Skal Labissiere, all kicked into another gear late in the first quarter.
“The first half with that group, when [Hezonja] was in there he really pushed the ball, good tempo, good pace,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. “I think we lost a little bit of our pace in the second half. He’s good in the open court, pushing the tempo.”
Portland ended up dropping its first exhibition game, 105-94, but Blazers fans got a good glimpse of the speed and playmaking of Hezonja.
For the Trail Blazers floor general Damian Lillard, he compared Hezonja to former Blazer Evan Turner, but with a different flare.
“He’s a playmaker. Just having the luxury of having somebody else that’s a really good playmaker, the same role as ET, but more up-tempo. He’s up-tempo, he’s downhill, and just a lot of times where the weak side falls asleep and they loosen up and the defense is wearing down he’s zipping those passes through the defense and he’s see that. So, I think that’s going to be really good for me and CJ [McCollum],” Lillard said.
Simons, Bazemore, and Hezonja were all interchangeable to run point.
McCollum was not surprised in the least with Hezonja’s performance.
“I think Mario was great. He’s been pushing the ball in transition all of September. He showed great vision, good size, finishing around the basket. We’ve seen. It’s more about you guys getting a chance to see him and really understanding what he can bring to this team,” McCollum said.
When he was asked about why Hezonja like to push the pace, he cracked a smile and said, “It comes from my heart.”
Hezonja, added, “If you have it why not use it,” on his ability to push the pace.
Hezonja grew up playing point guard... until he started sprouting up and eventually moved from guard to forward.
He is just four years removed from holding down point guard duties when he played in Croatia and in Barcelona.
The 24-year-old credits Coach Stotts and the Blazers coaching staff in being be able to play free.
“The first time they told me was if you do a mistake, just keep doing what you do,” Hezonja said.
“They just basically gave me the keys to the car,” Hezonja added.
In 20 minutes of action, Hezonja finished with 12 points, six rebounds, and two assists, while also getting the crowd behind him.
Hezonja noted the team chemistry was instant, despite the Blazers bringing in seven new players.
“We had a lot of success in the first half executing… The chemistry was awesome from day one,” Hezonja said.
Blazer fans might not all be chemistry majors, but one thing is certain for the Blazers: One part Hezonja with four parts of player speed around him equals good Blazer Basketball.