It was sunny in Portland Monday and a few rays of sunshine were actually evident inside the Trail Blazers’ practice facility.
Jusuf Nurkic returned to practice in preparation for his Sunday season debut, Zach Collins was getting a physical test from assistant coaches in a controlled drill in the halfcourt and even Rodney Hood was present, working on some ballhandling drills.
Damian Lillard and Coach Terry Stotts agreed that it was great to have Nurkic back on the floor with his teammates. And not just for his basketball ability. The guy is just fun to be around.
Collins -- “he’s not even close to being ready for a full practice,” Stotts said -- took a lot of contact on shots and rebounds from the coaching staff as he frollicked around under the basket. His joy at being able to even go through drills was obvious.
Hood, of course, is still a long way from being able to play after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon, but it’s apparent he’s been in the weight room working on his upper body, certainly, if nothing else, when one of his coaches called him “Popeye” from across the gym floor.
Stotts was asked about Tuesday night’s game against Phoenix, a team that blew the Trail Blazers away 127-117 Friday night.
“They’re playing at a good rhythm,” Stotts said, pointing to a 140-131 win the Suns had Sunday night over Milwaukee, which was without Giannis Antetokounmpo. “Defensively, we have to find their three-point shooters. Obviously, I don’t expect (Aron) Baynes to shoot it as well as he did against us but he made his first two last night and that opened up the game.
“Transition and threes will be our defensive concerns.”
Baynes tore the Trail Blazers up, hitting 9 of his 14 three-pointers on the way to a career-high 37 points. And the Suns took advantage of a lot of open threes, hitting 19 of 42.
It was a problem Portland had in its last game, a loss at home to Sacramento Saturday night, when the Kings hit 21 of 39 shots from long range to blow the Trail Blazers out of Moda Center.
It’s probably a fine idea that defending threes will be among the “defensive concerns.”