The last time the Trail Blazers lost a home opener, a relatively unknown guy at the time by the name of Mike D’Antoni was one of their assistant coaches and their roster featured the likes of Shawn Kemp, Rod Strickland, Rasheed Wallace, Scottie Pippen, Damon Stoudamire, Stacey Augmon, Will Perdue and Arvydas Sabonis. Mike Dunleavy coached the group and it won 50 games, good enough that year for only seventh in the Western Conference.
That 2000-2001 Trail Blazer team lost its home opener to the Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal Los Angeles Lakers 96-86 and it was nothing to be embarrassed about. Those Lakers lost only one playoff game en route to the championship that season, including a sweep of Portland in the first round.
But that, obviously, was a long time ago.
When the Blazers take the floor Wednesday night in Moda Center with their 18-game win streak in home openers on the line, it may prove to be one of their toughest battles since that night when it squared off with those talented Lakers.
The Denver Nuggets, who took Portland to seven games in the Western Conference playoffs last spring, are back with a talented young team bolstered by the addition of two very good bench players, Starting guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are talented and improving. Power forward Paul Millsap has been a Blazer killer for years and center Nikola Jokic is a superstar in the making. Ex-Trail Blazer scoring machine Will Barton comes off the bench and the Nuggets have added smooth three-point shooter Jerami Grant and highly touted second-year forward Michael Porter Jr., who sat out his rookie season with an injury.
The Nuggets are talented, deep and hungry after earning the No. 2 seed in the West last season and being bounced out of the playoffs by Portland, which won the series on Denver’s court.
“They’re a really good team,” said Damian Lillard. “They were a two seed last year. Jokic, Murray, Millsap. Will, Gary Harris – they’re deep and they’ve got everything you need on a team. They’ve got good shooters, good bigs, their bigs can score on the block, their bigs can score from the perimeter, they pass the ball well, they have good guard play, good defenders, good size.
“What else you want?”
Meanwhile, the Blazers embark on season No. 50 with perhaps the best guard combo in the league of Lillard and CJ McCollum and a probable starting frontline that makes its regular-season debut as a group. Hassan Whiteside will be the center, between Rodney Hood and Zach Collins.
Mike D’Antoni is not expected to be there.