Denver Blazes By Portland

The Portland Trail Blazers have finished what amounted to an extended preseason. Now they're ready to take on the Los Angeles Lakers.

Steve Smith scored 22 points and Scottie Pippen had 18 as the Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets 95-83 Friday night for their third straight easy victory.

The Blazers never really were threatened, but did struggle at times against the Nuggets, especially inside. Antonio McDyess had four of Denver's seven blocks, and Portland's 19 turnovers kept them from turning the game into a blowout.

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Game Summary

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  • "We didn't play very well tonight," Pippen said. "We had the opportunity to build on our lead, but instead we let them back in the game. We're still learning, and we have to learn to put teams away."

    Portland has won its games by an average of 18 points over Vancouver, the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver teams that went a combined 31-119 last season. On Saturday night, the Blazers play host to the Lakers in an early showdown between the Pacific Division's most talented teams.

    "These three games were with teams that might not make the playoffs," said Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis, who had 10 points, five rebounds and three steals. "Tomorrow is a real game, and then we'll see what we've got."

    Detlef Schrempf added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Blazers.

    Raef LaFrentz scored 17 points, Nick Van Exel had 16 and Ron Mercer added 15 for the Nuggets, who committed 21 turnovers.

    Portland led by as many as 24 in the third quarter, but two straight 3-pointers by LaFrentz chipped away at the lead.

    A 3-pointer by Van Exel and a basket by Ryan Bowen to start the fourth quarter pulled Denver within 75-66, but that was as close as the Nuggets would get.

    "There is not much margin for error against the Blazers," Denver coach Dan Issel said. "To beat this team, you have to play pretty much a perfect game."

    In the third quarter, with Denver trailing 55-40, Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy was yelling at the officials for calling too many fouls against his team. Issel walked to midcourt, smiling, and told him, "We've got to get every call to stay within 20."

    The Nuggets, coming off a season-opening overtime victory against Phoenix, shot just 25 percent in the second quarter and trailed 49-32 at halftime.

    Rasheed Wallace got the start at center for the Blazers, who were trying to rest the 34-year-old Sabonis for Saturday night's matchup against Shaquille O'Neal.

    But Wallace quickly went into one of his pouting episodes after he was called for a technical foul with four minutes left in the first quarter. He left the game with 10:03 to go after picking up his fifth foul. He finished with 2 points on 0-for-4 shooting in just 16 minutes.

    Sabonis, working hard and getting roughed up inside, played 21 solid minutes.

    "The idea was, I was trying to see if we could play Sabas fewer minutes tonight, and wasn't able to do it," Dunleavy said. "We needed him in the second quarter."

    McDyess was bothered again by a sprained right ankle, but he still had 11 points and eight rebounds.


  • Smith, acquired in a trade from Atlanta for his shooting and consistent play, has scored 22 points in each of his first three games with the Blazers.
  • Portland shot a combined 58 percent in its first two games but just 47 Friday night.
  • LaFrentz looked good again in his second game back after reconstructive surgery on his left knee. He added eight rebounds three nights after getting 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the opener.
  • The Nuggets shot 43 percent.

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