Mario Hezonja helps Trail Blazers turn loss into a positive experience

Dwight Jaynes
NBC Sports Northwest

DENVER – The Trail Blazers wrapped up their exhibition season Thursday night in a positive manner.

No, they didn't win the game. But they played well – given they played without Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside – and didn't suffer any further injuries. The Denver Nuggets won the contest 110-104 but that's not important.

What matters is that the Trail Blazers continued to showcase solid play from contributors who will likely come off the bench when the season starts next week in the Moda Center against these same Nuggets.

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Mario Hezonja had his second straight solid game. In three seconds short of 28 minutes, he made 6 of his 11 shots from the floor, including 3-4 from the three-point line, scored 18 points, had five rebounds and six assists.

"Getting used to everyone around me, getting used to the system, getting used to the stuff that we run, getting used to the defense," he said, "It's up and down – not just for me but for all the new guys. It's normal. But we have great chemistry. We have a great team. It's like a brotherhood. We've accomplished a lot of great things in a short amount of time.

"Now everything starts to go for real."

Hezonja is going to be playing at several positions, as the team tries to take advantage of his versatility and athleticism.

"I've learned sets for like four spots on the court," he said. "It was tough in the beginning but now I know where I'm going to be and I know what Coach Terry is asking of me, so now it's going very good."

Stotts said he's been pleased with what he's seen from his team on this two-game road trip.

"The last two games have been good tuneups for us," he said. "Now we've got three or four practices to get ready for Denver again.

"Mario played well both nights. Tonight, in the first quarter we had a big lineup out there and he was the point guard. We put in some sets where he could drive the ball and make some plays."

Skal Labissiere made all of his four shots from the floor and had five rebounds to go with 12 points.

Stotts turned the fourth quarter over to his non-roster players and they stayed close to the Nuggets for a while but couldn't hang on. The big thing was Portland being able to handle the Denver starters in the first half without using three of their own starters.

But, of course, it didn't count for anything. And that stuff is in the past. Beginning next week in Moda Center, everything is for real.

Mario Hezonja helps Trail Blazers turn loss into a positive experience originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest

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