Game Time: 6:00 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW
Bad news for the Portland Trail Blazers: The Denver Nuggets have been a better team so far this year. Good News for the Portland Trail Blazers: Not by much anymore. In fact the Nuggets have lost 6 of their last 9 dating back to December 7th.
Bad News for the Portland Trail Blazers: They're on yet another back-to-back. Plus Marcus Camby injured his ankle last night in Utah and though he's listed as "Day-to-Day" it's unlikely one of those days will turn out to be this one. Good News for the Portland Trail Blazers: Carmelo Anthony is also questionable for this game, though sadly he's coping with the death of his sister, for which our condolences go out. The Nuggets are 4-8 in games in which he fails to contribute more than 20 points, 1-4 in his absence entirely.
The Nuggets have been pulling a somewhat-unusual feat this year. They're not a strong fast breaking team and they're only middling in the paint. But they rank 3rd in the league in points scored. They do this by generating a ton of possessions and making good use of them. Denver is 3rd in the league in pace. They're 12th in shooting percentage, 6th in three-point percentage, and 2nd in free-throw rate. But the Nuggets are split pretty clearly between haves and have-nots in the offense. Anthony, Nene Hilario, Arron Afflalo, and Ty Lawson are shooting extremely well. Chauncey Billups, Al Harrington, J.R. Smith, and Kenyon Martin are not. Assuming Anthony doesn't play, forcing the ball into the hands of the struggling half should be a relatively easy matter. If the Nuggets want to shoot jumpers the Blazers should oblige them. Plenty of shots will go to players who aren't hitting them. The danger for Portland is watching Nene or the recently-returned Martin go off on the interior against a center-free lineup.
Defensively the Nuggets are struggling this year. They're allowing points in the paint. They're mediocre on the defensive glass. The image of a physically dominant, rough-night-for-you interior team has faded, to be replaced by a popcorn-machine full of scorers. Denver plays defense so they can get their next shot. That's it.
This should be good for the Blazers, as that old Nuggets team would have been too much to handle after Utah and injuries. This one may be too, but at least getting beaten into submission isn't the most likely outcome. The Blazers need to rebound better than Denver and throw in enough energy to compensate for the lack of size. That's the same recipe they used to beat the Jazz. Portland has to be careful about relying on the three. Not only does Denver shoot it better, they also defend it well. Portland's guards are going to have to get creative and guys like Dante Cunningham and Nicolas Batum will need to hit outlet jumpers when presented them. If the Blazers can find a way to score with the Nuggets the rest of the game should take care of itself. Without effort and energy, though, even a 'Melo-free Denver team can shoot enough holes in you that you'll never rise.
Portland has not evidenced much consistency this season. This would be a great time to start. What would normally be an intimidating game has become almost winnable. With the bar lower than it would usually be, the Blazers ought to be able to muster enough to clear it.
See what Nugget fans think over at Denver Stiffs.
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