The Short Version
Despite the injury, return, second injury, and second return of the hot-shooting Wesley Matthews (Ben has all the details), the Blazers kept the game close for three quarters, before Denver pulled away for the sloppy, turnover-laden win. The Nuggets just had too many available weapons, and the tired Blazers were outscored by 20 in the second half.
The Long Version
In the first quarter, both teams ran a clinic. Well, if it's a clinic specializing in sloppy, lethargic basketball. Wesley Matthews' three 3-pointers helped Portland open an early 4 point lead, and they led by 1 after the first. The good news? Portland didn't need a shovel due to a first quarter hole. The bad news? They only shot 38% in the quarter. But they hit 4 of 6 three's (thanks Wesley!), and had 7 assists on 8 FG's.
Portland continued their hot three point shooting in the second, but easy shots and offensive rebounds kept Denver close. Denver looked surprisingly disinterested at times (at one point, Chris Andersen missed two free throws and a dunk), but kept the score virtually tied thanks to plenty of easy points inside. With 5:15 left in the second, Andre Miller left the game after being hit in the head, leaving Blazer fans to wonder what they'll do without their ironm-- Nevermind, he's back in! That Andre, can't keep him down. Anyway, back to the game and OH COME ON. Now Wesley is down too! He planted his foot, but rolled his ankle and fell right to the ground. Without Matthews, a shell-shocked Portland held their ground, and an Andre Miller floater gave Portland a 1 point lead at the half.
Halftime thoughts: Honestly, if you asked me how Portland led after the half, I'd have replied "They're LEADING?!". Denver outrebounded Portland 27-18 (+3 on offensive), and Portland looked tentative. But they did three things well: They hit threes (7-9 in the first half, while Denver went 1-7), moved the ball well (6 players combined for 13 assists on 15 FG's), and grabbed opportunities against an uninspired and sloppy Nuggets team, (tallying 6 steals and 6 blocks).
Anyway, back to the game. The third quarter gets underway, and WAIT, WHAT IS WESLEY MATTHEWS DOING ON THE COURT?? Well I guess he's ok, so let's play-- HE'S DOWN AGAIN, 19 seconds into the quarter! For the second time, the team watches Wesley being helped off the court. With the Blazers distracted, Denver reeled off 7 quick points to take a 6 point lead. The Blazers wouldn't tolerate that, though. Suddenly, the D tighted, while the offense loosened, and Portland quickly jumped back to a 4 point lead. The Blazers and Nuggets settle into a game of back and forth, helped by a a key bucket: A lucky Kenyon Martin banked three pointer at the shot clock buzzer. No matter what he says now, he didn't call it either. With 4 minutes left in the third, suddenly both teams said "who cares if we're sloppy, let's start shooting!" and it felt like a clearance sale. For sale: Jumpers! Alley-oops! Three pointers! Everything priced to move! But without the hot-shooting Matthews, Denver's defense focused on stopping Aldridge. It worked, slowly cooling Portland's shooting while Denver stayed hot. The quarter ended with three Blazers staring at a Kenyon Martin dunk at the buzzer, to give Denver a 7 point lead.
Wesley Matthews returns again (!) for the fourth quarter, but the third quarter Denver run took the wind out of the Blazer sails. The Nuggets' D focuses on Aldridge, while the Blazers ran a zone defense. The results were immediate, as Denver quickly built a 12 point lead, and Portland was left looking for a spark that wouldn't arrive. Soon, Luke Babbitt and Sean Marks took to the court, and visions of All Star jerseys danced around LaMarcus' head.
Final thoughts: Honestly, this isn't the kind of loss that bothers me too much. An already short-handed Blazer team loses Wesley, but stays close in Denver on the second night of a back-to-back, only to come up short in the fourth. That's just life in the NBA. Credit to the Blazers though: even with sloppy play and mistakes, they kept fighting all night. Win or lose, that's a team I can root for. It's a loss, but not a painful one.
Besides, if I told you yesterday that we'd go 1-1 on the San Antonio/Denver back-to-back, I bet you'd have been thrilled. I sure know I would have been. Let's just get this win back Friday night.
An uninjured Wesley Matthews might have made a difference tonight. After an efficient (and outstanding!) first half, Wesley wasn't the same after rolling his ankle. Before the injury, he was classic "Good Wesley": 19 points on 6-8 shooting (3-5 from three), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals. Almost all by halftime.
LaMarcus Aldridge was already the focus on defense before Wesley left the game. Afterward, it was clear that George "I voted for Aldridge" Karl told his team, "stop that guy". Despite their efforts, he still finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Andre Miller was a mixed bag tonight. 11 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds... sounds like a good, efficient night. Unfortunately, he shot 21% from the field, and led all players with 5 turnovers.
Nicolas Batum kept busy on both offense and defense tonight, scoring 17 points (4-6 from three), and helping hold Carmelo Anthony to a reasonable 20 points.
Dante Cunningham left his mark on this game in two opposite ways. Denver seemed to dare him to shoot, and he obliged, scoring 10 points on 50% shooting. However, he made up for that by somehow turning the ball over 4 times.
Other than one nifty blocked shot, Joel Przybilla was completely ineffective. In 13 minutes, he scored no points, pulled down 3 rebounds, and had a courtside view of a few nice Nugget dunks and layups. Considering his injury history, these nights are to be expected, but you have to wonder if this is closer to the norm for Joel from now on.
Rudy and Patty won't have much to say on Twitter tonight. They combined for 38 minutes, 4-13 shooting, 3 rebounds and 4 assists. This was a game where the Blazers needed a big night from the bench, but it wasn't to be seen.
Congrats to Luke Babbitt, who scored two points tonight!
Denver's balanced attack featured 22 points from Nene, 20 points apiece for Carmelo and Chauncey, plus 18 for JR Smith.
Key team stats:
- Denver out-rebounded Portland, 38-26, including 3 more offensive boards.
- Portland moved the ball nicely all night, with 26 assists on 32 FG's.
- 30 combined turnovers, including plenty of the "pass to the first row" variety.
- This game was all about the shooting percentages. Denver hit 52% of their shots, compared to 43% for Portland. When the Blazers' three point shooting cooled in the second half, Denver hit 7 of 13. Once Denver's shots started falling from the outside, the Blazers ran out of gas. The Blazers tried to go into a zone to compensate, but it was ineffective at best.
A plane trip to the Hoosier state, where the Pacers will be waiting for them, along with two winnable games in two days. Meanwhile, Blazer fans will be watching tomorrow's All Star Game news closely.
The jersey contest results will be available later here, and the new contest form isn't ready yet. Watch for it in Dave's preview Thursday night.