Game 35 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets

Game Time: 6:00 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW

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Lineup/Injury Updates

Joe Freeman of The Oregonian reports from Denver that center Joel Przybilla will be inactive for Wednesday night's game but is expected to play against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Rose Garden on Saturday night.

Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports that Blazers coach Nate McMillan said on Tuesday that he will stick with the same starting lineup: Jamal Crawford, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby.

Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post reports that Denver Nuggets center Nene Hilario (calf) and guard Rudy Fernandez (back) will not play on Wednesday night. Guard Ty Lawson will play. -- Ben

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The Blazers hop back in the saddle again tonight with a tilt against the Denver Nuggets. Portland carries a couple advantages in this game. They're well-rested. Plus Denver has been playing like crap on toast for a solid month. Their 14-5 start to the season seems like ancient history. They've gone 4-12 since. Losing leading scorer Danilo Gallinari midway through that stretch hasn't helped. The Nuggets field a nice blend of youth and experience, no real stars but a bunch of guys with talent who play well together. Losing a major cog like Gallinari puts more pressure on everyone. Now instead of helping out guys like Andre Miller, Al Harrington, and Corey Brewer are trying to carry the team along with point guard Ty Lawson. Losing Lawson and shooting guard Rudy Fernandez to short-term injuries before the All-Star break didn't help Denver's prospects either. Both should suit tonight. Gallinari won't.

Denver's gig this season has been score, score, score and salt in enough defense to win. In the last month their offensive production has declined and their defense has become permissive. At season's start they were topping 100 in nearly 60% of their non-overtime games. The last four weeks have reduced that to 50%. They allowed opponents 100 in only 6 of their first 17 non-overtime games. They've done it 9 times in their last 13 non-overtime contests. Absent their leading scorer they just can't generate enough points to keep up.

The Nuggets love their easy points. They lead in the league in points in the paint per game, fast break points per game, and free throws drawn per game. Their shooting percentage is great, 3rd overall. The only thing they don't do well offensively is shoot deep. Their three-point percentage is 22nd in the league. Turnovers are an issue but they're actually not bad for the number of possessions they generate (topping everyone else by far). Denver wants to go fast and score as directly as possible. They get in trouble when they bog down into iso sets. Holding the ball is their enemy.

The Nuggets also want you to shoot quickly, but they prefer you rack up jumpers while they hit layups. For a team relying so much on the break they're good at getting back. They defend the paint well enough too. They'll let you shoot three-pointers all night long. They're 29th in the league in three-point attempts against and percentage against. But those long shots also lead to long misses. Then guess what happens? The Nuggets don't foul either. It's the simplest exchange in basketball: we'll get our points easy, you get yours slightly harder, let's see who wins on average. The problem, as we mentioned, is that they've outrun themselves lately, breaking down in transition and the lane both, getting no better at defending the jumper...basically falling apart.

If you're going to beat the Nuggets you have to take advantage of the turnovers they give you, get back on defense, and not get sucked into thinking that your first shot is the best shot. Be aware of the game they're baiting you into. You have to invert the plan on them, keeping them away from the hoop and watching them make mistakes leading to your points. The Blazers are more than capable of doing so, as their two previous wins against the Nuggets attest. But this game is on the road. If Portland comes out unsure, let alone lifeless as they have in so many road trips, Denver will still run them right off the court.

The Blazers need to signal that they're ready to make a move in the second half of the season. They can't wait. Time and games will get short quickly. If they're at all serious about seeding or making a statement, they have to show it tonight. With Miami coming in tomorrow, starting out the second half 0-2 is a grim possibility if Portland blows this game. They'd likely make it up in the next two, coming back to their current status. But that's 4 games out of the 32 remaining spent getting even instead of getting ahead. That's exactly the kind of math the Blazers can't afford. Beating Denver won't be easy but they need to do it. If Portland is to make any kind of leap in the standings, this is the day it starts.

Read about the Nuggets at Denver Stiffs.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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