Dang, I got some Nolan Smith in my eye. - Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Last time the Blazers and Nuggets faced off Denver scored 74 points in the paint but lost the game due to historically bad outside shooting. They'll want all those paint points again tonight. Will Portland be able to force them into yet another loss despite their inside prowess?
The Blazers head into Pepsi Center tonight to face the lipsmackin' thirst quenchin' ace tastin' motivatin' good-buzzin' cool talkin' high walkin' fast-livin' ever-givin' cool fizzin' Nuggets tonight in a game that starts around 6:00 p.m. Pacific and will be televised on CSNNW locally and NBATV nationally.
As implied in the opening paragraph, the Nuggets are on quite a roll, having won 5 in a row and 8 out of their last 10. They've been manhandling people lately too, with 4 of those last 5 wins accompanied by 108 points or more and victims including the Lakers, Jazz, and Warriors.
Danilo Gallinari has been on a roll lately with Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried also putting up big numbers. Andre Iguodala is shooting poorly but filling up the boxscore anyway. Center Kosta Koufos is the lone holdout. He scored 21 against the Cavaliers but it's been a while since he's had a good rebounding game. Faried has been making up for him, though, so it hardly matters.
Denver's bench has also come on strong lately. Corey Brewer and Andre Miller continue their season-long string of excellence but the big new for Denver is the return of Wilson Chandler. He returned in their last contest to the tune of 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals. With Chandler in tow the Nuggets now have one of the deepest wing rotations in the league...so deep, in fact, that they might be looking to trade somebody before the deadline. For now, though, they have a nearly-endless supply of guards and small forwards to throw against the Blazers.
Oh, Timofey Mozgov and Javale McGee still play for this team too.
If these rosters were a swimming pool, little toddlers would be tippy-toeing in Portland's end and fat frat guys would be doing cannonballs off a ten-foot board in Denver's. (sigh)
If you've watched the Nuggets at all this season you know they're the kings of Easy Buckets. They score an incredible 56 points per game in the paint. Putting that in perspective, you could combine the production of the Blazers and the New York Knicks and still not come up with enough paint points to seriously outscore Denver. Those with good memories will recall the last meeting between these two teams when the Nuggets scored, like, 2 points outside of the paint. Seriously. (You may also recall the Nuggets setting an NBA record by going 0-22 from the three-point arc in that game, but that's another matter altogether.)
In addition to leading the league in points in the paint by a huge margin, Denver also ranks second in fastbreak points scored per game. Unsurprisingly, that combination inflates their shooting percentages. They're 5th in the league from the field this year. The not-so-little secret: the farther they get from the bucket the worse they are, until you finally push them beyond the arc and they plummet to 28th in three-point shooting percentage. They try to make up for the lack of extra points from distance by recouping them at the foul line. They're 5th in the league at free throws attempted per game as well.
Also not secret: Denver's penchant for offensive rebounding. They're the best in the league in that department.
Denver's defense mirrors their offense. They defend the paint first, a task to which they're more than equal most nights. As you get farther outside their defense gets worse. Then again, they're pretty happy getting high-percentage attempts in the paint themselves while you test the "weak" part of their defense by launching outside shots. They're only average in fast break points allowed, but here again they score 5 more points on the break than they allow the opponent so your victory is Pyrrhic. Get in a running game and you just burned yourself. If Denver has a defensive weakness it's rebounding. They're not as conscientious on this end of the floor as they are with offensive rebounds.
The climb towards a win will be steep for Portland tonight. They have to duplicate their feat from December 20th, making the Nuggets earn their paint points and hoping they miss from farther out. Denver scored 74 in the paint in that game, though. Anybody want to guess what's going to happen if they get that many again? The Blazers also need contributions from their reserves, lest Denver's depth overwhelm. Portland needs to take advantage of offensive rebounding. They also need to remember that Denver allows opponents to move the ball. The Nuggets don't force turnovers and they allow plenty of assists.
All of that going right at once on the road against a good team is a longshot. Fortunately the Blazers get to retreat back home after this and face an easier lineup of opponents. Let's just hope they make it out of the Mile High City in one piece.
Denver Stiffs will tell you about the other side of this equation.
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