USA TODAY Sports
Denver scores a ton, hitting like a freight train and proving just as difficult to stop. They're talented, deep, and big. But they don't guard or shoot the three and they struggle on the road. Will those weaknesses allow the Blazers to sneak in another win?
The Portland Trail Blazers take on the Denver Nuggets tonight in a 7:30 p.m. Pacific start televised locally on CSNNW and nationally on ESPN.
The Nuggets are an interesting case. They can win against anyone (and have). They can lose against anyone (and have). They really should change their uniforms to Star Fleet red because like Star Trek's vaunted security forces they're elite when they're a mile high on the mother ship but get massacred every time they go somewhere. 24-3 at home shows their potential. 12-19 on the road--worst of all playoff teams besides Utah and Boston--shows how far they have to go. They're equal opportunity to the point of split personalities, beating the Lakers and Celtics, losing to the Wizards and Raptors. And that's all within the past two weeks.
Winning or losing, the Nuggets are one of the most potent offensive teams in the league. Like decent music and reasonable fashion, you won't find them in the 80's or 90's very often. They either lose scoring 104 or win scoring 114. We say this every time the Blazers meet them but it bears repeating: they are the Kings of Easy.
Getting bogged down in specifics can kill an audience but you really need to check this out. The Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons each average 46.1 points in the paint per game. That ties them for second in the league. Denver averages 57.1 points in the paint per game. They're 11 points per game ahead of the next best teams. The distance between them and #2 is greater than the distance between #2 and #29. That's incomprehensible. They've averaged 68 points in the paint over their last three games. Scoring nearly 70 in the paint every game is just stupid ridiculous.
The Nuggets also lead the league in fast break points per game, though their dominance here is not as pronounced. They're 3rd in free throws attempted per game, 4th in field goal percentage, 7th in effective field goal percentage, 6th in offensive efficiency. The raw production stats are influenced by their fast pace (2nd in the league) but the rest of their dossier lives up to the analysis: they're scary productive on that end.
The only thing that keeps them from being even more of a juggernaut is their inability to hit from the perimeter. Their jump shooters are Dalmatian-level spotty and their 3 point percentage ranks a relatively sad 25th in the league. This actually might make their paint dominance more impressive though. They're scoring near the rim without much outside shooting to draw the defense.
Speaking of defense...the Nuggets are not nearly so free in giving those easy buckets as they are in taking them. They're 10th in the league in points in the paint allowed, leaving them an astonishing +16.8 point per game margin in the lane. They must have been avoiding maiden-filled castles this year as well, as they've found the holy grail of the transition game: scoring tons of fast break points without giving them up. They're 7th in the league in fast break points allowed.
As with the offense, Denver's defense gets worse the farther they move from the bucket. They're not much better at defending the three than they are at shooting it.
Rebounding is also a study in contrasts. The Nuggets are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league (almost unfair, considering) but they're among the worst defensive rebounding teams.
Wrap that all in a bow, put a yellow and blue ribbon on it, and what do you have? A really impressive team with a couple of weaknesses that they overcome most nights but that also prove fatal when their best energy/emotion/focus isn't in the game.
The Nuggets put 7 players in double figures. Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson lead them with 17 and 16 per night respectively. Forwards Andre Iguodala and Kenneth Faried chip in 13 and 12. Wing swinger Corey Brewer adds 11 and reserve center JaVale McGee is close enough to 10 for the difference not to matter. The 7th guy, shooting guard Wilson Chandler, was barely returning to action following an injury the last time the Nuggets and Blazers met. Chandler is back now bringing his all-around goodness and has even topped 20 points in 2 of Denver's last 3 outings. If you remember the Carmelo Anthony trade, Chandler was actually one of the more exciting players coming to the Nuggets. It speaks of their depth that he's good but not necessarily prominent with them in their current incarnation.
Add in Andre Miller plus Kosta Koufos and the Nuggets have size, depth, and talent to burn. It's sometimes a fun night playing them but it's never easy.
The Blazers will need to hit shots tonight, particularly those deep jumpers. Rebounding will be huge. Portland can't afford to give up a billion points in the paint and then another half-billion to offensive rebounds. Keep them one-and-done and even Denver's offense will eventually look honest. Getting back in transition is also a high priority, lest this game end before it starts. It's not like the Nuggets won't let you back in if they go up 20, but their offense generates escape velocity fairly quickly. There's a good chance that the traditional Portland "Don't play that well in the first half then reel them back to earth in the second" approach will leave them with nothing left to reel in by the time the third quarter comes around as the Nuggets jet their way to 120 and an easy win.
Denver Stiffs will cover the Nuggets angles for you.
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