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Game 8 Preview: Portland at Denver

After a 4-0 homestand against quality competition I don't think the buzz and celebration surrounding the team could get any bigger.  This was a great statement for the team to make...something near-unthinkable for the last few seasons.  This stretch showed what the team is capable of and confidence-boosters such as this will have long-range effects on the team's play.

Unfortunately the odds are long against short-range effects.  In fact this game smells like a potential blowout in the making.  Consider:

--This will be Portland's 5th game in the last 8 days and the second of a back-to-back, on the road no less.

--We have been playing with a tight rotation and our main guys have been getting long minutes.

--This will be a fast-paced game.

--It will be in Denver with the thin air.

--Young teams always play better at home than on the road.  The emotion is just different.

And those are just the peripheral issues.  If you want to talk basketball, consider the Blazers have had trouble all season with slashing, scoring smalls.  The list:

Tayshaun Prince, 20
Chauncey Billups, 19
Josh Howard, 20
Jason Terry, 16
Rudy Gay, 31
Chris Paul, 18
Tracy McGrady, 20
Mike James, 17
Chris Paul, 19
Bobby Jackson, 14 (in 18 minutes)
Tony Parker, 19
Manu Ginobili, 16

In fact you can count the number of scoring, slashing wings we've contained this season on about three fingers.  But almost every name on the list so far is child's play compared to the one-two punch of Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony.  They're each averaging over 25 points a game on around 45% shooting, which is a good percentage.  They can't be stopped by mere mortals, and our perimeter defenders have looked far less that mortal many nights.  Plus check this out:  they're both above 80% from the line and between them the Wonder Twins average 13.5 assists, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 steals, and 17 free throw attempts.  (They also combine for 7.5 turnovers, which isn't so good, but the rest of the stats overwhelm that.)  One of the two has topped 30 in 6 of the 8 games they've played so far.  In short they're playing great together and each appears to be maximizing their potential.  That ain't a good thing.

The Nuggets had a three-game losing streak to New Orleans, New York, and Boston in the midst of their five wins, but other than those games they haven't been beating people, they've been pounding them.  They've already posted victory margins of 17, 22, and 26.  Denver is averaging 108 per game on 47% shooting.  They're one of those teams that just wants to get as many possessions going as possible.  They don't care if you get a few more.  They figure they'll convert on more of theirs and come out the winners.

As a team Denver is shooting incredibly well from the three-point line, averaging a ton of free throws, and getting an amazing 10 steals per game.  Marcus Camby is continuing his long streak of excellent shot-blocking and rebounding, averaging 2.8 and 14 respectively so far.  J.R. Smith is a dangerous slasher, Linas Kleiza is developing an all-around scoring game, and Kenyon Martin and Nene Hilario are splitting minutes, providing athleticism and rebounding.  This team won't just run you, it will pound you.

Denver's weaknesses are defense and turnovers.  Their defense isn't as bad as some but they will lose focus and let you score for every time they score.  You can run on this team and break them down.  They average as many turnovers as they force.  Also outside of the Wonder Twins they have a lot of poor foul shooters.  This could be helpful if the game is close.  But again, few Denver games are close.  They either blow the opponent out or get blown out.  I have a hard time seeing Portland blowing them out tonight.

What I'd Like to See

  1.  Since we're not likely to shut Denver's scoring machine down we need sustained energy and scoring ourselves.  These are probably going to have to come from the secondary scorers on the team...guys who haven't played every minute of every game so far.  This may be a huge opportunity for someone like Travis Outlaw to just go out there and score to his heart's content.   (Channing Frye?  Dare we hope?)   Whoever gets on a hot streak should be ridden.
  2.  Denver will likely give up the ball no matter what.  It would help if we didn't.  Not turning it over would limit their offensive chances and especially their break chances.  That could give us an edge.
  3.  Another easy way to limit their scoring is to be more patient with the ball than they are.  This doesn't mean we should pass up layups off the break but if that's not there we shouldn't feel compelled to shoot early in the clock, especially from distance.  Work the ball around a little, see what's there, and take a good, open shot.
  4.  Speaking of good shots, we need to drive it again tonight.  Denver scores a lot of extra points off of threes and free throws.  We have to try and keep up, or at least not get overwhelmed.  You'll never foul out either of their stars and they have a deep enough cadre of big men that you'll always see a capable replacement, but scoring 25 points from the charity stripe would go a long way towards that 100+ that we need.  Driving will also free up outside shots.  Martell sticking threes off the pass is more extra points.
  5.  If Denver comes hard with elbows and bumps we better come right back at them with some toughness of our own.  This is especially true if they try to rough up Lamarcus.
  6.  Whoever's guarding Brandon Roy...exploit him.
Though a win would make a bold (and unexpected) statement I am preparing myself to be satisfied with any game that we're still in at the start of the fourth period.  Personally I am just hoping not to lose by more than two touchdowns.

--Dave (