Ah yes, here's where it all comes crashing down. The Nuggets are on the docket tonight. They are 14-9 overall, 10-3 at home. More importantly, they are like Kryptonite to whatever super powers we have. It's not so much that they can stop us. Super Trout may still get out of the phone booth and high in the air by the fourth. Brandon Roy may pull more gadgets out of his utility belt than we thought possible. James Jones may play the long-range sniper role to the hilt. It probably doesn't matter. We can't stop them. It's almost as if they're built to crush us on offense. Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson might as well be natural disasters for all we can do about them. Iverson causes our guards no end of trouble with his drives, his ability to absorb punishment, and his free throw drawing. He's never been shy about hoisting but this year he's shooting 46.5%. When he's hitting at that clip everybody is in trouble. Believe it or not, we're even less equipped to handle Anthony. Name me a small forward we have who can play defense. I'll wait. Still waiting... If you said Travis Outlaw, forget it. He has athletic ability and comes with the energy now and again but this isn't like helping to handle Dirk Nowitzki earlier in the year (a task Travis was up to on that one night at home). Dirk is slower and far more predictable than `Melo. Anthony will okey-doke Travis like a Three-Card Monte dealer. Trout better hide his wallet and get out of town. There have been exactly three games all season where neither of the Wonder Twins have scored 25+. Even one of them busting 30 could well be enough to beat us.
The other guy who's been playing out of his mind for Denver has been Marcus Camby. He's always been six kinds of trouble for us because he can hit that jumper from the foul line and our bigger centers don't like to come out on him. You'd think Channing Frye could help out here but Channing Frye couldn't find his way over Niagra Falls in an oar-less rowboat right now. Camby has also been even more of a terror on the boards than usual, averaging 14.8 per game. That, my friends, is nastier than Rosie O'Donnell's armpits. (Not that I know personally.) He can pass the ball and block the heck out of your shot too. Even though he's not the greatest straight-up defender in the world I don't think that's a severe handicap with Joel Przybilla on the other side.
Denver also gets credible minutes from Kenyon Martin and Linas Kleiza at forward. Nene Hilario is nowhere near the force he was last year but his athleticism always seems to give us trouble. The rest of their lineup is so-so. If we can manage to get them to focus on somebody besides the aforementioned half-dozen guys maybe we have a shot?
When they're not exploiting their 31 flavors of scoring Denver thrives on thefts and charity tosses. They average an amazing 10.2 steals per game. They routinely get 5 more foul attempts than opponents. For those who believe in voodoo, they're also an incredible free-throw defensive team. Their opponents are mysteriously averaging under 70% against them at the line. I can only guess they excel at trash talking in the rebounding queue.
So what are the Nuggets' weaknesses? They have a few. Despite all of their frontcourt accolades they actually give up more rebounds than they get. Anthony in particular has a habit of disappearing on the boards and if he's not paying attention they're not the same team. The Blazers seldom take advantage of rebounding indifference, however. Denver will also turn the ball over like they were allergic to it. Their losses often involve a spectacular amount of scoring by their opponents for exactly this reason.
What I'd Like To See
- First and foremost I'd like to see at least one quarter of the gritty, gutsy, polished basketball we've been playing...and I'd like it to be the first quarter. If Denver thinks we're playing too close for comfort and decides to brush us off like an annoying fly later in the game I'm good with that. But I want them to have to work at it instead of us approaching the contest like Lenny Suckerpunch trying to get his first date.
- Denver is going to remember the old Blazers more than they respect the new Blazers. That means they're likely to pack it in and dare us to shoot at first. So be it. Our guys have got to hit a couple to free things up. I'm looking at you Martell Webster, James Jones, and Steve Blake. But after that we need to drive and start hitting some bodies in there. Bounce off of Marcus Camby like a pinball and try to get him fouled to the bench. Make Carmelo move his feet on defense. Attack the lane with the same gusto you've had during the winning streak.
- We CANNOT TURN THE BALL OVER. All we need is to send them to Dunkyland with day passes courtesy of our miscues. They'll ride that coaster until they throw up and we'll walk away with a 26 point defeat.
- A big key to this game will be our second unit dominating theirs. If we can go +10 with the subs and scrubs we give the starters a far better chance to pull out a surprise win in the fourth. If we play even or lose to their second unit we can probably kiss this game goodbye. By the way Pine Crew, you did read what I just said about turnovers, right?
- Anything you can do to make J.R. Smith take over the game offensively, do it.
- If you recall the Nuggets made like schoolyard bullies last time we played and we pretty much knuckled under. You can bet they're going to put physical pressure on us again. Have we learned anything?
- Providing we do lose this game (which obviously I think is likely) I'd love to hear very little Blazer fan complaining of people not stepping up, coaches being stupid, or whatever. A six game win streak is amazing for this team, especially in Lamarcus' absence. A seventh victory on the road against the Nuggets would be beyond the pale. If it happens we should be dancing in the streets like we just won the lottery. But falling short tonight wouldn't tarnish the streak one bit, nor does it mean we suddenly turned into a bad team. All it means is we were overmatched on the court as well as on paper.