Game Time: 7:30pm Pacific TV: KGW and ESPN
Division rival Denver comes into town on Christmas Day with a 20-9 record and a 2-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers. The Nuggets have already walked out of the Rose Garden with a victory this year, defeating the Blazers 97-94 in the second game of the season. The stories of that game were energy and offensive pressure. The Blazers were successful whenever they forced Denver to double team and scramble. Portland fell behind when the Nuggets could defend them straight up. Denver sustained their attack for four quarters while the Blazers played sporadically.
This time around Portland might not be able to force its will on the Nuggets' defense as much. Greg Oden's post play is out. Rudy Fernandez won't be raining threes. Brandon Roy is questionable. It's likely that Denver will be content using their athletic big men to guard LaMarcus Aldridge and to live with whatever Jerryd Bayless produces. They won't fear the rest of the team at all. They'll look to dominate the paint with Kenyon Martin and Nene. They'll let J.R. Smith explode over Bayless. (He had 41 versus the Hawks in their last game.) And most importantly it'll be ‘Melo, ‘Melo, ‘Melo all night long. The Blazers have one small forward. Martell Webster isn't going to be able to stop Anthony but at least he plays the position. When Webster sits Carmelo is going to try and shoot over or blow past whoever is one him, depending on which direction the Blazers go.
The one saving grace for Portland is that Chauncey Billups remains sidelined with a groin injury. Ty Lawson is up and down as most rookies are. He could be great or he could bomb. As long as the Blazers keep him away from his strengths they should be OK. The problem is they have to worry about too many other people to watch the speedy Lawson with the attention needed. Portland's certainly going to have to pull another amazing game out of their hats in order to walk away on the winning side today.
Keys to the Game
1. One of the keys against Denver is not to let them run. It's hard enough to stop Carmelo in the halfcourt. If you have Nene and Smith dunking on you as well you might as well forget it. The Blazers just won't be able to score enough points.
2. Portland will have to wean themselves off of the three-point dependence in this game. Denver has quick guards who can get out to you if they care to. The Blazers probably won't get as many open looks from the perimeter as they're used to. And Portland shooting covered threes is a recipe for disaster.
3. We say it every time with Denver but it's true: they will make you earn it. You have to be intense. You have to push back when they push. You must be tough. I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts if Bayless starts going off he's going to get clocked on a drive sooner or later. You have to shake it off and keep attacking.
4. The Blazers need good games from all of their point guards. The three-guard lineup is going to be precarious against Smith and ‘Melo. It remains to be seen how many minutes each guy gets. But every one of them has to make those minutes count. You cruise, you lose. No missing shots either.
5. Ride the crowd. It's one of the few clear advantages in this game. Emotion can be great motivator.
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