Long Story Short: The Blazers try to beat the Nuggets with offense, which is a little like trying to beat the ocean with a garden sprinkler. Despite some heroic production from the supporting cast Portland's two main stars come up woefully short and Denver waltzes to a pretty victory.
The starting lineups revealed that both Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin would sit out this game. That left Denver down an interior scorer and rebounder. It left Portland down an interior defender and rebounder. Unfortunately Denver had other interior scorers while the Blazers couldn't muster a suitable substitute for Camby's one-man lane patrol. It was advantage: Denver out of the gate in a game where the Nuggets didn't need more advantages.
Both teams started the game shooting and making mid-range-plus jumpers. The score was close early but another difference between the two squads became readily apparent after the first few minutes. Denver hitting jumpers put enormous pressure on Portland's defense as the Blazers weren't free to clog the lane and give Juwan Howard defensive assistance. As a result the Nuggets followed up their early perimeter success with more rim shots than Henny Youngman's drummer. Portland hitting early jumpers led to...more jumpers. The Blazers tried to break the trend by pushing the ball upcourt after every Denver make. Unfortunately the Nuggets made so many shots that the Blazers got tired from all the running. Portland also turned the ball over late in the quarter. The running, jump-shooting experiment netted them 21 points to Denver's 34 in the period. Back to the drawing board.
Unfortunately the drawing board didn't hold any more effective blueprints in the second stanza. Portland alternated between moving the ball and scoring on the "J" or going one-on-one and missing the "J". The second unit, behind Bayless and Fernandez, provided more energy than the starters and actually ended up scoring easier. However the defense didn't get any better so the Blazers ended up behind no matter how much they scored. Pretty much all you need to know about how this game was going was answered by the 6:00 mark in the second period. If recent history was any guide the Blazers needed to hold the Nuggets well below 100 to have a chance at winning. Any accomplished math major will tell you that means fewer than 50 points in each half. The Nuggets had 50 points by the 6:00 mark. At that point you knew Seabiscuit wasn't making the comeback.
Though the stunning come-from-behind victory wasn't in the cards at least the horse managed to keep itself from getting shot. The defense never got much better outside of a few opportunistic moments taking advantage of Denver turnovers. But the offense got a major spark in the second half from Jerryd Bayless who figured, rightly, that the way to solve the Denver puzzle was to drive and foul out everyone in the building. It worked well as Bayless marched to the line again and again. His penetration opened up some shots for the Blazer wings and Portland climbed back within single digits for a while. Andre Miller also riffed on that theme. Besides that he had the moment of the night when he found himself behind all the Denver defenders on a turnover breakout. Receiving the ball from Martell Webster he collected himself on the dribble, elevated, and threw down a pretty decent impression of a leaning tomahawk jam. No lie. ESPN's cameras caught the Blazer bench afterwards. To a man they were standing. There was little cheering. Instead every one of them was looking at the big-screen replay trying to confirm what they thought they just saw. They couldn't have looked any more shocked if a dinosaur had just landed in a UFO in the middle of the court and delivered them bowls of pistachio-flavored ice cream and a map to Jimmy Hoffa's body wrapped in Pricilla Presley's panties. (The map, that is, not Hoffa.) It was kind of like seeing your grandpa get up on stage and do a decent cabbage patch followed by the running man. It may not be the best dancing in the world, but dang! You didn't know the guy could do that! It made the whole game worth it. Heck, it made the whole acquisition of Andre Miller worth it just for the jaw-drop factor alone. Thanks, ‘Dre! Major, mad props.
Despite Miller, Bayless, and Fernandez hammering away the Blazers were hamstrung by the lack of production from LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. To be fair, the Nuggets planned it that way. Until the final few minutes of the game Roy never got a decent look without being hounded. If Roy wasn't in there then LaMarcus got the same treatment. They didn't care if Portland's main guys were just shooting jumpers. By gum, they were going to harass and double-team those shots. Aldridge ended up with 16 but they came on 6-14 shooting. Roy made a couple of baskets quite late to turn an atrocious offensive evening into a really poor one, finishing 3-14 for 12 points. The Blazers were used to getting 28 points or more from Roy alone against the Nuggets. With 28 combined from Roy and Aldridge it almost didn't matter who else scored. Denver dared anyone else to beat them. It didn't happen.
The Nuggets shot almost 59% from the floor and 41% from three-point range. The Blazers did attempt 9 more shots than Denver but it doesn't matter when they're up 16% in field goal percentage. The Blazers actually equaled Denver's three-point production on fewer shots, ending up at 56.3%. To tie the game that way, though, Portland would have needed to shoot more than 81% from distance. That's hard to do. Portland got obliterated in the paint, Denver had 31 assists on 43 made shots, the Nuggets scored 23 fast break points...the offensive barrier was way too high to overcome, even on a night when Portland managed 106.
We already mentioned Aldridge and Roy in terms of shooting and production. LaMarcus had 7 rebounds while Brandon chipped in 5 rebounds and 5 assists. They'll both want to forget this night.
Jerryd Bayless scored 24 points on 10 shots, largely owing to his 9-11 free throw clip. He dished out 5 assists as well. Huge night for him. He was just what the offense needed.
Andre Miller scored 19 on 7-15 shooting but only had 2 assists. He was doing the right thing though. And that dunk should have counted for 20.
Juwan Howard was productive offensively with 8 points on 4-6 shooting plus 4 assists. He also managed 7 rebounds and 2 steals in 29 minutes. He wasn't going to keep up with those athletic Denver bigs for extended minutes though. He did well. We just didn't have enough people behind and around him.
Rudy Fernandez shot and hit 4 threes tonight, making Denver pay for overplaying the marquee guys. It'd be nice to see that confidence in the long ball last for a couple weeks at least. 5-9 for 14 points overall.
Nicolas Batum did a little damage early by faking the long shot, putting the ball on the floor when the defender ran at him, and pulling up for the 12-15 footer. I love that move for him. Unfortunately nothing else was working offensively and he went 2-7 for 4 points overall. He also picked up 4 fouls in 14 minutes so you know he wasn't feeling it defensively.
It would have been nice to see Martell Webster step up in the offensive gap that Nic left but that wasn't to be either as Webster went 1-6 for 4 points in 17 minutes. He did have 5 rebounds and 2 assists in those minutes though.
I loves me some Dante Cunningham on defense. He was one of the only guys who looked like he had the combination of heart and athleticism to take on the heavy-gunning Nuggets. He even D'ed up Carmelo pretty well in the limited chances he got, though ‘Melo hit over him anyway. Dante drew 4 foul shots and ended up with 5 points and 3 rebounds in 12 minutes. Why was his time so short when he looked like one of our few answers to defensive prayers? 4 fouls, just like Nic.
Jeff Pendergraph also joined in with 2 fouls and a rebound in 4 minutes.
This isn't a game to worry about long-term. Portland got whacked by a better team in their own place. There's nothing earth-shattering about that. The road games on which the season will hang come in places like Sacramento and Oakland. The important thing is to not let those games look like this one even if the enemy's offensive potential is high. The Blazers should be able to manage that, especially since those teams won't squelch our two stars to the same extent.
Read the other side of the story at DenverStiffs.