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Game 58 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets

Game Time:  7:30 p.m.  TV:  CSNNW and ESPN

In the hubbub surrounding Portland's own trade deadline operations I didn't have the chance to comment on Denver shipping out Carmelo Anthony for a raft of New York Knicks.  My initial thought upon reading about the trade:  the Knicks are going to turn out worse than people think and Denver better.  That opinion has only been bolstered by the Nuggets' last two victories, yesterday's coming against the formidable Boston Celtics.  Denver has been dealing with the Carmelo-induced migraine all season long.  They've been sloppy and unfocused beyond even the ability of Chauncey Billups to bring them together.  The Nuggets certainly lost something trading Billups away but they did gain a half-dozen guys who actually want to play ball, coming from a dysfunctional New York system to a team in need of a little peace and honest effort.  No matter how talented each of those guys are compared to Anthony, that's not going to turn out bad.  And so far it hasn't.

The Nuggets now field an interesting, if somewhat spare, backcourt.  Ty Lawson is starting at point guard.  He's speedy, loves the break, can dish the rock, and though he's not a volume scorer he hits over 50% of his shots.  He's going to split time with reserve Raymond Felton.  Felton is a point producer but he can also drive the ball and pass.  Both have the weakness of being short-ish and neither is a premier defender but they give enough pop to keep the position respectable.

Denver also fields an interesting duo of shooting guards.  Once upon a time Aaron Afflalo was a defensive-minded guy.  Now he shoots real purdy and lets his scoring do more of the talking.  He's backed up by the hyper-athetic J.R. Smith.  You never know when he'll hoist a shot but you never know when he'll make it either.

These four guys have been freed from the glass ceiling that held them down on their various teams.  Each has scoring tendencies and scoring is what the Nuggets need more of in the vacuum that Carmelo left.  That means freer, more natural play and plenty of confidence and good feeling.  In other words, Denver may not have the best guard quartet in the league or even close but they'll make the most out of the four they have.

In the frontcourt the post-trade Nuggets really got scary.  They lost one 25 ppg guy.  They gained a multi-functional corps of forwards and centers who can fill just about any need the team has.  Wilson Chandler is an all-around offensive player who can also rebound madly and does his fair share of hustling. Danilo Gallinari is the 6'10" Euro shooter small forward.  Kenyon Martin is the more traditional power forward rebounder and close-in scorer.  Al Harrington is longer, lankier, and can stretch the floor.  Nene is an athletic brute at center with post moves and rebounding chops.  Chris "Birdman" Andersen can block shots.  They even got a little 7'1" Timofey Mozgov action going in case they need a Russian 250 pounder.  The point is they can mix and match based on chemistry and the needs of the game.  They can score 120 against Memphis one night and hold the Celtics to 75 in the next game.  They're versatile, mostly talented, and have the potential to grow as individuals and a team.

I doubt the Nuggets' road will be as smooth all year as it's been the last couple of games.  In the playoffs when teams can target them they may find that fewer, pointier weapons beat lots of dull-ish club-like ones.  But during the regular season when prep time is scarce and teams are tired opponents are going to find the Nuggets a fountain of fresh bodies that never ends.  With most of these guys probably playing harder than you've ever seen them, Denver's going to end up whacking plenty of people.

It's tricky to predict what will tell in this game not knowing exactly who will play for Portland and having only seen Denver together twice.  Lack of big men could be a serious vulnerability for the Blazers, evident particularly in the all-important rebounding battle.  When the Blazers don't rebound the Blazers don't win.  No Joel Przybilla and no Gerald Wallace and no Dante Cunningham and no Sean Marks and no Marcus Camby would leave LaMarcus Aldridge and...and...and who exactly to man the boards?  Aldridge has done a phenomenal job rebounding in the last couple of months but I'm betting that Nene and Martin and Chandler would be able to out-perform him just a little bit on the glass.  On the other hand the Blazers should field considerable guard depth and talent with Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Wesley Matthews, and the recently-returned Brandon Roy.  If Portland can get some perimeter scoring going and make the Denver bigs move around a bit trying to help they may be able to overcome the forward-center depth issue.  In an ideal world both Wallace and Camby would be available, bolstering the front court immensely.  But even if they do play, this may come down to a contest of will and energy.  Denver is probably not going to post 120 points on non-Grizzly teams anymore.  They won't run away with it.  They'll need to work for their points and possessions.  If Portland works harder the Blazers have a chance.  Oh, and while running on this team once would have been suicide, tonight it might actually be a good idea.

You can see the happy reflections at Denver Stiffs.

You can enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

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--Dave (