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Portland Trail Blazers vs Denver Nuggets Preview

The Blazers head deep into the Rockies to take on the Denver Nuggets in their home debut. There are plenty of weaknesses in Denver's lineup, and it's up to LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and co. to take advantage of them and head home with a much-needed win.


Friday, November 1
Pepsi Center; Denver, CO | 6 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum, Earl Watson (questionable) | Out for the Nuggets: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler (questionable)

Don't you want to forget about the debut performance of the Blazers down in Phoenix on Wednesday night? Yeah, Me too.

Unfortunately, Portland had such glaring issues -- mainly defense, rebounding and a lack of serious contribution outside of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge -- that those things will now be somewhat of an area of focus for fans until proven otherwise.

The Denver Nuggets walked into a hornets' nest Wednesday night. Just like the Suns came out motivated for their home opener, the Sacramento Kings struck the Nuggets with some unexpected and overlooked poise in a home victory of their own. As Colin Neilson of Denver Stiffs pointed out after the loss, the Nuggets need to work on their execution and individual focus.

So at least the Blazers are on neutral ground with the Nuggets in that they both still have some work to do.

Alas, the past is the past, so now that the the scene's been set, let's move on from the opener, shall we?

Denver has one of the league's more underrated point guards in Ty Lawson. He's quick, can get to the rim and is able to finish well -- especially for a 5'11'' point guard -- or kick it out. He's a playmaker, capable of affecting the game in a variety of ways. When that outside shot is hitting, he's a great centerpiece for the Nuggets' offense.

The rest of the Nuggets backcourt consists of Andre Miller, Evan Fournier, Nate Robinson and Randy Foye. You know Miller by now; he's still up to his old man crafty tricks at the age of 37. Fournier is a work in progress, Robinson is the Nuggets' version of Mo Williams -- the streaky guard who can shoot his team into and out of games and Foye is pretty average all-around.

The Blazers match up pretty evenly with this backcourt, though Lillard is a better shooter than Lawson while not assisting as much. Wesley Matthews is a much more capable defender than Foye and also scores more from outside on a higher percentage.

Portland's guards will likely have their hands full trying to stop Lawson from penetrating, but Lillard has an opportunity against him, Miller and Robinson -- the latter two playing pretty bad individual defense -- to make just as many plays. Similarly, the rest of the Blazers' stable of guards should have some open opportunities on the perimeter. Taking advantage of those looks would prove wise for Portland.

JaVale McGee still looks wildly inconsistent out there, and J.J. Hickson is going to get his glamour stats, but his defense should not be able to stop Aldridge from doing what he wants. Kenneth Faried is a monster on the glass and in the hustle department, but is still not a good defender.

Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland should try to do some damage in the paint tonight, as Timofey Mozgov is the only solid interior defender besides the little-used Anthony Randolph, a capable shot-blocker. McGee might come ready to play, but if pushed hard enough, his focus will likely waver.

When defending and on the boards, the Blazers frontcourt will have to come ready to handle a platoon of fresh legs, as Nuggets coach Brian Shaw will probably split time somewhat evenly between Faried, Hickson, Randolph, Mozgov, McGee and Darrell Arthur. Those fresh legs may or may not be effective, particularly in the case of McGee and Arthur, but the Portland frontcourt rotation is shorter than Denver's. The altitude could also be a factor as Lopez and Aldridge will no doubt be relied upon again for some heavy minutes.

The penetration of Denver is also a worry for the Blazers, because they have slashers who can make plays at the rim for themselves or for their teammates. Perimeter defense, help defense and smart rotations will be key, otherwise Lawson, Miller and Robinson will have a field day getting into the paint. Aldridge, Lopez and Freeland will have to keep the rim protected, or things could get pretty rocky.

This would be a good night for Nicolas Batum to make his first offensive appearance of the season. At his best, he easily overmatches any wing the Nuggets could throw at him. The rebounds were nice the other night, but if he can't take advantage of Foye or Evan Fournier, then the Blazers missed a huge opportunity exploiting what seems to be their best matchup. Ditto for Dorrell Wright.

If Portland comes out and takes advantage of the opportunities Denver will probably give them -- perimeter shooting, penetration and the matchups of Aldridge and Batum vs. whomever -- the Blazers could head back for their home opener against the Spurs with a win in their back pockets.

The Nuggets will be motivated too, and they're back for their first home game of the season, always a large disadvantage for the visitor. There's a good chance that they'll have the necessary intensity, it's just the execution and focus they need to get dialed in.

This would be a good game for the Blazers to get their sea legs under them before coming home to face the Spurs and then the Rockets, two teams predicted to be near the top of the conference. Another disheartening loss could be deflating, but a solid win against a capable home Nuggets team might just be the injection of optimism Portland needs to erase Wednesday night's performance and get back on track to start the season.

-- Chris Lucia | Twitter