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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets Preview

For the second time in three games, the Blazers play the Denver Nuggets. Finishing off a back-to-back set on the road, Portland will be playing its fourth game in five nights before heading home for a two-day rest.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday, November 12
Pepsi Center; Denver, CO | 6:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGWWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Nicolas Batum | Out for the Nuggets: N/A
SBN Affiliate: Denver StiffsTimmay's Viewing GuideBE's 2014-15 Nuggets Season PreviewBlazer's Edge Night

The Blazers head to Denver tonight to play the Nuggets in the Pepsi Center. Portland is playing on the second night of a back-to-back and its fourth game in five days, while the Nuggets haven't seen the court since a 116-100 loss to the Blazers at the Moda Center Sunday night.

After starting the season with an 89-79 win over the Detroit Pistons two weeks ago, Denver has lost five straight. Fans are imploring the Nuggets to actually look like they're having fun on the floor, while the players are "sick and tired of going to the locker room sad and depressed after games."

Denver has been consistent at scoring inside, from the free throw line and on the fast break, also getting up a ton of shots. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they have poor ball movement, can't reliably hit shots from anywhere on the floor outside the paint and struggle to produce points early in games while allowing opponents to average a league-high 30.5 points in first quarters. The Blazers outscored Denver 36-27 in the opening frame Sunday and never looked back, eventually winning a 16-point rout.

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw will apparently double team Blazers All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge tonight, who went 12-of-26 from the floor three days ago against Denver, scoring 28 points.

The Nuggets are usually an average team at defending the three-point line, but against the Blazers Sunday, they allowed 51.6 percent from deep on 16-for-31 shooting.

Denver will need to defend the three-point line with much more effort tonight, particularly if Shaw is going to double Aldridge on the catch, because he can find open teammates. Against a porous Nuggets defense, the Blazers -- No. 2 in the NBA in both three-pointers attempted (27.3) and converted (10.1) per game and No. 8 in conversion rate (37.2 percent) -- should be able swing the ball enough to find open looks all night from long-range.

Denver Point guard Ty Lawson, wing Arron Afflalo and power forward Kenneth Faried all registered solid offensive outings against Portland Sunday, combining to go 22-of-46 (47.8 percent) from the floor. Afflalo and Faried did most of their damage right at the basket, while Lawson was able to score in the paint but not much from further out.

The rest of the Nuggets went 14-of-45 from the floor (31.1 percent) and were blown out despite advantages in points in the paint (56-30) and in free throws made and attempted (23-of-30 vs. 10-of-14 for the Blazers). If Denver's supporting cast plays as poorly as it has lately, the Nuggets might be looking at a sixth-straight loss by the end of the night.

Denver normally relies on its inside-outside scoring dynamic, with Lawson's penetration earning him points at the rim, free throws and assists to teammates via kick-outs and in the pick-and-roll. He's been average at best at finishing inside, though his passing ability remains. If Lawson can finish at the rim tonight, the game will be much closer as he'll be significantly more of a dual threat.

Faried, Afflalo, starting small forward Wilson Chandler and shooting guard Randy Foye have all shot 45.5 percent or worse from the floor this year. The team's most accurate scorers -- centers JaVale McGee and rookie Jusuf Nurkic, shooting 57.1 and 52.4 percent from the field, respectively -- get up a combined 8.9 attempts in fewer than 25 total minutes per game in the frontcourt. Nurkic didn't even see the floor Sunday after appearing in all five of the Nuggets previous games, as Shaw has struggled to settle on a playing rotation.

Center Timofey Mozgov, who went 3-for-10 in the loss to Portland, is a 48.8 percent shooter from the floor for the season, connecting on two-thirds of his shots underneath the basket. Expect a better performance from him tonight if he returns to form. In 15.5 minutes a game, backup guard Nate Robinson has only connected on 43.2 percent of his shots.

Foye is making 44.8 percent of his threes; Afflalo (28.6 percent), Robinson (27.8 percent), forward Danillo Gallinari (26.3 percent) Chandler (25 percent) and Lawson (14.3 percent) have been in an early-season funk from deep.

The Blazers, on the other hand, have six players dependably shooting the ball from deep this year: Shooting guard Wesley Matthews (35.4 percent), backup point Steve Blake (35.7 percent), Aldridge (36.4 percent), point guard Damian Lillard (40.7 percent), guard CJ McCollum (46.2 percent) and wing Allen Crabbe (50 percent).

Lillard was struggling mightily to finish his shots within the arc prior to last night's 102-100 Blazers win over the Charlotte Hornets, in which he made 12 of his 21 shots for 29 points, including a 5-for-8 performance from deep. He may have been playing less aggressively earlier in the season, looking for teammates more often, but he was able to find his own scoring rhythm last night while also picking up seven assists, a sign of good penetration and ball movement.

Portland's center duo of Robin Lopez and Chris Kaman continues its hot shooting, with Lopez checking in at 52 percent from the field this year and Kaman at 59.3 percent as the main offensive force for Stotts off the bench. Having this kind of scoring down low opens things up for Aldridge in the midrange and for his teammates around the perimeter.

Matthews has been superb at finishing in the paint this year, often using his size advantage over smaller wings to muscle his way inside. He's also developed a solid turnaround jumper with his back to the basket, which wasn't particularly effective Sunday but has been otherwise this year.

Besides Kaman's scoring down low, Stotts is getting very little scoring from his bench rotation inside. McCollum, Blake, wing Will Barton, forward Dorell Wright and big man Joel Freeland all could improve their shooting, though Portland got by last night over the Hornets with huge games from Lillard and Aldridge and solid outings from Matthews and Kaman.

The Blazers are a better offensive rebounding team than the Nuggets, but Denver has the slight edge on the other end of the floor. In overall rebounding percentage, Portland (52.9 percent) has a noticeable advantage (49.9 percent).

Nurkic Denver forward J.J. Hickson are better individual rebounders than anyone in Blazer coach Terry Stotts' stable, but backup forward Thomas Robinson and Kaman are close, in terms of rebounding percentage. Faried, Mozgov and McGee are fairly comparable -- in terms of individual numbers -- to Lopez, Aldridge and Freeland. However, as mentioned before, Portland relies more heavily on team-rebounding than individual efforts.

The Blazers were out-rebounded by the Nuggets 55-51 last Sunday, but Denver wasn't able to capitalize on the advantage. Expect another close matchup on the boards tonight.

Though the Nuggets have lost five straight and haven't been able to develop much chemistry on either end of the floor this year, consider a few factors: Denver is playing on three days of rest, while Portland is playing on the second night of a back-to-back -- after a 7:00 p.m. tip yesterday, they'll be losing an hour tonight with the time change and will be playing at 5,000 feet in Denver -- and embarking on their fourth game in five nights.

The Blazers will also be without forward Nicolas Batum, among the team -eaders in several statistical categories and also a great facilitator and rebounder. Portland pulled off a squeaker at home against Charlotte last night without him, but trailed for the majority of the game, no doubt impacted by the loss of his presence on both ends of the court. Second-year guard Allen Crabbe started in Batum's place because Stotts liked his length in the starting unit, responding with a solid 22-minute effort. Blake and McCollum also saw upticks in playing time.

Portland switched to a zone defense for portions of the second half in the win over Charlotte last night, relying heavily on a lineup of Blake, Lillard, Matthews, Freeland and Aldridge. Against a terrible shooting Denver team, a zone defense could be effective. Stotts will also have to work in different bench rotations, as his starters will be tired tonight.

Forward Darrell Arthur returns to the lineup tonight after serving a 1-game suspension Sunday, and Hickson is playing in just his second game this season. With the long layoff since the Nuggets' last game three days ago, Shaw has had a chance to have his entire team practice together multiple times while Lawson, Robinson and Gallinari all received extra rest for various ailments.

Denver is a motivated team -- looking to end a five-game losing streak -- and should play like one on its home court tonight against a Blazers team that might be looking forward to its own two-day break before resuming play at home Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets. Expect the Nuggets to come out with intensity. If Portland can match that effort early, they should be able to prevent Denver from gaining too much momentum.

The Blazers have an advantage in talent, cohesiveness and experience together, but they'll have to keep up with a rested and hungry Nuggets squad playing in front of a home crowd that hasn't seen its team win in two weeks. Pulling off the win tonight, though, would gain Portland more early-season ground in the race for the Northwest Division title and leave them at 6-3 heading into the weekend.

-- Chris Lucia | | Twitter