Denver Nuggets (9-8) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (13-4)
Tuesday, December 2
Pepsi Center; Denver, CO | 6:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Will Barton | Out for the Nuggets: Randy Foye
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs | Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers land in Denver tonight to take on the Nuggets, who are coming off a win last night in Utah and have won eight of their last 10 contests.
The last time Portland faced the Nuggets, Denver was 1-5, directionless and reeling as coach Brian Shaw struggled to solve the puzzle of distributing minutes. Since then, he's settled on a 10-man rotation, throwing minute-limitations out the window in favor of allowing his starters more time on the floor together while subbing in players based more on game flow than a rigid gameplan.
The results speak for themselves; Since the 130-113 drubbing the Blazers hung on the Nuggets three weeks ago, Denver has lost only to the Knicks and Suns, while bringing their record to 9-8 and climbing above .500 for the first time since October. And after the embarrassing 84-point first half allowed by the Nuggets on their homecourt against Portland the last time the two teams met, it's probably safe to assume that Denver will be looking to enact a little revenge.
Blazers guard Wesley Matthews spoke with Erik Gundersen of the Columbian yesterday about the rematch:
"We know they're not too happy with us," Wesley Matthews said. "They're not the same team. I guarantee you they haven't forgotten that game."
Portland will be facing a resurgent bunch on its home court tonight, with a renewed vigor and resolve to show they're not the same group that trailed 84-50 at halftime on Nov. 12.
Point guard Ty Lawson drives to the rim more than any player in the league and produces more points from those drives than anyone. Over the last five games, he's No.1 in the NBA in assists, averaging 12.4 a night. Lawson's shots for himself haven't proven particularly fruitful lately, though, as he's required almost 14 shots in that span to get to his average of 16.2 points per game while shooting 38.2 percent from the floor and 21.4 percent from deep. Still, he's averaged 25 points on 54.5 percent shooting in two games against the Blazers this year, with half his attempts coming at the rim.
Guard Arron Afflalo, who had a solid outing against Portland the first meeting and a difficult time the second, picked up a Flagrant 2 foul last night against Alec Burks of the Jazz and may face a suspension for tonight's game. The potential loss of Afflalo would deal a huge blow to the Nuggets, as he's led the team in scoring with 17.6 points per game the last five, shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from deep. If Afflalo's out tonight, rookie shooting guard Gary Harris would likely pick up the start as Randy Foye is out with a leg injury. Harris only started picking up regular minutes recently, but he's a decent outside shooter in the absence of Foye.
Wing Wilson Chandler started out the season unable to consistently hit shots, but he's come around lately. He typically attacks the rim or puts up threes, not wasting much time in the midrange. Chandler's an average finisher in the lane, but can light teams up from the corners off Lawson kick-outs and is otherwise good from everywhere else beyond the arc. Over the last five games he's been good for 45.5 percent of his threes, and not a single one of them has come unassisted, so look for him to be waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities around the perimeter tonight, as he gets up over six three-pointers a game on average.
Power forward Kenneth Faried has had a slow start to the season after finishing last year on a hot streak and carrying that over to his performance with Team USA this past summer in the FIBA World Championships. Over the last five games, Faried's gotten up about two-thirds of his shots at the rim but is good for a measly 46.4 percent of them. He draws a fair amount of free throws, but has shot just 57.1 percent on them in that span. In the first meeting with the Blazers, he scored 19 points but needed 16 attempts to get there, and he followed that up with a 10-point, 3-for-8 performance the next night.
Center Timofey Mozgov usually gets up about eight shots per game, making over 67 percent of them the last five contests. He'll occasionally take a jumper from the midrange, but he usually gets his attempts right at the basket, where he's made 71.4 percent of his tries the last couple weeks. His backup, big man J.J. Hickson, is shooting 36.1 percent the last five games but somehow led the team in on-off rating the first month of the season -- which may be baffling to anyone who witnessed his time in Portland a couple years ago. Either way, the Nuggets apparently play much better with Hickson on the floor.
Forward Danilo Gallinari has gotten about 21 minutes of run per game the last five but may not get that kind of time tonight, as it's the second night of a back-to-back for Denver and he's still experiencing some soreness in his knee. He doesn't get up a ton of shots, but takes over three outside attempts per game, making just 23.5 percent of them the last several outings.
Guard Nate Robinson is good for about a dozen minutes a night -- likely more if Afflalo is suspended -- but his shot hasn't been falling lately, and he got up just three attempts last night in Utah. Forward Darrell Arthur plays about 17 minutes a game off the bench, struggling from deep but able to score inside when called upon. Forward Alonzo Gee hasn't played much lately, and centers Jusuf Nurkic and JaVale McGee have all but been removed entirely from Shaw's rotation.
As a team, Denver has led the league in scoring the last five games, putting up 113.2 points a night, though the ball movement has been underwhelming outside of Lawson's wizardry as a distributor. The Nuggets are prone to turnovers, but they get a ton of free throw attempts and shoot pretty well from both inside and outside of the arc. They push the ball often and score inside consistently.
The Blazers are a top-10 team in points scored and assists per game the last five, but they've done so with average shooting percentages. They've led the league in field goal attempts per game the last couple weeks and have gotten up almost 27 threes a night.
Point guard Damian Lillard was flat against the Timberwolves on Sunday night, making just six of his 14 field goals and one of his seven three-pointers. Over the last five games, he's shot 43.1 percent from the field and 29 percent from deep. In two games against the Nuggets earlier this season, though, Lillard has been good for 56 percent of his overall shots and 63.6 percent of his outside attempts, so a matchup with Denver may be just what he needs to right the ship.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge went 11-for-17 against Minnesota, pouring in 26 points. In two games against the Nuggets this year he's shot 43.2 percent from the floor, coincidentally the same percentage he's shot the last five games. Over 70 percent of Aldridge's attempts from the field against Denver have come from the midrange, so don't be surprised to see a similar shot-selection tonight.
Matthews has really carried Portland's offense lately, putting up 20.8 points a night the last five while shooting 55.2 percent from the field and 54.8 percent from outside. He's hit at least six threes in three straight games. Matthews' shots haven't fallen against the Nuggets this year, but he's been hot lately and will likely see a decent amount of minutes against Harris, the rookie guard for Denver. Expect an aggressive night for Matthews.
Forward Nicolas Batum hasn't been able to dial in his shots at all the last few weeks, and his assists and rebounds have been down slightly, as well. He was 4-for-11 in one meeting with the Nuggets this year, but he did make two of his five three-point attempts.
After starting the year on fire offensively, centers Robin Lopez and Chris Kaman have cooled off considerably in recent weeks, sitting at 45 and 41.8 percent, respectively, from the field the last five games. Lopez went 1-for-6 against the 'Wolves Sunday, and Kaman finished 2-for-7. Each had strong success shooting the ball against Denver this year, however, so a return to early-season form for one or both pieces of coach Terry Stotts' center duo may be in store tonight.
Backup point guard Steve Blake still hasn't been effective shooting the ball, but he's been Portland's best distributor off the bench, tallying seven assists in 22 minutes against the 'Wolves. Reserve wing Allen Crabbe has hit 40 percent of his threes the last five games, essentially only shooting when open. Forward Joel Freeland doesn't get many looks, but capitalizes when he gets the opportunity, sinking over half his shots the last several games. Wing Will Barton is out for tonight's matchup, and forward Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright and Meyers Leonard have all been stuck to the bench for weeks. Not one of them played Sunday night as Stotts' went with a tight nine-man rotation.
Tonight's matchup features the two best rebounding teams in the NBA over the last several games. The Nuggets are No. 4 in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and No. 9 in defensive rebounding percentage, while the Blazers are No. 7 in both categories for the season. Denver topped Portland 55-51 in rebounds the first meeting, and followed it up by winning the rebounding battle 47-46 the next time around. Tonight's game features two frontcourts full of contributors on the glass, and both teams have played each other to a standstill on the boards the first two times they've met this season.
Portland has done a better job of holding opponents' scoring down the last five games, but Denver forces more turnovers and allows fewer assists. The Nuggets' defense has been stifling within the arc, while the Blazers' defense inside the perimeter has been pedestrian. Flip that narrative for three-point defense, as Portland has held opponents to 26 percent shooting from deep and Denver's allowed 33 percent from outside. The Nuggets have put teams at the line 31 times a game the last five, while the Blazers have done so 19.4 times per game on average.
If trends hold from the first two meetings between these teams, Lawson is poised for a big game, while Lillard's outlook tonight is much the same. One of the big difference-makers in Portland's wins over Denver this year has been first quarter scoring, as they've registered 36 and 39 points, respectively, in two first periods against the Nuggets. Denver is dead-last in the NBA this season in points allowed in the first quarter.
Still, the Nuggets are playing much, much better than they were the last time these two teams met and certainly have this game circled on the calendar after embarrassing back-to-back losses to Portland just three weeks ago. Expect to see a dogfight on the boards and plenty of offensive sparks tonight as the Blazers look to kick off a road-heavy month of December while the Nuggets try to prove their recent string of wins was not a mirage but a lasting trend.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
Sam Tongue's matchup to watch: