Portland Trail Blazers (4-3) vs Denver Nuggets (2-4)
Monday, November 9
Pepsi Center | 6:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN NW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Cliff Alexander (Probable), Gerald Henderson (Out) | Denver injury report: Wilson Chandler (Out), Joffrey Lauvergne (Questionable), Jusuf Nurkic (Out)
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
After a huge second half collapse against the Detroit Pistons, the Blazers head to the Mile High City to face the 2-4 Denver Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Nuggets have had a tough start to the season thus far, losing four of their last five (with the sole win in that stretch coming over the struggling Lakers) after an opening night drubbing of the Houston Rockets. Denver is struggling on both sides of the ball, landing in the bottom third of the league in both ORtg (99.4) and DRtg (105.7) through their first six games, according to basketball-reference.com.
Highly touted rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is struggling early as he adapts to the NBA game. He is averaging 11.8 points per game to go with 5.7 assists, but is also turning the ball over 5.3 times per game and shooting 30.5 percent from the field. At this point, he settles for too many long two-pointers, taking nearly a quarter of his shots from 16 feet out to just inside the 3-point line, while only hitting them at a 15 percent clip.
With Wilson Chandler still out with a hip injury for the short term, Denver has little in the way of consistent offensive firepower. The one player that they have been able to count on is Danilo Gallinari. Gallinari looks well recovered from the various ailments he has suffered from over the last several seasons, averaging 18.7 points per game. Notably, Gallinari is attempting only 3.2 3-pointers per game this season, his fewest shot attempts from behind the arc since his rookie season. Not surprisingly, this has correlated to a substantial increase in his free throw attempts, which stand at a career high 7.3 per game.
Power forward Kenneth Faried is having another solid season this far, averaging 13.3 points and upping his rebounds per game to 10.3, including more than three offensive rebounds a night. Faried thrives on dunks and offensive put backs and knows how to stay within himself on offense, taking 93 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the basket.
While Denver's starters have struggled, there have been some pleasant surprises off of the bench. Will Barton (25.7 MPG) and Jameer Nelson (24 MPG) have both provided some spark for the offense, with Barton currently the Nuggets' second leading scorer at 13.5 points per game (and having started in the Nuggets' loss to the Warriors on Nov. 6) and Nelson averaging 7.3 points and 5.3 assist per game.
The Blazers had been on a roll, winning three games in a row, and seemingly well on their way to a fourth against Detroit after three quarters before the Pistons came storming back last night to steal the game. The backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in particular has been on fire, with both players providing huge offensive output of late.
After a slow start to the season, Meyers Leonard has strung together a couple of nice offensive showings, scoring 17 against the Pistons after netting 12 against the Memphis Grizzlies earlier in the week. Portland will continue to rely on Al-Farouq Aminu as the emerging third scoring option. Aminu continues to play aggressively, getting to the rim with relative ease, while taking 3-pointers when the defense concedes them.
Keys for the Blazers
Put yesterday's game behind them: After blowing an 18-point second half lead and being outscored by 30 in the fourth quarter of the Pistons game, including a 24-0 run, the Blazers are understandably going to feel like they let one get away. And they would be right. But in the NBA, teams need to get up every night, and it will be interesting to see if the team suffers from a post-shocker hangover against Denver.
Slow Gallinari down: The Nuggets don't have a lot of scoring options aside from the Italian sharpshooter. Forcing him to expend a lot of energy in order to get his shots is going to be key for the Blazers. Look for Al-Farouq Aminu to play physical defense against Gallinari and make it a point of emphasis to restrict his newfound ability to drive the lane.
Pressure Mudiay: Despite his shooting woes, Mudiay is shooting relatively well from distance, hitting at a 37.5 percent clip. Lillard and McCollum will be asked to fight over screens and force Mudiay into 2-point territory, where his shooting percentage plummets dramatically.
Additionally, Mudiay can be forced to make mistakes. Awareness and active hands are going to be critical if the Blazers want to get out in transition. After losing the turnover battle 23-9 on Sunday night, Portland will be looking to reverse those numbers in Denver.
Keep Faried off the offensive glass: Kenneth Faried is an opportunist, setting up second chances for the Nuggets with his work on the offensive glass. Plumlee, Leonard, and Davis need to be aggressive in sealing him out.
Outplay their bench: Allen Crabbe had a nice offensive showing against the Pistons, shooting 7-7 from the field for 15 points. No other Blazer reserve had more than 4. That's not going to get it done most nights. The Blazers need one more reserve to be an offensive threat, particularly while Lillard or McCollum are on the bench. If no one is hitting, opposing defenses can take chances and force turnovers. Noah Vonleh or Moe Harkless would be great candidates for a nice 8-10 point night that keeps pressure on Denver during the second unit's run.
Though Denver doesn't provide a giant obstacle on paper, going into the Mile High City on the second night of a back to back is never an easy task. Trying to do so while also letting go of a collapse of epic proportions the night before is even more difficult. Let's see if these young Blazers are up to the task.