Portland Trail Blazers (1-1) at Denver Nuggets (1-0)
Oct. 29, 2016 | 6:00 PDT
Watch: CSN NW | NBA League Pass
Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Festus Ezeli (out)
Nuggets injuries: Darrell Arthur (out), Gary Harris (out)
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs
After a tough loss to the L.A. Clippers on Thursday, the Portland Trail Blazers hit the road for the first time this season to take on the Denver Nuggets.
On the heels of a choppy preseason, the Nuggets took down the Pelicans 107-102 in New Orleans despite allowing Anthony Davis to go off to the tune of 50 points and 16 rebounds.
Denver relied on Jusuf Nurkic and Will Barton, who poured in 23 and 22 points respectively, to carry the offensive load. Prized center Nikola Jokic struggled, tallying only five points, but the team managed a balanced attack, particularly on the boards — the Nuggets reeled in 47 rebounds for the game.
Denver is still in the bottom half of the Western Conference but they have an intriguing roster in place, starting with their version of the Twin Towers in Jokic and Nurkic. Where Jokic excels in the high post and has range out to the 3-point line, Nurkic is more of a classic bruiser who plays aggressively on both sides of the ball.
Flanking the two centers on the wings are skilled hybrid forward Danilo Gallinari and “the People’s Champ,” former Blazer Will Barton. Gallinari has dealt with lingering lower body injuries over the last several years, and is hoping to put those issues to rest this season. When healthy, Gallinari is devastatingly effective from the perimeter and has the ability to create his own shot while drawing contact. Barton, a candidate for NBA Sixth Man of the Year last season, has mostly curbed his tendency to play out of control since moving to Denver and, while always being capable of getting to the rim, has added the 3-point shot to his arsenal.
After dealing with a nagging ankle injury in the preseason, second-year point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is back in the starting lineup. Mudiay is a physical guard with the ability to draw the defense to him, though he is still turnover-prone.
Denver’s bench features All-Hustle First Teamer Kenneth Faried and veteran point guard Jameer Nelson. Faried is one of the ultimate scrappers in the league, feasting on offensive rebounds and put-backs. Nelson is far removed from his 2008 All-Star selection, but still provides steady backup minutes. Highly prized rookie Jamal Murray can play both guard spots off the bench and relies more on skill and playing within a system than pure athleticism. The Nuggets also feature veteran swing man Wilson Chandler.
The biggest key for Portland will be to stick to the game plan while minimizing distractions. After a loss to the Clippers that seemed to feature as many distractions as actual basketball plays, the Blazers will look to execute their offense and find seams in a Nuggets defense that ranked No. 24 in the league last season. Denver doesn’t defend the midrange particularly well, so tonight would be a great opportunity for Evan Turner to showcase his effectiveness after a slow start to the season.
Though the Nuggets are likely to finish last in the Northwest Division, they are a team that can sneak up on anyone on any given night. This is a contest that Portland should win, but can’t afford to take lightly.
Not only will Dikembe Mutombo have his No. 55 jersey retired tonight at half-time, but the Nuggets will also be wearing their rainbow Denver skyline throwback uniforms in a once-only promotion: