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Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Game Preview

The Trail Blazers look to secure a home victory tonight against the 3-6 Denver Nuggets, who lost last night against the Pistons and will be without Will Barton.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Nuggets (3-6) at Portland Trail Blazers (6-4)

Nov 13, 2016, 6:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Festus Ezeli (out), Al-Farouq Aminu (out)
Nuggets injuries: Will Barton (out), Darrell Arthur (out)
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

The Trail Blazers host Denver tonight at the Moda Center. The Nuggets lost last night against Detroit, 106-96, and have dropped three in a row as well as four of their last five. Portland, on the other hand, has won four of its last five contests.

Al Farouq-Aminu will miss tonight’s game for the Blazers and will be reevaluated in a couple weeks, necessitating a starting lineup shift again for coach Terry Stotts. In Wednesday’s disheartening loss to the Clippers, Noah Vonleh started the game at power forward and delivered a 2-for-8 performance in 27 minutes of service.

On Friday night against the Kings, Meyers Leonard got the start in the frontcourt next to Mason Plumlee, ending the night with 11 points, four rebounds and maybe the most intense victory celebration Portland has seen in years after Sacramento fell in overtime:

The Blazers have played three overtime games this year and have won twice, including a thrilling victory over the Nuggets late last month in which Damian Lillard registered 37 points on 15-for-27 shooting. Tonight, Denver will be missing The People’s Champ, Will Barton, and will likely start Gary Harris in his place.

Kenneth Faried also got the start down low for the Nuggets last night against Detroit, next to 7-footer Jusuf Nurkic. Nikola Jokic — who dropped 23 points on 50 percent shooting against the Blazers last month — came off the bench in the loss to the Pistons, though he’s been a starter in eight of nine contests this year for coach Mike Malone. The Nuggets’ big-man rotation may again prove to be a handful for the Blazers as Aminu sits and Stotts juggles his frontcourt platoon of Leonard, Plumlee, Maurice Harkless, Ed Davis and Jake “Sunshine” Layman, who played 13 minutes against the Kings Friday night.

Portland has a solid offense, led by the combined 52.8 points per game from the electrifying backcourt duo of Lillard and CJ McCollum. Scotts generally leans on his star guards to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load, employing a third-scorer-by-committee tactic that has seen Harkless, Plumlee and Allen Crabbe all step up at various times to add ancillary scoring support. Evan Turner is still trying to find his way with Portland, though he dropped 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting against the Nuggets the last time they played.

The Blazers’ biggest issue so far this young season is likely on the defensive end. Players and coaches are pointing to their struggles securing rebounds and ending opponents’ possessions as the main reason for their subpar defense, which comes in at No. 26 in the league with a DRtg of 110.5.

Stotts and his squad aren’t lying at all when they say they’re having rebounding issues, as Portland is No. 25 or worse overall in the following categories: Total rebounds per game, opponents’ total rebounds per game, offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage, opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage and opponents’ defensive rebounding percentage.

The Nuggets, on the other hand, are top-six overall in each and every one of those categories, including No. 1 overall in both total rebounds per game and opponents total rebounds per game.

So, yeah...the Blazers, who convincingly lost the rebounding battle 45-61 the last time they met up with the Nuggets, come into tonight’s matchup still unable to secure boards against one of the best rebounding teams in the league.

Portland does a decent job of limiting opponent 3-pointers, but the Blazers also foul often, send opposing teams to the free throw line, allow plenty of fast break points and easy scoring opportunities in the paint. Can it all be traced back to their rebounding woes? Scotts is definitely right when he says his team needs to clean up its act on the glass, but the defense needs to be a holistic effort, and that’ll be difficult to fix with a patchwork rotation down low and Aminu in street clothes.

Regardless, Denver brings the league’s worst paint defense into the game tonight. The Nuggets do a solid job of running the opposition off the 3-point line, but like the Blazers, they foul often and teams with decent ball and player-movement can find opportunities to score in the cracks and seams against them. Remember, though Nurkic and Jokic are both talented and huge, they’re also still young and learning. And even though the Manimal has the heart of a lion, he leaves much to be desired on the defensive end, standing at 6-foot-8.

Expect more offensive fireworks from both teams, unless the Nuggets are simply too fatigued after a loss at home last night and again struggle to score. That said, Nurkic and Jokic combined for just six points in 36 total minutes in the Pistons loss, and are likely looking forward to an opportunity to bounce back against the Blazers’ mushy interior defense.

-- Chris Lucia | | @ChrisLuciaPDX