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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets Preview

The Blazers need a win badly against the Northwest Division leaders.

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (6-6) vs. Denver Nuggets (8-5)

Monday, November 13th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Al-Farouq Aminu (out)
Nuggets injuries: Gary Harris (questionable), Tyler Lydon (day-to-day)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Blazers are coming off a closely fought loss.

This time, it was against the home. While the Blazers can plausibly point to some unfortunate circumstances or bad luck for at least some of their recent close losses, the game against the Nets was one on paper they really should have won.

The Nuggets, on the other hand, are feeling pretty good after completing a 5-1 home stand. Most recently, they defeated Orlando on the second night of a back-to-back. The only blemish in their past six games was a loss to Golden State. The team is playing well, and old friend Will Barton is one of many Nuggets in good form, scoring 26 points along with 9 rebounds and 5 assists in his last outing.

What to watch for

  • Denver revenge game? The Nuggets and the Blazers dueled for the final playoff spot in the West last season. When Jusuf Nurkic faced his former team on March 28th, he dominated, scoring 33 points with 16 boards. When the carnage was over, Nurkic told his former teammates to “Have a Happy Summer.” With Denver playing very good basketball right now, expect the Nuggets to keep past events in mind and put their foot on the gas and not let up if they can build a lead against the Blazers. Nurkic may be downplaying the “revenge game” angle, but you can bet the Nuggets feel they have a score to settle.
  • Denver’s pick and roll. Last game for Denver Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray used the pick-and-roll to destroy Nikola Vucevic and the rest of Orlando’s defense in the second half. To make matters worse, the Blazers have had some difficulty defending the pick-and-roll of late. If the Blazers can’t handle Denver’s screening, it’s hard to see how they have a chance.
  • Happy Nurkic? Nurkic has only had brief minutes in the fourth quarter over the last two games. Is this due to match-ups, discipline problems or coaching malpractice? No matter the reason, it’s hard to imagine the Blazers having a good night against Jokic without a solid four-quarter game from Nurkic. Baring injury, extreme foul trouble or supreme ineffectiveness, if Nurkic isn’t on the floor in crunch time against Denver we can be pretty sure that something ugly is going on beyond the scenes. Nurkic is saying all the right things, but if we see him with a spring in his step doing good things in the fourth quarter that would go a long way to calming down anxious Blazer fans.

What they’re saying

The Nuggets have a big problem finding minutes for their big men right now. Gina Mizell of the Denver Post explains:

With the Denver starters all playing at least 34 minutes Saturday, reserve big men Faried and Mason Plumlee combined for just 19 minutes. Malone acknowledged it’s been challenging to figure out that part of the rotation puzzle. For instance, in Thursday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Plumlee scored 13 points in 25 minutes, while Faried did not see the floor.

“Trying to play four bigs, that’s tough on Mason, that’s tough on Kenneth,” Malone said. “That’s the only area where I think our rotation is kind of in flux. I feel bad, because Mason’s a heck of a player, and so is Kenneth. But I wonder: Am I doing both of those guys a disservice by trying to play them both?”

To the surprise of many, the Nuggets released Jameer Nelson at the beginning of the year and didn’t go after Eric Bledsoe. Going with young point guards Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay was a gamble, but so far it seems to be paying off according to Evan Fiala of Denver Stiffs:

As the starting point guard Murray has struggled more often than not to score but as a whole he has fit in with the starting unit fairly well. The brilliant facilitating of Nikola Jokic and veteran Paul Millsap’s ability to get buckets relieve some pressure off of Murray to score. He’s finished with under 10 points in eight of the 13 games played so far this year, but like many natural shooters when his shot is falling Murray can rack up points quickly. He’s already put up four 20+ point games this season.

Mudiay on the other hand is shooting lights out. He’s 48.4% from three on 2.4 attempts per game and 42.4% overall. For the first time in his career he is over 50% in the restricted area; his struggles at the rim are well documented. Though by the eye test his decision making is markedly improved, statistically he’s on par with his first two seasons when it comes to turnovers. Regardless, Mudiay has worked his way from 26 DNP-CDs in 2016-17 to becoming a key contributor on the Nuggets bench unit.

What are the two most efficient shots in basketball from the field? One of them is bunnies near the hoop. Denver has that part covered according to Max Carlin of But...

Through 11 games, the Nuggets’ opponents are attempting a league-low 27.5 percent of shots at the rim.

The Nuggets aren’t letting opponents get to the rim; they’ve taken away one of the two most efficient shots in basketball, quite the achievement for a team that had the league’s second-worst defensive rating last season.

The catch? There are two fundamentally more efficient shots, and the Nuggets are allowing the second-most attempts from the corners.