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Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Preview

Portland will go for five in a row, but victory won’t come easy against the first-place Nuggets.

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

Portland Trail Blazers (26-17) at Denver Nuggets (28-13)

January 13th, 2018 - 5:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Moe Harkless (out)
Nuggets injuries: Trey Lyles (questionable), Gary Harris (questionable), Jarred Vanderbilt (out), Michael Porter Jr. (out), Isaiah Thomas (out)
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

The Portland Trail Blazers are playing the best basketball of the season right now, taking advantage of a home stand and some weaker opponents to win four in a row. The ball is zipping around, shots are falling and confidence is high. CJ McCollum’s play is especially encouraging as he seems to have left his shooting woes behind and and is once again a threat to be the high scorer any time he takes the court.

The Denver Nuggets will be a mighty test for the Blazers. Leading the Western Conference, the Nuggets have been playing great basketball, especially at home, where they have lost only three games. Most recently however, the Nuggets lost Saturday night against the last-place Phoenix Suns. The Nuggets will be on the second game of an away-home back-to-back, but thoughts of their unexpected loss will be fresh in their minds. Don’t expect Denver to get off to a sluggish start.

What to watch for

  • A rebounding battle. The top two teams in rebounding percentage? Denver and Portland. Team leading the NBA in offensive rebounds? Denver. Second-place team in defensive rebounds? Portland. These two teams hit the glass. The Blazers will need to give as good as they get on the boards.
  • Jokic vs. Nurkic. Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic are both playing the best basketball of their young careers. While Jokic has been tangibly better than Nurkic by most measures, the good news for the Blazers is that Nurkic doesn’t have to shut down Jokic completely for the Blazers to win. Keep Jokic in check and let Lillard and McCollum score is a viable strategy for Portland. Jokic leads the Nuggets in points, rebounds and assists. If Nurkic can slow Jokic down to below his averages, Coach Stotts will be thrilled and the Blazers will have a leg up on Denver.
  • Balanced scoring from the Nuggets. Nine Nuggets are averaging nine or more points per game. Granted, some of this can be explained by players getting more minutes due to injuries, but the fact is that Denver has a host of guys who can score. By comparison, Portland has only four players averaging over nine points per game. Last time these two teams met in November, Paul Millsap and Gary Harris led the way for the Nuggets in scoring, and these guys are only the fourth- and fifth-most prolific scorers on the team. Portland will need a strong defensive effort across the board to come out on top.

What they’re saying

Nikola Jokic is turning heads for nearly every aspect of his play this year. After Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Mike Singer of the Denver Post wrote about Jokic’s passing:

“Yeah, I knew (a miss was coming),” Jokic said with a wry smile.

Jokic caught the rebound, gathered and whipped a fullcourt dime that would’ve made any Broncos offensive coordinator blush.

Murray caught the fly route in stride for an easy dunk.

Attendance is often a measure of excitement around a team, and Joel Rush of Forbes writes that excitement is high in Denver:

An average turnout over 18,000 would set a new Nuggets attendance record, and Denver is firmly on track to do just that . Their current average of 18,092 represents filling the Pepsi Center to 94.5% of its capacity, up from 89.5% last season. And by all indications, the Nuggets seem to only be gaining in popularity as word of their success is capturing the attention of more and more “casual” fans, many of whom may have been paying more attention to the Denver Broncos until their season ended in December.

Bill Simmons doesn’t think the Nuggets can sustain their success past the regular season, and he mentioned Denver Stiffs by name. Adam Mares of Denver Stiffs responded in the best way possible. Well worth a read:

On Wednesday’s Lowe Post podcast, Zach Lowe’s guest and former boss at Grantland, Bill Simmons, was asked what he thought of the Denver Nuggets. Long story short, he’s not buying them.

“I think they are a regular season success story,” Simmons explained. “By the way, I’m gonna get crucified on Denver Stiffs now! Headline: Simmons hates the Nuggets.”