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Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Preview

The Blazers return to the site of their Western Conference Semifinal Game 7 victory when they visit the Northwest Division leaders.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (10-15) at Denver Nuggets (14-8)

Thursday, December 12 - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out)
Nuggets injuries: Jamal Murray (questionable), Paul Millsap (questionable)
How to watch on TV: TNT
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

The Trail Blazers get back on the road Thursday after a four-game home stand. Portland went 2-2 during the stretch and are coming off a blowout victory over the hapless New York Knicks. Portland’s visit to Denver is the first regular season game there since winning Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals last Spring. The Blazers lost to the Nuggets 108-100 in the Moda Center to open the season.

Denver is returning home after a four-game road trip. They have lost three in a row and five of their last six games. Before their current rough stretch, the Nuggets had won six games in a row. They continue to play well at home where they have a record of 8-3 this season. Denver may be without point guard and leading scorer Jamal Murray who exited Tuesday’s game with a trunk contusion.

What to watch for

  • Contrasting strengths. Despite their struggles this season, the Blazers still have a good offense. They score 112.8 points per game and have an offensive rating of 109.5, numbers that are ninth and eleventh in the league respectively. Denver’s strength, by contrast, is its defense. They allow the fewest points in the NBA (101.7 per game) and have the second best defensive rating (102.2). The Nuggets, however, are toward the bottom of the league in scoring (105.9 per game; offensive rating of 106.4) while Portland ranks similarly poor on defense (allowing 114.3 points per game with a defensive rating of 110.8).
  • Slowing down Jokic. Murray may be leading Denver is scoring, but Nikola Jokic is the most important player on their roster. The 24-year-old’s numbers are a bit down from last season (16 points, 10 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game), but he’s still able to hurt you with his scoring and play-making. In Portland’s season opening matchup with Denver, Jokic got into quick foul trouble and didn’t play much in the first half. He stepped up in the second half, however, and ended the game with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
  • The forward matchup. A few things have changed since Portland and Denver faced off to begin the season. One big change is that Carmelo Anthony is now starting at the four spot instead of Zach Collins. Anthony’s matchup against Denver forward Paul Millsap makes for a contrast of styles. Millsap is a bigger, more traditional forward who could pound Anthony inside, while Anthony is more effective scoring one-on-one from the perimeter. Millsap is listed as questionable with foot soreness, but if he plays, Anthony will need to work hard to keep him out of the paint and off the boards. If Millsap can’t go, then Jerami Grant—who is built more like Melo—would likely get the start.

What they’re saying

Brandon Ewing of Denver Stiffs wants to see more playing time for Michael Porter Jr.:

The Nuggets offense has been holding them back lately and inserting Porter into the rotation could easily fix that. Porter’s scoring and shot making ability add an element to the Nuggets second unit that they have not had all season.

As long as Porter can hold his own defensively, there really is no downside to playing him on a nightly basis. Malone has talked this season about allowing Porter to play through his mistakes. Now is the time for that to come to fruition.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently praised Denver’s defense:

They know where the offense wants to go, and which teammates might need a little extra help -- and when. They don’t over-rotate providing that help. Their best possessions are filled with leans and half-slides -- just enough to make the offense hesitate, but not so much that anyone ends up out of place. It is quite artful. This is one way roster continuity manifests: chemistry on defense.

James Herbert of CBS Sports writes that the Nuggets should get into their offense quicker:

Denver was slow last season, too, a function of playing through plodding point-center Nikola Jokic, but not like this. It has not consistently had the same verve on offense, and its system has bogged down far too often. Before Sunday’s 105-102 loss in Brooklyn, coach Michael Malone lamented that no team in the league was taking more shots in the last four seconds of the shot clock. With almost identical personnel, they have dropped from seventh in offense to 21st.

Playing with pace “doesn’t mean just run up and down and jack shots,” Malone said. It means being opportunistic about running and working to get good looks early in the clock. “We have to get into our offense a lot quicker,” Malone said. “That is killing us right now.”