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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets Preview

The shorthanded Blazers seek another upset at Denver.

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (16-24) vs Denver Nuggets (20-19)

The Portland Trail Blazers take on the Denver Nuggets with some mixed emotions. Overshadowing what ever is happening on the court is the news that Damian Lillard will have surgery. It remains to be seen whether he will take the court again this season. While no one wants to see the Blazers go without their leader for a long period of time, Dame hasn’t been himself for much of the season. It’s time for him to get his abdominal issues behind him.

The Denver Nuggets will be anxious to put their last game behind them. Leading by as many as 25 points against the Los Angeles Clippers, they melted down in the second half and lost the low-scoring affair by the score of 87-85.

Thursday, January 13- 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: TNT, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (out), CJ McCollum (out), Larry Nance Jr. (out), Norman Powell (out), Anfernee Simons (out), Cody Zeller (out)
Nuggets injuries: Jamal Murray (out), P. J. Dozier (out), Michael Porter Jr., Vlatko Cancar (out), Will Barton (probable), Marcus Howard (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

What To Watch For

Nikola Jokić. You might not know it with the Nuggets just barely above .500, but Jokić is playing tremendous basketball. He’s averaging 24 points and 14.1 rebounds per game for the season, and the last time he didn’t get a double-double was before Christmas. He averages seven assists per game, double the average of anyone the Blazers will put on the court in Denver. Jusuf Nurkić will have his hands full trying to slow down the reigning MVP.

Free throws. Denver just doesn’t get to the line. Dead last at 18.1 attempts per game and worse than average at 76.3% when they get there, Portland has a clear advantage here. In fact, Portland’s 22.2 free throws per game is tied for third best in the NBA. I know what you are thinking: no Dame, so there goes the free throws. As it turns out, over the last five games without Lillard the Blazers have actually gone to the line more, 24.8 times on average. If they want a chance to win in Denver the Blazers need to get to the line and take advantage when they are there.

Road woes. It’s been since November that the Blazers have played more than three games in a row on the road, and they haven’t once played five or more away games in a row this season. Well, that’s about to change. The game against the Nuggets is the first of six games in a row on the road, and ten of their next twelve are away from Moda. Portland has been an abject disaster away from the Rose City with an away record of 2-13. If recent games are anything to go by, the Blazers who hit the court will play with energy, something that couldn’t always be said earlier in the season. Will that be enough? Well, let’s just enjoy the game, shall we?

What Others Are Saying

20-19 for the Nuggets? Brandon Ewing of Denver Stiffs writes that it’s not as bad as it looks.

Considering the number of injuries and uncertainty as to who is going to be available on a nightly basis, the Nuggets record is not as bad as it looks on the surface. Thanks to Nikola Jokic putting together another MVP caliber season, Denver is holding steady in the standings as hopefully their injury woes will take a turn for the better in the second half of the season.

Jokic is playing great ball and isn’t getting the respect he deserves reports Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

Despite Denver having a dizzying array of players and coaches in and out due to injuries and health and safety protocols, Jokic has kept the Nuggets in the playoff hunt with some of his best basketball. In Denver’s previous eight games, Jokic averaged 26.1 points and a league-best 17.3 rebounds.

Robbie Stratako of Sportsnaut say that Denver are likely to be buyers at the deadline.

Head coach Mike Malone has a smooth operation on both ends of the floor, which is of course boosted by Nikola Jokic. With Murray likely returning to the floor at some point down the stretch, the Nuggets can objectively approach their roster with the mindset of getting players who fit in-between Jokic and Murray in hopes of finally winning the West.