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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets Preview

The Blazers take on the best in the west tonight in Denver.

Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (17-15) vs Denver Nuggets (19-11)

The Portland Trail Blazers take on the Denver Nuggets for the final game of a long six game road trip. The Blazers are coming off of two straight losses to the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder. The Blazers are 2-3 overall on their road trip and hope to break even against a very good Nuggets team.

The Nuggets currently sit in first place in the Western Conference and have won their last two games. This game against the Blazers falls as the third game in an important four game home stand for the Nuggets, as they sit tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the one seed in an ultra competitive Western Conference.

Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets - Friday, December 23 - 6:00 p.m. PT

How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass

Blazers injuries: Gary Payton II (out), Nassir Little (out), Jusuf Nurkic (probable), Damian Lillard (probable), Drew Eubanks (probable), Josh Hart (probable), Justise Winslow (doubtful)

Nuggets injuries: Collin Gillespie (out), Jeff Green (probable), Jamal Murray (questionable)

SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

What To Watch For

Road trip fatigue. Game six of a road trip is tough to play. Heading into Denver for a road game is tough enough with the almost-unique time zone and the elevation. Bouncing back after two straight losses to a team worse than you is not easy. Combine all three of those factors and the Blazers have their work cut out for them this game. The team’s ability to overcome adversity will be crucial in turning around their recent play and ending this road trip on a positive note. The Blazers and Nuggets have had some grueling games recently, and going in to this contest not fully ready could spell disaster before the game even begins.

Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic can defend Nikola Jokic as well as anyone in the league. With players of Jokic’s caliber, it is less about stopping them and more about slowing them down. In their most recent matchup, Jokic was one assist away from a 30-point triple-double, but in the prior matchup, Jokic failed to reach the ten mark in any stat. If Nurkic is able to defend Jokic at a high level and be aggressive on offense leading to fouls piling up, the Blazers have a good chance against a Nuggets team that runs through Jokic. However, if Jokic is allowed anything he wants, the Blazers could easily let this one slip away.

Three point battle. Both of these teams rank in the top half of the league in three pointers made per game. However, where both teams really shine is in making them efficiently. The Blazers and Nuggets are ranked one and two respectively in three point percentage so far this year. This game may be decided by which team is able to get more quality looks from behind the arc, something that the Blazers have struggled to defend so far this season. If either team is allowed to get going from the three point line, this game could turn lopsided quick.

What Others Are Saying

Gage Bridgford of Denver Stiffs talks about how the Nuggets were able to put down a late push by the Memphis Grizzlies.

Up by 16, Gordon put the icing on the cake with just under two minutes remaining with a reverse dunk following a handoff from Jokic. This was a victory at both ends for the Nuggets, but, specifically, it was a defensive victory. The Grizzlies were sixth in points per game, and they were on track to be held below 100 points for just the third time all season. Coming out of a timeout, the Grizzlies had emptied the bench, and they were waiving the white flag of defeat in this one. The Nuggets would get the win by a score of 105-91.

The New York Times’ Sopan Deb talks about the offensive dominance of Nikola Jokic and how it effects the Nuggets as a whole.

“You just have to be ready for the ball, no matter where you are or where he is on the court because he can find you,” Zeke Nnaji, a third-year reserve forward for the Nuggets, said in the locker room on Sunday.

When Jokic is on the court, the Nuggets’ offense is on par with the league’s best teams. When he sits, it is the worst, a remarkable swing. This year, teammates like Gordon, Brown and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are having great years, in part because of the open shots Jokic has created. In the case of Brown, roughly half his shots have been “open” or “wide open,” according to the league’s tracking numbers. Last year, when Brown was with the Nets, that number was only 38.3 percent.