Portland Trail Blazers (21-22) vs. Denver Nuggets (30-13)
What a difference a weekend makes for the Portland Trail Blazers. Two wins over the Dallas Mavericks, including a 140-123 victory on Sunday, have Blazers fans a lot more optimistic than they were on Friday. It’s not just that they picked up two wins, but they just about passed the eye test in a few key ways. Reducing turnovers was huge, but having both Gary Payton II and Nassir Little on the court injecting energy was also a tremendous boost.
The Denver Nuggets might well be the team to beat in the West. Winners of six in a row and 13 of their last 15, the Nuggets are playing great basketball. Nikola Jokic is pursuing a possible third consecutive MVP and Aaron Gordon might be having his career-best season. Even more scary, they look to be improving. Jamal Murray in particular is playing like he did before his major injury and seems to be getting better and more consistent by the week. This is a huge test for the Blazers.
Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets - Tuesday, January 17 - 6:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Gary Payton II (probable)
Nuggets injuries: Collin Gillespie (out), Jeff Green (out), Payton Watson (out), Bones Hyland (questionable), Vlatko Cancar (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs
- Nikola Jokic. The two-time and defending NBA MVP is having another terrific season. He’s at or near his career averages in nearly every statistic, and his 2022-23 numbers for field goal percentage and assists will set career highs if he stays on pace. What’s more, it appears that he has a better supporting cast surrounding him than previous seasons. If the Blazers can somehow slow him down, other Nuggets are more than capable of picking up the slack. It’s a massive test for Portland.
- Turnovers. One of the reasons the Blazers had a successful weekend was that they cut down their coughing up the ball. For the season Portland is fifth worst in the NBA at 15.6 turnovers per game, but over the last two games they cut it down to 10 per game, good for a tie for 4th place in that category over that stretch. Minimizing turnovers is always important, but against a team playing elite basketball you just can’t hand over the ball. If the Blazers exceed their season average in turnovers they are in deep trouble. On the other hand, if they can hold on to the ball like they did against Dallas they can give themselves a chance.
- Score more points than the other guys. Yes, yes, kind of obvious. The fact though is that one of the things that Denver hasn’t been elite in this year is keeping opponents from scoring. Their defensive rating of 113.4 puts them at 17th in the NBA. The Blazers seem to have a hop in their step lately, so it’s not inconceivable that the Blazers could put up some points. The problem is that Denver leads the league in the field goal percentage and percentage from beyond the arc. If Portland can get four players over 20 points again like they did on Sunday, perhaps they can slow down Denver just enough to win a shootout.
What Others Are Saying
The Nuggets are surging, and Jamal Murray has been a central part of their success according to Joel Rush of Forbes.
That equation has clearly flipped in recent weeks, with Murray more and more consistently not only rediscovering his shooting rhythm, but also playmaking and defending at levels as good as, if not better than he’s seen in his overall career. And it’s not only the “eye test,”, the numbers clearly back up Murray’s marked improvement over the course of this season.
Want to see how Murray is getting it done? Check out Gage Bridgford’s Denver Nuggests Film Friday on Denver Stiffs.
Again, it doesn’t take much for Murray to get an advantage that he can exploit. Jokic gives him just a slight screen to give him a bit of separation, and it’s almost as if you can already put the two points on the board from there. Adebayo and Jimmy Butler are both between Murray and the rim. Those two guys have combined for eight All-Defense selections in 16 full seasons, with Bam making it each of the last three seasons. Murray gives enough of a pass fake to make Bam shade out towards Jokic, and Butler never gets the chance to slide over and cut off the driving lane. Murray floats through the lane for the layup, and he makes it look effortless.
Michael Singer of the Denver Post (via the Loveland Reporter-Herald) writes about Michael Porter Jr.’s growth.
Porter has grown in so many facets, beginning with his maturity. Beyond that, his game has aged into a more complete player and, lately, one physically capable of absorbing contact. That willingness, alone, is a marked and tantalizing step forward.